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During a post-match interview after her Round 3 defeat against Canada's Leylah Fernandez at the U.S. Open, Naomi Osaka, who plays for Japan, said that she's planning on taking a break from tennis to focus on her mental health.
"I guess we're all dealing with some stuff, but I know that I'm dealing with some stuff," Osaka said during the September 4th press conference. She then got a "go-ahead" from someone on the sidelines before continuing, "I feel like for me recently when I win I don't feel happy. I feel more like a relief. And then when I lose, I feel very sad. I don't think that's normal."
She pressed on after the moderator said he wanted to wrap things up when Osaka began crying. "I'm kind of at this point where I'm trying to figure out what I want to do, and I honestly don't know when I'm going to play my next tennis match. Sorry," she said.
"I think I'm going to take a break from playing for a while."
She also noted during the interview that her on-court anxiety has presented itself in acts of frustration like slamming her racquet on the court when things aren't going her way. "I was telling myself to be calm, but I feel like maybe there was a boiling point," Osaka said. "I'm not really sure why it happens the way it happens now."
In May, Osaka pulled out of the 2021 French Open due to her anxiety and later confirmed she's been grappling with depression since winning the 2018 U.S. Open. She also withdrew from Wimbledon in June before competing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics where she made it to the third round before losing.
In late August, Osaka opened up about her mental health on Instagram, reflecting on her past year. "Recently I've been asking myself why do I feel the way I do and I realize one of the reasons is because internally I think I'm never good enough," she wrote. "I've never told myself that I've done a good job but I do know I constantly tell myself that I suck or I could do better."
She added, "I'm gonna try to celebrate myself and my accomplishments more, I think we all should...Your life is your own and you shouldn't value yourself on other people's standards."
On the heels of Simone Biles' advocacy for taking care of one's mental health during the Tokyo Games, the awareness surrounding athletes' mental wellbeing is at a peak. Although a lot rides on winning, tennis, gymnastics, and all sports in between, are just games. They'll never be as important as a person's health.
We support Osaka in her decision to step away and take care of herself. Hopefully, she can learn how to manage and embrace these feelings so that she can come back to the court stronger and, more importantly, happier.