As Naomi Osaka announced she was withdrawing from the French Open because of mental health struggles, tennis fans were reminded of what was, before this point, the most controversial moment of the Japanese star's career.
Her maiden grand slam win at the 2018 US Open will forever be remembered more for Serena Williams' explosive outburst at chair umpire Carlos Ramos, when she accused him of sexism after warning her for receiving coaching from the stands.
Osaka was reduced to tears during the trophy presentation as the New York crowd booed relentlessly, upset at how Williams had been treated. What should have been the best moment of Osaka's career was ruined, and she pulled her visor down over her face as if to say she would rather have been anywhere else than Arthur Ashe Stadium.
It was the first time in Osaka's career the spotlight had well and truly focused on her, as she emerged as a breakout star to claim her debut major trophy in the most controversial of circumstances. In her statement announcing her French Open withdrawal, the 23-year-old pointed to the 2018 US Open as the time when she started to struggle more with her mental health.
"The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that," she said.
Tennis fans looked back to that moment at Flushing Meadows nearly three years ago in the wake of Osaka's exit from Roland Garros, reflecting on how much of a role it played in the world No.2 reaching the point she has today.
American sportscaster Jill Martin tweeted: "I just have so many emotions reading Naomi Osaka's post. What keeps coming into my mind was how she wasn't celebrated for winning that 2018 US Open in that moment. I always thought she was robbed of something beautiful there. I think that will always bother me."
Jono Haysom added: "The only thing I'll say about Naomi was she was amazing when she won the US Open and Serena made it all about her and her 'plight' after her outburst."
American podcaster Rod Morrow also weighed in, suggesting it must have been incredibly difficult for Osaka to deal with the fallout from her first grand slam title, which came at the expense of the woman she had grown up admiring for years.
"The interesting part of Naomi's statement for me was the reference to all this starting with the coverage of 2018," he tweeted. "I think so much of the commentary was about Serena losing and not how that must've affected Naomi, who beat her tennis idol.
"The subsequent discussions around Naomi's race and future in the world of tennis had to be a lot to carry on her 20-year-old shoulders. Especially the stuff about what race she 'belonged' to. That's before we even get to her stepping up to advocate for Black lives last year."
Morrow also spoke about Osaka's "obvious trauma of having her victory mixed with the single worst day of Serena's career".
"I still remember Naomi crying getting her trophy that day and not knowing if they were tears of joy for herself or empathy for Serena. Or maybe a mix of both," he said.
"In that moment what stuck out to me is Serena pushing aside her own anger and becoming a consoling mentor. So even I was guilty in some way of making that moment of victory more about Serena at the time."
However, the US Open final was not the first time Osaka had experienced issues with her mental health. After losing in the third round of a clay court tournament in Charleston in April 2018, the talented right-hander spoke about her doubts on her least preferred surface — doubts that have continued to this day, as revealed by Osaka's sister Mari on Monday.
"Yesterday I just woke up and I was really depressed but I don't know why," Osaka said in a post-match press conference at the time.
Despite winning two matches at the event, she added: "I feel like that doesn't really say I can play well on clay. It's more just, I'm an OK player, that I was able to play OK. I'm so sad right now."
Those comments came just a month after she won the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, and a couple of weeks after beating Williams for the first time in Miami.
The 2018 US Open is clearly not the only reason Osaka has struggled in the past, and is struggling now. However, that she singled out the moment in her statement on Tuesday suggests even three years later, it still affects her.
Williams won her first round match on Tuesday and was asked about Osaka's withdrawal by reporters.
"I feel for Naomi," she said. "I feel like I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it's like. Like I said, I've been in those positions.
"We have different personalities and people are different. Not everyone is the same. I'm thick. Other people are think. Everyone is different and everyone handles things differently.
"You just have to let her handle it the way she wants to, in the best way she thinks she can. That's the only thing I can say. I think she's doing the best that she can."
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