As it was, Naomi Osaka would have been one of the most-watched, most-discussed, most-supported athletes at the Tokyo Olympics.
She’s the highest-earning female athlete in the world, a tennis superstar and represents Japan, making her a strong medal contender for the host country.
Then, of course, came the series of events that began unfolding about two months before the July start of the Summer Games.
Just ahead of the French Open in late May, Osaka announced she wouldn’t speak to the press at Roland Garros. Then, after her first-round victory, she skipped the mandatory news conference.
The next day, Osaka withdrew from the French Open entirely to take a mental health break, revealing she has dealt with depression.
She sat out Wimbledon, too. So the Tokyo Games mark her return to competition — and it’s an occasion that matters to Osaka, who was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Haitian father.
“The Olympics are a special time, when the world comes together to celebrate sports. I am looking forward most to being with the athletes that had waited and trained for over 10 years, for celebrating a very hard year (2020) and having that happen in Japan makes it that much more special,” Osaka said.
DJOKOVIC & FEDERER
For all that Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have accomplished — the Grand Slam titles, the weeks ranked No. 1 and more — neither has an Olympic singles gold. Djokovic earned a singles bronze (at Beijing in 2008); Federer won a doubles gold (with Wawrinka in 2008) and singles silver (at London in 2012). Federer has pulled out of action.
Andy Murray’s been through two hip operations and assorted other injuries since he became the first tennis player with multiple Olympic singles golds by winning in 2012 and 2016. His ranking is outside the Top 100, but past success — including three Grand Slam trophies — earned him a special spot in the Tokyo field for Britain.
“I just hope,” he said, “the body holds up.”
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