The Japanese, defending champion, is aiming for a third US Open in four years, but she will have to dispel the doubts that have crossed her since the spring, as of Monday in New York where the Australian world number 1 Ashleigh Barty dà © favorite ball.

Since her victory in 2018, at the expense of Serena Williams – whose future on the courts, soon to be 40, is more than ever shrouded in the veil of uncertainty after her forfeit due to a Thigh tear – Osaka reigns almost as mistress in Flushing Meadows. After a misstep in 8th the following year against the Swiss Belinda Bencic, she recovered in 2020 at the end of a particularly emotional summer that revealed She, more than a player, a woman very committed to the fight against racial injustice, in the wake of the George Floyd affair.

First there was his refusal to play his semifinal in Cincinnati, following in the footsteps of the Milwaukee Bucks who had just boycotted one of their NBA play-off games. She ended up playing it the next day, after tournament organizers suspended play as a sign of solidarity. And in New York City, she walked onto court every game wearing a mask bearing the name of an African-American victim of police violence.

“I haven’t played as many matches as I would have liked (before the US Open). But I feel pretty happy with the way I’m playing and pretty confident about my current situation. TO”

Seeming to assume this status of champion-activist, reinforcing her aura as a new tennis star, Osaka, who according to Forbes is the highest-paid sportswoman in the world with $ 60 million collected each year (50, 9 million euros, 90% extrasportive), then won at the Australian Open in February, showing a solidity that was believed to be flawless at the time.

But there was the controversy, born of his refusal to answer questions from the media at Roland Garros, which earned him financial penalties and led to his resounding forfeit before the 2nd round. The whole having revealed anxiety problems, marked by “several depressive episodes”.

After a break that led her to skip Wimbledon, she missed her return to the Tokyo Games where, after lighting the Olympic cauldron, she creaked under the pressure in 8th final.

In Cincinnati last week, she broke down in tears for her first press conference on the WTA circuit since Roland Garros, before giving in in the third round to Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann, 76th in the world.

“I haven’t played as many matches as I would have liked (before the US Open). But I feel pretty happy with the way I’m playing and pretty confident about my current situation. I hope it works in the end, ”she said to the media on Friday. Osaka donated his winnings from this Cincinnati tournament to aid workers in Haiti after the earthquake hit his father’s home island. She does not appear in the best possible conditions for the US Open where she will have in her part of the table Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, who has passed her to 2nd place in the world.

“I feel good, I feel ready. It’s a great year, but there is still a long way to go »,

The one who occupies the throne is Ashleigh Barty for the 83rd consecutive week. Victorious at Wimbledon and Cincinnati, the 25-year-old Australian, also titled in Miami, Melbourne and Stuttgart this year, will be her biggest rival, if not the favorite. “I feel good, I feel ready. It’s a great year, but there is still some way to go, ”recently said the one who had hardly played in 2020, after refusing to travel in the middle of Covid-19 pandemic.

“Part of me wasn’t quite sure how this year would turn out. First, because I was away from the courts for a long time, then because I was going to live a new adventure, being away from home for a while, ”he said. she explained. His excellent season has enough to strengthen the confidence of Barty, whose freshness and motivation contrast with the impression of great fragility emanating from Osaka. “The last few months have obviously been extremely difficult. But she (Osaka) comes back where she won twice. Usually, with these kinds of memories, you can play really good tennis, ”said ex-player Pam Shriver, consultant for ESPN.

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