Naomi Osaka claims her pain tolerance has increased massively after experiencing and getting through the pain of childbirth as the Japanese now feels nothing is impossible and does not care about the opinion of others anymore.
Before pregnancy and giving birth, Osaka's motivation, passion, and joy for tennis were starting to diminish. Also, Osaka - who has been very open about her bouts with depression and anxiety - took a few breaks to address her mental health in recent years.
But then, the pregnancy and time away from tennis helped Osaka in many ways. Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam champion, could not wait to return to the court at the start of the 2024 season. Also, Osaka has been very outspoken in recent months about her desire to return to the very top of tennis and achieve the biggest things.
Not only that Osaka rediscovered her joy and passion for the game, she is also now far less bothered about what doubters and critics may have to say.
“I feel so strong. People talk about childbirth, but it’s different once you experience it. I just feel like I can do anything and nothing will bother me, and the pain tolerance has definitely increased a lot from that. I just don’t really care about other people’s opinions anymore," Osaka told Glamour.
Osaka started working on her return just 15 days after giving birth
During the spring of 2023, Osaka already started talking about how forward she was looking to return to tennis after giving birth. At the time, it was clear that Osaka would do her very best to be ready for the start of her post-pregnancy comeback in 2024.
On July 11th, it was announced that Osaka gave birth to her first children. 15 days after giving birth, Osaka's preparations for her post-pregnancy comeback started. While many were surprised to see Osaka back to the court just half a month after welcoming her first children, Osaka wasn't really.
“Honestly, I didn’t know that people were going to create a big deal about me training so quickly. I find it wild because I’ve been physically training since I was seven years old. So, for me, it’s so natural."
Osaka draws Caroline Garcia in her Australian Open opener
Meanwhile, Osaka learned her Australian Open draw on Thursday. Osaka, a former world No. 1, was handed a very difficult first-round matchup as she is set to meet 2022 WTA Finals champion Garcia in her opener at Melbourne Park. Although Garcia didn't have a great 2023 season, there is no doubt that the Frenchwoman was one of the most difficult opponents Osaka could have drawn in the Australian Open first round.
When Osaka and 30-year-old Garcia meet at Melbourne Park, it is going to be their second meeting. Interestingly, their first and lone meeting also came at the Australian Open in 2021. Back then, Osaka claimed a routine 6-2 6-3 second-round win over Garcia.
Another interesting fact is that that year Osaka went on to win her second Australian Open title and her fourth Grand Slam glory. However, the situation is now completely different from Osaka, who just played her first tournament in 16 months in Brisbane last week.
Osaka's possible Australian Open path
Since Osaka is unseeded, it was clear that she would have a very difficult projected path to the Australian Open title. If Osaka successfully passes the Garcia test, she will play against either Daria Saville or Magdalena Frech in the second round.
In the Australian Open third round, Osaka could potentially meet 23rd-seeded Anastasia Potapova. If Osaka reaches the Australian Open round-of-16, 2023 US Open champion Coco Gauff would likely be awaiting the Japanese there.
In the quarterfinal at Melbourne Park, Osaka's possible opponents could be No. 8 seed Maria Sakkari of 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki. In case Osaka makes the semifinal in Melbourne, we could very easily see a rematch of two-time Australian Open champion Osaka and reigning Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka.
Should Osaka reach her third Australian Open final, the most likely opponents there include world No. 1 Iga Swiatek and 2023 Australian Open runner-up Elena Rybakina.
When Osaka kicks off her 2024 Australian Open run, she will be making her eighth main draw appearance at Melbourne Park. In 2016, Osaka made the Australian Open main draw as a qualifier and reached the third round before losing to Viktoria Azarenka in her debut.
Three years after her Australian Open debut, Osaka made it all the way at Melbourne Park after beating Petra Kvitova in the final. In 2020, Osaka returned to the Australian Open as the defending champion but failed to defend her title after losing to Coco Gauff in the third round.
After beating Jennifer Brady in the 2021 Australian Open final for her second title at Melbourne Park, Osaka lost to Amanda Anisimova in the 2022 Australian Open third round.
It remains to be seen how far can Osaka get at this year's Australian Open.