Returning players' concern: "Will I still have 'game'?"

Being a comeback player whether from sickness, injury or hiatus always brings on added thoughts on their performance to come

by GALE MOORMAN
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Returning players' concern: "Will I still have 'game'?"
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Naomi Osaka hasn't been on the competitive courts since September of 2022. She'd take a break for her mental health, then pregnancy. "Very honored to be going on chapter 2 of this tennis journey...I'm so excited to see you guys next year," the 26-year-old grand slam and multi-titled champion has said on her X media page.

It was the first round exit of the U.S. Open in 2022 where just 4 years before she was the reigning champ over Serena Williams in a straight sets. Osaka also made it to Tokyo, but experienced a round of 16 loss when things started spiraling and her rankings dropped into the 80s.

She's been hitting the practice courts with a vengeance and watching her competitors. Iga Swiatek was no. 1 then and still remains. They've played twice and each has won a match on the other. Naomi has played Aryna Sabalenka, the no.

2 WTA player only once at the U.S. Open and the Japanese came out with the victory. Osaka's top rivals have stayed the same in ranking and playing levels. How will she fare now with them as her opponents? Rafael Nadal needs no intro whatsoever.

He's an icon, a grand slam and titled playing extravaganza all his own. But he's had multiple injuries which has hampered his playing performance to the max. Last time Rafa played a tournament was nearly a year ago. He decided in May to try making a return gut with his pain discomfort he decided not to.

He will open up his 2024 season in Brisbane in preparation for the Australian Open. But doubts swirl as to the caliber of play Rafa can play and if he will be pain-free in his participation. Everyone wonders what level he can play? He wants to try his skill again and says "I think I am ready.

I don't know at what level. I don't know what to expect. I have no idea." Rafael Nadal has played every player and many on multiple occasions, surfaces and tournaments; his bucket list on earning different titles has mostly been filled.

"There are many chances that it will be my last year without any doubt...it may only be a half a year...there are possibilities that we may not be able to reach all that..." the Spaniard says frankly. Returning on the tennis tour is Germany's Angelique Kerber who's played her last tournament at the 2022 Wimbledon Championships.

At the time she was ranked no. 103. But her resume proves a titled grand slam winner who's captured the Australian Open and the U.S. Open both in 2016. A few years later won the 2018 Wimbledon Championships. Kerber's tour was interrupted by becoming a mother of a baby girl on February 25.

She looks forward to playing the United Cup, January in Perth, Australia. She also wants to accompany compatriot Alexander Zverev in helping their German team win. Kerber's main intent is to be the flagbearer for Germany at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

As for getting back on tour, she's careful of not compromising her time with her baby's care. She also wants to put in a good show. "I have high expectations of myself...I don't want to come back just to play...I'm taking my time now to get fit." Emma Raducanu, the 2021 U.S.

Open champ has unfortunately been plagued with injuries off and on since winner the grand slam. This May she had surgery on her wrist and ankles. Early this month, she withdrew from an exhibition event in Macau. January 1st she will return to Auckland, not having played since mid-April in Stuttgart against Jelena Ostapenko.

Raducanu has a protected ranking of no. 103 which would admit her into the Australian Open. "It was nice to have some time to learn new skills and do things I'd never done before. At the end of the day I'm itching to get back on court." She played 9 matches in 2023 in between many injuries.

She had numerous coaches with 5 in the past two years. She has now Nick Cavaday who's know her since she was a child. But Emma hasn't been on court in 8 months and hopes that her training and health will hold out. She received a wildcard for the New Zealand Open and has a fresh inspiration of doing well with the warm up events leading to the Australian Open.

Comeback players have high hopes of returning on tour. But their return involves many parts. They have to hope on returning to court mentally strong, physically healthy and internally have a set of strategies to win or to put a good show against their competitor.

Despite the training and practice, there's nothing like playing a real match. They know time will tell and also hope that time is on their side to keep improving.

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