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‘I Want to Feel Like I’m Playing for Myself’: Naomi Osaka Gives Insight Into Break from Tennis, Says She’s Starting to Feel ‘Itch’ to Play Again

Naomi Osaka‘s indefinite tennis hiatus may end up being over sooner than expected because the athlete is already starting to miss the sport.

Following a surprising loss to Leylah Fernandez during the third round of the U.S. Open earlier this month, Osaka, 23, told the press that she would be taking a break from competing in matches “for a while.” “I feel like for me recently when I win I don’t feel happy,” she explained. “I feel more like a relief. And then when I lose, I feel very sad. I don’t think that’s normal.” 

Naomi Osaka is working on rediscovering the joy of playing tennis. (Photo: @naomiosaka/Instagram)

She closed out her conference in tears, adding, “I honestly don’t know when I’m gonna play my next tennis match. I think I’m gonna take a break from playing for a while.”

Many have been wondering how long “a while” could actually mean, and Osaka hinted that she’s leaning toward a return sooner, rather than later now that she’s beginning to feel “the itch” to play for “joy” as opposed to having to play out of obligation.

“I just needed a break to go within myself and reclaim what was it that [provided motivation],” she told hosts Paul Rivera and Maverick Carter during the fifth episode of HBO series “The Shop.” “You know, I’ve been playing tennis since I was 3 years old; for sure I love the sport, I know I’m going to play again. Probably soon, because I kind of have that itch again, but it wouldn’t really matter to me if I won or lost. I’d just have the joy of being back on the court.”

“I want to feel like I’m playing for myself,” she explained. “And I started to feel like that power was being taken away from me in the way that I felt like I wasn’t playing to make myself happy and I was more concerned about like, if I won or lost, what would people say about me. And I just used to love, like, the competition and just being competitive.”

The four-time Grand Slam champion knew that it was time to step away when her usual feelings of excitement about playing matches were increasingly replaced by stress. “If I were to play a long match, the longer it was, the more fun it was for me. And then I just started to feel, like recently, the longer it was, the more stressed out I became,” she said.

While she has yet to share any specific details about when she plans to make her return to the sport, Osaka being open to coming back just weeks after announcing her hiatus is a step in the right direction.

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