Monday, April 15, 2024
HometennisReturning Naomi Osaka targets Paris Olympics, more Grand Slam titles

Returning Naomi Osaka targets Paris Olympics, more Grand Slam titles

TOKYO – A “nervous” Naomi Osaka has targeted a place at 2024’s Paris Olympics and more Grand Slam titles after she makes her eagerly anticipated return to tennis.

The 26-year-old former world No. 1 is set to return to competition at the Brisbane International starting at the end of December, having not played on tour since September 2022.

The four-time Grand Slam champion gave birth to daughter Shai in July and she has also struggled with her mental health and the pressures of tennis.

She told Japanese broadcaster NHK that she feels “nervous and also happy and excited” as she prepares for her comeback.

Osaka, who lit the cauldron to open the pandemic-postponed Tokyo Olympics in 2021, hopes her comeback takes her all the way to next summer’s Paris Games.

“In the first chapter of my tennis, I kind of got away with just being myself and playing with my instincts. I think I want to be someone that understands the game a lot more,” she said.

“I definitely want to win more Grand Slams and I guess put in more time in the French Open and Wimbledon, and play the Paris Olympics,” she added.

Playing for Japan at the Tokyo Games, where spectators were mostly banned because of Covid-19, Osaka lost in straight sets in the third round to eventual runner-up Marketa Vondrousova.

She has won four Major titles, triumphing in the 2019 and 2021 Australian Opens, and winning the US Open in 2018 and 2020.

Osaka will make her return to Grand Slam tennis at the Australian Open in January and said she will have a different mindset now that she is a mother.

“I’ve never been a person that’s really good at playing for myself, if that makes sense,” she said.

“So I like the feeling of having the responsibility of having to take care of Shai and wanting to show her around the world. I kind of feel more like I’m playing for her.”

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Also making a comeback at the Dec 31-Jan 7 Brisbane International is Rafael Nadal.

The 37-year-old said on Dec 7 he could not confirm that 2024 would be his final season before retirement, saying it “makes no sense” to set a deadline for the end of his career.

The 22-time Grand Slam champion will be returning from a near year-long injury absence. He had previously suggested he would hang up his racket at the end of 2024.

“There’s every chance that it’s going to be my last year and I’m going to enjoy the tournaments in that way,” Nadal said in a video posted on his social media accounts.

“I don’t want to announce it because in the end I don’t know what can happen and I have to give myself the opportunity not to say one thing as then I’ll be a slave to what I said.

“I think it’s going to be like that but I can’t be 100 per cent sure because in the end I’ve worked a lot to come back to compete and if suddenly things and my physique allow me to continue and enjoy what I do, why am I going to set a deadline?

“I think it makes no sense.”

Nadal was named on the entry list for the Australian Open earlier on Dec 7 ahead of the start of the first Grand Slam tournament of 2024 on Jan 14.

The Spaniard has not played since a second-round loss to American MacKenzie McDonald at Melbourne Park 11 months ago. He twice needed surgery after struggling with a hip injury and has slipped to 664th in the world rankings while sidelined. AFP

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