| Particular to USA TODAY
NEW YORK — Sooner than the beginning of what could per chance additionally be the remaining time we look her on a tennis court for awhile, Naomi Osaka told us she performs better with a purpose.
Tennis is a grueling sport that requires a demanding year-long training and tournament time desk. Some avid gamers undergo it for money, fame, on-court accolades, or per chance a combination of all three, but for Osaka that has never gave the affect to be sufficient. She has hundreds of those things.
Final year, her message used to be optimistic. She walked onto Arthur Ashe Stadium seven instances with seven diverse masks, each and each one featuring the name of a distinct victim of racial injustice, and she or he never lost a match. In 2021, it’s no longer as optimistic.
“I don’t if truth be told have that abundant of a message to push across at all,” she said in a pre-tournament press convention. “It’s going to be if truth be told interesting to look what drives me.”
That quote appears prescient now. On Friday night, after going down 0-5 in a tiebreaker, Osaka slammed her racket and screamed into the September air. Her physique language, at instances, gave the affect unhappy, as if defeat to her opponent, 18-year-customary qualifier Leylah Fernandez, used to be inevitable. It used to be all so un-Osaka admire. This used to be the young woman who upset Serena Williams at age 20, on these associated court. Each and each facet of her game had exuded energy: her stoicism, her serve, her forehand, her aggression from the baseline. On Friday, she looked lost.
After falling to Fernandez, Osaka explained why. When she wins, she doesn’t feel pleasure, but relief. When she loses, she feels sad. Pulling her visor down her eyes, she finished the clicking convention by saying she doesn’t know when she’ll play her next match. Osaka’s words had been striking, but we had heard them earlier than. In 2012, Andre Agassi described that associated emotion – relief – when he obtained his first and exclusively Wimbledon title in 1992.
“For me,” he said to The Unusual York Events, “winning Wimbledon didn’t seem to remaining near to so long as losing did.”
In the early 2000s, Mats Wilander told journalist Paul Fein that after he’d finally reached No. 1 in 1988, he didn’t feel anything.
“All my occupation I had dreamed of being No. 1. Nonetheless after I finally performed it, and the initial pleasure wore off, I felt nothing,” he said. “I had no sense of elation or pride. I used to be the realm champion but so what? It got to the stage where I got extra pride cutting the grass than playing tennis.”
Agassi obtained the U.S. Open in 1994 and the Australian Open in 1995, but in 1997, saw his lifestyles fall into deepest turmoil. During this time, he grew to turn into to drug exhaust. By the finish of that year, his ranking had sunk to No. 141. After Wilander had performed the intention he’d long strived for, his ranking started to progressively decline. He obtained one extra Immense Slam title in 1989 (Wimbledon) but had dropped to No. 159 by 1991, and retired in 1996, unable to return to his customary dominance.
It begs the put a question to: Can you play tennis, on the ideal level, ought to you’re sad? Can you play it with out a motive behind playing it?
“To finish X quantity of tournaments a year, inch 45 weeks a year, catch up and play four hours or extra a day, you better have a motive to stop out there,” said Jeff Greenwald, a sports psychologi and customary No. 1 in the realm in the ITF men’s 35. “Clearly, Osaka doesn’t have a motive. She doesn’t adore the sport reliable now. She’s in a pressured dispute, which is no longer extraordinary ought to you turn into distinguished, and you originate all this money. All of a unexpected you gape around and issue, ‘I’m on the top of the mountain. Now what am I supposed to finish?’ ”
There’s an argument to be made that Osaka is shouldering extra weight than any athlete in recent tennis history. No longer exclusively is she in truth playing for 3 international locations – Japan, Haiti and the United States – but she is also the face of many causes, the racial justice slide and psychological health movements, amongst them. It’s optimistic that these causes are crucial to her – and a motivating factor – but there’s no denying that representing it brings loads of strain, significantly in a sport that is already a strain-cooker.
“In tennis, it’s all you,” Greenwald said. “You’re uncovered, and there’s no one to blame anything on (if something goes spoiled). Boxing and fencing have that, but tennis is a fine motor capability. Your intensity has to be rather excessive, but you have to be loose on the associated time. You wish to be in this very extraordinary dispute to be in a blueprint to strike the ball continuously smartly.
“There’s no other sport admire tennis in that regard. In golf, the ball is stationary. There’s no opponent. In tennis, you have an opponent who is trying to beat you. There will probably be a winner and a loser, no ties, and when you happen to lose, it’s all you. Other folk have a laborious sufficient time feeling genuine about themselves in lifestyles, no longer to mention in front of 10,000 individuals or a couple million.”
Osaka has said that since 2018, she’s struggled with bouts of despair and fright. Greenwald is of the same opinion that a atomize could per chance additionally be what she needs to reset and replicate on why she needs to play.
Agassi used to be in a blueprint to catch his game serve to an elite level, rising to the No. 1 ranking and winning 5 extra Immense Slam events between 1999 and 2003.
Whether Osaka takes a protracted atomize or no longer, Greenwald said he believes that finding purpose will probably be central to her future in tennis.
“For tennis, in hiss, you have to be all in,” he said. “You have to adore the adrenaline. You have to have a motive. I think Novak (Djokovic), presumably two years ago, used to be trying to figure out how to stop motivated. You wish a motive to play, whether it’s chasing a Immense Slam or grasp the sport or play for yourself. Andre Agassi fell out, found himself and came serve.
“She’s going to have to find her own motive to reach serve.”