July 4, 2022

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In Miami Where It All Began, Naomi Osaka Is Rolling Again

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“If I didn’t say anything at the French, I don’t think anyone would have known about the things that I’m going through,” she said on Thursday.

At the French Open last May, Osaka announced that she would not participate in the mandatory post-match news conferences because they were too taxing on her psyche. The policy, she wrote on social media, showed how little regard tennis officials had for the mental health of players. Though nearly all of her fellow stars said they empathized with Osaka, they accepted that speaking with the press was part of the job.

After tournament officials threatened to expel her from the tournament, she withdrew following her first-round match and did not play again until the Tokyo Olympics, where she lit the torch but came apart in the third round amid relentless pressure.

Her third-round loss to Leylah Fernandez at the U.S. Open, where she was a favorite to successfully defend her title, led to a tearful admission that playing tennis no longer made her happy, and that when she won, she felt relief rather than joy.

Four months passed before Osaka played again. At the Australian Open in January, she showed occasional flashes of the player who won four Grand Slam singles titles before her 24th birthday, but she fell in the third round to Amanda Anisimova in three hard-fought sets, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (10-5).

At the time, she expressed satisfaction with how hard she had fought, saying she felt like she had won some games through “sheer willpower.” Then she did not play another match for six weeks, until the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.

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There, a lone heckler rattled her during her second round match, bringing her to tears during a one-sided loss to Veronika Kudermetova. She said the heckler triggered memories of the racist treatment Serena and Venus Williams endured at the event two decades ago.

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