Sunday, March 26, 2023

Australian Open no-show fuels fears for Osaka’s tennis future

Naomi Osaka has not performed a tennis match since September and her withdrawal from subsequent week’s Australian Open has raised considerations that the previous world primary might by no means seem on court docket once more.

Osaka’s social media accounts have stayed silent since Tennis Australia tweeted on Sunday that the two-time Melbourne champion would miss the primary Grand Slam of the yr, giving no motive for her absence.

Osaka’s posts over the previous few months have proven her travelling in Europe along with her boyfriend, the rapper Cordae, and asserting that her sports activities administration company had signed up world quantity two Ons Jabeur.

However there was little proof of the Japanese participant spending time practising on court docket, fuelling hypothesis that the four-time Grand Slam champion’s tennis profession may very well be over on the age of 25.

Tennis author Ben Rothenberg, who has authored a biography of Osaka due out later this yr, believes she has already taken a “meaningful step back” from the game and is intentionally maintaining quiet.

“I think she might want to be opaque about it because she doesn’t want to put a label on it necessarily,” he advised AFP.

“I don’t think she would use the word ‘retiring’, but if she was stepping away from the sport for a while — and it could be for any length of time — I don’t know that she would want to speak that out loud.

“I think she would sense that that would raise a lot of bells and whistles.”

‘More down than up’

Osaka has beforehand talked about struggling along with her psychological well being and revealed that she suffered melancholy.

She spent all of 2022 outdoors the highest 10, enduring first-round defeats at each the French and US Opens and withdrawing from Wimbledon with an Achilles’ harm.

She additionally cut up from long-time coach Wim Fissette final summer time, changing him along with her father Leonard Francois.

Her final look was on the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo in September, the place the house favorite withdrew earlier than her second-round match, complaining of belly ache.

She advised reporters at that event that she had gone via “more down than up” in 2022 and that she had “learned a lot” about herself.

She is now ranked 47 on the planet, having hit the summit for the primary time in 2019.

Rothenberg believes Osaka is “recalculating things” and will determine that she isn’t ready to make the sacrifices wanted to proceed as an expert tennis participant.

“For her, the math is not adding up right now, for her to want to make the commitment,” he mentioned.

“She knows how much work it is and how all-encompassing and preoccupying it is to be an active full-time player with the standards that she has.

“She’s won so much already, she’s not going to be content just to be a top-20 player again.”

Australia’s Ashleigh Barty, then the world’s undisputed primary, surprised the tennis world in March final yr when she introduced her retirement aged 25.

She defined that she was “spent physically” and not had the drive wanted to proceed.

Enterprise pursuits

Osaka has a number of pursuits outdoors of enjoying tennis, together with her sports activities administration company Evolve, which counts Jabeur and Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios amongst its purchasers.

She has additionally invested in Pickleball, a tennis-like sport that’s rising quick in the US, and boasts quite a few endorsements.

Her web site describes herself as not solely a tennis participant but in addition “fashion nerd”, “entrepreneur” and “social change advocate”.

Osaka was named the world’s top-earning girl athlete for 2022 by Forbes, with reported earnings of $51.1 million, at the same time as her tennis profession continued to dive.

Rothenberg says there shall be vital stress from sponsors urging Osaka to “stay on the hamster wheel” {of professional} tennis.

However he says the truth that she has chosen to not proves that she is “making this decision for herself”.

“Whatever her reasons may be, players almost always err on the side of choosing to play,” he mentioned.

“So for her to hit pause, I think shows a good deal of control of the situation.”

And Rothenberg believes there may be nonetheless loads of time for Osaka to return again, ought to she want to.

“She has more runway in front of her if she wants to take back off again and get back on tour,” he mentioned.

“But it won’t get any easier with more time off. The more time she spends away, it will not get easier.”

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