Naomi Osaka was greeted by some cheers when she walked onto the court, then got significantly louder ones when her work for the day was done.
Maybe the comforts of home helped. Flashing the level of play that vaulted her to No. 1 in the world not too long ago, Osaka had little trouble in beating Astra Sharma of Australia 6-3, 6-4 on Wednesday – the first full day of play at the Miami Open.
Osaka is Japanese-born, calls California home now, but spent much of her youth in South Florida, basically just a few miles north of where the Miami Open is now held. “I kind of consider this like my home tournament,” Osaka said, before her words got drowned out by more cheers and applause from fans. “This is the tournament that I loved coming to once a year. I’m just really happy to be back out here.” It was Osaka´s first match since a March 12 loss at Indian Wells, when she was rattled by a derogatory shout from a spectator. If any similar thoughts were expressed by the fans who were watching Wednesday in a largely empty stadium court built over the field where the NFL’s Miami Dolphins play football, they either were ignored or unnoticed.
“Honestly, for me, I just didn’t want to let anything bother me today no matter what happened,” Osaka said. “The last match that I played was not the greatest memory for me.” That’s when someone decided to yell from the stands: “We love you.” Osaka surely appreciated that sentiment.
She revealed Wednesday that she began seeing a therapist after Indian Wells – “it only took like a year after French Open,” she quipped, referring to how she missed the clay-court Grand Slam event to focus on her mental health last year – and that she was bracing to hear heckling.
“I´m glad that I have people around me that told me to go in that direction,” Osaka said. “I was basically just remembering all the things that she told me to do, just to take deep breaths and reset myself when I need to.”