Naomi Osaka is ready to turn the corner. After falling short of expectations at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon, the World No. 2 is eager to get back on track on the hard courts. A surface that has granted her two Grand Slam titles.
But in a recent Twitter post, Osaka revealed what the last few months have been like. The pressure to perform, the heightened media attention all became constant realities for the 21-year-old.
“The last few months have been really rough for me tennis wise, but thankfully I’m surrounded by people I love and who love me back,” wrote Osaka, who is competing this week at the annual Rogers Cup tournament in Toronto.
Osaka Exploded Onto Tennis Scene Very Fast
One year goes by very fast. For Naomi Osaka, it was when she propelled herself into becoming a household name in women’s tennis.
The Japanese native entered the “Next Gen” conversation with her victory at Indian Wells, defeating Karolina Pliskova and then World No. 1 Simona Halep in the process. But her breakthrough into the upper echelon of the sport came at Flushing Meadows at the US Open. Despite the boos and raucousness of the New York crowd, Osaka defeated 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams in the final, capturing her inaugural major.
Numerous players experience a decline after winning their first Grand Slam. Not Naomi Osaka. She followed up her win in New York with a gutsy performance at the Australian Open, where she won three three-set matches en route to her second Grand Slam win. She was on the cusp of dominance, as she claimed the World No. 1 ranking.
Being in the Spotlight Impacted Osaka
“I can honestly reflect and say I probably haven’t had fun playing tennis since Australia and I’m finally coming to terms with that while relearning that fun feeling,” Osaka said in her post. “I’ve put so much weight on the results of my matches instead of learning from them which is what I ‘normally’ do.”
Osaka has been endowed with a humble, gentle temperament. Her acceleration to stardom is a reality she did not know how to handle. Since winning the Australian Open, Naomi split with her coach Sascha Bajin, who played a critical role in her success. Then, her childhood coach sued Osaka and her family, demanding that he get a percentage of her winnings.
As a result of the distractions and dealing with the duress of being the number one player in the world, Osaka’s results declined. She lost in the third round of the French Open, after having to come back twice from a set down. Following Roland Garros, Osaka bowed out in the first round of Wimbledon, culminating in an early exit from her post-round press conference.
“I feel like I’m about to cry,” Osaka said as she left the podium.
Expect Naomi Osaka to Contend at Rogers Cup
On a warm Friday morning, Naomi Osaka could be seen on the practice courts, getting in an intense hitting session before the Rogers Cup. The qualities of her game that exemplified Osaka’s dominance were put on full display. Natural power, high tennis IQ and solid movement.
Throughout the entire practice session, Osaka appeared focused but also jovial and bubbly. The three-time WTA champion joins the rest of the Top-8 on Tour in Toronto, looking to start the hardcourt season on a winning note.
“For me, after losing Wimbledon, I was in a negative headspace,” said Osaka. “To turn it around, I just began to start counting my blessings and go out there, working as hard as I can every day.
For Osaka, being in the right mental space translates to stellar play on the court. She is eager to put the past few months behind her and focus on returning to a level of tennis that got her to World No. 1.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself and I feel like I grew so much as a person in this past year(s),” she said. “So I’m really excited what the future looks like on and off the court.”
The way she was hitting her groundstrokes in practice, Osaka is on the precipice of returning and exceeding that dominant form we witnessed a year ago.
Lukas Weese is at the Rogers Cup on behalf of Tennis Canada.
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