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Professional tennis star Naomi Osaka has had a challenging summer. After pulling out of various tournaments due to mental health issues, she competed at the Olympic Games in Tokyo and more recently at the 2021 U.S. Open. But after she lost her composure and the match, getting knocked out of the competition, she announced at a press conference that she would be taking a hiatus from the sport that made her a household name. "I honestly don't know when I'm going to play my next tennis match," she said, trying to hold back tears. Read on to find out what exactly Naomi Osaka said about her break from tennis and why her future seems uncertain.
Naomi Osaka lost her match at the U.S. Open in a shocking upset.
On Friday night, Osaka was up against Canadian Leylah Fernandez at the U.S. Open in the third round of the competition. While Osaka was the reigning champion and was seeded No. 3 going into this U.S. Open, she lost to 18-year-old Fernandez, who is ranked 73rd and had never made it so far in Grand Slam competition, Today reports.
But not only did Osaka lose the match in a shocking upset at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York, she also slammed her racket on the ground, threw it in anger, and fired a tennis ball into the crowded stands, which garnered a code violation.
At a press conference after the loss, Osaka said through tears that she didn't know when she'd play tennis again.
Osaka has struggled with the attention her athletic prowess has garnered, revealing the pressure of talking to members of the media often causes her mental anguish. But after her loss at the U.S. Open, she was candid about how she was feeling during a press conference.
When asked about her out-of-character behavior, she said, "I'm really sorry about that. I'm not really sure why … I was telling myself to be calm, but I feel like maybe there was a boiling point. Like, normally, I feel like I like challenges. But recently, I feel very anxious when things don't go my way. And I feel like you can feel that. … I was kind of like a little kid."
After the last question at the press conference was asked, Osaka looked over at her agent and told him she wanted to tell the press what the they discussed privately in a hallway of the stadium after her surprising performance.
"I feel like for me recently, like, when I win I don't feel happy. I feel more like a relief," Osaka said. "And then when I lose, I feel very sad. I don't think that's normal." As she struggled to find her words, she started to tear up and said, "I didn't really want to cry," which led the moderator to cut off the conference.
Osaka, however, said she wanted to finish. "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," she said through tears. "But I think I'm going to take a break from playing for a while." As tears started rolling down her face, the moderator ended the press conference. Osaka gave two thumbs up and tried to muster a smile before leaving the microphone.
Osaka began to speak openly about her mental health issues earlier this year.
This is not the first time Osaka has taken a break in the last few months. Just before the 2021 French Open began in June, she said she would not participate in media appearances, a mandatory aspect of the competition, according to CNN. She was fined $15,000 and threatened with expulsion, The Guardian reported, news that was soon followed by her decision to withdraw from the competition.
"I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris," Osaka wrote on social media announcing the news. "I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer."
She continued: "The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that. Anyone that knows me knows I'm introverted, and anyone that has seen me at the tournaments will notice that I'm often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety. Though the tennis press has always been kind to me (and I wanna apologize especially to all the cool journalists who I may have hurt), I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world's media. I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try to engage and give you the best answers I can. So here in Paris I was already feeling vulnerable and anxious so I thought it was better to exercise self-care and skip the press conferences. … I'm gonna take some time away from the court now, but when the time is right I really want to work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans."
A few leaks later, it was announced that she also would not compete at Wimbledon. Osaka did, however, take part in the 2020 Olympic Games in her home country of Japan, making a triumphant return to the sport. She lit the cauldron at the opening ceremony, but did not medal at the Games.
Earlier this week, Osaka posted a heartfelt message about overcoming her thoughts of not feeling good enough.
Since Osaka's withdrawal from the French Open and Wimbledon, conversations about athlete's mental well-being have continued to bubble up. Even gymnast Simone Biles cited Osaka's openness about her mental health journey when she withdrew from multiple Olympic events in Tokyo. "She is speaking up about mental health, and I think it is really important that athletes put their mental health first," Biles told Entertainment Tonight of Osaka on Aug. 18.
Then, just before she competed at the U.S. Open, Osaka took to Instagram to pen a post about her struggles with feeling "never good enough."
"Recently I've been asking myself why do I feel the way I do and I realize one of the reasons is because internally I think I'm never good enough," she wrote on Aug. 29, the day before her first match at the U.S. Open. "I've never told myself that I've done a good job but I do know I constantly tell myself that I suck or I could do better."
She continued, "I know in the past some people have called me humble but if I really consider it I think I'm extremely self deprecating. Every time a new opportunity arises my first thought is, 'wow, why me?'". I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm gonna try to celebrate myself and my accomplishments more, I think we all should. You got up in the morning and didn't procrastinate on something? Champion. Figured something out at work that's been bugging you for a while? Absolute legend. Your life is your own and you shouldn't value yourself on other people's standards."
She concluded the heartfelt message, saying: "I know I give my heart to everything I can and if that's not good enough for some then my apologies but I can't burden myself with those expectations anymore. Seeing everything that's going on in the world I feel like if I wake up in the morning that's a win."