In soft-spoken, deliberative manner, the 21-year-old Osaka pulled back a curtain to address the nerves, stress and anxiety that have bedeviled her since she launched into the 2019 French Open, where, for the first time, she was the top seed at a major.
She had wanted so badly to acquit her newfound status, she explained, as if winning the 2018 U.S. Open and January’s Australian Open wasn’t enough. She wanted even more to continue her streak at majors, with an eye toward achieving a “calendar Grand Slam”— holding all four major titles at once — which she has dreamed of for years.
Instead, her campaign was snuffed out, 6-4, 6-2, by an opponent who hit just 12 winners in the 77-minute match.
With Osaka blasting 38 unforced errors, Siniakova’s steadiness and dogged retrieval skill were enough. The Czech covered the clay court gamely, firing back ball after ball that appeared beyond her reach. Far too often, Osaka plowed her reply into the net or sent it sailing beyond the baseline.
Asked to describe the level of her disappointment, Osaka pondered a moment. If disappointment could be ranked on a 10-point scale, she ventured, “I’m, like, at a 100 right now.”
Osaka was careful not to use the word “depression.” She had felt that before, and this was not as extreme as that. But she was deeply disappointed in herself — a disappointment, she said, that might be difficult to understand if you hadn’t worked so hard to train and prepare, only to play less than your best.
Osaka’s struggles had been obvious from the tournament’s outset. She didn’t win a game in her opening set, then battled back to avoid what would have been stunning upset.
She repeated the pattern against a far tougher second-round opponent, former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, falling in arrears before finding her footing.
On Saturday against Siniakova, Osaka felt tired. She had a headache, too.
And she wondered whether the stress that was preventing her from hitting freely on the court was to blame, making it difficult to sleep and leading to the fatigue that made it so hard to get the upper hand on Siniakova, who kept retrieving her best efforts.
In broaching this terrain, Osaka put a human face — a sad, young face — on the adage that tennis is 80 percent mental.
“I mean, I just feel like there has been a weight on me, kind of,” Osaka said. “And I know that’s because everything is, like, sort of new. Like, I have played French Open(s) before but not in this circumstance or situation . . . So … it hasn’t been the happiest of times.”
Osaka’s ouster, combined with Serena Williams’s loss later in the day, leaves the French Open’s women’s field with just three of its top 10 seeds heading into the second week. Two are in the top half of the draw: defending champion Simona Halep (No. 3) and Australia’s Ashleigh Barty (No. 8).
American Sloane Stephens (No. 7) is the lone top-10 seed in the bottom half of the draw.
Osaka will head home to South Florida, where she said she intends to “peace out” before Wimbledon, which gets underway July 1.
“I know it’s weird, but I think me losing is probably the best thing that could have happened,” Osaka said. “I think I was overthinking this, like, calendar slam. For me this is something that I have wanted to do forever, but I think I have to think about it like: If it was that easy, everyone would have done it. I just have to keep training hard and put myself in a position again to do it, hopefully.”