Naomi Osaka admitted that she has been a perfectionist for the majority of her tennis playing days. That’s an understandable mindset to have, especially for a talent that once held the No. 1 ranking in women’s tennis, is the defending U.S. Open and Australian Open champion, and is currently ranked No. 3 in the world.
But the 23-year-old superstar from Japan helped kickstart a new campaign on the importance of mental health this year when she withdrew from the French Open — despite being fined and threatened with expulsion for refusing to speak to the media — because it contributed to mental health issues that she had been dealing with for years.
Her candor not only re-ignited a conversation across the sporting landscape but also allowed Osaka to work on herself in the ensuing months. Now, she’s returning to a major tournament at the 2021 U.S. Open for the first time since winning the Australian Open back in February.
After a shaky start in the first set in which she was tied at four games apiece with the Czech Republic’s Marie Bouzkova, ranked 87th in the world, Osaka hit another level, powering through to a 6-4, 6-1 straight-set victory.
In previous years, the pressure she would have put on herself after a tougher-than-expected first set could have been immense, but this is a different superstar.
“I tell people that I’m a perfectionist. I think for me, something that’s less than perfection, even though it might be something great, is a disappointment,” Osaka admitted. “I don’t really think that’s a healthy way of thinking, so [that’s] something I really wanted to change.
“In this tournament, I just want to be happy with knowing that I did my best and knowing that even though I didn’t play perfect, I was able to win a match in two sets … It’s more like a life thing. Like, I hope I can keep this mindset throughout my life going forward.”
Going forward at the U.S. Open, she’ll face 145th-ranked Olga Danilovic — a 20-year-old from Serbia — on Wednesday in the second round of play.