05/23 11:34 CDT Year after Osaka decides to leave Paris, loss forces her to
Year after Osaka decides to leave Paris, loss forces her to
By HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Tennis Writer
PARIS (AP) --- A year ago, Naomi Osaka left the French Open of her own
volition, never beaten on the court but determining that she needed to pull out
before the second round to stand up for herself and protect her mind more than
she needed to do whatever she could to win matches.
On Monday, Osaka departed Roland Garros against her will --- via a 7-5, 6-4
loss in the first round to 20-year-old American Amanda Anisimova, who is seeded
27th and also won their contest at the Australian Open in January --- after
taking a painkiller to try to deal with a troublesome left Achilles tendon. She
tried to stretch the tendon by tugging on her neon yellow shoes at changeovers
or by squatting to flex her lower leg between points.
Osaka was unable to summon the serving or court coverage on which her game is
based, in part because her practice time and recent match play have been
limited. The four-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1-ranked player, who
is now ranked No. 38 and was unseeded in Paris, double-faulted twice to end
games and called the outcome "disappointing."
Yet she also provided a measure of the way in which her mindset might have
changed since her previous appearance at the clay-court major tournament, when
she decided not to speak to the media at all (drawing a $15,000 fine and threat
of further punishment, which prompted her withdrawal), saying that stance was
because of anxiety and depression she hadn't previously revealed. Her openness
back then helped spark a wider awareness of, and conversation about, the
importance of mental health.
"I'm really happy with myself," Osaka said Monday, "because I know the emotions
that I left France (with) last year."
Barbora Krejcikova also was aware of the wide spectrum of emotions she went
through herself at the French Open from 2021 --- when she was a Grand Slam
singles champion for the first time --- to 2022 --- when she joined Osaka in
departing in the first round.
Krejcikova was seeded No. 2, but she was coming off an injured right elbow that
kept her off the tour since February, and her first match back began with a 4-0
lead before unraveling into a 1-6, 6-2, 6-3 exit against Diane Parry, a
19-year-old from France who is ranked 97th and entered the day with a 1-5
career record in Grand Slam matches.
Krejcikova said she "hit the wall" early in the second set and never recovered,
becoming just the third woman in French Open history to be defeated in her
opening match a year after winning the title.
There weren't any other such significant results on Day 2, when the women's
winners included No. 1 Iga Swiatek, the 2020 champion; and other past major
champs Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka and Bianca Andrescu. In men's matches,
13-time champion Rafael Nadal won in three sets and No. 13 seed Taylor Fritz
won in five.
Defending champion Novak Djokovic was scheduled to play at night.
Merely conducting news conferences, before the tournament on Friday and after
this loss, were a step forward for Osaka. She was comfortable addressing all
sorts of topics, including her difficulties on clay and grass courts, the fact
that she is leaning toward skipping Wimbledon because there won't be ranking
points offered there and the increased attention to protecting athletes'
well-being --- even if the strides made over the past 12 months are not
"I mean, I feel like there is always more to do. You can't progress and then
just stop. You know what I'm saying? There always has to be evolution," Osaka
said. "But I feel like, as of right now, they are trying their best, and I
think it's really nice to see."
While Osaka's best performances have come on hard courts, Anisimova's best
showing at a Slam came on the red clay of Roland Garros, where she reached the
2019 semifinals at 17. And even if the occasional rain that delayed play for
hours Monday made the tennis balls heavier and restricted what Anisimova felt
she could do to deliver shots where she wanted them, she was good enough to
advance in straight sets against a top-flight opponent.
"A lot of anticipation over the last couple of days. I was trying not to think
about it too much, but going into the match, I did feel like the stress and the
nerves a bit, because it is a very tough first round," Anisimova said. "Just
happy with how I was able to manage it and get through it."
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