‘At peace’ Naomi Osaka prepares for Indian Wells challenge

Four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka returns to Indian Wells, the scene of her breakthrough triumph in 2018, with new perspectives on a tennis career in turmoil in 2021. The Japanese star will step onto the court for the first time since a third-round exit in her Australian Open title defense in January when she faces another former major winner in Sloane Stephens in a first-round match at the prestigious hard-court tournament in the desert Californian.

She said on Wednesday she felt a new sense of confidence after her well-documented struggles in 2021 – which shone a light on the mental health of athletes across a wide range of sports.

Even her loss to American Amanda Anisimova in Melbourne reassured her that she was on the right track.

“Honestly, I feel like I’m at peace with myself, which I think is a great feeling as a person,” she said Wednesday in comments reported by the Desert Sun newspaper.

“For me, the biggest goal this year is, of course, that I want to do well at every tournament,” she added.

“But I think just knowing that I tried as hard as I could and had fun… I felt the difference in Australia.

“I actually walked out of court thinking, ‘You know what, I did my best. And I had match points. It was pretty good.”

Osaka withdrew from the French Open last year and skipped Wimbledon. After an early tearful exit at the US Open, she took an indefinite hiatus, saying she had battled depression.

She said she had been encouraged not only by her own ability to have more fun since returning to court, but also by the new fan expectations she encountered as she went about her business ahead of the tournament. in Indian Wells.

“I’m really grateful because I was watching qualifying the other day here and walking around and usually when I walk around people are like ‘win the tournament, I got tickets to the final’,” said said Osaka.

“And, actually, people were just like, ‘I hope you’re having fun. I know it’s not the biggest difference, but it really meant a lot to me.”

Osaka was unseeded when she won the Indian Wells title in 2018, beating top-ranked Simona Halep in the semi-finals en route to what was the biggest title of her career.

In her first appearance in three years, she is in rebuilding mode. Her exit from the Australian Open saw her slip out of the world top 80 and she had a tough first-round clash with Stephens – who ended a four-year title drought with a win in Guadalajara he two weeks ago.

“I’m going to have to put a lot of energy into it,” Osaka said.

While neither enjoys the first-round bye offered to the top 32 views, Osaka and Stephens are among the biggest names in a field that lacks top-ranked Ashleigh Barty and world No. Barbora Krejcikova.

Barty retired saying she had yet to recover from her triumphant Australian Open campaign, and the woman she beat in the Melbourne final, American Danielle Collins, was also a late withdrawal with an unspecified injury.

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Krejcikova, the reigning French Open champion, retired with an elbow injury.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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