Naomi Osaka makes successful return to tennis after 'growing up so quickly'

Former world No 1 wins first match since taking a break in September 2022 and having her first child

Powered by automated translation

Naomi Osaka returned to action on Monday with a fresh perspective that perhaps only motherhood can provide.

The former world No 1 competed in her first tournament match since September 2022, coming through relatively unscathed in a 6-3, 7-6 victory over Tamara Korpatsch on Monday at the Brisbane International.

Osaka initially decided to take a break from tennis shortly after her first-round defeat at the 2022 US Open, opting to prioritise her mental health having persistently struggled with her sudden rise to superstardom four years earlier when she won the title at Flushing Meadows.

The four-time Grand Slam champion didn't play the Australian Open last year and later revealed she was pregnant. She and her partner, rapper Cordae, became parents to daughter Shai in Los Angeles in July.

“It’s a big change overnight,” Osaka said of returning to the tour as a mother. "For me, I love it a lot because ... in a way I would say (Shai) has helped me grow up so much so quickly.

“Off the court, I’m more aware of people and I appreciate them a lot more — even my opponents and everything,” she said. “On the court, it’s just helping me be strong and staying in the moment more.”

Every time she missed an opportunity to win the match on Monday, she composed herself and focused on giving herself another chance. There were a few inevitable moments of rust, most notably requiring three match points to close out the victory, but on the whole, Osaka hit the ball with power and moved well; she combined 36 winners – mostly from the forehand side – with 29 unforced errors in a match lasting almost two hours.

“I was super nervous the whole time,” Osaka said. “A part of me felt like Shai was watching me. I wanted to do my best for her.

“While I’m playing, I’m aware of it in the sense that I want to be a good role model for my daughter. Other than that I think I’m pretty much trying to be the same old me."

Before Monday, the first day of 2024, Osaka had only played one competitive match since her first-round exit at the 2022 US Open. But she has spent many months preparing for her return, including a renewed focus on living in the moment.

“The last couple years that I played before I had my daughter, I didn’t return as much love as I was given,” she told the crowd at Pat Rafter Arena. “So I really feel like that’s what I want to do in this chapter.”

A full-time return to the tour of a full-strength Osaka will only add further depth of competition at the top of the women's game. Last season, a new 'Big Three' started to emerge, with Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka in a fierce battle for the top ranking, and Coco Gauff entering the fray by winning the US Open.

However, Osaka, who began the season unranked and will face three-time Brisbane champion Karolina Pliskova, in the second round., is taking her comeback one match at a time.

“I think maybe some of my decisions weren’t the best, but it’s better to have harder matches because it will train me for what’s to come," Osaka said, reflecting on her first-round match.

“I’m very proud of myself ... all I can think of is the consistent nerves that I had. So just getting through that really tough match and hopefully building on it. I think my next match will be a really good test on that.”

Updated: January 01, 2024, 9:55 AM