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HometennisTennis’ ex-world No. 1 Naomi Osaka to make eagerly awaited comeback in...

Tennis’ ex-world No. 1 Naomi Osaka to make eagerly awaited comeback in Brisbane

SYDNEY – Four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka will make her eagerly anticipated return to tennis at the Brisbane International in Australia, organisers announced on Friday.

Starting on Dec 31, the Brisbane tournament is a warmup for the Australian Open from mid-January.

The 26-year-old former world No. 1 gave birth to daughter Shai in July and has not played on tour since the Pan Pacific Open in September 2022, having also struggled with her mental health and the pressures of tennis.

“I am really excited about getting back out on court and competing. I always love starting my season in Brisbane and can’t wait to return,” said Osaka.

“The Brisbane International is such a great tournament and will set me up for a brilliant comeback this summer.”

The Japanese’s Grand Slam titles came in the 2019 and 2021 Australian Opens and the US Open in 2018 and 2020.

But she has had long spells out of the game since her second triumph at Melbourne Park, taking a lengthy break to prioritise her mental health after skipping the 2021 French Open and another after the US Open the same year.

Earlier in 2023, Osaka said her break from the sport had “really fuelled a fire in me”.

She will be joined in Brisbane by Grand Slam winners Andy Murray and Victoria Azarenka, as well as Grigor Dimitrov and Holger Rune in the tournament which is returning after a three-year hiatus, caused initially by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It’s great to see the Brisbane International back and I am really looking forward to returning to Queensland this summer,” said Briton Murray, who has lost five Australian Open finals.

“I have great memories of winning the title in 2012 and 2013 and I would love to lift the trophy again for a third time in Brisbane.”

The Australian Open takes place at Melbourne Park from Jan 14-28. 

Separately, Switzerland’s reign as Billie Jean King Cup champions is over after they suffered a second successive loss in Seville on Thursday, this time by the United States.

Italy, meanwhile, became the first nation through to the semi-finals after beating Germany 3-0 in Group D.

Canada also ensured first place in Group C as they won both singles ties against a Poland side missing world No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Teenager Marina Stakusic enhanced her burgeoning reputation by beating Magdalena Frech 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 before world No. 35 Leylah Fernandez defeated Magda Linette 6-2, 6-3.

“I’m proud and ecstatic that we are in the semis,” Fernandez said. “Happy I could execute my game plan.”

Australia, the 2022 runners-up, edged out Kazakhstan 2-1 in Group B, although they can no longer qualify for the last four.

The United States arrived in Andalucia without top players Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula, but still proved too strong for a Swiss side missing Belinda Bencic, who announced last week that she was expecting a baby.

Danielle Collins used her experience to beat youngster Celine Naef 7-6 (7-4), 6-1 before former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin overcame Viktorija Golubic 6-3, 6-7 (1-7), 7-5 to give her team an unassailable lead in the tie.

Kathy Rinaldi’s team now face a Group A clash with the Czech Republic on Friday to decide who goes through to the weekend’s semi-finals. The result of the tie was unavailable at press time.

Italy had dispatched France on Wednesday and followed up strongly against Germany, as Martina Trevisan secured a hard-fought 7-6 (8-6), 6-1 victory over Eva Lys.

Jasmine Paolini then outplayed Anna-Lena Friedsam 6-3, 6-2.

Italy polished off the doubles as they moved to the semi-finals for the first time since 2014.

“I think we have to rest tomorrow and be prepared for the next day. We’ve reached the semi-finals which was a big goal for us,” Italy captain Tathiana Garbin said.

“We have to be happy but never satisfied.” AFP, REUTERS

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