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New Year, New Naomi – Osaka Taking Different Approach to Locker Room as Comeback Begins

The four-time major champion has ditched the headphones for real conversations with peers.

By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Sunday December 31, 2023

New year, new Naomi?

Becoming a mother to Shai may not be the only thing that is different about four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka when she takes to the court to begin her comeback in 2024. She is also changing – character development is the term she used – as a person.

The 26-year-old, who will face Germany’s Tamara Korpatsch in first-round action on Monday in Brisbane, says she is taking a different viewpoint on tour this time around.

“I think definitely becoming a mom changed my mindset a lot,” she said. “I think I’m a lot more open-minded, a lot more patient. But, also, I feel a lot stronger, I don’t know, physically, but I think Shai definitely helped me with the way I view things.”

Osaka, who gave birth to baby Shai in July of 2023, says she is looking forward to being less of the fly on the wall as she begins her “second career” on tour.

Here’s the WTA draw at @BrisbaneTennis — Osaks begins her comeback tonight against Tamara Korpatch (in about 3.5 hours).

— TennisNow (@Tennis_Now) December 31, 2023

“I’m excited to be back,” Osaka, who hasn’t played a competitive match since September of 2022, said. “I haven’t worn headphones around the site since I’ve been back, so I think that’s character development. It’s just really nice to see everyone again.”

Osaka says she is simply more comfortable in her skin a few years after mental health issues threatened her career and diminished her pure passion for the sport.

“I also feel like I’m more confident with who I am as a person,” she said. “I never tried to have conversations with other players before, and I think I definitely put a large wall up. Now I find myself interacting with people. It’s just really cool, if I take myself out of being a tennis player, just seeing everyone working hard, being in the gym, like seeing people change over the years, too, coming back and appreciating that is cool.”

Thoughts of Retirement Have Faded

Osaka seriously considered quitting the sport for a spell, and she’s not afraid to admit it. She says she felt like she had nothing to give at the end of 2022, and felt that continuing on tour was unfair to herself and the fans. Over time she gradually came to realize that she needed tennis to feel complete, and she had too many goals she still wanted to achieve in the sport.

Now Osaka looks forward to chasing new dreams and sharing inspiring moments alongside her baby daughter.

“I was thinking about it because I felt like all my joy went away for the sport. I felt like it kind of wasn’t fair, both for the people watching and myself,” she said. But then I thought: I’ve played tennis since I was 3, and there’s so many more things that I want to do. Especially with Shai, I want her to see, like, someone that has big goals and dreams. I think that’s really important to have really good role models.

“Also, just learning how to appreciate the sport. I think in the time I had away, I appreciated the sport a lot more. After giving birth, I understood how physical and how much work it takes to get there.”

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