Tennis: Osaka inspires Anisimova to talk about mental health 'hard years'

Amanda Anisimova beat Naomi Osaka on Jan 21 to make the Australian Open fourth round. PHOTO: AFP

MELBOURNE (AFP) - Amanda Anisimova is a big fan of Naomi Osaka for bringing athletes' mental health struggles into the spotlight over the past year - an issue she can relate to.

The 20-year-old American, who beat the Japanese superstar on Friday (Jan 21) to make the Australian Open fourth round, looked on the cusp of greatness in 2019 when she made the semi-finals of the French Open as a 17-year-old.

She beat defending champion Simona Halep before pushing the eventual champion Ashleigh Barty all the way in the last four.

The future looked bright but the death of her father soon after understandably devastated Anisimova, and her ranking slumped from a high of 21 in 2019 to 78 at the end of last year.

She admits that she went through some "hard years" and said Osaka highlighting her own personal problems was a breath of fresh air.

"For sure, just to spread awareness and try to get rid of the stigma around mental health. I think that we're in a completely different time now," she said.

"This generation is becoming more honest about all these kinds of things. I think it's great to see. I'm comfortable speaking about whatever, you know.

"I've gone through a couple of hard years, and I don't mind posting stuff on social media and just try to spread awareness for people who are also going through tough things. I think it's great to be relatable to other people who follow us. I think it's a great message."

Osaka was making her return to Grand Slam tennis in Melbourne after a long break following a tearful third-round exit at the US Open in September - the culmination of a difficult year where she was plagued by doubt and said she suffered depression.

Anisimova called her "really inspiring" and "authentic".

"I think she's just great, really fresh for the tour. I think she's really funny and sweet," she said.

Anisimova's reward for stunning Osaka is a clash with world No. 1 Barty on Sunday for a place in the quarter-finals.

The Australian has reeled off 57 consecutive service holds and will start as hot favourite, but Anisimova is full of confidence, playing with a rejuvenated freedom.

She won a second career title at the Melbourne Summer Set two weeks ago, ousted Tokyo Olympic gold medallist Belinda Bencic before Osaka and is unbeaten in eight matches to highlight her immense quality.

"She's an amazing player. I look up to her a lot. I love her game. She's very consistent. She's a champion," the American said of Barty.

"So it's just going to be exciting to go up against her, another amazing opportunity for me."

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