Defending champion Naomi Osaka repeatedly smashed her racket to the court, smacked a ball into the crowd, hid under a towel and imploded over the final two sets in a third-round loss at the U.S Open.
Eighteen-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez had the fans on her side as she pressured the third-seeded Osaka and pulled off the 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-4 victory at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Osaka threw her racket at least three times and was finally hit with a code violation in the third set when she hit the ball into the stands. She even draped a towel over her head as she took a break following her second-set loss.
Osaka played her first Grand Slam since she pulled out of the French Open in late May for a mental health break.
Fernandez used her left-handed serve to defeated two-time US Open quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi in straight sets before knocking off Osaka. She waved her arms and pumped her fist toward fans that cheered louder for her on every late point.
Osaka glumly walked to the locker room while Fernandez smiled and flashed two thumbs up in celebration.
Afterwards, Osaka looked over toward her agent and said she wanted to tell the world what the two of them had discussed privately in an Arthur Ashe Stadium hallway.
His reply: “Sure.”
And so Osaka, pausing every so often as her voice got caught on her words and her eyes filled with tears, said she is thinking of taking another break from tennis “for a while.”
“I feel like for me, recently, when I win, I don’t feel happy, I feel more like a relief. And then when I lose, I feel very sad,” Osaka said. “I don’t think that’s normal.”
The moderator in charge of the interview with reporters attempted to cut things off, but Osaka said she wanted to continue.
“This is very hard to articulate,” she said, resting her left cheek in her hand. “Basically, I feel like I’m kind of at 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.”
Crying, she lowered her black visor over her eyes and offered an apology, then patted her palms on both cheeks.
“Yeah,” Osaka added, “I think I’m going to take a break from playing for a while.”
This was the first Slam tournament for the 23-year-old Japanese player since she pulled out of the French Open before the second round to take a mental health break after having announced she would not participate in news conferences in Paris.
She also sat out Wimbledon, before participating in the Tokyo Olympics, where she lit the cauldron as one of the host nation’s most famous athletes.
Osaka has four Grand Slam titles, including at the U.S. Open in 2018 – beating Serena Williams in a chaotic final – and a year ago, plus two more on the hard courts of the Australian Open. When she took a hiatus after Roland Garros, she revealed that she endures waves of anxiety before meeting with the media and has dealt with depression for three years.
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