It must be said that Osaka maintained, more or less voluntarily, this deep uncertainty, this great artistic vagueness in the weeks which led to the New York fortnight. First by the media silence accompanying his (yet resounding) packages at Roland-Garros and Wimbledon. Visibly in psychological distress, as was already the case two years ago following her first US Open 2018-Australian Open 2019 double, she put the (fundamental) subject of the mental health of athletes on the table by announcing clumsily a boycott of press conferences. Which ended, on edge, on his return to the circuit in Cincinnati a fortnight ago.
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Lowered ambitions to regain mental balance
Meanwhile, in full recovery during the Tokyo Games where she was the last carrier of the Olympic flame before resuming the racket, she has clearly revised her ambitions downward. “The pressure, I should be used to it by force. But, at the same time, the magnitude of such an event was really complicated to manage, especially with the break I took. At least I’m relieved that I didn’t lose in the first round.“, she confessed after her defeat (6-1, 6-4) in the round of 16 against the Czech Marketa Vondrousova. Words heavy with meaning and to say the least surprising in the mouth of a champion of her caliber.
Right now, Naomi Osaka is content with little. The discourse has not changed in New York, a salutary step back for his personal balance. She also opened up about it recently on her networks, posting a long message as she does regularly, the exercise acting as open-air therapy.
“I’m not sure it’s to give news to people, it’s more to relieve me of what I feel. (…) I realized that for me, something that was below perfection, even if it could be great, was a disappointment. And I don’t think it’s healthy to think like that. It’s something I want to change. In this tournament, I just want to be happy knowing that I’m doing my best, even if I’m not playing perfectly.“, she told the press.
The Japanese therefore wants to get rid of a kind of unhealthy perfectionism. A character trait that may be necessary to reach the level of excellence that is hers, but that also makes her eternally unsatisfied. To find the simple happiness of playing, to take pleasure in what she does, a form of indulgence vis-à-vis herself is required, and at the same time a recalibration of her objectives. To avoid systematic self-flagellation, it is a question of reconnecting with the simple reasons which make him love tennis.
The good vibes of Flushing and the hope of an accelerated “healing”
“I didn’t feel any pressure today (Monday during her victory in the 1st round against the 87th world player Marie Bouzkova 6-4, 6-1, Editor’s note), honestly. It may be due to this change in mindset. But I felt nervous because I wanted to do well. I told myself in my head that if I played well, then I would accept the result, whether I win or lose. Ultimately, you train hard to play in front of people, especially in night sessions on the Arthur-Ashe. It is the largest tennis court in the world“, she testified again.
Osaka: “I felt very lonely last year without an audience”
The return of the public could thus have a key role in the treatment of the mental wound of the Japanese. In New York, where she has already won twice, Osaka feels at home. Especially since she hit many balls in Queens during her youth. Before the fortnight, she thus went to reconnect with her memories, financing in passing the renovation of the courts of her childhood in the New York district.
In this reassuring and warmer environment, with the support of the spectators, Osaka should be able to concentrate more easily on his tennis. If her entry into the running was not perfect, her ability to raise her level when she needed it (she saved the 8 break points she had to defend) is a positive sign.
With each passing round, I gain confidence
“I’m always the type to be nervous in the first rounds of Grand Slams. The only interesting thing is that this year, that nervousness is kind of offset by the excitement I have of playing in front of an audience for the first time in so long. My serve is, without a doubt, one of my greatest weapons. He comes back when it’s really needed (only 47% of firsts but 81% of points gained behind during this first round, editor’s note). But I hope I will need it less in the future.”
For the time being, each match is enough for its sentence. The world number 3 cannot see further than this 3rd round against the promising Canadian (19 years old, 73rd in the world) Leylah Fernandez that she will once again have the honor of playing in a “night session” on the Arthur-Ashe. “With each passing round, I gain confidence“, she warned, however. On hard and sure of her, Osaka has proven in recent seasons that she is the world reference. It would certainly be better for her opponents that she stumbles quickly, before becoming irresistible.
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