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Here is Naomi Osaka’s realization, gradually and only recently: if others think a lot about her, she probably should too.

“Hearing a little kid tell me that I’m their favorite player or that I’m a role model, instinctively the first thought in my mind is like, ‘Why? his title defense at the US Open. “I feel like I need to somehow embrace more… honor that they are telling me this, and I should believe in myself more.” I feel like if you don’t believe in yourself then other people won’t believe in you.

Upon returning to the Grand Slam after a mental health break – a sometimes dominant 6-4, 6-1 victory over 87th Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic – Osaka heard the shrill voice of one of those “little kids” “at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

At the end of the match, Osaka left with a small gift: one of the Olympic pins collected by the athletes.

With a bit of self-mockery, Osaka noted that she did not stay long enough at the Tokyo Games to exchange all these mini-memories (originally from Japan, the host country, she had the honor of lighting the cauldron. at the opening ceremony, then lost their third round match).

The Summer Olympics marked his first competition since May 30 at Roland Garros.

On that day, Osaka skipped her mandatory press conference after her first-round victory in Paris, being fined $ 15,000 and a warning from the Slam leaders that she could face suspension. She responded by withdrawing from Roland Garros, explaining that she felt anxiety when speaking to the media and had suffered from depression for years. Osaka then missed Wimbledon as well.

The 23-year-old is clearly introspective and thoughtful, someone who increasingly gets used to sharing her most intimate ideas with the rest of the world. In a social media post On Sunday about the self-esteem ruminations, Osaka wrote that she “will try to celebrate me more and my accomplishments more, I think we all should” and that she “can’t charge me with expectations anymore ( others)”.

On Monday, she entered Ashe with her usual nervousness in the first round of the Slam, but not out of any sense of pressure to win, Osaka said afterwards.

Instead, it was based on a desire to play well, especially for the packed and grateful house that was there a year after winning the title in a nearly empty arena because spectators were then banned amid the pandemic. of coronavirus.

“I tell people that I am a perfectionist. I think for me something that is less than perfect, even though it can be something big, is a bummer. I don’t really think that’s a healthy way to think, so something I really wanted to change, ”said third seed Osaka, who will next face 145th Olga Danilovic.

“In this tournament, I just want to be happy to know that I did my best and to know that even though I didn’t play perfectly, I was able to win a straight-set match. … It’s more like a thing of life, ”she continued. “Like, I hope I can keep that mindset throughout my life in the future.”

Maybe she wasn’t perfect against Bouzkova, who is now 1-11 in Slam matches. After all, the score was 4 at the start. From there, however, Osaka has won eight of the last nine games.

Aided by a serve that hit 120 mph, she saved all eight break points she faced and racked up a 34-10 advantage in the overall winners.

“Last year when we didn’t have a lot of people I know I felt pretty lonely,” she said with a smile during her interview on the pitch. “I’m happy to see little kids in the audience – and, of course, adults too.”

Osaka has improved to 55-14 in major tournament games, including 22-3 at the US Open as she tries to become the first woman to win back-to-back trophies in New York since Serena Williams won her third in a row in 2014.

Osaka beat Williams in the chaotic 2018 final at Ashe. She also won major hard court titles at the Australian Open in 2019 and February.

“I’ve played a lot of games on this pitch,” Osaka told Ashe fans. “Definitely, I feel really comfortable here.”

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