Naomi Osaka’s Mental-Health Struggles a Barrier to Grand Slam Glory

Naomi Osaka and Emma Navarro in Wimbledon 2024
Naomi Osaka and Emma Navarro in Wimbledon 2024 (PC: Wimbledon)

Naomi Osaka’s second-round defeat to Emma Navarro at Wimbledon 2024 once again underscores the importance of mental health in sport. In her first-round match against Diane Parry, Osaka dominated the first set with a 6-1 win. However, in the second, a few unforced errors visibly affected her composure, leading to increased pressure. Her frustration was palpable as she lost the set 1-6. In the deciding set, Osaka’s unforced errors persisted, but despite going 1-3 down, she managed to recover and win the match. In the post-match interview, Osaka admitted that a lot was going on in her head, which was evident from the scoresheet.

She made a total of 38 unforced errors: eight in the first set, 13 in the second, and 17 in the third. In stark contrast, her first-round opponent Parry didn’t reach double digits in unforced errors in any set. In the second round, Osaka’s unforced errors were 16, while her opponent Navarro only had five throughout the match. Osaka committed six in the first set and 10 in the second.

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Naomi Osaka in Wimbledon 2024
Naomi Osaka in Wimbledon 2024 (PC: Wimbledon)

Reflecting further on Osaka’s mental strength, her previous Grand Slam performance at the French Open against Iga Swiatek comes to mind. Osaka nearly ousted the defending champion with remarkable tennis, earning praise from Swiatek, who suggested Osaka could one day become the Queen of Clay. However, despite being at match point, Osaka couldn’t seal the victory, highlighting her struggles in high-pressure situations. Notably, she made just two unforced errors in the second set of that match, yet her total was 38. In the all-important third set, it was 22, illustrating a stark contrast in her performance under pressure.

Osaka’s talent and skills are unquestionable, but her mental resilience on the court has hindered her comeback. Instances like her loss to Karolina Pliskova in the 2019 Brisbane International after leading by a set, and her defeat to Belinda Bencic at the 2019 US Open after winning the first set are telling. You hope that Osaka will one day overcome these psychological hurdles. Nothing would be more gratifying than watching her win crucial points, sets, or matches from tough situations. When that day comes, Osaka’s Grand Slam tally will surely soar once more.

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