Naomi Osaka to take a break from tennis 'for a while' after shock defeat at US Open

Defending champion set for lengthy hiatus to 'figure out what I want to do' after loss to teenager Fernandez

Naomi Osaka's press conference after her shock defeat in the US Open third round made for tough viewing.

Early Saturday morning UAE time, the four-time Grand Slam champion had seen her title defence ended by Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez 5-7, 7-6, 6-4, having served for the match in the second set, when she fronted up to the world's media.

But this wasn't a press conference of simple raw emotion in immediate response to a disappointing defeat; Osaka looked forlorn and detached, determined to fight back the tears until she eventually cracked.

An athlete admired the world over as much for her sweet and humble persona as her generational talent, Osaka looks like she has the weight of the world on her shoulders. She is quite clearly struggling and it's heart-wrenching to witness.

Offering some insight into her current state of mind, the 23-year-old Japanese star said: "I feel recently, when I win, I don't feel happy – I feel more of a relief. And when I lose I feel very sad – and I don't think that's normal. I didn't want to cry."

Conferring with a member of her team off camera, an emotional Osaka said she wanted to reveal what they had just discussed as she proceeded to announce that she was stepping away from tennis for the foreseeable future.

"I think I'm at the point where I'm trying to figure out what I want to do, and honestly I don't know when I'm going to play my next tennis match," Osaka said. "I'm sorry ... I think I'm going to take a break from playing for a while."

Osaka then tapped herself on the cheeks, gave two thumbs up, put on her face mask, and exited the press conference room. It is probably the last time Osaka will be seen at a tennis tournament this year.

The former world No 1 had taken an extended break from tennis earlier this season when she withdrew after the first round of the French Open in June, citing a need to protect her mental health having struggled with anxiety since winning her first major title in 2018.

Osaka subsequently missed Wimbledon but returned for the Tokyo Olympics, where she lit the torch at the opening ceremony. She lost in the third round to eventual silver medallist Marketa Vondrousova.

After her first hiatus lasted approximately eight weeks, there is a sense this break could be significantly longer. With the tennis season entering its final phase, stepping away from the pressure and the spotlight for the next four months, at least, can only be beneficial for Osaka.

Even her on-court demeanour against Fernandez was characteristically un-Osaka. Usually composed and unflappable, Osaka repeatedly slammed her racquet on the court after losing the second set.

"I'm really sorry about that," she said. "Normally I feel like I like challenges, but recently I feel very anxious when things don't go my way. I'm not really sure why it happens like that now. I was like a little kid.

"I guess we're all dealing with some stuff, but I know that I'm dealing with some stuff."

Hopefully this latest break will afford Osaka the time to 'deal with her stuff'. The tennis world will be an emptier place without her, but her well-being is the only thing that matters right now.

As Osaka removes herself from the spotlight, Fernandez will need to get used to it intensifying. After the world No 73 claimed the biggest win of her career so far, she will next face another multiple Grand Slam champion in the fourth round.

Angelique Kerber, US Open winner in 2016, continued her recent revival with a 5-7, 6-2, 6-3 over Sloane Stephens, the American who succeeded her as champion in New York, and revealed she has had to overcome sleeping at Flushing Meadows on Wednesday due to Hurricane Ida.

"We got cancelled really late," the German 16th seed said. "I thought that we can go straight to the hotel. But it was impossible because of the storm and the rain and everything.

"We stayed here until 3.30, 4am. I was trying to get a little bit of sleep because I had the match yesterday, just like a few hours later. Yeah, that was my Wednesday night in the gym."

Updated: September 4th 2021, 1:17 PM
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