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Naomi Osaka is preparing for a difficult return to the French Open, a year on from citing mental health issues when she withdrew from the tournament.
Former world number one Osaka has won four Grand Slam titles but never been past the third round at Roland Garros.
She entered the 2021 French Open having taken the Australian Open title at the start of the year, only for her campaign in Paris to blow up in a way she was desperate to avoid after she announced she would not be fulfilling her media duties.
Having been fined, Osaka ultimately quit the tournament after winning in the first round, describing her “huge waves of anxiety” when speaking to reporters.
She had been warned by Grand Slam chiefs that she could be thrown out of the event if she continued to refuse to take part in media duties.
The Japanese superstar took a significant step on Friday then when she appeared in a pre-tournament news conference.
Yet that has not been Osaka’s only concern, as she is also conscious of the possibility of a repeat of events at Indian Wells earlier this year, where a heckler reduced her to tears.
“I’m not gonna lie,” Osaka said, “when I first came here, I was very worried.
“Of course, I also didn’t like how I handled the situation, but I was worried that there were people that I offended some way and I would bump into them.
“But I think everyone has been really positive, for the most part.
I’m not really so sure.
“I was also very worried about this press conference, because I knew I’d get a lot of questions about this. But I think, for me, where I am right now, I wouldn’t want to say it hasn’t left my mind.
“Of course, I’m still thinking about it, and I’m kind of also prepping just in case I go on the court and a fan says something like in Indian Wells. For the most part, I think I’m okay.” Osaka was then asked how she had found the news conference and explained she was still figuring out how to talk to reporters again.
“I feel like I was funnier back then,” she replied with a smile.
“Like I used to be able to say jokes and not really care if anyone got it. I could re-explain the joke, and whatever.
“I feel like the thing that’s changed, me trying to figure out the crowd. I feel like I’m a stand-up comedian, and I’m trying to figure out what’s okay and what’s not okay.
“I think maybe that’s changed for me. I’m kind of analysing what I can say and what I can’t say. But for the most part, I try to be myself and whatever.” Attention turned to tennis, and Osaka’s first-round match is against Amanda Anisimova, who beat her in her previous grand slam match in Melbourne.
“So, my reaction was I thought that Wim (Fissette, her coach) was joking,” Osaka said.
But she added: “I wouldn’t say I don’t want to play her, because I feel like, for me, I’m the type of person that if you beat me, it motivates me more to win, and I also learned a lot from the match.”
Indeed, Anisimova was not the opponent the unseeded Osaka feared most, with 2020 champion and current number one Iga Swiatek having won her past five tournaments.
“I had a dream a couple of days ago that the draw came out, and I had to play Iga,” Osaka said.
“For me, I was scared, because I was thinking: what’s the worst possible player to play when I’m unseeded? She came in my mind, so thank God that didn’t happen.”
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22/05/2022
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