Australian Open 2022 – Naomi Osaka finds more pleasure in tennis, even in defeat to Amanda Anisimova

Naomi Osaka stood on the field as her ever-small lead slipped just one point from entering a tiebreak in the third set, preparing for Amanda Anisimova’s next serve during their third round match at the Australian Open on Friday.

Osaka, the defending champion of the tournament, had looked frustrated as she walked back to the baseline – shrugging and gesturing wildly – but then she laughed.

She eventually lost the point — and the game moments later — but she found something much more important during her time Down Under:

Her love for the sport.

And even after forfeiting two match points in the 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5) loss, and with her position in free fall, Osaka could still appreciate the moment and the defeat itself.

“I fought for every point,” Osaka said after the game. “I can’t be sad about that. You know, I’m not God, I can’t win every match. So I just have to take that into account and know that it would be nice to win the tournament, but I can not win the Grand Slam every time at the beginning of the year.

“For me, I feel like I’ve grown a lot in this game. The last game I played [at the US Open] I think I had a very different attitude, so I’m really happy with — you know, of course I lost, but I’m happy with how it went.”

It was a long journey to rediscover the joy of tennis for 24-year-old Osaka.

The 2021 season did not go as planned for her. She opened the year with the Australian Open title, her fourth major win, but found herself in the midst of a media storm after publicly stating she would not speak to reporters at the French Open. She eventually withdrew from the tournament prior to her second round match and returned to her Los Angeles home. Osaka then skipped Wimbledon to “take some personal time with friends and family”.

Osaka lit the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony in Tokyo, but was unable to match the high-profile on-field honors and fell in the third round. A defending champion at the US Open, she struggled against Leylah Fernandez in the round of 32 and couldn’t hide her devastation. She threw her racket, hit a ball into the stands and left the field after the second set with a towel draped over her head. Fernandez won the match and Osaka later told reporters, “I don’t feel happy.”

“Actually, I feel like I’ve gotten to this point where I’m trying to figure out what I want to do, and I honestly don’t know when I’m going to play my next tennis match. I think I’m going to stop playing for a while” , Osaka said through tears before the press conference ended abruptly.

The weekly, world-wide schedule and amount of attention given to her would be overwhelming for many. No one knew when Osaka would play next — or if she ever would.

So when she posted a smiling photo of herself at the Rod Laver Arena on Instagram in late December, it was a welcome sight for tennis fans. That smile hasn’t faded much since then — whether she’s gaining points or not.

In the first set of her opening round match against Camila Osorio, Osaka craved what should have been an easy return. As she swung her racket over her head and sailed right over the ball, she turned and stared at the ball bouncing. Then she put her hand on her chest and laughed.

It was a simple mistake and she treated it as such. After the match, Osaka was asked about the moment and whether her reaction to it was a sign of her newfound positive attitude.

“For me, I came back when I wanted to come back,” said Osaka. “I just felt that there are situations where I would be more likely to get upset. But at this point in my life I’m here because I want to be here and because I think it’s fun for me. I might as well be there enjoy it while I still can.”

She admitted it still wouldn’t have been her immediate natural reaction.

“It’s not automatic to laugh about it,” she said. “I’m trying to change my mindset.”

That adaptation has been seen – in good times and bad – throughout her time in Melbourne, and those associated with the game have noticed.

“What I’ve noticed so far is that she looks better prepared than she was at the US Open, and her attitude,” Pam Shriver, the 21-time doubles champion and ESPN analyst, told Osaka before the game. anisimova. “There have been a few moments in this tournament so far where she may have felt ashamed or frustrated before, but now she can shake it off and focus on the next point.”

Of course it is easy to be optimistic in the win, but Osaka did not hesitate in the defeat. She warmly congratulated Anisimova to the net and walked into her press conference with a smile. She called the match “pretty high level” and “fun” before even asking a single question.

She later wrote that journaling and “meditation-like” helped her gain perspective.

“[I’ve been] I’m trying to figure out what my goals are and what I want to achieve in this career because I’m here at the Australian Open right now, but you never know when it will be your last,” said Osaka. “Playing in Rod Laver every time is something I don’t want to take for granted. Playing in the big stadiums is very special. I just feel like I need to change my mindset more, and of course be more grateful for the things I’ve accomplished and the things I want to achieve.”

A win on Friday would have seen a much-anticipated blockbuster fourth-round showdown against the world’s No. 1 and much-loved local favorite Ash Barty. Many were delighted to see that two of the best players in the game finally got the chance to go head to head with the stakes so high. But instead, Barty will face Anisimova, and Osaka will go home empty-handed, with her ranking expected to plummet into the 1980s.

But a relaxed, still smiling, Osaka insisted she was grateful for the experience, and believes it will eventually help her through the rest of the season.

“I just want to go into this year knowing that I will be playing all year and that I will have the best attitude ever,” she said. “You know, I’ll fight for every point. Even if I win or lose, I just go off the track, knowing I did my best, and there’s no way anyone can expect anything more from me, because they saw how hard I fought.

“So of course that’s the goal, and I think if I keep that mentality I’ll be able to win more matches. Of course there will be moments like this where I’m disappointed, but I feel like the losses are which I learn the most from.”

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