Naomi Osaka looking at 'bigger picture' in Billie Jean King Cup

Former world No 1 upbeat about her form despite limited success after return to tennis

From left: Shuko Aoyama, Ena Shibahara, Naomi Osaka, Mai Hontama, Nao Hibino and head coach Ai Sugiyama of Japan at the draw ceremony for the Billie Jean King Cup qualifier against Kazakhstan in Tokyo. AFP
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Former world number one Naomi Osaka said she is not focusing on just results and is instead looking at the "bigger picture" having returned to tennis last year after giving birth.

The four-time major winner has not gone beyond the quarter-finals in six tournaments since her 15-month maternity break. Her last result was a third-round defeat to France's Caroline Garcia at the Miami Open last month.

Osaka has risen to 193 in the world rankings - from 831 - since her return. She next plays in the Billie Jean King Cup qualifier for Japan against Kazakhstan in Tokyo from Friday.

Osaka, 26, she was encouraged by her form.

"It's really tough to look at it results-wise," she said. "But I have to look at it in a bigger picture and try to expand on my game and expand on the knowledge that I'm constantly learning as a player."

Osaka described her second-round win over Ukraine's Elina Svitolina in Miami as encouraging.

"It was one of the better matches in my career, just in terms of execution," she said.

Osaka is appearing at the Billie Jean King Cup for the first time since 2020, after being asked to play by team captain Ai Sugiyama.

"She's just always felt very kind and genuine and I always really wanted to try, just to be better in team atmospheres as well," said Osaka.

It will be Osaka's first appearance in Tokyo since she withdrew from the Pan Pacific Open in 2022 before her second-round match.

Osaka is playing in Japan hoping to force her way into the Olympic Games.

Since it will be the 26-year-old's first appearance in the team competition since February 2020, it means she hasn't fulfilled the obligation of making it to two ties in one Olympic cycle.

If she is to secure a spot in the Japan team for the Paris Olympics "she'll need to go through the appeals process", a spokesman for the ITF said.

However, the ITF also reserves a place in each singles draw at the Games to a Grand Slam title winner.

Osaka was absent from the tour from September 2022 until January this year after giving birth to her first child.

At the Australian Open, she was ranked a lowly 831 but a quarter-final run in Qatar followed by back-to-back third round spots at Indian Wells and Miami have lifted her inside the top 200 and to No 4 in Japan.

The singles event at the Olympics is limited to 64 players with a maximum of four from each nation.

Updated: April 11, 2024, 12:12 PM