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Friday evening at the U.S. Open featured a third round match between No. 3 ranked Naomi Osaka and unranked Canadian tennis player Leylah Fernandez. Osaka returned to the U.S. Open stage for a title defense, a year after defeating Victoria Azarenka.
After several drop outs from 2021 tournaments put Osaka’s grapple with mental health at the forefront of international women’s tennis, pressure from the omitted contests gathered at the U.S. Open, awaiting the champ’s return. The Japanese-born tennis player was back, and the result favored only the unknown contender out of Canada.
Opponent Leylah Fernandez was challenging and boisterous throughout Friday’s match. The Canadian delivered several rounds where she kept Osaka zigzagging in pursuit, and delivering winning backhands. Osaka faced the pressure, atop a number of errors, several uncharacteristic.
“I wasn’t really focused on Naomi,” admitted Fernandez, in the post-match interview. Fernandez was tenacious and spotted throwing celebratory jabs in the air, which were unquestionably deleterious to Osaka’s focus. Fernandez added, “Having the crowd there supporting me and backing me up after every point, it’s amazing. It gave me the energy to keep fighting, to keep working and keep running for those balls that she hit.”
Osaka lost to Fernandez, 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-4 in a third round exit at the Open.
Moments after a defeat that had Osaka tucking her face beneath a cap as she walked off the court at Arthur Ashe, the press sat with Osaka, which proved brooding for the young star.
During the post-match interviews Osaka announced that her return to tennis will be indefinite, strongly emotional throughout the news.
“Basically I feel like I’m kind of at this point where I’m trying to figure out what I want to do, and I honestly don’t know when I’m going to play my next tennis match,” said Osaka. “But I think I’m going to take a break from playing for a while.”
Osaka’s questionable future in a sport she once dominated resurfaced criticisms of the phenom’s exposure in the mainstream media, and public political statements in 2020. Now she’s officially stepping away from it all.
Having skipped both the French Open and Wimbledon, Osaka’s stardom quickly pivoted in the past couple of months.
Conversations zeroed in on Osaka’s personal celebrity derailing a promising career, with the tennis star citing the very media as a source of her depression. Overexposure to the media, professional and recreational, have culminated into a breaking point for the 23-year-old sensation.
Now the sport of tennis waits to see if Osaka’s return can be expected any time in the next couple of years, based on Friday’s post-game scene.
Osaka participated in the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games, also losing in the third round. She was ranked No. 2 worldwide.
Follow along on Twitter: @AlejandroAveela