Osaka starts having fun again

World No. 1 Naomi Osaka of Japan has had a "rough couple of months" as she admitted that she battled with depression. Yesterday, she beat Croatia's Donna Vekic 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4) at the Stuttgart Open.
World No. 1 Naomi Osaka of Japan has had a "rough couple of months" as she admitted that she battled with depression. Yesterday, she beat Croatia's Donna Vekic 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4) at the Stuttgart Open. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Depressed for months, world No. 1 has new mindset as she reaches first clay-court s-final

STUTTGART • Despite advancing to her first career clay-court semi-final yesterday, it has been a "rough couple of months" for Naomi Osaka.

Not only did the world No. 1 split with her coach Sascha Bajin - who had been part of her rise to tennis' summit - in the aftermath of her second consecutive Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, but she has also since found it difficult to handle the trappings of her new-found fame.

The Japanese had already admitted in recent interviews that it had been a struggle to deal with the constant media glare.

And, before defeating Croatia's Donna Vekic at the Stuttgart Open to reach the last four of a tournament for the first time since parting with Bajin, she revealed the harsh spotlight had left her miserable, contributing to her early exits in her past three events.

Yesterday, after leading by a set, Osaka ultimately trailed 5-1 in the decider, but never faced a match point and won five straight games en route to a 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4) win.

However, she declared her funk to be over, with her first clay-court event of the year an ideal warm-up as she bids for a third straight major at Roland Garros next month.

Osaka, who in the previous round avenged her Miami Open loss to Chinese Taipei's Hsieh Su-wei, said: "I am really grateful for everyone that has been really positive towards me. The kid was depressed out there. If there is one positive thing that I can say about myself, it is that I learn quickly.

"Definitely, I've put a lot on pressure on myself and found it hard to deal with in the first few tournaments.

"Now, I start trying to have fun out there, which is what I did before I was No. 1."

The US Open champion, who will face either Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens or Germany's Angelique Kerber (their match was overnight) today, last played in Stuttgart as a qualifier in 2017.

Elsewhere, the second-ranked Rafael Nadal praised fellow Spaniard David Ferrer, who made his final appearance in Barcelona amid a standing ovation before bowing out in the round of 16 to the 11-time champion on Thursday.

The 37-year-old will hang up his racket after next month's Madrid Open and Nadal, 32, felt that "after all his years fighting (through injuries) and giving us all joy, he deserves the reception he got".

Of Ferrer, whom he beat in the 2013 French Open final, he added: "It's his decision but, on a tennis level, he doesn't have to retire. He's struggled with injuries, but he is playing very well this year.

"It has been an emotional day. Happy of course for the victory, but very sad to say goodbye to one good friend and one friend we shared all of these things during our careers."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2019, with the headline 'Osaka starts having fun again'. Print Edition | Subscribe