5 things you need to know about Naomi Osaka, who is making her Grand Slam comeback for this 2024 Australian Open

The first major tournament of the year may well be synonymous with a rebirth for Naomi Osaka.

Absent from the courts for a year, Osaka has a big task ahead of her in Melbourne. Before she takes to the grand stage again this Monday, here are 5 things to remember about the Japanese player, who has been through all kinds of emotions in recent years.

Two times Melbourne’s queen

Now ranked 833rd in the world (because of her absence), Naomi Osaka has sunk to the bottom of the WTA rankings. But there was a time when the Japanese reigned like an empress on the women’s circuit. A time when the former world number 1 left very few crumbs, and made the Australian Open one of her favourite gardens. She was crowned champion in 2019 against Petra Kvitova and then in 2021 against Ashleigh Barty. It was the same story when she set foot at Flushing Meadows. She also won the US Open twice. In 2018 against Serena Williams, and 2020 against Azarenka. With one Grand Slam title a year, she is gradually establishing herself as the boss.

Difficulties and break

But her dominance is showing its limits. Even if she is crowned champion in Melbourne in 2021, she is already experiencing difficulties, particularly on the mental front. Later in the year, she caused a stir by refusing to take part in press conferences at Roland Garros, to preserve her “mental health”. In accounting terms, 2022 was her worst season since 2017. At the beginning of 2023, she announced that she was pregnant, and was absent from the courts for the rest of the year.

Return to competition

The Australian Open only marks his return to a major tournament. His real comeback? That was at the start of the year, in Brisbane. A WTA 500 tournament in which she negotiated her comeback perfectly. She beat Germany’s Tamara Korpatsch, ranked 81st in the world, 6-3 / 7-6. Her second match ended in defeat against Czech Karolina Pliskova in three tight sets. A promising comeback, then.

The new Osaka

Will 2024 be the year of renewal for Osaka? For the moment, no one knows. But she says that giving birth to her daughter has changed her. “I guess after having Shai, kind of going through the struggle of trying to get myself back to where I want to be, it was incredibly tough. I have a much more positive mindset & a much more grateful mindset”, she recently explained at a press conference. The Japanese woman adds: “I’ve taken a lot of breaks throughout the years. I feel like for me, I think this one was the one that finally clicked in my head. I think I realized.. being an athlete.. that time is really precious.”

A big draw in the first round

And the Japanese player has a tough task ahead of her. She takes on France’s Caroline Garcia. Now ranked 19th in the world, the Lyonnaise is also a long way from her best. Be that as it may, this match promises to be a great spectacle in the 1st round. In fact, Osaka had nothing but good things to say about her future opponent Caroline Garcia. “Whenever I play her, I always think she’s an incredible player. She has every shot that a top-five player needs”. Promising.

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