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Miami (AFP) – This time, tears of joy: Naomi Osaka, former number 1 in the world up to 77th place, qualified for the final of the WTA 1000 tournament in Miami, marking her return to the forefront after a year of great turbulence on the mental plane.
But the hardest thing remains to be done for the 24-year-old Japanese, who knocked down Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic (28th) by 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. In fact, she will try to win her eighth tournament on the women’s circuit, on Saturday, against the Polish Iga Swiatek, future No. 1 in the world, or the American Jessica Pegula (21st).
For her first final in Florida, she will have to overcome any premature sense of accomplishment, as well as the emotion that overwhelmed her slightly after greeting her rival, to whom she later paid tribute.
“I didn’t feel like I understood her game at all, and I still managed to win. She’s an amazing player. I’d love to be her back. I just wanted to thank everyone. L The atmosphere was really good. Osaka said on the court, his eyes clouded.
“Damn, I’m still crying! But this tournament means a lot to me,” she added with a smile that contrasted with her cry two weeks ago in Indian Wells, where the Japanese woman experienced a third episode of tears, during and then. her match lost in the 2nd round in Indian Wells, after a verbal provocation from someone in the audience (“Naomi you suck!”).
Then the question of his future in professional tennis arose again, for which he had confided, at the time of Roland-Garros last June, that he had been plagued with anxiety for several years.
Since then, there have been several moments of anguish. First at the Cincinnati tournament in August, then at mondovision, the following month at the US Open, at a press conference, following her surprise elimination in the 3rd round against Canadian Leylah Fernandez.
“Need to assert myself”
She then took a break and only competed again in January at the Australian Open, of which she was the reigning champion but where she was stopped in the 3rd round.
Since the last episode in California, Osaka has started working with a therapist and said she felt the first benefits of this approach.
This was seen on the courts of Miami, as he won his first four games without losing the slightest set and even less his means, which predicted the return of the formidable champion, four-time Grand Slam winner (twice in the Australian Open, twice at the US Open).
For this fifth match he had to give up a set, the first, overwhelmed by Bencic’s aggressiveness, excellent in the reverse and who knows how to overcome it, as he had won three of his first four matches.
But Osaka has shown that it knows how to react again to adversity. After breaking for the second time in the second set to advance 4-2, he maintained that advantage relying on his powerful serve (18 aces).
And he entered the third set, showing great determination, often clenching his fists and jumping between exchanges to advance better. “Right now, I have to assert myself. In the face of such strong players, I must not let myself be defeated. If I had had this negative feeling, it could have cost me the victory,” he explained.
Osaka continued in the third set, stealing twice the service of the Swiss, who still returned to 5-4. Not even fear: the Japanese were able to conclude without trembling.
© 2022 AFP