After an emotionally fraught upset loss ended her U.S. Open title defense Friday night, a teary-eyed Naomi Osaka said she will be taking a break from tennis. How long that break will be, even Osaka doesn’t know.
Teenager Leylah Fernandez rattled Osaka and stormed back for a 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-4 win that included a meltdown from the defending champ. Osaka, during a second-set tiebreak, tossed her racquet three times, then left the court to compose herself. The 18-year-old Fernandez’s victory was the biggest stunner of the tournament — until Osaka dropped her postmatch bombshell.
“Basically, I feel like I’m at this point where I’m trying to figure out what I want to do, and I honestly don’t know when I’m going to play my next tennis match,” said Osaka, her eyes welling up as she ended her postmatch interview.
This was Osaka’s first major since she pulled out of the French Open this spring and skipped Wimbledon in July, due to mental health issues. Now, she could be taking another break.
“Yeah. I think I’m going to take a break from playing for a while,” Osaka said.
This came after Fernandez took the fight to — and out of — the 23-year-old Japanese star, snapping Osaka’s 16-match winning streak at majors. The Canadian teenager earned her first victory over a top-three foe and her first Round of 16 berth in a major, insisting even before the match started she knew she could win.
“Just a natural belief. From a very young age, I knew I was able to beat anyone who is in front of me,” Fernandez said. “I’ve always had that belief. I’ve always tried to use that in every match that I go on. I guess [Friday], that belief came true.”
It came true because she earned points on 18 of 19 first serves in the third set. Even before that, Fernandez fought back in the second set from being a break down to force a tiebreak. That’s where Osaka came undone.
“I feel like for me recently, when I win, I don’t feel happy. I feel more like a relief. And then when I lose, I feel very sad. I don’t think that’s normal. I didn’t really want to cry, but basically I feel like…” Osaka said before welling up.
At 5-all in the second set, Osaka broke and was serving for the game. But Fernandez broke back and unsettled the champ.
After Osaka went down 2-0 in the tiebreak, she slammed her racquet on the court. With Fernandez serving, the teen went ahead, 4-0, and Osaka threw her racquet down again. And at 5-0, Osaka threw it yet again, an angry spike on the baseline.
Chair umpire Alison Hughes never issued a warning, and Osaka even walked off the court after the tiebreak without telling Hughes. She went into a bathroom just off the court with a towel draped over her head.
“Yeah, I’m really sorry about that. I’m not really sure why [I did it],” Osaka said. “I was telling myself to be calm, but I feel like maybe there was a boiling point.
“Normally, I like challenges. But recently, I feel very anxious when things don’t go my way, and I feel like you can feel that,” Osaka said. “I was like a little kid.”
Fernandez, playing to the crowd, opened the third set with a break and kept Osaka at bay. When she held to go up 5-3, Osaka had to serve to stay in the match, and she held serve with an ace.
But after Osaka took too long between points, down 30-0 in the last game, the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd was cheering the underdog and jeering the champ. And when Osaka sprayed her forehand wide on match point, Fernandez shrieked and thrust her fists skyward, bounding around in celebration.
“Having the crowd there supporting me and backing me up … it’s amazing. It gave me the energy to keep fighting, keep working and keep running for those balls that she hit,” said Fernandez, who next will face Angelique Kerber, a three-time major winner, including the 2016 U.S. Open. “I was just glad I was able to put on a show for everyone.”