The Japanese, defending champion, is aiming for a third US Open in four years, but she will have to dispel the doubts that have crossed her since the spring, from Monday in New York where the Australian world number 1 Ashleigh Barty tumbles as a favorite.
Since her victory in 2018, at the expense of Serena Williams – whose future on the courts, almost 40 years old, is more than ever covered in the veil of uncertainty after her forfeit due to a tear in a thigh -, Osaka reigns supreme, or almost in Flushing Meadows. After a misstep in 8th the following year against the Swiss Belinda Bencic, she regained her due in 2020 at the end of a particularly emotional summer which revealed, more than a player, a woman very committed to the fight. against racial injustice, in the wake of the George Floyd affair.
First there was his refusal to play his semifinal in Cincinnati, following in the footsteps of the Milwaukee Bucks who had just boycotted one of their NBA play-off games. She ended up playing it the next day, after tournament organizers suspended play in solidarity. And in New York City, she entered the court at every game wearing a mask bearing the name of an African-American victim of police violence.
“I haven’t played as many matches as I would have liked (before the US Open). But I feel pretty happy with the way I’m playing and pretty confident about my current situation. “
Seeming to assume this status of champion-activist, strengthening her aura as a new tennis star, Osaka, who according to Forbes is the highest paid sportswoman in the world with $ 60 million collected each year (50.9 million euros, 90% being extrasportive), then won at the Australian Open in February, demonstrating a solidity that was then believed to be flawless.
But there was the controversy, born of his refusal to answer questions from the media at Roland Garros, which earned him financial penalties and led to his resounding forfeit before the second round. The whole having updated problems of anxiety, marked by “several depressive episodes».
After a break that led her to skip Wimbledon, she missed her return to the Tokyo Games where, after lighting the Olympic cauldron, she cracked under the pressure in the round of 16.
In Cincinnati last week, she burst into tears for her first press conference on the WTA circuit since Roland Garros, before giving in in the third round to the Swiss Jil Teichmann, 76th in the world.
«I haven’t played as many matches as I would have liked (before the US Open). But I feel pretty happy with the way I’m playing and pretty confident about my current situation. Hope it works in the endShe said to the media on Friday. Osaka donated his winnings from this Cincinnati tournament to relief efforts deployed in Haiti after the earthquake on his father’s island. She does not appear in the best possible mood for the US Open where she will have in her part of the table the Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, who overtook her at the 2nd rank in the world.
“I feel good, I feel ready. It’s a great year, but there is still a long way to go ”,
The one who occupies the throne is Ashleigh Barty, for the 83rd consecutive week. Victorious at Wimbledon and Cincinnati, the 25-year-old Australian, also titled in Miami, Melbourne and Stuttgart this year, will be her biggest rival, if not the favorite. “I feel good, I feel ready. It’s a great year, but there is still a way to go“, Recently declared the one who had hardly played in 2020, after refusing to travel in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
«Part of me wasn’t quite sure how this year would go. First, because I was away from the courts for a long time, then because I was going to live a new adventure, being away from home for a whileShe explained. His excellent season has enough to strengthen the confidence of Barty, whose freshness and motivation contrast with the impression of great fragility emanating from Osaka. “The last few months have obviously been extremely difficult. But she (Osaka) comes back to where she won twice. Usually, with these kind of memories, you can play really good tennis.“, Nevertheless considers the ex-player Pam Shriver, consultant for ESPN.
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