Naomi Osaka's brutal withdrawal from the Australian Open has raised concerns over her tennis future with one prominent figure claiming it could be the first move in her step back from the sport. Osaka wasn't scheduled to play any lead-up tournaments before the Australian Open, which had already raised fears over her participation in the first grand slam of the year.
And at the beginning of the week, Australian Open officials announced the Japanese superstar would not feature at this year's grand slam in Melbourne. There was no reason given for Osaka's absence from the event, which she has won twice.
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This has fuelled speculation that Osaka wasn't preparing for the Australian Open with a social media post appearing to show the four-time grand slam champ back in the US. Photos have also revealed her recent European holiday with rapper boyfriend Cordae.
And with question marks remaining over what the future holds for Osaka, prominent tennis reporter Ben Rothenberg has signalled that it could be the first sign Osaka is taking a step back from tennis.
“I think she might want to be opaque about it because she doesn’t want to put a label on it necessarily,” Rothenberg told AFP.
“I don’t think she would use the word ‘retiring’, but if she was stepping away from the sport for a while - and it could be for any length of time - I don’t know that she would want to speak that out loud. I think she would sense that that would raise a lot of bells and whistles.”
Osaka hasn't played tennis in four months and opened up about her battle with mental health issues in recent years. A number of reoccurring injuries has also seen the Japanese superstar drop to World No.47.
She has won just one completed match since last May, losing in the first round of her previous three events, including the US Open. Along with her Australian Open titles she has also won the US Open twice. Her last victory came when Daria Saville retired hurt with an ACL injury after just one game in Tokyo.
And Rothenberg, author of a Naomi Osaka biography set to be released later this year - said Osaka could be weighing-up the commitment required to reach the same level that saw her win four grand slam titles.
“For her, the math is not adding up right now, for her to want to make the commitment,” he said. “She knows how much work it is and how all-encompassing and preoccupying it is to be an active full-time player with the standards that she has. She’s won so much already, she’s not going to be content just to be a top-20 player again.”
Australian Open stars withdraw from grand slam
Osaka isn't the only major withdrawal from the first grand slam of the year. Men's World No.1 Carlos Alcaraz is out with a hamstring injury, while American champion Venus Williams has also withdrawn with injury.
Ash Barty, who won the title in 2022, has since retired, while Serena Williams and Roger Federer also called it quits last year. However 21-time grand slam champion Novak Djokovic is back in action after missing the 2022 Open due to his vaccination status. Djokovic had his visa cancelled and was deported from the country before the Australian Open last January.
Rafa Nadal is also back to defend his crown, which he won in Djokovic's absence last year. Djokovic will be hell-bent on winning back the title - which would see him go level with Nadal on 22 career majors.
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