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New mom Naomi takes first baby steps in return

Updated: 2024-01-03 08:58
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Japan's Naomi Osaka attends a press conference ahead of the Brisbane International tennis tournament in Brisbane on December 30, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

Osaka says motherhood has changed her after comeback begins with win

BRISBANE, Australia — Motherhood has helped give Naomi Osaka a new mindset when things are getting tough on court.

In her first competitive match since September 2022, the four-time major winner was broken while serving for the match and needed three match points in the tiebreaker before converting a 6-3,7-6 (9) victory over Tamara Korpatsch on Monday at the Brisbane International.

Osaka didn't play the Australian Open last year and later revealed she was pregnant. She and her partner, rapper Cordae, became parents to daughter Shai in Los Angeles in July.

"It's a big change overnight," former world No 1 Osaka said of returning to the tour as a mom. "For me, I love it a lot because ... in a way I would say (Shai) has helped me grow up so much, so quickly.

"Off the court I'm more aware of people and I appreciate them a lot more — even my opponents and everything," she said. "On the court it's just helping me be strong and staying in the moment more."

Every time Osaka missed an opportunity to win the match on Monday, she composed herself and focused on giving herself another chance.

"I was super nervous the whole time," Osaka said. "A part of me felt like Shai was watching me. I wanted to do my best for her.

"While I'm playing, I'm aware of it in the sense that I want to be a good role model for my daughter. Other than that I think I'm pretty much trying to be the same old me.

"I think it's better to have harder matches early because it will train me for what's to come.

"I know all the opponents I play aren't easy anyway, so it would be very 'out there' for me to think my first match would be a 6-1, 6-1 win.

"Looking back on the match now, honestly I'm very proud of myself. I feel like I played at a pretty good level."

After giving birth to Shai in July, Osaka rediscovered her love of the game and decided to return for the 2024 season.

Before Monday, the first day of 2024, Osaka had only played one competitive match since her first-round exit at the 2022 US Open.

But she has spent many months preparing for her return, including a renewed focus on living in the moment.

"The last couple of years that I played before I had my daughter, I didn't return as much love as I was given," she told the crowd at Pat Rafter Arena. "So I really feel like that's what I want to do in this chapter."

And, of course, she's paying more attention to the younger people in the crowd.

"I guess like toward the end when I was signing autographs, I was more aware of kids," she told a postmatch news conference.

"I see them differently now because now I'm a mom, too, and I can picture Shai being that age."

Osaka will play a fellow former No 1, three-time Brisbane International champion Karolina Pliskova, in the second round.

Rune through

Persistent rain meant matches on outside courts were suspended, confining the action to the covered main stadium.

In the men's draw, top seed Holger Rune rallied to beat Australian Max Purcell 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 and No 2-seeded Grigor Dimitrov overcame Andy Murray 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 in a 2 1/2-hour night match between two former Brisbane champions.

Third-seeded Ben Shelton, the 21-year-old American who reached the US Open semifinals last year, lost 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3 to Roman Safiullin of Russia.

The 26-year-old Safiullin is ranked 39th but had wins over Carlos Alcaraz and Alexander Zverev last year.

The Brisbane International is one of the key tuneup events for the Australian Open which begins on Jan 14 in Melbourne.


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