November 30, 2021

Billie Jean King among tennis voices supporting Naomi Osaka taking break – New York Post

As Naomi Osaka exited the U.S. Open in tears late Friday night, her next event is a mystery.

The next big tournament, in Indian Wells Calif. (which was rescheduled to October), probably won’t feature Osaka, who vowed to take a leave of absence as she deals with her issues.

The WTA has not heard officially if Osaka will pull out of Indian Wells or the year-ending WTA Finals, which may or may not be held in China.

Tennis legend Billie Jean King tweeted, after Osaka left the Flushing Meadows grounds named after King: “Take all the time you need to recover, rest, and heal, @naomiosaka. Sending you love and support.”

No one is expecting Osaka to play before, at least, the Australian Open in January after her Open breakdown Friday.

Osaka, 23, collapsed in a three-setter to 18-year-old lefty Leylah Fernandez. Osaka threw racquets during the match and cried during the press conference, saying, “Yeah. I think I’m going to take a break from playing for a while.’’

tennis
Naomi Osaka and Billie Jean King
Corey Sipkin, EPA

It was troubling to watch a great champion disintegrate on the court — sadder to watch it in the interview room. The moderator tried to end it, but Osaka insisted that she carry on.

“I guess we’re all dealing with some stuff, but I know that I’m dealing with some stuff,’’ said Osaka after she threw her racquet twice in the second-set tiebreak and also struck a ball into the crowd.

Osaka, the defending Open champion, was attempting to win her third title here in four years.

“I feel very anxious when things don’t go my way,’’ Osaka said. “I’m not really sure why it happens the way it happens now. I was kind of like a little kid.’’

ESPN’s leading tennis commentator, Pam Shriver, said she thinks this potential hiatus is best for Osaka, who withdrew earlier this year from the French Open, citing mental health issues after announcing she wouldn’t do press conferences because of the stress. She also pulled out of Wimbledon.

Shriver said current No. 1 Ashleigh Barty also took a leave for 2020 and came back sharper than she ever had been.

“It seems she as if [Osaka] needs and wants to take a break,’’ Shriver told The Post. “It been very helpful to take a sabbatical to rest during your career. Barty is the best example how it can help. She took a break until she felt ready. Of course, you say things after an emotional unexpected loss that can change in a week or two, but given her last few months, it appears she is wanting and needing one.’’

The Open is now without Serena Williams (injury), Coco Gauff (ousted in Round 2) and Osaka.

“I don’t have inside information on the WTA’s concerns, but you want the biggest stars healthy in all aspects so they can compete at their best,’’ Shriver said. “Osaka and Coco, once Serena didn’t play, are the two players who move the needle.’’

While Osaka leaves the tournament in messy fashion, Fernandez moves on to Sunday’s battle against three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber in a rare fourth-round battle of lefties.

Fernandez was enjoying her new fame Saturday. As the Canadian left the practice court, a group of a dozen teenagers yelled for her to come over for pictures and autographs. While her team seemed reluctant, Fernandez walked past the gate and to her new fans.

Naomi Osaka
Getty Images

Against Osaka, Fernandez blended her lefty serving power with a terrific array of well-angled forehand winners. She bounced around on her toes between points like Muhammad Ali in his prime as Osaka sulked. Osaka has lost to the last three left-handers she’s faced but didn’t see that as a factor.

In fact, the normally gracious Osaka was unable to summon plaudits toward the 73rd-ranked Fernandez. At one point, Osaka said Fernandez was hardly “serving bombs.’’

The charismatic Fernandez comes from Ecuadorian and Filipino heritage, grew up in Montreal and trains in Florida.

“[I had] just a natural belief, from a very young age, I knew I was able to beat anyone, anyone who is in front of me,’’ Fernandez said.