Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka said she only has one goal for 2022: “have fun".
Osaka is one of the biggest stars in tennis having won four Grand Slam titles and she has reached the top of the world rankings. However, the 24-year-old Japanese player admittedly struggled mentally last season and took a six-week midseason hiatus after withdrawing from the French Open, where she refused to partake in mandatory media appearances, stating they were having a negative impact on her well-being.
Osaka returned to compete at the Tokyo Olympics — where she lit the torch during the opening ceremony — and after losing to Leylah Fernandez in the third round of the US Open in September, she took another break from tennis to focus on her mental health.
Osaka made her return after four months away at the Melbourne Summer Set on Tuesday and looked rusty in her 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 victory over France's Alize Cornet, but said she was happy with the way she handled herself.
“I only really have one major goal this year, and it's completely unrelated to results and stuff like that. I just want to feel like every time I step on the court … I'm having fun,” world No 13 Osaka told reporters.
“I can walk off the court knowing that even if I lost, I tried as hard as I could. Also I have a goal in the press room, that I'm never going to cry again, so hopefully that works out in my favour.
“I'm the type of person that cared a little bit too much about the results and the ranking. I just need to find a way to enjoy the game again, because that's the reason why I was playing in the first place.”
Osaka said talking to her family and friends helped her make a comeback.
“I felt like that was a way of decompressing the pressure I had on myself. Then I just slowly started to regain the feeling of love that I had towards the game,” Osaka said.
“It's not like it completely went away but I felt it got overshadowed by a lot of emotions that I was feeling just by constantly playing year after year … I started tennis when I was three and I never really took a break.”
Osaka defends her Australian Open title when the first Grand Slam of the season begins in January 17. She won last year's tournament — her fourth major triumph — by defeating American Jennifer Brady in the final.