Naomi Osaka explains feeling 'judged by everyone' on Australian Open return after break

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Naomi Osaka has opened up on the “turning point” that allowed her to enjoy her time on the court after taking a break following mental health struggles last season. The four-time Grand Slam champion ended her season after the US Open last year, having withdrawn from the French Open and Wimbledon after wanting to skip press conferences for her mental health.

Osaka is the reigning champion at the Australian Open, and opened her title defence with a 6-3 6-3 win over up-and-coming star Maria Camila Osorio Serrano.

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After starting last season with a title win in Melbourne, the world No 14 suffered a tough year as she announced she would not be attending press conferences at the French Open to protect her mental wellbeing.

When the Grand Slam board threatened her with potential disqualification from Majors, Osaka withdrew from the French Open and the upcoming Wimbledon.

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Making her Grand Slam return at the US Open as defending champion, the 24-year-old suffered a tearful shock exit to Leylah Fernandez in the third round, who was then ranked outside the world’s top 70, and said she would be taking an indefinite break from tennis after losing enjoyment in competing.

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Naomi Osaka explains feeling 'judged by everyone' on Australian Open return after break
© Getty Naomi Osaka admitted she felt like

The former world No 1 returned in Melbourne earlier this month, making the WTA 250 semi-final before withdrawing, and has now started her Aussie Open campaign with a routine victory.

Following her win over the 20-year-old Columbian, Osaka opened up on her change in mentality as she looked positive and relaxed on court, laughing when she missed an overhead smash.

“I think it kind of came throughout this off-season that I had where I felt like I wanted to come back to play tennis. Usually it feels a bit automatic, like we as tennis players have the little break, then we immediately start the off-season again,” she explained.

“For me, I came back when I wanted to come back. I just felt like there are situations where I previously would get upset. But at this point in my life, like, I’m here because I want to be here and because I find that it’s fun for me. Might as well enjoy it while I still can.”

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The world No 14 also noted the change in her attitude compared to last year’s Australian Open, saying: “I would say I feel more comfortable in my skin, if that makes sense. Like there’s always like the human nature to feel uneasy, to want to like please everyone and stuff like that.

“I feel like there was a time after French Open where I felt like everyone was judging me and I couldn’t go outside without thinking that everyone around me was — I don’t know. It feels a bit weird when you go into a stadium to play and you’re kind of concerned what everyone’s gaze means.

“I’m not sure if I explained that well. Basically right now I’m trying to learn how to be more selfish but in a positive way.”

Osaka has already admitted she didn’t expect herself to return so soon after her break, but after her win over Osorio, said her “turning point” came after the US Open when she took time to reflect at home during her time away from tennis.

Naomi Osaka explains feeling 'judged by everyone' on Australian Open return after break
© Getty The four-time Grand Slam champion took a break from tennis after the US Open

“I would say the turning point was after the US Open last year,” she said.

“I was just sitting in my house wondering, like, what do I want to do in the future. I felt like there’s still so many things that I want to do in tennis.

“I haven’t played Wimbledon in, like, two to three years. I want to go back and experience that whole thing.

“It’s like a little bit of unfinished business, but also knowing that everything can’t be perfect all the time. I accept the fact that I’ll have dips, and I need to figure out a way to overcome it.”

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