Big news drop; Naomi Osaka set to end five-year absence from grass courts in style

Osaka seemingly plotting a major return to grass courts this year.

by Dzevad Mesic
Big news drop; Naomi Osaka set to end five-year absence from grass courts in style
© Getty Images Sport - Shaun Botterill

Naomi Osaka is set to return to grass courts in quite some style as the Japanese tennis star has signed up to compete in Berlin and it is safe to say that the former world No. 1 definitely meant it when she said that Wimbledon would be one of her goals for 2024. 

Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam champion, hasn't played in any grass-court tournaments since 2019. The last time that Osaka played on grass, she suffered back-to-back losses to Yulia Putintseva in the Birmingham round-of-16 and Wimbledon first round, respectively. 

But after not playing on the fastest tennis surface for five years, Osaka is planning to change that this year as the 26-year-old has already signed up to play in two grass-court tournaments leading up to Wimbledon. Earlier this month, the former world No. 1 confirmed her participation at a WTA 500 tournament in Eastbourne, which starts on June 24th. 

But now that Osaka agreed to play a WTA 500 in Berlin, her return to grass courts will come even before Eastbourne as the German grass-court tournament is kicking off on June 17th. In Berlin, the 26-year-old will be making her main draw debut this year. 

In 2022, Osaka signed up to play in Berlin but she ended up withdrawing before the tournament started. Barring an injury or some unfortunate setback, the Japanese should be among one of the biggest names competing in Berlin this year. 

Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka© Getty Images Sport - Ben Hoskins

"I'm delighted to be playing in Berlin for the first time. It is widely known how excellent the grass courts are, how strong the field of players is and how wonderful the vibe is there at the Berlin Ladies Open presented by ecotrans Group," Osaka said in a statement.

In her Berlin debut, Osaka will be aiming for the title.

"A top tournament in an exciting, inspiring city. That’s the perfect match for me. I will give it my all to be at the top of my game in Berlin," Osaka added.

Why Osaka didn't play any grass tournaments in the last five years?

In 2020, the entire grass season was canceled due to the pandemic so no one played grass tennis that year. The following year, Osaka opened up about her battle with depression and anxiety during the French Open and she missed the 2021 grass season to address her mental health but also prepare for the Tokyo Olympics. 

In 2022, Osaka was signed up for Berlin and it looked like she was planning on playing there and then also competing at Wimbledon. But then, the Japanese dealt with an Achilles injury during the clay season. Also, the fact that the WTA decided to punish Wimbledon by removing ranking points from the 2022 tournaments may have also impacted Osaka's decision not to play any tournaments during the grass season that year. 

“I would say the decision is kind of affecting my mentality going into grass, like I’m not 100 percent sure if I’m going to go there,” Osaka said before the start of the 2022 grass season. 

“I would love to go just to get some experience on the grass court, but like at the same time, for me, it’s kind of like - I don’t want to say pointless, no pun intended, but I’m the type of player that gets motivated by seeing my ranking go up." 

Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka© Getty Images Sport - Shaun Botterill

What Osaka said about grass before starting her post-pregnancy comeback?

While Osaka won four Grand Slams early and reached the world No. 1 ranking, she has never been a really dominant or strong force on grass. Since making her main draw appearance on a main-level grass tournament in 2017, the 26-year-old has had just one semifinal on the surface - she made the 2018 Nottingham semifinal before losing to Ashleigh Barty.

When it comes to Wimbledon, the former world No. 1 has never made it past the third round - she picked up back-to-back third-round exits at The Championships in 2017 and 2018 before as mentioned above losing in the 2019 Wimbledon first round. 

Before kicking off her post-pregnancy comeback, Osaka said her goal was to become a more complete player and that included getting better on grass tournaments. When making that statement, Osaka mentioned that she would aim to do good at Wimbledon this year. 

“In the first chapter of my tennis I kind of got away with just being myself and playing with my instincts," Osaka told NHK in December. 

"I think I want to be someone that understands the game a lot more.

"I definitely want to win more Grand Slams and I guess put in more time in the French Open and Wimbledon, and play the Paris Olympics.”

Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka© Getty Images Sport - Shaun Botterill

It will be interesting to see how Osaka's return to grass courts after five years of absence goes. 

Naomi Osaka