Former world number one Naomi Osaka said she was feeling more confident in her own skin and enjoying conversations with fellow players ahead of her much-awaited return to tennis at next week’s Brisbane International after 15 months out.
Osaka won four Grand Slam titles, including two at the Australian Open, before taking a break to prioritise her mental health after skipping the 2021 French Open and later revealed that she had been fighting depression and anxiety for years.
The 26-year-old from Japan last played on the WTA Tour in late September 2022 before giving birth to a daughter in July this year.
“I feel like I’m more confident with who I am as a person,” Osaka told media. “I never tried to have conversations with other players before and I think I definitely put a big wall up. Now I find myself engaging 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, seeing people change over the years too, coming back and respecting that is cool.”
Osaka is gearing up for the Jan. 14-28 Australian Open but said she was nervous at one point thinking about how her body would handle the demands of top tennis again.
“I wasn’t in my own body. I was driving the wrong car, if that makes sense. Slowly, step by step we put in so much work and got myself to where I am now,” said Osaka, who takes on Tamara Korpatsch in her Brisbane start on Monday
“I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t feel ready. I didn’t want to disappoint the people who were excited for me to come back and didn’t want to disappoint myself.”