Defending champion Naomi Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam singles winner who was on the verge of retiring from the sport last year, was knocked out of the Australian Open on Friday by unseeded American Amanda Anisimova.
Anisimova won in three difficult sets, 4-6, 6-3, and 7-6 (10-5), after saving two match chances in the final set to secure the victory.
Since the U.S. Open last summer, Osaka has not competed in a match in any capacity, and she seemed to accept that her game was not yet back to the level she believes it is capable of reaching.
I believe the speed of her ball shocked me, but other than that it was very enjoyable to play,” she added, her hands clasped in front of her left face. Osaka informed reporters that she has been meditating lately, despite the fact that she seemed at ease and smiled often during a press conference circumstance that she has stated makes her uncomfortable. She answered in a succession of calm and measured comments, which I found refreshing.
She was making her comeback to major-tournament competition in Melbourne after taking a long vacation from the sport in order to reignite her passion for the game. Despite the fact that she had returned after an unusually emotional year, in which her candour about her mental health struggles had altered the discussion surrounding both her earlier accomplishments as well as her more recent — and public — disappointments, her return was met with a resounding applause.
She was seeded 13th here, but Osaka shown plenty of passion and drive in her third-round match against Anisimova, producing characteristic thunder with her hard groundstrokes and raising her fist and yelling “Come on!” after each win to congratulate her accomplishments. However, Anisimova, who has long been regarded as one of the game’s most promising young players, was incredibly composed, bouncing back from a shaky first set to find her footing in her maiden match against Osaka and eventually winning.
‘I knew going into this match that I needed to be playing at my best if I wanted to give myself a chance,’ Anisimova said of her preparation. I knew I had to raise up my game and try to be more aggressive against Naomi because she’s always going to be playing well and she’s an amazing champion. That’s what I believe I began doing in the second set of exercises. “To be quite honest, I’m really glad that I was able to do so well today.”
Anisimova reached the semifinals of the French Open at the age of 17 in 2019, and she appeared on track to establish herself as a dominant force in the game throughout her adolescence. But tragedy struck the Anisimova family when her father and longtime coach, Konstantin, died of a heart attack in August 2019, just weeks before the United States Open.
Anisimova expressed admiration for Osaka’s willingness to talk publicly about her mental health concerns, and she described her opponent’s resolve to be upfront about her challenges as “inspiring.”
It had been a disappointing year for Osaka, 24, who had entered it as the dominating figure in her sport and the highest-paid female athlete in the world, and had left it as something completely different from what she had started.
Her playing started to deteriorate in the early spring, and she was forced to withdraw from the French Open after a disagreement with tournament organisers over her unwillingness to participate at mandated postmatch press conferences after each match. Following that, she went public with her years-long struggle with depression, took two months off, and then returned for the Tokyo Olympics, where she lighted the Olympic torch but lost in the third round due to the unrelenting pressure to do well in her sport.
“I simply want to go into this year knowing that I’m going to play the entire year and that I’m going to have the best attitude ever,” she said. Every point is important to me. Whether I win or lose, all I care about is doing the best I possibly can on and off the court. It’s impossible for anybody to expect anything more from me now that they’ve seen how hard I battled.”
Anisimova’s win ended the most anticipated match of the tournament, a possible fourth-round showdown between Osaka and world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty of Australia, which had been set for the previous day. Anisimova will now square up against Barty.