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PIX: Osaka just wants to have fun!

January 09, 2024 09:11 IST

IMAGE: Naomi Osaka said therapy and motherhood have helped her on her mental health journey and she appeared to be having a lot more fun on court in Brisbane. Photographs: Naomi Osaka/Instagram

Naomi Osaka says she has returned to tennis from maternity leave with a more positive outlook and all the signs are that she will soon be back at a level where she can take on and beat the best in the world.


It might be too early for a tilt at a fifth Grand Slam title at the Australian Open this month but, with a good draw, a run deep into the second week at Melbourne Park cannot be counted out.

The 26-year-old, who pulled out of last year's Australian Open with the announcement that she was pregnant with her daughter Shai, showed in Brisbane last week that she still has the weapons to overpower many players in the women's game.

"I think for me even stepping on the court is a personal win because a couple of weeks ago I was even doubting if I could play with everyone," she said after her second-round loss to Karolina Pliskova.

"These two matches that I've had kind of prove to me that I am doing okay, and the year is just going to get better for me ... I know that if I keep training and if I keep putting in the work, then I'll eventually get to where I want to be."

Osaka bemoaned that she got to play only the two matches at the warm-up tournament after her loss in three sets to former world number one Pliskova, a tricky opponent who gave her trouble even when she was in her pomp.

"I feel like I'm pretty good where I am right now," Osaka said after the match.

"Even the last time I played her, I think I played better today. I feel like, honestly, I think I'm pretty good. I guess I'll see what happens in Melbourne."

Four Grand Slam titles in four seasons in her early 20s had Osaka marked out as a player who would be contending for the game's major prizes for many years to come.

Her Haitian-Japanese heritage, engaging personality and political activism made her a magnet for sponsors and she was soon among the world's wealthiest female athletes.

It emerged soon after her second Australian Open triumph in 2021, though, that her career had taken a huge toll on her mental health and she withdrew from the French Open after refusing to attend a press conference.

She took an indefinite break from the game after losing at the US Open that same year, explaining her angry reaction to the defeat by saying she felt anxious when things did not go her way.

Therapy and motherhood have, she has said, helped her on her mental health journey and she appeared to be having a lot more fun on court in Brisbane.

"I think I'm enjoying myself a lot more, and I also realise there's a lot of things that aren't in my control," she said.

"Other than that, I feel more aware that I'm playing the best players in the world. Both of us have an opportunity to win.

"I also just think I've trained so hard after giving birth that I need to enjoy these moments, and I also think in a way ... I know that the tennis lifespan isn't that long, so I should enjoy it while I can."

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