Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open

Hong Kong Open: Naomi Osaka meets fans despite withdrawing – and talks injury, Singapore and Michael B. Jordan

US Open champion sad to miss out with back injury but still flies in to sign autographs at Victoria Park – and to discuss the ‘crazy whirlwind’ her life has become

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 October, 2018, 7:40pm
UPDATED : Monday, 08 October, 2018, 10:59pm

The organisers of the Prudential Hong Kong Open could be forgiven for wondering if they have been cursed by the tennis gods, after Naomi Osaka was forced to withdraw from this year’s tournament.

Osaka sustained a back injury in Beijing at the China Open, and was told by a WTA Tour doctor she needed to rest it for a few days. It means for the second straight year, the reigning US Open champion has dropped out of the Victoria Park tournament.

It certainly would’ve been easy for the 20-year-old from Japan to head straight back to Tokyo and prepare for her debut WTA Finals in Singapore.

But true to her character, she still flew to Hong Kong to meet with local fans, signing autographs and taking pictures.

“For me playing here, this is one of my most favourite tournaments of the year,” Osaka told the South China Morning Post. “Even at the beginning of the year, I look forward to coming to Hong Kong.

“Just having to pull out, and for it to be here, it was really sad for me. That’s why I made the trip down here anyways, because I really wanna show my support.”

Naomi Osaka pulls out of Hong Kong Open with back injury sustained in Beijing

It was in Hong Kong last year that Osaka made the tennis world sit up and take notice, with a stunning straight sets victory over seven-time major champion Venus Williams.

“Having that experience to beat her here, it definitely helped me a lot. And I think I grew, sort of, from that, and yeah I’ve been doing well this year,” Osaka said.

That’s certainly an understatement. She went on to claim her first title at the Indian Wells Masters in March, and after her shock triumph in the Flushing Meadows final against 23-time major champion Serena Williams, Osaka has seen herself become the new darling of women’s tennis.

Her warm, friendly, down-to-earth demeanour, displayed in a whistle stop tour of late night television appearances in the US on staples like The Ellen Show, has seen her stock skyrocket.

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Osaka is in line for a huge increase on her Adidas deal, and noted on Twitter how surreal it is to see her face plastered all over subway trains in Japan, where she is now a brand ambassador for Nissan.

Earlier on Monday, Osaka was swarmed by reporters and photographers in the Victoria Park media centre at a press conference after arriving in Hong Kong.

She sheepishly explained she injured her back “doing something that wasn’t athletic … it wasn’t like I was hitting a ball or anything”. She also played along with some of the more bizarre questions, discussing which character she’d be on The Office (“Toby”), and whether she had received another direct message on Twitter from actor Michael B. Jordan after Ellen DeGeneres had tried to play matchmaker for her with the Black Panther star.

“There’s a video that everyone on the internet watched, even if he did I wouldn’t tell you,” Osaka said, laughing. “But no.”

Naomi Osaka catches Michael B. Jordan’s attention as Ellen DeGeneres plays matchmaker for US Open champion

The new world No 4 has barely had time to pause for breath since New York. She said the words “crazy” and “whirlwind” define things pretty well.

“I’ve played a lot of tennis since then [the US Open], I’ve played back to back and I think I’ve been handling it really well,” she said.

US Open champion Naomi Osaka stressed out by great expectations

“I’ve gotten to the finals of Tokyo and then the semis of Beijing right after. So I think confidence wise I’m doing well and mindset wise well, also that. It could improve but I think it’s up there.

“I wouldn’t really say I feel more famous now, I would say it’s just like having a little bit more pressure. But for me it was like that after Indian Wells, so I think now I can deal with it better.”

Now she will turn her attention to Singapore, which hosts the season-ending WTA Finals for the last time later this month. Despite her back issues, Osaka is feeling confident.

“I don’t think anyone would play there if they don’t think they could win. For sure, I wouldn’t go in there thinking, ‘just win a round’ or something,” she said.

“I definitely want to win but at the same time I know it’s the best players in the world and I can’t put that pressure on myself. I just want to have fun but at the same time try my best.”