Sunday, 1st October 2023

Osaka ‘more comfortable in my skin’ after turbulent year

Naomi Osaka said Monday she is "more comfortable in my skin" after a difficult year in which she revealed she had suffered depression

Naomi Osaka said Monday she is “more comfortable in my skin” after a difficult year in which she revealed she had suffered depression, and vowed to have more fun and challenge herself on court in 2022.

Naomi Osaka (right) shakes hands with Camila Osorio after reaching the second round of the Australian Open (AFP/Brandon MALONE)

The Japanese former world number one opened the defence of her Australian Open title with a battling 6-3, 6-3 win against Colombia’s Camila Osorio, remaining calm even through a mid-match stumble.

Four-time major champion Osaka beat American Jennifer Brady in last year’s Melbourne Park final, but then withdrew from the French Open and Wimbledon over personal issues.

She said her problems were exacerbated by speaking to the media after matches and she made a tearful early exit at the US Open in September, then took an indefinite break.

But the 24-year-old says that she is in a better place now and determined to adopt a more positive mindset.

“I would say I feel more comfortable in my skin, if that makes sense. Like there’s always the human nature to feel uneasy, to want to please everyone and stuff like that,” she said.

“I feel like there was a time after the French Open where I felt like everyone was judging me and I couldn’t go outside without thinking that everyone around me was… I don’t know. 

“It feels a bit weird when you go into a stadium to play and you’re kind of concerned what everyone’s gaze means.

“Basically right now I’m trying to learn how to be more selfish, but in a positive way.”

Osaka, who is seeded 13th because of her lack of playing time at the back end of 2021, added: “I just want to have fun, first of all. I can’t expect myself to win every match, but I do expect myself to have fun and challenge myself.”

Osaka pulled out of a warm-up event in Melbourne before the tournament after three matches, saying her “body got a shock” after playing for the first time in four months.

She showed few ill-effects in beating 50th-ranked Osorio on Rod Laver Arena, but it was far from clinical.

“I played pretty well, I didn’t have much info on my opponent,” said Osaka, who won the title at Melbourne Park in 2019 and 2021.

“She played amazingly and fought for every point. I’m just happy to be here. It definitely always feels special to come back here.”

Osaka raced into a 5-0 lead over Osorio in the first set and appeared to be in full control.

But she then inexplicably lost focus as the feisty Osorio finally held serve, then against the odds broke Osaka, and held again to haul herself back into the set at 3-5.

Osaka had to dig deep to save two break points while serving for the set but clung on to seal it in 31 minutes.

Osorio’s resurgence was short-lived with Osaka getting a decisive break in the third game of the second set and from there made no mistake, breaking again to book a second-round berth.

She will next play American Madison Brengle, who was on the verge of victory when Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska retired hurt.