Liguori: Classy, Thoughtful Naomi Osaka Runs Out Of US Open Magic


Top seed and defending champion Naomi Osaka was ousted Monday in her round-of-16 match at the U.S. Open against Belinda Bencic, the 13th seed from Switzerland. Bencic moved better, took the ball on the rise and beat the two-time Grand Slam winner for the third time this year. Becic’s 7-5, 6-4 win ended Osaka’s 10-match winning streak at the U.S. Open.

Osaka looked a step slow. She said afterward that she couldn’t land on her leg and was not practicing her serve coming into the U.S. Open because of it.

Osaka called for a trainer midway through the second set. She said she hurt her knee a few weeks ago in Cincinnati and asked the trainer in her match Monday for a pain pill.

“I don't want to say that that's the reason that I lost,” said Osaka, “because I obviously had played, like, three matches before this.

 Naomi Osaka of Japan after losing Belinda Bencic of Switzerland in the fourth round of the U.S. Open on Sept. 2, 2019, at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Images

"I think I honestly didn't move well today. You know what I mean? I felt like I was always flat-footed. Given that she's very aggressive, of course if you're surprised, you would be on the back foot. But I have played her so many times that I'm not surprised at this point."Yeah, I mean, the knee was a little bit annoying in the movement aspect, but I think that that's something I should have overcome," Osaka said, adding she should have played more aggressively.

In the third round, Osaka stopped 15-year-old sensation Coco Gauff’s magical run in the singles draw, 6-3, 6-0, then consoled the teenager and invited her to do the post-match TV interview. Gauff was crying after the loss and accepted Osaka’s invite to appear on camera. It was a sweet gesture from Osaka, who was more concerned about consoling Gauff than taking credit for her own amazing play.

That match may have taken so much out of Osaka that she was a bit flat against Bencic. The 21-year-old may have left it all out on the court with her incredible play against Gauff.

Bencic was asked about Osaka’s act of kindness toward Gauff.

“I thought it was an amazing match, amazing story obviously from Coco,” said Bencic. “I practiced with her, and she's just really, really good. Obviously what Naomi did is what a true champion would do. I already said it on court."Definitely I think it showed it was big, you know, and social media, the internet. I think it showed woman's tennis is great, and just the fair play that it's beyond the competition.”

After being knocked out of this championship, Osaka seemed at peace.

"I feel actually better losing here than I lost in Indian Wells because, of course, there's not a feeling of acceptance, but I feel like I learned a lot from today," she said. "Like, there is a lot of things that I did wrong. For me, whenever I do things wrong, I usually take it to the next match. That's when I play better. So honestly, I'm just excited for the next tournament.

Last year, when Osaka captured the U.S. Open title by beating Serena Williams in their ultra-controversial match -- in which Serena was given three code violations that cost her a point and then a game -- what should have been joyful turned into a nightmare for Osaka as the crowd was booing the umpire and the result. She was 20 years old at the time, became the first Japanese woman to win a Grand Slam title, had idolized Serena growing up and cried during the media ceremony. The circus-like atmosphere was enough to traumatize any young player. Osaka then went on to win the Australian Open. But after that, she posted on her Instagram that she probably hadn't "had fun playing tennis since Australia."

She came into this U.S. Open with a more positive outlook but didn’t have the fight required to contend with Bencic, be it because of her sore knee, being sluggish from her previous match or perhaps not wanting it badly enough.

Osaka's class and sportsmanship are extraordinary. I like her so much I hope she can stay as fierce on the court as she is nice and sweet and reflective off the court.

Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori.​