Naomi Osaka has battled her way through to the semi-finals of the Miami Open after defeating America’s Danielle Collins 6-2 ,6-1 in her fourth tournament since taking a break for her mental health 10 months ago.
The former World No. 1 divided opinion at last year’s French Open when she refused to fulfil her media duties to protect her mental health before she then decided to take a break from the tennis circuit after her elimination from Roland Garros, which included an absence from Wimbledon. She has partaken in five tournaments since her much-needed time away and in Miami, the Japanese star seems to be refreshed and her relationship with the media seems to be healing after she gave some interesting quotes, hitting back at male star Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The Greek star made comments this week saying that female players should play five sets like the men if they want equal pay. Osaka hit back at the World No. 5’s comments by joking: “Does he want to play nine sets? If he tries to extend mine, I’m going to extend his.” A smile was seen as she made this comment which is something that tennis has sorely missed this past year and it was a welcome sight from the 24-year-old.
She is currently ranked 77th in the world but that does not matter as her four Grand Slam titles still hold her within high regard among the tennis community and her positive spirit and energy in Miami is giving the impression that she is working her way back to her best form. Let’s not forget that just before the events of last May, she was crowned the Australian Open champion, so she was at the top of her game before her break and now she has returned, recharged and in a healthier state of mind which is only going to mean good things for her and the sport moving forward. A vacuum has been left in the WTA following Ashleigh Barty’s shock retirement last week, and with Osaka’s pedigree and past success, an opportunity will arise for her to rapidly rise the rankings and eventually fight for the number one spot again.
Her performances in Miami have been promising and her next challenge will be Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic, the current World No. 28 who has five titles to her name including the gold medal at last year’s Tokyo Olympics. She has displayed some excellent tennis to reach the last four and will be a difficult opponent who will look to push Osaka to her limits. Her return to form and to the sport in general has been great to see, and men’s star Nick Kyrgios has praised her for ‘pulling the pin’ on mental health struggles and hopefully her actions have and will continue to inspire those suffering in silence to speak out.
Her run in Miami has brought her back into the spotlight for purely tennis reasons and her confidence will only benefit from her recent performances. With the French Open and Wimbledon not too far away, she will be hoping to carry this momentum over to the upcoming Grand Slam in May. If she were to head to the Paris spectacle having won her first title in over a year, there will be many of the seeded players who will be fearful of the former number one who is still yet to go further than the third round at Roland Garros, who will be more than determined to change that narrative.
However, results on the court are somewhat irrelevant when it comes to the bigger picture. Osaka looks to be enjoying her tennis again, on and off the court, and long may it continue.