Naomi Osaka returned to the US Open Wednesday and shared her plans to get back on the court in 2024. The 25-year-old hasn't played a tennis match since September 2022.
The four-time Grand Slam champion gave birth to her daughter, Shai, in July. During a sit-down interview with ESPN at Flushing Meadows, the new mom said that returning to the site of two of her major championship wins gave her the "itch" to compete.
"I've been watching matches, and I've kind of wished that I was playing, too," she said. "But I'm in this position now, and I'm very grateful. I really love my daughter a lot, but I think that it really fueled a fire in me."
Even before the visit, Osaka was training "a lot" in preparation for a comeback, she said. She acknowledged that training hard so soon after pregnancy might come as a surprise to people, but it doesn't faze her.
"I was kind of training during the pregnancy, too, so it's not hard on my body at all," she added.
Osaka plans to make up for the time she missed with a busy schedule in 2024, and she has the Australian Open cemented in her plans for a comeback to the WTA Tour. The January tournament in Melbourne is the first major of the year. She won the title there in 2019 and 2021.
"It's definitely way more tournaments than I used to play, so I think some people will be happy with that," Osaka said of her plan. "It's because I realized that I don't know how the beginning of the year is going to go for me. I don't know the level of play, and I think that I have to kind of ease into it. So at the very least, I'm going to set myself up for a very good end of the year."
— ESPN (@espn) September 6, 2023
Osaka was open about her experience with depression and anxiety when she withdrew from the French Open in 2021. In addition to sitting down with ESPN on Wednesday, she joined former Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps on a panel about mental health.
“For me coming back here, it means a lot. This room, in particular. There were some tears shed. A lot,” Osaka said in the Grand Slam tournament’s main interview room. “I feel a lot of joy coming back here. It’s kind of like seeing an old friend I haven’t seen in a long time.”
She went on to discuss feeling loneliness during her pregnancy and "devastation" as she missed her first Australian Open. In her absence, she said she thought about Serena and Venus Williams.
"I was thinking, ‘I probably, no way, will ever play at their age.’ But sitting here, I’m like, ‘No, you know what? I might do that,’” she said.
Serena Williams played in four grand slam finals after her daughter was born in 2018, and Osaka told ESPN that she has been encouraged by seeing several other players return after becoming mothers. Caroline Wozniacki is an example at this year's US Open.
Ultimately, Osaka said her hope is to make her daughter proud and play until she's old enough to say, "Wow, that's my mom!"