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Naomi Osaka: Rory McIlroy offers support to Japanese tennis star over her decision to take indefinite break

Naomi Osaka has taken an indefinite break from tennis following her US Open exit; the 23-year-old previously withdrew from the French Open and Wimbledon to prioritise her mental health; golfer Rory McIlroy says he understands what Osaka is going through

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Rory McIlroy says he had to work to not allow his play on the course define him as a person as he addressed a question on Naomi Osaka's indefinite break from tennis

Rory McIlroy has offered support to Naomi Osaka over her decision to take another break from tennis, adding he sees similarities with what he has experienced in golf.

The Japanese tennis star, who withdrew from the French Open and Wimbledon earlier this year to prioritise her mental health, announced another indefinite break after her shock 5-7 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 US Open exit to Leylah Fernandez.

Discussing the challenges of dealing with pressure and the importance of finding self-worth, McIlroy empathised with Osaka and believes she is doing the right thing by taking time away.

AP - Naomi Osaka congratulates Leylah Fernandez
Image: Osaka congratulates Leylah Fernandez after being beaten at the US Open

"I've tried really hard and I spoke about this quite a lot 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 his final round at the Tour Championship.

"How can I play tennis and enjoy it and not let the results define who I am? I think that's what she's going through right now and I think everyone just needs to let her have time to figure that out.

"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."

Osaka, who was the reigning US Open champion prior to her withdrawal, has not put a timeframe on her return.

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The 23-year-old has been praised, alongside American gymnast Simone Biles, for shining a spotlight on the pressures, demands and mental strain that comes with being a sportswoman in the public gaze.

AP - Naomi Osaka, of Japan, covers her head between games against Leylah Fernandez, of Canada, at the third round of the US Open tennis championships, Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Image: Osaka has spoken candidly about the need to protect her mental health and wellbeing

McIlroy believes it is easy to lose sight of what makes an individual fall in love with their sport, and rediscovering that satisfaction is crucial.

He added: "Doing it as a job or for a living, that's when the joy goes out of it and that's when you lose your innocence.

"There's a part of that that goes the further along you get in this professional career, and the more you can hold onto that joy and innocence of remembering the reason why you picked up a golf club and why you picked up a tennis racket, that's the important thing."

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