Defending champion Osaka in spotlight as US Open begins

Japan’s Naomi Osaka speaks during a interview ahead of the 2021 US Open

Naomi Osaka launches her bid for a third US Open title in four years on Monday, aiming to put turmoil behind her as she chases her second Grand Slam title of 2021.

Osaka, who rocketed to fame when she beat superstar Serena Williams in the 2018 US Open final, appeared set for a sparkling 2021 campaign after she beat American Jen Brady in the Australian Open final in February to capture her fourth major crown.

Osaka, who said she believed post-match news conferences were detrimental to her mental health, opted out of Wimbledon as well, and after the magical moment of lighting the cauldron at the Tokyo Olympics bowed out in the third round.

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As she looked ahead to her Monday opener against Czech Marie Bouzkova Osaka said in a social media post that she wants to start to savor her accomplishments and let go of negative thoughts.

“Seeing everything that’s going on in the world I feel like if I wake up in the morning that’s a win,” Osaka wrote. “Your life is your own and you shouldn’t value yourself on other people’s standards. I know I give my heart to everything I can and if that’s not good enough for some then my apologies but I can’t burden myself with those expectations anymore.”

Crowds at the normally rowdy Open will be back at full capacity, although organizers announced last week that all attendees will be required to provide proof of having received at least one Covid-19 vaccination.

Play opens with former women’s champion Sloane Stephens taking on Madison Keys in an All-American clash.

Then former champion Andy Murray faces a daunting challenge as he continues his return from his latest injury as he goes up against third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece.

“When you’re not seeded, these sorts of things can happen,” Murray said, adding that he thought the New York crowd could help him.

Elsewhere on Monday, former world number one Victoria Azarenka — who fell to Osaka in last year’s final — takes on Czech Tereza Martincova on Grandstand court.

Women’s second seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus faces Serb Nina Stojanovic to open the night session on Louis Armstrong court, where rising US star Coco Gauff anchors the day session and mercurial Australian Nick Kyrgios brings down the curtain against Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut.

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