Naomi Osaka fires stern warning to Iga Swiatek, other top WTA stars

Osaka isn't lacking any confidence or belief at the start of her post-pregnancy comeback.

by Dzevad Mesic
Naomi Osaka fires stern warning to Iga Swiatek, other top WTA stars
© Getty Images Sport - Kelly Defina

Naomi Osaka is very optimistic and confident about her post-pregnancy chances in 2024 as the four-time Grand Slam champion thinks she can win her fifth Major this year. 

Osaka, 26, made her return to pro tennis last week after not playing since 2022 September. Just a few years ago, Osaka was widely regarded as one of the best players in the game. Just two months after turning 23, Osaka won her third Grand Slam title at the 2021 Australian Open. 

During her pregnancy and after giving birth, Osaka spoke very openly about her intention and determination to return to the very top of tennis. In one of her interviews from 2023, Osaka confidently stated she would be aiming to win at least eight more Grand Slams before retiring. 

After kicking off her comeback at the Brisbane International last week, Osaka is ready to play her first Grand Slam since the 2022 US Open at the Australian Open. Ahead of the Australian Open, Osaka was directly asked if she thinks she could win a Grand Slam this year.

"I don’t want to put pressure on myself, but I do think I can win a slam this year. It’s a long season and I’ve beefed up my schedule with more tournaments to give myself more match play. I think that I’ll be in a great place come summer hard court swing," Osaka told Tennis Majors.

Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka© Getty Images Sport - Darrian Traynor

Osaka set to play a lot more in her comeback

Osaka got off to the best possible start to the 2021 season, winning her second Australian Open title after beating Jennifer Brady in the final. At the time, no one could have predicted that Osaka would then start to struggle with her motivation and start to lose joy and passion for the game. During that period, Osaka also took a few breaks to address her mental health. As a result, Osaka didn't really play much during the 2021 and 2022 seasons. 

But now, all of that is a thing of the past as Osaka's joy for the game has returned and the Japanese is excited about competing again. After not playing much over the last three years, Osaka has hinted that she is planning on returning to her old schedule in 2024. 

"I'm definitely thinking this year that I want to play a lot of tournaments. I might go back to the schedule I had when I was 18 or something," Osaka said in her pre-tournament press conference at Melbourne Park.

"I think right now I really need to play a lot of matches and it will probably condition me to at least have a really good end of the year. For me right now, my schedule's kind of packed with the tournaments that I want to play.

"Definitely my body's a lot different from I guess before Shai. I think I also had to adjust my play style a lot."

Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka© Getty Images Sport - Graham Denholm

Osaka on drawing Caroline Garcia

When the Australian Open draw was released on Thursday, it was revealed that Osaka would be taking on No. 16 seed Caroline Garcia. On paper, that match is set to highlight first-round action at Melbourne Park. 

When former world No. 1 Osaka and 2022 WTA Finals champion Garcia meet at Melbourne Park, it will be the second time that they are going up against each other. Their previous meeting also came at the Australian Open as the two met three years ago, when Osaka earned a straight-set win in the second round. 

While Garcia is undoubtedly one of the toughest and most difficult opponents Osaka could have drawn, the four-time Grand Slam champion is trying to look at it from the positive side as she underlines that it will be huge for her if she managed to beat such a tough opponent in her opener. 

"She's seeded. Whenever I play her, I always think she's an incredible player. She has every shot a top-five player needs," Osaka said.

"My immediate thought was, OK this is tough but I definitely think I can achieve what I want to. Hopefully during the match I'm able to have things go my way.

"In a weird way I'm glad I'm playing a seed so hopefully, if I get through that, the next match won't be as difficult." 

Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka© Getty Images Sport - Graham Denholm

If Osaka beats Garcia, on paper she would have an easier rival in the second round. In the second round, the winner of the match between Osaka and Garcia will be taking on the winner of the match between Daria Saville and Magdalena Frech. 

Throughout her career, Melbourne Park has been a very successful place for Osaka, who lifted her first Australian Open title in 2019. When taking into consideration Osaka's Australian Open history, there is no doubt that Melbourne Park is the perfect place for the Japanese to play her first post-pregnancy Grand Slam tournament.

Naomi Osaka Iga Swiatek