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Naomi Osaka announces indefinite break from tennis following US Open defeat to Leylah Fernandez
Osaka led the Canadian teen by a set and a break before falling in three, and revealed that winning no longer makes her happy in press.
Published Sep 04, 2021
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NEW YORK—Through tears, Naomi Osaka revealed she would take an indefinite hiatus from tennis after a 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-4 defeat to Leylah Annie Fernandez in the third round of the US Open.
The 23-year-old defending champion revealed tennis no longer makes her happy in post-match press, and wasn't sure when she planned to come back.
"When I win I don't feel happy," she explained to a Japanese reporter. "I feel more like a relief. And then when I lose, I feel very sad. I don't think that's normal."
Osaka revealed a public struggle with mental health and depression, one that dated back to when she won the 2018 US Open, after withdrawing from Roland Garros in May—having previously announced she would not participate in post-match media obligations. She returned to action at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the Western & Southern Open, where she resumed speaking with the media.
"I feel like I'm kind of at this point where I'm trying to figure out what I want to do," she added after a pause, "and I honestly don't know when I'm going to play my next tennis match…I think I'm going to take a break from playing for a while."
Fernandez, just 18, had roared back from a set and a break down to upend the No. 3 seed in two hours and three minutes on Friday evening.
Osaka arrived under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium aiming to extend her eight-match winning streak in Flushing Meadows, having received a walkover in the second round from Olga Danilovic.
Up against unfamiliar opposition in Fernandez, the defending champion looked unsettled early in the face of the Canadian teen's variety and lefty spin. A mid-match change of outfit—one that notably did not require a trip to the bathroom—appeared to steady the Japanese star as she exponentially improved her performance on serve, striking six aces before scoring a crucial break to earn the opening set.
The second set appeared poised to play out in similar fashion as the duo exchanged holds of serve through the first ten games. Osaka began making inroads on return before racing ahead 0-40 at 5-5, and ultimately broke with a backhand winner.
Ordinarily a tremendous frontrunner, few would have expected the No. 3 seed to play a nervous game so close to the finish line at 6-5, but a flurry of forehand errors handed the break right back to Fernandez; that dip in form continued into the subsequent tiebreak.
"In the second set I guess on the very last game I found the solution to the problem of returning her serve," Fernandez said. "I'm glad that I found it. From then on I was just fighting, using the crowd's energy, putting the ball back in as much as I can, just be offensive and go for my shots."
Emotions overwhelmed Osaka as she made repeated swipes at her racquet, throwing it to the ground while Fernandez eased through the opening five points and leveled the set with a forced forehand error.
Despondent, Osaka nearly gave into a full-blown meltdown early, receiving a code violation for ball abuse as an inspired Fernandez threatened to take a double-break advantage.
The Canadian, whose previous best major result was a run to the third round of Roland Garros last fall, won her first WTA title earlier this year in Monterrey and maintained her break advantage with the help of some supreme serving, getting 80% of her first serves into play throughout the match.
A game from defeat, Osaka bravely dug herself out of a precarious deficit to put the pressure back on Fernandez, who stepped to the line to serve for her biggest career victory after exactly two hours on court.
Earning three match points with a deft backhand drop shot, the game’s newest star secured victory when Osaka pulled a forehand wide, booking herself an all-lefty clash with 2016 champion Angelique Kerber. Kerber, too, rallied from a set down to defeat 2017 winner Sloane Stephens in three sets earlier in the afternoon.
"From a very young age, I knew I was able to beat anyone, anyone who is in front of me," said Fernandez. "Even playing different sports, I was always that competitive, saying I'm going to win against them, I'm going to win against my dad in soccer, even though that's like impossible. I've always had that belief. I've always, like, tried to use that in every match that I go on.
"I guess today that belief came true."