Naomi Osaka has opened up on how she felt “ashamed’ for taking a break from tennis in 2021 to manage her mental health, but now says she is stronger and has the “itch” to play the game.
Osaka, a four-time major champion, did not have a vintage 2022, playing just 25 matches and winning only 14 of them.
She lost in the first round of both the US and the French Opens, and suffered an injury that caused her withdrawal from Wimbledon.
But she is on the entry list for the forthcoming Australian Open, and while appearing on The Late Show, took a moment to reflect on how far she has come off the court.
She said: “I think for me, I’ve just always been taught to kind of like stick it out or work through it, and I think that’s a very valuable lesson because it has gotten me through a lot of things in life.
“But there was just a point where I thought to myself like ‘why?’, you know. And not in a negative way, but if I am feeling this way, why would I keep pushing through it, when I can confront it and fix it and then continue on my journey?
“I was kind of huddled up in my house for a while after that whole thing happened [following Roland Garros in 2021].
“But then, I went to the Olympics [in Tokyo] and there were so many athletes that came up to me and I was so surprised and I was so honoured because these are people that I watch on TV and I like, I felt really grateful and felt really supported.”
Opening up on how she arrived at the decision to take her break from the game, Osaka revealed – in a separate interview with Good Morning America – that she had initially felt feelings of shame.
Naomi Osaka of Japan in action against Kaia Kanepi of Estonia during her first round match on Day 4 of the National Bank Open, part of the Hologic WTA Tour, at Sobeys Stadium on August 09, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario.
Image credit: Eurosport
She said: “For me, I felt like it was necessary, but I kind of felt ashamed in that moment because as an athlete you’re kind of told to be strong and push through everything, but I think I learned that it’s better to re-group and adjust the feelings you have in that moment and you can come back stronger.
“I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way [taking the break] because I learned a lot during that time.”
Osaka did re-affirm her commitment to tennis, despite undertaking a number of off-court pursuits over the past year.
The 25-year-old added: “For me, I feel like I’m a very curious person, so I’ve really been grateful to have been given all these avenues to explore, so I’m definitely looking forward to doing a lot of stuff, but I am a tennis player, so, if I don’t play tennis for too long, I get an itch.”
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