PARIS, May 20 — Naomi Osaka admitted today that she was “worried” over her return to the French Open, fearing she had “offended” people when she controversially quit the 2021 tournament.
The Japanese superstar, a former world number one and a four-time major winner, pulled out of Roland Garros 12 months ago after she was fined and threatened with a Grand Slam ban for refusing to honour media commitments.
Osaka, the world’s highest-earning sportswoman last year with a US$55 million (RM242 million) income, then took a break from the sport, revealing she had been suffering bouts of depression.
“I’m not going to lie. Like when I first came here, I was very worried,” the 24-year-old said as she attended the official press day for the French Open which starts Sunday.
“I was just kind of worried that there were people that I offended some way and I would just kind of bump into them.
“Of course I also didn’t like how I handled the situation.” Osaka, who withdrew after just one match in 2021, went on to skip that season’s Wimbledon as well.
But there were still signs over her discomfort in the public eye when she cried on court at Indian Wells in March this year after a spectator yelled “Naomi, you suck” as she slumped to a second round defeat.
“I was also very worried about this press conference, because I knew I’d get a lot of questions,” she added today.
“I think for me where I am right now, I wouldn’t want to say it hasn’t left my mind.
“Of course I’m still thinking about it, and I’m kind of also prepping just in case I go on the court and a fan says something like in Indian Wells. Yeah, for the most part I think I’m okay.” Osaka said her recent torrid public experiences have left her more guarded and less spontaneous than in her junior and early career days.
“I kind of feel I was funnier back then. Like I used to be able to say jokes and not really care if anyone got it,” she said.
“I could reexplain the joke and whatever. I feel like the thing that’s changed is like me trying to figure out the crowd. I feel like I’m a standup comedian and I’m trying to figure out what’s okay and what’s not okay.” Osaka’s bruising and frustrating 12 months have seen her world ranking slump to 38, leaving her unseeded in Paris.
In the first round, she faces American 27th seed Amanda Anisimova, a semi-finalist in 2019.
Anisimova knocked Osaka out of the Australian Open in the third round this year.
“I did this exhibition match with her in Indian Wells, and she completely killed me. So, hopefully I’ll get more than two points,” she said. — AFP