Tennis star Naomi Osaka returns to Bay Area with victory in San Jose

SAN JOSE – He’s a global superstar.

She was the woman who lit the Olympic cauldron for her home country of Japan at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

She has millions of social media followers and people interested in what she does on a daily basis.

But on Tuesday, Naomi Osaka was back where she hadn’t been in over two months: on the tennis court.

The former world No. 1 beat China’s Qinwen Zheng 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 in front of 2,005 people in San Jose – the most in a Tuesday day session for over of a decade. It was Osaka’s first match since the French Open in late May due to an Achilles tendon injury.

Osaka, 24, spent 25 weeks as the No. 1 ranked player in the world during her career, but she came to San Jose as a wildcard – both in the literal sense (as entering the tournament) and in the larger scale look at sports, too. Before Tuesday, the tennis world was wondering if she would look like her old personality or if she would rust and look more like a player currently ranked in the world No. 41.

“It’s really good to be back,” Osaka said during his on-court interview after the match.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 02: Naomi Osaka plays Qinwen Zheng during the Mubadala <a class=Silicon Valley Classic on Tuesday, August 2, 2022, at Spartan Tennis Complex in San Jose, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)” width=”4526″ data-sizes=”auto” src=”https://i0.wp.com/www.mercurynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/SJM-L-TENNIS-0803-13.jpg?fit=620%2C9999px&ssl=1″ srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/www.mercurynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/SJM-L-TENNIS-0803-13.jpg?fit=620%2C9999px&ssl=1 620w,https://i0.wp.com/www.mercurynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/SJM-L-TENNIS-0803-13.jpg?fit=780%2C9999px&ssl=1 780w,https://i0.wp.com/www.mercurynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/SJM-L-TENNIS-0803-13.jpg?fit=810%2C9999px&ssl=1 810w,https://i0.wp.com/www.mercurynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/SJM-L-TENNIS-0803-13.jpg?fit=1280%2C9999px&ssl=1 1280w,https://i0.wp.com/www.mercurynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/SJM-L-TENNIS-0803-13.jpg?fit=1860%2C9999px&ssl=1 1860w”/>
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 02: Naomi Osaka plays Qinwen Zheng during the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic on Tuesday, August 2, 2022, at Spartan Tennis Complex in San Jose, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

When she’s at her best, there’s no denying how talented Osaka is. Of all the players active on the tour, only Serena Williams has won more Grand Slam victories than Osaka’s four – all of which have come on hard courts, rather than the clay courts of Roland Garros or the grass of Wimbledon.

Williams and Osaka are forever linked because of the 2018 US Open, when chair umpire Carlos Ramos gave Williams three controversial code violations, the third of which cost the legend an entire match. Williams was called a liar and a thief, and Osaka beat her idol 6-2, 6-4 for her maiden title, but was in tears as the trophy was presented.

Osaka shot to stardom after winning the first title by winning the next Grand Slam, the 2019 Australian Open. She added another title to each hard-court event two years later (US Open 2020, Australian Open 2019). Australia 2021), cementing her status as the best hard-court player on tour.

But with modern superstardom comes intense lighting, and Osaka was one of the leading athletes to speak about the toll it can have on mental health. She admitted to battling depression and refusing to fulfill her media obligations at the 2021 French Open, and after being fined $15,000 she opted instead to withdraw from the tournament before the second round and walk away.

She skipped Wimbledon in 2021 but played at the Tokyo Olympics, where she lost in the third round. She then played at the US Open, but again walked away from the sport after the tournament.

“I feel like for me, recently, when I win I don’t feel happy, I feel more like relief. And then when I lose, I feel very sad, Osaka said after her third-round loss. “I don’t think that’s normal.”

2022 was a return to tennis, but she struggled with injuries. Finally in good health, Osaka has returned to the Silicon Valley Classic – the tournament in which she made her professional debut in 2014 – to start preparing for the US Open, which begins in late August. And this week in San Jose can be seen as a safe starting point to build confidence ahead of the final Grand Slam of 2022.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 02: Naomi Osaka shows off her father in the stands after defeating Qinwen Zheng at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic on Tuesday, August 2, 2022, at the Spartan Tennis Complex in San Jose, Calif. (Karl Mondon / News Group from bay area)

There were signs of rust on Tuesday, as she put less than half of her first serves in play in her opening set. But his world-class forehand looked as strong as before – and felt it in his eyes.

She also paid tribute to her father for his performance, who is once again her coach after Osaka parted ways with Wim Fissette after three years. Osaka pointed the finger at his father during his on-pitch interview after the game and said he “always makes me smile”.

Osaka will play again on Thursday, potentially against American phenom Coco Gauff. But after Tuesday’s 2 hour and 3 minute match, the overwhelming feeling she felt was the excitement of returning to the bay, where she said her best friends are from. She even said she dropped out of school at San Jose State.

“I kinda feel like a local, kinda,” Osaka said.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 02: Naomi Osaka signs autographs after defeating Qinwen Zheng at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic on Tuesday, August 2, 2022, at Spartan Tennis Complex in San Jose, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 02: Naomi Osaka signs autographs after defeating Qinwen Zheng at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic on Tuesday, August 2, 2022, at Spartan Tennis Complex in San Jose, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

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