Naomi Osaka shares what was really happening when everyone thought she retired

In 2022 January, there were major fears among fans that Osaka was done with pro tennis.

by Dzevad Mesic
Naomi Osaka shares what was really happening when everyone thought she retired
© Getty Images Sport - Kenta Harada

Naomi Osaka, 26, says being away from tennis during pregnancy was eye-opening in some ways as it helped the Japanese tennis star get a new perspective on life and career and ultimately realize that deep inside she still wanted to be a pro tennis player. 

After going public about her battle with depression and anxiety during the 2021 season and taking two breaks to address her mental health, Osaka didn't play much during the 2022 season either as she appeared in just 11 tournaments - with her last tournament of 2022 coming in September of that year in Tokyo. 

During that time, it was evident that four-time Grand Slam champion Osaka struggled with her motivation and that her spark and passion for the game probably diminished. 

After Naomi Osaka didn't sign up for any tournaments leading up to the 2022 Australian Open and then the opening Grand Slam of the season confirmed that the Japanese wouldn't play at Melbourne Park in 2022 January, that sparked major retirement fears. But then, Osaka's fans breathed a sigh of relief after the former world No. 1 announced she was out of action because of pregnancy and that she would return to tennis in 2023. 

While sitting at home and taking care of her pregnancy, Osaka had a lot of time to think, and although she is an overthinker and that sometimes causes a negative effect, this time it helped the Japanese. 

“It forced me to see life in a different way. I know a lot of people probably think I retired in that year but it just made me a lot more grateful for the sport and, in turn, made me just know there’s so many possibilities outside tennis and I realized I would still love to play tennis," Osaka told The Guardian.

Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka © Getty Images Sport - Mike Hewitt

Osaka on admitting she can be 'delusional' at times

After this year's Australian Open where Osaka suffered a first-round loss to Caroline Garcia - which was the Japanese's first Grand Slam tournament since launching her post-pregnancy - the former world No. 1 appeared disappointed and frustrated with her early exit and said she was "delusional enough to think I could have won the tournament."

For Osaka, being a little bit delusional in her goals and expectations isn't something new as she admits she has had that characteristic from a young age. But the 26-year-old Japanese also adds that this method has worked pretty well for her throughout her life. 

“I’ve had this since I was little (laughing). But the people they call crazy are usually the ones that are the people that do something really spectacular," Osaka said.

“My delusional trait is probably me daydreaming and inventing a scenario I want to happen and sometimes they do happen.”

Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka © Getty Images Sport - Al Bello

Osaka admits doubt still come but remains optimistic she will reach her destination

Before and after launching her post-pregnancy comeback, Osaka has underlined on numerous occasions that she came back to tennis to become better and more complete than ever - add more Grand Slam success to her resume - and also win an Olympic gold medal.

But through her opening nine tournaments of the season, Osaka is 12-9 and her lone quarterfinal appearance of the year came at a WTA 1000 tournament in Doha in mid-February. 

Now, Osaka admits not having more wins or a title has led to certain doubt creeping into her mind but underlines she still remains confident and optimistic that she can get to where she wants to be. 

“I definitely would have done the tennis player thing, which is not talk to anybody, been in an extremely dark hole. Now I try to openly communicate how I feel," Osaka said.

“The biggest thing is doubt because the only way I know how to gauge myself for my success is through wins. And if I don’t have those, I feel like I’m not doing well. But I played some really good players so I’m hoping that the results will creep in slowly.”

Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka © Getty Images Sport - Clive Brunskill

Meanwhile, Osaka is now preparing to play at Roland Garros for the first time since 2022 and make her seventh French Open appearance. Leading up to the French Open, Osaka is 4-3 on clay this year but in her last tournament played she did pretty well, having reached the Rome Open round-of-16 before losing to Zheng Qinwen.

When Osaka kicks off her French Open return, she will certainly be hoping for her career-best result at Roland Garros and to make it past the third round at the tournament for the first time in her career.

Naomi Osaka