The vibe was much more positive on the court and off following Naomi Osaka’s latest tennis match.
After defeating Australian Astra Sharma 6-3, 6-4 in her first-round match at the Miami Open, the four-time grand slam champion told reporters she was feeling better.
“I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this, but I finally started talking to a therapist after Indian Wells. It only took like a year after French Open,” Osaka said, referencing when she was heckled by a fan at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, on March 12, and when she withdrew from Roland Garros in Paris last year after opting not to speak to the media at the grand slam event, citing her mental health.
“I realize how helpful it is,” Osaka said of talking to a therapist. “I’m glad that I have people around me that told me to go in that direction.”
When asked by a reporter why this was the moment Osaka decided to choose to talk someone, she said it was because her sister, former professional player Mari Osaka, “seemed very concerned for me.”
“I feel like I’ve been trying a lot of different things because I tend to internalize things, and I also want to do everything by myself,” Osaka said, adding that her coach, Wim Fissette, “kind of put it in a really good way. He was like, you hire a coach for tennis, for fitness. The mind is such a big thing. If you can get a professional to help you out .5 percent, that alone is worth it.”
At Indian Wells, Osaka was heckled by a spectator early in her second-round match against Veronika Kudermetova. The spectator appeared to yell, “Naomi, you suck!” and Osaka looked shaken, going on to lose the first set 6-0 and ultimately losing the match in straight sets.
Osaka addressed the crowd after the loss, saying at the time that being heckled didn’t bother her, “but heckled here, like, I’ve watched a video of Venus and Serena (Williams) get heckled here, and if you’ve never watched it, you should watch it. I don’t know why, but it went into my head and got replayed a lot.”
When she withdrew from the French Open in 2021, Osaka revealed she had “suffered long bouts of depression” since winning her first grand slam title in 2018. Osaka skipped Wimbledon and then took another break from playing after a shock defeat against Leylah Fernandez at the US Open in the third round.
Osaka said Wednesday in Florida: “I think for me, the situation in Indian Wells, I’ve kind of thought back on it. I realize I’ve never been heckled. I’ve been booed, but not like a direct yell-out kind of thing. It kind of took me out of my element.
“I feel like I’m prepared for it now. I was kind of bracing myself before the match to just know that’s a thing that could happen now. I think I just needed to change my mindset a little.”
Up next for Osaka at the Miami Open is lefty Angelique Kerber of Germany in the second round. Kerber has a 4-1 advantage in their head-to-head matches.