Naomi Osaka's Return to Tennis Has Rocky Start

Tennis great returns to Grand Slam circuit after 15-month break, loses in first round
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 15, 2024 12:20 PM CST
Naomi Osaka's Return to Tennis Has Rocky Start
Naomi Osaka of Japan waits to receive a serve from Caroline Garcia of France during their first-round match at the Australian Open tennis championships at Melbourne Park, in Melbourne, Australia, on Monday.   (AP Photo/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)

Moments after her Grand Slam comeback ended in a first-round loss, Naomi Osaka put her gold jacket on and walked back through the players tunnel where her name has a prominent place among recent Australian Open champions. Three matches into her return from 15 months off the tour, and six months after the birth of her daughter, Shai, Osaka lost 6-4, 7-6 (2) to 16th-seeded Caroline Garcia in a tight encounter at Rod Laver Arena on Monday night, reports the AP. "The competitive in me is really frustrated that I'm not winning these matches, of course," Osaka said in a post-match news conference. "So I wouldn't say, like, this comeback is how I thought, because I'm delusional enough to think I could have won the tournament." She smiled at that point and added: "I think my delusion is what allows me to win the tournaments."

Osaka won the US Open in 2018 and 2020, and the Australian title in 2019 and '21. This was the first time she lost in the first round in Melbourne, where she made her debut in 2016. She took time out from tennis for her own well-being after first-round exits at the French Open and US Open in 2022. She's not planning any more breaks for now. "Yeah, I think I just have to keep living day by day and training hard and playing a lot more matches," she said. "And hopefully my dreams will come true." The big-serving Garcia didn't give Osaka a look at a break point in the match. Most of the rallies were short—only three longer than nine shots. The bulk were less than four.

Most of the service holds were comfortable, except for Osaka's one dropped game in the first set. That was all the difference. "I have a lot of respect for Naomi as a person and as a player—15 months she's been away," Garcia said. "I'm very glad to see her back. Six months after giving birth, she's playing quite amazing already. We have to watch out." In the opening match at Rod Laver, US Open champion Coco Gauff needed just 60 minutes to advance.

(More Naomi Osaka stories.)

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