Despite not achieving the immediate success she desired, Naomi Osaka demonstrated that she is on the right track as she made her comeback to grand slam tennis on Monday. The four-time major champion, who was previously ranked No. 1 in the world, faced a tough battle against top-tier player Caroline Garcia and narrowly lost with a score of 6-4, 7-6(2) in the first round of the Australian Open.
Following her participation in the Brisbane tournament, which was her first since September 2022, Osaka has now competed in the Australian Open. This is her second tournament since giving birth to her daughter, Shai, in July.
Between Osaka and Garcia, the 20th seed, competed fiercely and pushed each other to play top-notch first-strike tennis. Both players had impressive serves and were strong from both sides of the court, not giving up any ground from their positions near the baseline. The determining factor in the match was Garcia’s ability to maintain control and consistency, as she managed to win two tight sets without losing her service game and ultimately dominated in the decisive tiebreak.
“I found it to be a fantastic match,” stated Osaka. “I gave it my all and felt satisfied with my performance. It was a great feeling to be back on Rod Laver Arena and to hear the crowd’s enthusiastic response during the match. It was a fun experience.”
Despite a 16-month break, Osaka’s powerful arsenal has not diminished. Her initial serve continues to be one of the most destructive shots in tennis, and her speed and strength in hitting the ball is unmatched. Throughout the match, her forceful forehand elicited gasps from the audience.
Garcia stated that it is quite remarkable for someone who has been absent for 15 months and given birth six months ago to return and participate in a tournament. This indicates that she is feeling prepared and motivated to compete for significant titles once again. Her shots, particularly her ball, serve, and forehand, are powerful and require quick reflexes. One must be fully prepared to face her.
During this initial phase of Osaka’s return, she is focusing on rebuilding her precision in returning serves, her ability to sustain rallies, and her agility. As she continues to play more matches and spend more time on the court, her overall game is bound to improve.
“I often remind myself, ‘Six months ago, I was pregnant,’ and other similar thoughts,” Osaka shared. “But there’s also a voice in my head that questions whether I can come back and win matches immediately. I don’t have a clear answer, but I always believe in giving myself a chance. So I learned the importance of being kind to myself during my time away.”
Recently, Osaka has become known for not playing enough, despite still performing well at major tournaments and winning grand slam titles. It is expected that her game will improve, but the main question is whether she will commit to playing a full schedule and be willing to face the challenges that may come with regaining her top level of play. Osaka has stated that she intends to have a much busier schedule this year and will even travel to Dubai next month to gain more match experience.
I am feeling frustrated as a competitor because I am not winning these matches, Osaka expressed. While I may have had unrealistic expectations, my determination and belief in myself are what drives me to win tournaments. I will continue to take things one day at a time, train diligently, and play more matches in hopes of achieving my dreams.