Naomi Osaka lost her cool, then she lost her U.S. Open title defense. And afterward, a clearly-shaken Osaka suggested she will be taking another break from the game.
Teenager Leylah Fernandez pulled off arguably the biggest stunner of the tournament, rattling Osaka and storming back for a 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-4 rally during which the champ slammed her racquet three times and left the court after the second-set tiebreak to try to compose herself.
It didn’t help.
An emotional Osaka got teary-eyed in her post-match press conference, admitting she’s “dealing with some stuff.” She said she likely will step away from the game and couldn’t say exactly when she’d be back.
“Basically, I feel like I’m kind of at this point where I’m trying to figure out what I want to do, and I honestly don’t know when I’m going to play my next tennis match,” said Osaka, tearing up. “Yeah. I think I’m going to take a break from playing for a while.”
This came at the end of a night on which the 18-year-old Fernandez took the fight to the 23-year-old Osaka. Fernandez snapped the champ’s 16-match winning streak at majors, reached a Round of 16 for the first time and notched her first win over a top-three foe.
“From the very beginning, right before the match, I knew I was able to win,” Fernandez said in an on-court TV interview, adding she was more intent on her own game than on Osaka’s meltdown. “Honestly, I wasn’t focusing on Naomi. I was only focusing on myself and what I needed to do.”
The 73rd-ranked Canadian’s victory came after either she —or the moment — got to the Japanese star, who slammed her racquet and threw it twice, all during the second-set tiebreak.
By the time Osaka took too long between points, while down 30-0 in the final game, the crowd was cheering for the underdog and jeering the champ.
“Yeah, I’m really sorry about that. I’m not really sure why. … I was telling myself to be calm, but I feel like maybe there was a boiling point. Normally, I feel like I like challenges,” Osaka said. “But recently, I feel very anxious when things don’t go my way, and I feel like you can feel that. I’m not really sure why it happens the way it happens now. But, yeah, it’s basically why. You could kind of see that. I was kind of like a little kid.”
This was Osaka’s first major since pulling out of the French Open and sitting out Wimbledon, citing mental health issues.
“I feel like for me recently, when I win, I don’t feel happy. I feel more like a relief. And then when I lose, I feel very sad. I don’t think that’s normal. I didn’t really want to cry, but basically I feel like…” Osaka said before welling up.
In contrast was Fernandez, shrieking with joy at the win.
With the first set knotted at 5-all, Fernandez dropped her serve, and Osaka won 10 consecutive points. It was 5-all in the second set when Osaka broke and served for the game. But Fernandez broke back.
That’s where the wheels really came off for Osaka.
After Osaka went down 2-0 in the tiebreak, she slammed the racquet on the court. With Fernandez serving, the teen went ahead 4-0 and Osaka threw her racquet down. And at 5-0, she threw it yet again, an angry spike on the baseline.
Osaka walked off the court after losing the tiebreaker, heading into a small bathroom just off the court with a towel draped over her head.
Fernandez, seizing the moment and playing to the crowd, opened the third set with a break and kept Osaka at bay. When she held to go up 5-3, Osaka had to serve to stay in the match, and she held with an ace. But on match point, when Osaka sprayed her return wide, it was over.
Fernandez shrieked with joy and thrust her fists in the air. She bounded with excitement — and cruised into the Round of 16.
What’s next for Osaka is a mystery.