Rory McIlroy is firmly in tennis star Naomi Osaka’s corner as she prepares to take time away from the sport following her third-round loss at the U.S. Open last week.
Osaka, who has been very open about her struggles with anxiety and depression in recent months, said that she simply has lost the love of the game — something McIlroy completely understood.
"I spoke about this in 2019 about separating who I am as a golfer and who I am as a person and trying to not let that define me, and it seems what Naomi is going through at the minute is that same thing," McIlroy said after the TOUR Championship on Sunday, where he finished T14, via Reuters.
"How can I play tennis and enjoy it and not let the results define who I am ... I think everyone just needs to let her have time to figure that out."
Osaka: ‘When I win, I don’t feel happy’
Osaka fell to Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez in the third round of the U.S. Open on Friday night, marking her third straight third-round loss dating back to the Tokyo Olympics.
After the loss, Osaka was extremely emotional speaking with reporters.
“I feel like for me recently, like when I win I don’t feel happy. I feel more like a relief,” she said, tearing up. “And then when I lose, I feel very sad. I don’t think that’s normal. I didn’t really want to cry, but basically I feel like … I’m kind of at this point where I’m trying to figure out what I want to do, and honestly I don’t know when I’m going to play my next tennis match. Sorry.”
Osaka withdrew from the French Open earlier this year after initially announcing that she wasn’t going to speak with any reporters at the event due to mental health concerns she had — something that initially sparked some intense backlash. The French Open even fined her for that decision before she pulled out altogether.
The 23-year-old then didn’t play again until the Olympics. She broke down in tears after returning to her first formal news conference at the Western & Southern Open last month, too, and her agent then slammed a “bully” reporter who had asked her about her relationship with the media.
McIlroy latest golfer to lend support
McIlroy is far from the first member of the golf world to come to Osaka’s support.
Bubba Watson spoke out in June shortly after Osaka withdrew from the French Open, revealing his own struggles with anxiety and ADHD.
— bubba watson (@bubbawatson) June 1, 2021
"This is not something that goes away. There's not a miracle drug that it goes way,” Watson said. “I'm still going to have issues. I have anxieties. I have doubts. I have pride issues. I have ego issues. I've got them all. I've got every issue you can think of and I'm still with it, and hopefully I get better with it and hopefully she gets better with it, too."
While nobody knows how long Osaka may be away from tennis, McIlroy is confident that she’ll be able to figure it out and fall in love with the game once again.
"She seems like a really smart girl, and hopefully she'll be able to do it and come back and start enjoying the game just like when she picked the racket up when she was a little girl," McIlroy said, via Reuters.