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“I’m beginning to feel like I can’t hit the shots that I know I can” – Osaka low on confidence after tricky Grand Slam season

Confidence wavered as injuries hindered Naomi Osaka’s 2022 Grand Slam season.

Naomi Osaka US Open 2022 Naomi Osaka of Japan hits to Danielle Collins of the United States || AI / Reuters / Panoramic

Naomi Osaka’s US Open is over before she got a chance to get off the ground, the two-time champion falling at the first hurdle in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday night, 7-6(5), 6-3, to 19th-seeded Danielle Collins.

With the loss, Osaka goes a full Grand Slam season without winning a major title for the first time since 2017. It’s an indication of how dominant she has been over the past five years, but also how much she has slipped of late.

After her loss, Osaka told reporters that she felt she played a bit too defensively and didn’t feel confident in her bread-and-butter forehand. That cautiousness left her vulnerable against the ferocious American, and Osaka knows she needs to find her shotmaking prowess in order to start winning matches against players like Collins again.

“I kind of thought that I played a bit too defensively,” Osaka said. “I didn’t really trust my forehand that much, and I think that maybe you could see that a little bit. I also felt like I was on my back foot a lot. So, yeah, overall I wouldn’t say that I played very well, but I tried the hardest with what I could do.”

“Lately I felt really restrained,” she said. “I’m not really sure why. I’m beginning to feel like I can’t hit the shots that I know I can, like especially on my forehand.”

— Naomi Osaka

Losing faith in the forehand

Osaka admitted that she’s low on confidence at the moment, and suggested that she might need to watch a young fearless player to help trigger her find her own gunslinging ways on court again.

“Lately I felt really restrained,” she said. “I’m not really sure why. I’m beginning to feel like I can’t hit the shots that I know I can, like especially on my forehand. I don’t know if it’s a matter of practicing more or something like that. I just don’t have the same feeling. So maybe I need to watch like Alcaraz or someone that’s really good at hitting forehands.”

The back has been an issue as well

Osaka’s confidence may also be a product of her injury issues. She told reporters that she has been plagued by a back injury and only began practicing her serve for the US Open a few days ago.

“Honestly I just wanted to play without, like, my back being in pain because it’s kind of been bad for the entire hard court season since Toronto,” she said. “I didn’t serve until, like, two days ago, so I was really happy with how my serve went.”

The four-time major champ also missed Wimbledon with an Achilles injury that she picked up in the clay season.

Just want to play like I used to

Osaka says she has never encountered so many injury difficulties in a single season.

“I think this year’s really funny for me just in regards to last year,” she said before the US Open. “But this is definitely the most physically, I don’t even want to say ‘injured’, but I’ve had way more niggles than I’ve had before in my career.

“I would say it’s something that’s very frustrating but at the same time interesting because it made me feel like, ‘Wow, I really want to be able to play again like back how I used to.’ I don’t even know if I’ll be able to play like how I used to, but at least at a competitive level. I think I was able to do that quite well.”

Osaka knows the onus is on her when it comes to injury prevention, just like it is up to her to find her confidence and rhythm with her ground strokes.

“I feel like everyone deals with injuries,” she said. “I would say for me, it’s been more prominent this year. But I think it’s something that I can learn. Like I learned a lot more about my body, I learned what’s weak, what I can do to prevent it.

“I would say the sport is definitely very physical, but it’s kind of my job to stay on top of it.”

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