Mum's the word: Osaka, Kerber and Wozniacki make returns at Australian Open

All have tasted success at Melbourne Park before taking time out to raise children

Naomi Osaka serves during a training session ahead of the 2024 Australian Open at Melbourne Park. Getty
Powered by automated translation

Nostalgia and memories of past glories have accompanied Naomi Osaka on her return to the Australian Open but the two-time champion is determined to be patient with herself.

Osaka is playing her first grand slam tournament since the US Open in 2022 after giving birth to daughter Shai last summer.

The winner at Melbourne Park in 2019 and 2021, the 26-year-old is feeling her way back into life on tour having made her comeback at the Brisbane International last week.

“Just going into the locker room and having the same locker as before, I think little things like that really make me happy,” said Osaka.

“Just being able to hit on Rod Laver, I guess, look up at the sky and kind of realise, I’ve been able to win twice here. I would love to do it again.

“Definitely it is hard because I do think of all the amazing memories that I’ve had. I also think, in my head, who am I to just come back in the second tournament and expect so much from myself, especially against the best players in the world?

“Even hitting today with Ons [Jabeur], I caught myself getting a little disappointed in myself when I would make some mistakes. But I’m hitting against Ons. I think it’s just one of those things where I now think to myself that I have to give myself a lot of time and patience.”

Osaka cuts a notably happier figure than the player who struggled with her mental health during 2022 and contemplated stepping away from the sport completely.

Time and a new perspective as a mother has given Osaka, who is also a two-time winner of the US Open, a different outlook on her career.

“I’ve taken a lot of breaks throughout the years,” she said. “I think this one was the one that finally clicked in my head. I think I realised, being an athlete, that time is really precious. [Before] I was young and I felt like I could kind of roll back into it whenever I needed to.

“I guess after having Shai, going through the struggle of trying to get myself back to where I want to be, it was incredibly tough.

“I have a much more positive mindset and a much more grateful mindset. I think overall I’m just happy to be here because I remember last year I was watching people playing Australian Open, and I couldn’t participate myself.”

Osaka has not travelled to Australia with Shai, who has stayed back home in the USA.

Former champions Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber as mothers making their Australian Open returns, has a tricky first-round draw against 16th seed Caroline Garcia.

New mum Kerber 'still has fire' to win

Former world No 1 Kerber says she still "has the fire" to compete at the top and always planned to return to tennis after giving birth.

The three-time major champion ended an 18-month hiatus at the United Cup this month, helping Germany win the title in Sydney.

Now preparing for her first Grand Slam since having a baby, she admitted missing the emotions and drama that come with being on court.

"Why I'm coming back? I think this is the question a lot of people are asking me. It is because I love the sport, I love to play tennis," the 35-year-old said Friday ahead of the Australian Open, which she won in 2016.

"I already saw it last week with a lot of emotions again, a lot of dramas, up and downs, match points down. This is what I was missing, being on the court, seeing the fans and having the emotions out there.

"It was always in my mind to come back from the beginning."

Reunited with longtime coach Torben Beltz, Kerber has been putting in the work on the practice court since August, taking a slow and gradual approach to getting back into form.

It has been a rocky road so far, with four defeats and just one win – against Australian Ajla Tomljanovic – at the United Cup.

"I have still the fire," she said. "When I lose a match, because I hate to lose, so it is still there. I think this doesn't change.

"What changed is that I'm faster to recover from that, because of course if I'm back in the hotel, I have to be again someone else."

She faces a difficult first-round encounter at the Australian Open against Danielle Collins, a finalist in 2022.

"It is a tough opponent. She hits the ball very hard. I don't know if I will find my rhythm, to be honest," she said.

Wozniacki targets more Australian Open glory with kids in tow

Caroline Wozniacki admits ultimately she will "never be cool" to her two young children even as they watch her pursue more Grand Slam glory at the Australian Open.

The Dane made a shock return to tennis last year after retiring in 2020, reaching the fourth round at the US Open in her first major for three years.

Now the former world No 1 is back at Melbourne Park – the scene of her only major win, in 2018 – with Oliva, 2, and James, 1, in tow.

Wozniacki, given a wild card to play in Melbourne, told a pre-tournament press conference on Friday that she travels "everywhere" with her children.

"It's a lot of fun to be able to share these memories with them, even though they're still pretty small," she said.

"I think I felt busy before, before having kids," she added. "I thought I don't know how you can be more busy, but that definitely was proven wrong after having children.

"It doesn't matter if you've played for one hour, three hours, 10 hours, they're still there and having full energy. They want you to be there 100 per cent for them."

Wozniacki, 33, said she enjoyed combining parenthood with a job she loves.

"Right now I think I'm at a stage where I'm pretty cool for her [Oliva] and James," she said.

"But we're definitely getting to a stage eventually where she won't care at all that I played tennis."

When Wozniacki returned to the sport last year she said she believed she could win another Grand Slam and she remains confident despite her years away from the court.

"I think any time I step on a court, I believe I can win the match no matter who the opponent is across the net" she said.

"I think I'm playing well. My body feels pretty good. Yeah, again, it's a long way to go. I'm just going to focus on my first-round opponent and kind of go from there. That's always kind of been my mindset."

The Danish star will face 20th seed Magda Linette in the first round in Melbourne.

Updated: January 12, 2024, 8:58 AM