“I’m really sorry I’m not able to compete today…It’s an honor to be able to play at the Toray Pan Pacific Open…I wish I could have stepped on the court…but my body won’t let me,” said Naomi Osaka sadly.
She had played the first round but came out of the second with Beatriz Haddad Maia. This was at the end of September. Osaka has not played any other tournaments and is now dealing with a falling stock, FTX, she had hopes of being its big representative, which now appears to be bankrupt.
Naomi Osaka’s major confrontation with her mental concerns came to the surface in May during the 2021 French Open, when she declared that speaking to the press caused her immense anxiety and that she would not be able to do so anymore.
She withdrew from Roland Garros and was fined $15,000. As many as four grand slam tournament companies spoke, allowing the young Japanese to take a break to regroup and mentally clear her mind. The former world No. 2 took a break from professional tennis and decided to test her competitive spirit four months later in September on her physical and emotional return to competition.
Osaka’s performance was not expert enough and could not produce a victory. The Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic was the tournament. She would win the opening round with Qinwen Zheng, but her next opponent, Coco Gauff, had more enriched strategies and defeated Naomi in straight sets.
Osaka also struggled with an Achilles injury, but continued to compete in events despite it all. She tried but the results were not positive and losses had been incurred. The disruptive 2021 season ended, but the new one in 2022 brought many of the same interrupted plays as the year before.
It was a recent stomach injury that hampered her success at the Australian Open and prevented her from defending her title. Many doubted her performance after that, but fans and the tennis community couldn’t help but be excited to see her play again.
Naomi could only go as far as the third round of the Melbourne event before bowing out to Amanda Anisimova in three sets. The 24-year-old’s foray into the Miami Open surprisingly saw victorious Naomi Osaka regain her groove at record speed.
She landed in the final for the first time in over a year. It was her wins over Angelique Kerber, Danielle Collins and Belinda Bencic to name a few that provided proof that she was still a viable player in the WTA. She met Polish Iga Swiatek, the top-ranked player in the world.
They had only met twice, and while Osaka’s ranking had dipped into the mid-40s, she played with the energy and excitement she had before she retired at the 2021 French Open. Swiatek’s consistent play provided giving her a huge advantage over the once dominant Japanese.
The Pole would win in straight sets 6-4, 6-0, with Naomi fizzling out in the final set. “I’m confident in myself as a player,” she said, smiling cautiously, even though she couldn’t get the win over Swiatek.
The rest of the tournaments, Osaka would only get through to the second round at best. Fans were quite disappointed not to see her go deep like she did in Miami and wondered what could have derailed her sharpened skills. The crowd at the Japan Open was really disappointed when their defending champion was unable to defend her title this year.
The COVID situation had extended the tournament by two years since she won it in 2019. This season, everyone was looking forward to Naomi getting better, but that didn’t seem to happen. She missed the grass court season and it proved to be a little too much for the former grand slam champion to deal with nagging long term injuries and try to manage her worries.
She had apologized to Japan Open fans, saying “Thanks for all your support this week and see you next year.” Many were not encouraged to believe that Osaka could step up and prove herself in 2023 as a strong WTA player again.
As for the first slam of the season – the Australian Open in 2023, Naomi Osaka may just enter the tournament as a wild card to see how her progress has held up physically and mentally. However, it is obvious that less time on the court and touring means a longer time she will be ready to put in the work to become a strong contender.
Will she return for another season? Can she bring her best game and start winning matches again? It is certain that only time will tell now.