Naomi Osaka won’t be defending her U.S. Open title, and it’s unclear when she will next appear on a tennis court.
After failing to close out the match on her serve in the second set, the four-time major champion and No. 3 seed smacked her racquet on the ground during the second-set tiebreaker, then threw it several feet and ultimately went on to lose to 18-year-old Canadian left-hander Leylah Fernandez, 5-7, 7-6. 6-4, in the third round.
Following the loss, Osaka, who has battled mental health issues this year, said she planned to take a break from tennis.
“This is very hard to articulate,” she said as she teared up. “Basically I feel like I’m kind of at this point where I’m trying to figure out what I want to do, and I honestly don’t know when I’m going to play my next tennis match. Sorry.”
She added: “I think I’m going to take a break from playing for a while.”
Osaka had been the second favorite behind No. 1 seed Ash Barty to win the title in New York. The loss snapped a 16-match winning streak at Grand Slams. She lost three matches this summer — all to left-handers. After winning the Australian Open and starting the season 12-0, she went 5-4.
Osaka, who has admitted to battling mental health issues that caused her to withdraw from the French Open and then skip Wimbledon, served for the match in the first set but then lost control of her emotions.
She became unglued in the second-set tiebreak. She smacked her racquet to the ground after losing one point, and threw it several feet forward after losing another but did not receive a warning from umpire Alison Hughes.
“Yeah, I’m really sorry about that,” Osaka said after the match. “I’m not really sure why…I was telling myself to be calm, but I feel like maybe there was a boiling point.
“Like normally I feel like I like challenges. But recently I feel very anxious when things don’t go my way, and I feel like you can feel that. I’m not really sure why it happens the way it happens now.”
After losing the tiebreak, Osaka left the court without telling Hughes, but then apologized upon her return.
“She definitely lost her composure,” 18-time Grand Slam champion Chrissie Evert said on ESPN. “She is usually one to internalize her emotions and feelings on the court. She lost control. She banged her racket. She threw her racket and yet the umpire did not give her a warning.”
Added Mary Joe Fernandez: “She’s lucky she didn’t get a warning.”
Osaka was then broken in the first game of the third set when she smacked a two-handed backhand into the net on break point.
“Honestly, I wasn’t focusing on Naomi, I was only focusing on myself and what I needed to do,” Leylah Fernandez said.
By the third set, the crowd was openly supporting the upset bid, and voiced its displeasure when Osaka took a long time before one of Fernandez’s service points.
“It made a huge difference,” Fernandez said of the crowd support. “Thanks to New York, to the New York fans over here. They helped me get a win.”
Serving for the match at 5-4, Fernandez won the game at love despite facing the biggest moment of her career. She raised her hands in celebration when Osaka hit a forehand wide on match point.
The loss ended the Grand Slam season for Osaka, who has had a difficult season. She refused to speak with the media at the French Open and drew a $15,000 fine as a result. She then withdrew from the tournament and opted to skip Wimbledon. She was upset in the third round at the Tokyo Olympics in her native Japan, citing pressure as a factor.
After losing in her second match in Cincinnati, Osaka was rusty from lack of match play entering the Open. She had only played one match in New York entering Friday because she advanced to the third round via a walkover.
“I mean, I think I would have preferred to play a match,” Osaka said. “I’ve never had a walkover in a Grand Slam, so that was definitely a really weird feeling.”
Fernandez, meantime, will keep going forward after the biggest win of her career. She had lost in the second round at the French Open and the first round at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
Born to an Ecuadorian father and a Filipino Canadian mother, Fernandez currently trains in Florida. She is ranked 73rd in the world. She had earned about $374,000 in total in 2021 entering the U.S. Open and will now take home at least $265,000 for reaching the fourth round.
“From the very beginning, right before the match, I knew I was able to win,” she said.
It will be Fernandez — not Osaka — who advances to the fourth round against three-time major champion Angelique Kerber, who earlier beat 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens in three sets.
“It will be a battle,” Fernandez said. “We’re just going to have a fun. I’m just going to put on a show like I did tonight and we’ll see how it goes.”