If anyone thought the Olympic gold medal was resting on the racquet strings of Naomi Osaka after Ash Barty lost, then they do not know much about the sport. In fact, the attention associated to Osaka from the last couple of months gave me little confidence that the ultimate medal would go to the Japanese player who was essentially the face of the Games.
In her second match she lost to 2019 French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova 6-1, 6-4. Osaka said: “I’m disappointed with every loss but I feel like this one sucks more than the others.
“I definitely feel like there is a lot of pressure for this. I think it’s maybe because I haven’t played in the Olympics before and for the first year it was a bit much.”
It’s possibly more than it just being her first Olympics.
Despite not playing since mid-May, the attention on Osaka had not diminished. Initially the media was wrongly blamed for her mental issues, and she rightly corrected that because the tennis media have treated her with kid gloves. The attention she had been facing and the pressures of her work were really the crux of the matter, and she struggled to handle aspects of her professional life.
More recently she possibly did not do herself any favours when she engaged in an exchange of social media posts with controversial American TV commentator Megan Kelly.
Osaka had been promoting being on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition when Kelly questioned the Japanese player’s change of attitude, and the fact she able to covet attention when only weeks before she was shying away from it.
Osaka responded to Megan Kelly saying she should know that magazine features are done months in advance and as a result was before the mental issues she has been experiencing. There was speculation that the tweet from Osaka was actually posted by another person in her team and not her.
Adding to the focus on her was when she lit the cauldron and said it was “undoubtedly the greatest athletic achievement and honour I will ever have in my life”. However, unlike Cathy Freeman at the 2000 Sydney Olympics who lit the cauldron and then went on to win the 400-metre race, Osaka was not able to sustain the pressure and attention.
So, what now for Osaka? She is expected to play the North American summer circuit leading into the US Open, but will she?
There will be an abundance of attention on her all over again and there is a view that she could very well take another break, especially after she said that she has “taken long breaks before and I’ve managed to do well”. Performing well after a long break was not the case when she played the Olympic Games.