Naomi Osaka is back.
Naomi Osaka is back.
The 23-year-old tennis sensation took to the court Sunday for the first time since pulling out of the French Open in May to take a mental health break, besting Zheng Saisai of China 6-1, 6-4 in a first-round Olympic victory.
Afterward, Osaka spoke with the media for the first time since declining to speak with reporters at the French Open, a controversial decision that led to fines and her eventually withdrawing from the tournament.
“More than anything else, I’m just focused on playing tennis,” Osaka said. “The Olympics has been a dream of mine since I was a kid, so I feel like the break that I took was very needed. I feel definitely a little bit refreshed, and I’m happy again.”
Two months away from competition did not seem to affect the second-ranked Osaka, as she kicked off the match by launching an ace into the service box and built a 5-0 lead over the 52nd-ranked Zheng. Throughout the two sets, the Osaka, who is representing Japan, showed off her hardcourt dominance as she served six aces. Osaka produced 25 winners compared to Zheng’s 10.
Osaka pulled out of the French Open and Wimbledon to focus more on her mental health. She said she had “huge waves of anxiety” when speaking to the media and had been fined $15,000 by tennis officials for refusing to participate in press conferences.
Following the match Sunday, Osaka — clad in red and white braids for her native Japan — said that she felt “a little bit out of my body” speaking to reporters, emphasizing that it was from nervousness.
“There’s nothing wrong with my body; I just felt really nervous,” she said.
Of the match she said, “I haven’t played since France, so there were definitely some things that I did a bit wrong, but I think I can improve in the matches that I continue playing.”
The reigning U.S. Open and Australian Open champion also elaborated on lighting the Olympic flame, revealing that she had kept it a secret since March. Osaka’s match against Zheng was initially scheduled for Saturday but was pushed back a day to accommodate for her role in the Opening Ceremony.
“When I lit the flame, I was super honored,” Osaka said. “I think that’s a position that you dream about and not anyone can do it. So, for me, when they asked me if I wanted to, I was very surprised but very honored. And I’m just very happy to be here and very happy to play — especially in Tokyo.”
The Olympic field has cleared out for Osaka. Australia’s Ashleigh Barty, who is currently ranked No. 1 in the world, fell in her first-round match against Spain’s Sara Sarribes Tormo. No. 4 Sofia Kenin and No. 5 Bianca Andreescu decided not to compete in the Summer Games this year.
In the second round, Osaka will face Switzerland’s Viktorija Golubic, who is ranked 50th in the world.
This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Elizabeth Karpen