Naomi Osaka admitted she doubted if she could compete against everyone just a couple of weeks ago but now she is enjoying herself on the court more than ever and Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova are to credit for that.
This week, 26-year-old Osaka made her post-pregnancy comeback at the Brisbane International. Considering that Osaka hadn't played in a really long time - since 2022 September - the tennis community was extremely curious about the Japanese's comeback.
In her first match as a mom, Osaka did well as she beat Tamara Korpatsch 6-3 7-6 (9). On Wednesday, Osaka returned to the court for her second-round match. This time, Osaka was facing a much more difficult opponent - former world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova.
Against two-time Grand Slam finalist Pliskova, Osaka made a great start but then lost a tight second and eventually the match as the Czech came back to win 3-6 7-6 (4) 6-4. Osaka may have lost on the losing side but she was very positive about her performance in Brisbane.
"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. So I guess 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," Osaka said.
How Williams, Sharapova helped Osaka enjoy herself on the court a lot more
In the two years before missing the entire 2023 season due to pregnancy, Osaka didn't play that much. During the 2021 and 2022 seasons, Osaka openly talked about her mental health and it was evident that the Japanese's love, joy, and passion for the game diminished.
But after taking an extended time away from tennis and becoming a mom, Osaka is enjoying herself on the court "a lot more" now and she is again determined to make major results. Now, Osaka admits that watching Williams and Sharapova retire made her understand that a tennis career doesn't last forever and that she should enjoy it while it lasts.
"I think I'm enjoying myself a lot more, and I also realize there's a lot of things that aren't in my control. Maybe the ball that was in, I could have hit that. 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." Osaka said.
"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 watching Sharapova, Serena retiring, I know that the tennis lifespan isn't that long, so I should enjoy it while I can," Osaka said.
Osaka on a devastating earthquake that hit Japan
On January 1st, a powerful 7.5-magnitude earthquake hit Ishikawa prefecture. After the earthquake, a major tsunami ensued, causing even more devastation. The earthquake - which was called the 2024 Sea of Japan Earthquake - has killed 64 people so far while more than 700 have been left injured.
After exiting Brisbane, Osaka was asked about the situation in her home country. Answering the question, Osaka described it as a "devastating" situation and admitted it was just tough to see that happening in Japan.
"Yeah, I think for me it's really devastating. I didn't hear about it until a night or so ago just because I feel a little disconnected from the news. I think Wim is the one that told me," Osaka said.
"It's really rough to hear. I feel like earthquakes happen a lot in Japan. I've been there and I've felt it, but never the severe ones. My immediate thing was checking on my ojichan and everyone there and just making sure everyone is okay. But I know the situation is still kind of ongoing, so I hope everyone is okay, yeah."
Osaka now turns her focus to the Australian Open
After officially starting her post-pregnancy comeback in Brisbane, Osaka is now set to make her Grand Slam return at the Australian Open.
At Melbourne Park, Osaka made her debut in 2016. After making her Australian Open debut in 2016, Osaka made seven consecutive appearances at Melbourne Park between 2016 and 2022. In her fourth Australian Open appearance in 2019, Osaka made it all the way after beating Petra Kvitova. Just before winning the 2019 Australian Open, Osaka became a Grand Slam champion at the 2018 US Open. With that being said, the 2019 Australian Open title was Osaka's second Grand Slam.
In 2020, Osaka failed to defend her Australian Open title after losing to Coco Gauff in the third round. But Osaka impressively bounced back the following year, winning her second Australian Open title in 2021. At the time, it was Osaka's fourth Grand Slam title since she won her third Major a few months earlier at the 2020 US Open.
Going into this year's Australian Open, Osaka is not really considered among the top favorites since she is just returning to tennis. However, Osaka knows extremely well what it takes to do well at the Australian Open and there is no doubt that she could potentially make a solid run at Melbourne Park this January.
During her pregnancy and after giving birth, Osaka spoke several times about her desire to return to winning Grand Slams. In one of her interviews from 2023, Osaka even said that she would want to win at least eight more Grand Slams before retiring. If Osaka wins at least more Grand Slams, she would finish her career with more than 10 Grand Slams and would go down as one of the greatest players in tennis history.
Now that she is a mother, Osaka clearly wants to do well for her daughter Skai. After her Brisbane exit, Osaka admitted how she feels now after losses.
“I do feel different. I mean, of course I feel sad, but the sadness is me being like, ‘Aww, I wish I could have done better, because I know I’m spending so much time away from her [Shai], so I want it to be worth it somehow.”
At this year's Australian Open, Osaka won't be a seeded player, which means she could potentially face a top player early on. It will be interesting to see how Osaka does in her first Grand Slam as a mom.