Naomi Osaka was back on the court at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Wednesday for the first time since stepping away from competition last year to take maternity leave and give birth to her daughter, Shai.
Osaka was on hand to speak on a mental health panel, but announced in an interview with ESPN that she will return to the court for the Australian Open in January and her schedule would be busier than ever.
“It’s definitely way more tournaments than I used to play,” Osaka told the network. “So I think some people will be happy with that.”
Osaka said the increase in her schedule for next year will be due to the unknown as to how she will perform once she returns to action.
“Honestly, I think it’s because I realized that I don’t know how the start of the year is going to be for me,” she said during the session. “I don’t know the level of play and I think I kind of have to get used to it. At the very least, I’m going to prepare myself for a very good end of the year.
Osaka last played in September 2022, when she competed in the Japan Open.
Prior to that, she was knocked out in the first round of the US Open by American Danielle Collins.
The 25-year-old said she had been “training a lot” and said she was even working out while pregnant.
According to her, being back at the US Open when she was away from tennis has further fueled the desire to get back on the court.
“I watched games and I feel like I would have liked to play too,” the former No.1-ranked player said. “But I am in this position now and I am very grateful. I really love my daughter, but I think it really ignited a fire in me.
Osaka has enjoyed immense success, winning four Grand Slam titles, including the US Open in 2018 and 2020. She called her return to Flushing Meadows “a bit like seeing an old friend I haven’t seen in a long time “.
A strong advocate for increased attention to mental health in sport, Osaka made headlines around the world when she pulled out of the French Open in 2021 due to her mental health.
Since then, she hasn’t stopped talking about it in an attempt to de-stigmatize the subject.
“I would say my role is just to educate people. Let people know they are not alone,” she said. “For me, physical pain and mental pain are kind of the same thing and we have doctors who deal with physical health, but when we talk about mental health it’s not received as well.”