• Tennis

Inspired Mother Naomi Osaka Aims to Return to Top This Year

Reuters
Naomi Osaka talks during press conference ahead of the Australian Open on Jan. 12 in Melbourne.

Former world No. 1 Naomi Osaka believes she can get back amongst the top spots in the rankings by the end of the year as the Japanese player draws inspiration from being a new mother.

The four-time Grand Slam champion suffered an early Australian Open exit following 15 months out of the sport after having her first child, but is confident of getting back to the top as she prepares for the WTA 500 event in Abu Dhabi.

“I obviously have so much respect for [the top-ranked players] and everything that they’ve done. But I don’t really see myself as a challenger, which is a weird thing,” Osaka told The National in a Monday article.

“It’s really bold to say but I know what I’m capable of and I know people are going to probably drag me for saying this, but I don’t think it’s a stretch for me to say that I see myself there.

“I hope that I can get there this year, hopefully towards the tail end of the year. But if not I’m OK with being patient, I’ve always been a patient person, so I’ll get there eventually.”

There will clearly be sacrifices to get back to the top for the 26-year-old, who in July became a first-time mom, but her daughter Shai is motivating Osaka to reach her objectives.

“I’m always the type of person that would rather set really high goals and maybe I’ll do only 25% of that, but the 25% is still really amazing,” Osaka said. “I don’t think that I’d have come back and be like, ‘Oh, my goal is to get to the quarterfinal of a slam,’ which is still really good, but that’s not why I’m spending time away from Shai.”

Osaka, who plans to play tournaments in Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami and Charleston to get back into her rhythm, said becoming a mom has helped her gain a new perspective.

“I really think having Shai balanced me out a lot,” she said. “It feels nice to know that no matter what happens, someone’s going to be there that loves you and cares about you.”