Naomi Osaka did not expect to play for ‘most of’ 2022 but wins first match after four-month hiatus

Naomi Osaka of Japan - Naomi Osaka did not expect to play for 'most of' 2022 after returning from four-month tennis break - SHUTTERSTOCK
Naomi Osaka of Japan – Naomi Osaka did not expect to play for ‘most of’ 2022 after returning from four-month tennis break – SHUTTERSTOCK

Naomi Osaka has said that she did not expect to play for “most of” 2022, but is feeling positive after enjoying her first match since her four-month break from tennis.

Reigning Australian Open champion Osaka made a winning return at the Melbourne Summer Set, beating beat Alize Cornet 6-4 3-6 6-3 in the first round. It comes after she took a break from playing last year, following her third-round loss at the US Open to Leylah Fernandez, citing mental health reasons.

In returning to the court in Melbourne, Osaka – now ranked 13th in the world – admitted that she had surprised herself. “I actually really thought I wasn’t going to play for most of this year,” four-time major champion Osaka said. “I’m really happy with myself that I love the sport that much because I literally said that I was unsure when I was going to play after the US Open and I’m here right now.

“In the break I was feeling like I didn’t know what my future was going to be. I’m pretty sure a lot of people can relate to that. Of course you never know what the future holds, but it was definitely an indecisive time. But I’m really happy to be sitting here right now.”

Despite winning last year’s Australian Open, the rest of her year was marred by setbacks, when she withdrew from the French Open to protect her mental health after being threatened with expulsion over refusing to fulfil media duties. She then missed Wimbledon, and later in the year broke down in tears during her first press conference since withdrawing from the French Open, and admitted to struggling to enjoy tennis.

But she has kicked off 2022 reinvigorated, saying the help of speaking with family and friends during her tennis hiatus helped in “decompressing the pressure” she had on her shoulders. On Tuesday she said “having fun” was her main aim going forward: “I only really have one major goal this year, and it’s completely unrelated to results and stuff like that. For me, I just want to feel like every time I step on the court I’m having fun. I can walk off the court knowing that even if I had lost, I tried as hard as I could.

“Also, I have a goal in the pressroom, that I’m never going to cry again, so hopefully that works out in my favour. I’m the type of person that cared a little bit too much about the results and the ranking and stuff like that and I just need to find a way to enjoy the game again. Because that’s the reason why I was playing in the first place.”

Osaka will face Belgium’s Maryna Zanevska in the second round.