FILE PHOTO: Tennis – Australian Open – Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia – January 21, 2022 Japan’s Naomi Osaka during a press conference after losing her third round match against Amanda Anisimova of the U.S. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

March 23, 2022

By Steve Keating

(Reuters) – Naomi Osaka was cheered on to a 6-3 6-4 first-round win over Australia’s Astra Sharma at the Miami Open on Wednesday, still stung by the heckling she received in a second round loss at Indian Wells.

Playing in what she calls her home tournament, Osaka was in complete command right from the moment she stepped onto the Hard Rock Stadium court, never allowing Sharma a single break opportunity while keeping her 96th-ranked opponent under constant pressure, converting two of 11 break points.

After the match Osaka soaked up the applause from the sparse crowd in what was a far different atmosphere from 11 days earlier in Indian Wells when she fought back tears after being heckled during a second round loss to Veronika Kudermetova.

“This is like my home tournament,” smiled Osaka, during her post-match on-court interview prompting a round of cheers.

“Honestly I just didn’t want to let anything bother me today no matter what happened like the last match I played was not the greatest memory for me.

“I just wanted to prove I could come back out here and compete and no matter if I won or lost just know I had the best attitude that I could.”

A four-times Grand Slam champion, the Japanese former world number one has seen her ranking fall to 77 coming into the tournament after she took a break from tennis following last year’s U.S. Open to prioritise her mental health.

Osaka’s mental health struggles first manifested themselves at the 2021 French Open when she withdrew from the Grand Slam after deciding to boycott post-match media duties, explaining she had been suffering from depression.

She has taken breaks from the sport on several occasions and said after her match on Wednesday that she was seeing a therapist.

Osaka said the decision to finally seek out professional help came after her sister expressed concern for her.

“I finally started talking to a therapist after Indian Wells,” said Osaka, after setting up a second round clash with another former world number one Angelique Kerber. “It only took like a year after the French Open.

“I feel like I’ve been trying a lot of different things because I tend to internalise things, and I also want to do everything by myself.

“The mind is such a big thing. If you can get a professional to help you out .5 percent, that alone is worth it.”

Osaka has eased into the current campaign, the Miami tournament being just her second event since a third-round exit at the Australian Open.

But the 24-year-old looked razor sharp in a controlled Miami opener with her thundering serve and forehand inflicting much of the damage.

While her game is starting to round into shape, more importantly Osaka said, so is her life.

“For now I feel like it (therapy) helps me out a lot,” she said. “I’m just going to keep moving forward with that, knowing the feelings that I have towards, like, wanting to improve that part of my life or that part of my head space.”

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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