Naomi Osaka suffered a painful 4-6 6-3 7-6[10-5] defeat to Amanda Anisimova at Australian Open 2022 on Friday night, but felt she came out a winner nonetheless.
Osaka took a break from tennis after exiting to Leylah Fernandez at the US Open, speaking repeatedly about the importance of mental health.
The four-time Grand Slam champion admitted to reporters in the build-up to AO 22 that she returned to the circuit earlier than she anticipated, and emerged from the dramatic defeat to Anisimova in better spirits than against Fernandez in September.
That despite letting slip two match points at 4-5 in the third set.
"The last match that I played in New York I think I had a completely different attitude, so I'm really happy with … I lost, but I'm happy with how it went," Osaka said.
"I would definitely say I'm proud of myself for this. Though to me it didn't feel like a short amount of time. It felt like, you know, ages ago.
"I think this for me is the biggest step, even though I lost. I think I was really focused throughout the entire match, and I didn't have a dip. So that's really good, you know.
"Hopefully as the season continues, I'll be able to keep this up, and get even better at it."
With a full few weeks in Melbourne after competing in the Melbourne Summer Set, Osaka went shopping, purchasing candles and incense.
Last year's Australian Open winner – defeating Anisimova's fellow American Jennifer Brady at Rod Laver Arena – also took to meditating and writing a journal.
"Trying to figure out what my goals are and what I want to accomplish in this career, because, I'm here right now at the Australian Open, but you never know when it's going to be your last one," she said.
"Playing in Rod Laver every time is something that I don't want to take for granted. Playing in the big stadiums is really special.
"I just feel like I have to shift my mentality more, and of course be more grateful for the things that I have accomplished and the things that I want to accomplish."
Indeed, Osaka vows to have fun on court while not losing her intensity. She's not sure about her exact, upcoming schedule.
And for Osaka, it's exciting to see new tennis stars being born. She knew a little about the plight of Anisimova, whose father died in 2019.
Prior to that tragedy, Anisimova had been playing her best tennis, making the semifinals at the French Open.
"To me, it's exciting. Not the loss itself, but the person I lost to, because it's like showing the growth of tennis," said Osaka.
"I feel like now I'm in this position where if I lose to someone, it might make a headline, but I also think it kind of grows more superstars, and I feel like that's good for the game.
"So it's kind of like everything is coming in full circle."