Naomi Osaka fears retiring, hasn’t played tennis in months, may not return, feature, Ben Rothenberg comments

Naomi Osaka has not played a tennis match since September and her withdrawal from next week’s Australian Open has raised concerns that the former world number one may never appear on court again.

Osaka’s social media accounts have been silent since Tennis Australia tweeted on Sunday that the two-time Melbourne champion would miss the first Grand Slam of the year, without giving a reason for her absence.

Posts from Osaka in recent months have shown her touring Europe with her boyfriend, rapper Cordae, and announcing that her sports management agency had signed world number two Ons Jabeur.

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But there has been little evidence that the Japanese player spent any time practicing on the court, fueling speculation that the four-time Grand Slam champion’s tennis career could end at the age of 25.

Tennis writer Ben Rothenberg, author of a biography of Osaka to be published later this year, believes she has already taken a “significant step backward” in the sport and is deliberately keeping quiet.

“I think she might want to be opaque about it because she doesn’t necessarily want to put a label on it,” he told AFP.

“I don’t think she would use the word ‘retire’, but if she were to step away from the sport for a while, and it could be for any length of time, I don’t know if she would want to talk about that. aloud.

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“I think she would feel like that would create a lot of bells and whistles.”

Naomi Osaka has fallen a long way from her 2021 Australian Open title.
Naomi Osaka has fallen a long way from her 2021 Australian Open title.Source: FOX SPORTS

Osaka previously opened up about her struggle with her mental health, revealing that she suffered from depression.

He spent all of 2022 outside the top 10, enduring first-round losses at both the French and US Opens and withdrawing from Wimbledon with an Achilles tendon injury.

He also parted ways with long-time coach Wim Fissette last summer, replacing him with his father Leonard Francois.

Her last appearance was at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo in September, where the home favorite withdrew before her second-round match, complaining of abdominal pain.

She told reporters at that tournament that she had been through “more down than up” in 2022 and had “learned a lot” about herself.

He is now ranked 47th in the world, having first reached the top in 2019.

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Rothenberg believes that Osaka is “recalculating things” and may decide that she is not ready to make the necessary sacrifices to continue as a professional tennis player.

“For her, the math is not adding up right now, for her to want to commit,” he said.

“She knows how much work it is and how all-encompassing and worrying it is to be a full-time active player by the standards she has.

“She’s already won so much that she won’t be content to be back in the top 20 again.”

Australian Ashleigh Barty, then the undisputed world number one, shocked the tennis world in March last year when she announced her retirement at the age of 25.

She explained that she was “physically exhausted” and no longer had the drive to continue.

Osaka has several interests besides playing tennis, including his sports management agency Evolve, which counts Jabeur and Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios among its clients.

It has also invested in Pickleball, a sport similar to tennis that is growing rapidly in the United States and has numerous sponsorships.

Her website describes herself as not only a tennis player, but also a “fashion nerd”, “entrepreneur”, and “advocate for social change”.

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Osaka was named the world’s highest-earning female athlete for 2022 by Forbes, with reported earnings of $51.1 million (AU$73.6 million), even as her tennis career continued to slip.

Rothenberg says there will be significant pressure from sponsors urging Osaka to “stay on the hamster wheel” of professional tennis.

But he says that the fact that she has chosen not to do it shows that she is “making this decision for herself.”

“Whatever their reasons, players almost always make the wrong choice to play,” he said.

“So for her to pause, I think she shows great control of the situation.” And Rothenberg believes there’s still plenty of time for Osaka to return, if she so chooses.

“She has more of a runway in front of her if she wants to get off the ground again and get back on tour,” he said.

“But it won’t be any easier with more free time. The more time I spend outside, the easier it won’t be.”

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