Column: Naomi Osaka triumphed after her return to the US Open, and inspired a special moment with a fan

Naomi Osaka continues to find her way as she shakes off the doubts that have infiltrated her soul and endangered her sanity. Opening her US Open title defense with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Czech Marie Pozkova on Monday was a small step in that direction.

Osaka is not yet complete or fully recovered. What took years to develop cannot be erased in days or weeks. But now he looks at the light, leaving behind the darkness he was in.

“In this tournament, I just want to be happy knowing I did my best,” he commented on Monday. “I told myself that if I performed well, I would be satisfied whatever the outcome.”

In the past, when others watched her win a convincing victory on the tennis court, the 23-year-old Japanese considered her playing opportunities better. When others considered her a strong and confident athlete, she recognized someone who had not reached an almost impossible level.

“I tell people that I am a perfectionist. For me, what is not excellent, even if it is very difficult, is a disappointment.” “I don’t think it’s a healthy way of thinking. So it’s something I really wanted to change.”

Naomi Osaka speaks to the crowd after defeating Marie Bozkova during the first round of the US Open on Monday in New York.

(Elise Amendola/The Associated Press)

Questions from the media about his losses or mistakes were swelling in his mind. As an introvert, she decided it would be best to skip the required post-match press conferences and pay a fine if that meant avoiding questions that highlighted her weaknesses on clay or the mistakes she made in the loss.

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These questions were usually light, often friendly, but she saw heavy criticism in every question. Her restriction to giving interviews through Zoom, which did not allow her to read facial expressions and body language, only exacerbated the problems. It all came together and created an uneasy delusional barrier, which contributed to the bouts of depression she has been struggling with since defeating Serena Williams to win the 2018 US Open title.

Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam singles champion, has put self-healing above her rival at Wimbledon this year. What is immeasurable is the number of conversations he has started about the importance of mental health, and how even the physically strongest of athletes sometimes need emotional support. You helped make it okay to say it’s not okay, it’s a precious gift. The American Tennis Association realized the importance of its mission by adding a mental health counselor to its staff.

It’s been a turbulent year since winning the Australian Open, and he hasn’t made it past the quarter-finals of the tournament since March. Hitting Bozkova on Monday reassured her. Good night work. In the second group, he increased strength and sharpness, reducing Buzkova’s spirit with relapse after relapse in hard-to-reach places. Osaka has won eight of the last nine and hasn’t allowed itself to collapse.

But Osaka’s real win is to give a girl sitting on the track a commemorative pin from the Tokyo Olympics, as Osaka lit the Olympic cauldron during the opening ceremony. Osaka didn’t stay long in Olympic tennis, joking at a usually self-deprecating moment during an on-court interview after Monday’s game, so she didn’t have much time to exchange pins with other athletes. So she took a bunch of pins home and gave one to the little fan who was cheering for her.

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It was a natural and genuine gesture, the way she shared her happiness that she seemed determined to find.

In an Instagram post on Sunday, Osaka commented that she had been thinking about the past year, trying to figure out why she felt so inappropriate.

“I realize that one of the reasons is, internally, I think I’m not good enough. I’ve never told myself I’ve done a good job, but I know I’m constantly telling myself that I’m poor or that I can do better.” “Every time a new opportunity pops up, the first thing I think of is: ‘Wow, why me?'” “

She concluded that the treatment is to search for the good in herself and in life, and not focus on the negative. Good advice for all of us.

“I guess what I am trying to say is that I will try to celebrate more of myself and my accomplishments. I think we should all.” “Did you get up in the morning and save nothing for later? Hero. Did you solve something at work that has been bothering you for so long? Your life is yours and you shouldn’t value yourself by other people’s standards. I know I give my heart to all I can and if that isn’t enough for some, then my apologies.” But I can’t stand these expectations anymore. When I see everything that’s going on in the world I feel that if I get up in the morning it’s a victory. That’s how I came.”

He enjoyed playing in front of the crowd on Monday, calling it surreal after so many months.

“It’s definitely a comfort to win this match in two sets instead of three,” he said.

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He also said that his approach to highlighting the positive is not just a tennis philosophy. She is also learning to accept compliments, which she had previously refused and insisted were not worth receiving.

“I hope I can maintain this mentality for the rest of my life,” he says. If it takes the darkness away from her and the others, it will be the greatest victory you will win this year, or any other.

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