Saturday, July 2, 2022

2022 French Open: Naomi Osaka returns to Roland Garros, still a bit worried but ready to handle the atmosphere

A year after withdrawing from the French Open to take care of her mental health, Naomi Osaka is back in Paris and ready to tackle the challenges ahead. Osaka took a big step forward on Friday when she took part in a press conference ahead of this weekend’s competition.

“For the most part, I think I’m OK,” she said.

Last year, the former world No. 1 said that she experienced a “huge waves of anxiety” talking to the media. After winning the first round, she stopped fulfilling her media duties and was hit with a $15,000 fine. She then pulled out of the tournament. The mental health issues didn’t just appear in 2021. Osaka shared on Instagram that she has suffered long bouts of depression since her U.S. Open win in 2018. She also explained she has social anxiety, which is the reason why that often wears headphones during tournaments. 

During Friday’s press conference, Osaka admitted that there are a few things that are a bit worrisome in her return, but that she hopes to be able to handle them. One of those concerns is unfriendly fans. Earlier this year, Osaka was brought to tears after being heckled at Indiana Wells. That incident is still fresh in her mind. 

“Of course, I’m still thinking about it, and I’m kind of also prepping just in case I go on the court and a fan says something like in Indian Wells,” she said.

Osaka also admitted she felt different talking to the media now, and that she felt “funnier” and more loose than last year. 

“I feel like the thing that’s changed, me trying to figure out the crowd,” she said “I feel like I’m a stand-up comedian, and I’m trying to figure out what’s okay and what’s not okay.”

While there will be obstacles not directly related to the game, she will also have to face tough challenges on the court. The Japanese star will take on No. 27 seed Amanda Anisimova — who beat her at the Australian Open in Melbourne — for her first-round match. Osaka said she was a bit shocked when her coach Wim Fissette told her who her opponent will be. However, she is also ready to embrace the rematch and use it as motivation. 

“I wouldn’t say I don’t want to play her, because I feel like, for me, I’m the type of person that if you beat me, it motivates me more to win, and I also learned a lot from the match,” Osaka said. 

She also admitted that it was a bit of a relief because a first-round match against Anisimova was not her worst case scenario.

“I had a dream a couple of days ago that the draw came out, and I had to play Iga (Swiatek),” Osaka said. “I was scared because I was thinking what’s the worst possible player to play when I’m unseeded. She came in my mind, so thank God that didn’t happen.”

Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam champion, is currently ranked 38th in the WTA rankings due to missing time for her mental health and also an Achilles injury. 

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