Naomi Osaka‘s mental health break from the press appears to be paying off both on the tennis court and away from it.
The 23-year-old No. 2-ranked tennis player in the world dominated her first Olympic match against Zheng Saisai of China on July 25, walking away with a 6-1, 6-4 victory. Following the match, Osaka did something she hasn’t in months: She spoke with the press and had nothing but positive things to say about how her break has helped her up her game.
“For me, I feel like more than anything I’m just focused on playing tennis,” Osaka told the press. “Playing the Olympics has been a dream of mine since I was a kid so I feel like the break I took was very needed but I feel definitely a little bit refreshed and happy again.”
When asked about how she feels being back in front of the media following her controversial decision to abstain from the mandatory post-match press conferences during the French Open, which led to a $15,000 fine and her eventual withdrawal from the competition altogether and Wimbledon too, the four-time Grand Slam singles champion told the media that her return probably was more “weird” for them than her.
“For me, honestly I don’t feel that weird about it,” she said. “It might feel weird to you guys, but I don’t know. I’m happy that I guess you guys are asking me questions but more than anything I was just focused on playing tennis and I guess I feel a little bit out of my body right now.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my body; I just felt really nervous,” she continued. “I haven’t played since France, so there were definitely some things that I did a bit wrong, but I think I can improve in the matches that I continue playing.”
Although Osaka took a hiatus on speaking to any news outlets directly, she’s still been dominating headlines, from her slew of magazine covers and Netflix documentary release to her Twitter clapback to Megyn Kelly. However, the recent highlight of her career was the July 23 lighting of the Olympic cauldron, kicking off the Tokyo Games.
“I was super honored,” she said, also revealing that she’d known that the honor was hers since March and kept it a secret all this time. “That’s a position you dream about and not anyone can do it, so when they asked me if I wanted to I was very surprised but very honored and I’m just happy to be here and happy to play, especially in Tokyo.”
Osaka echoed the sentiment in a Twitter post, calling the cauldron lighting “the greatest athletic achievement and honor I will ever have in my life.”