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Naomi Osaka said her main target for 2022 is to feel like she is “having fun” on the court following her winning return to action at the Melbourne Summer Set.
Playing her first match in four months, Osaka beat Alize Cornet 6-4 3-6 6-3 in the first round of the Australian Open warm-up tournament.
The four-time grand slam winner, the reigning Australian Open champion, took a break from playing after losing to Leylah Fernandez in the third round of September’s US Open.
The defending #AusOpen champion is back in action 🙌
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 4, 2022
Quoted on the WTA website after the victory over Cornet, Osaka said: “I only really have one major goal this year, and it’s completely unrelated to results and stuff like that.
“For me, I just want to feel like every time I step on the court I’m having fun. I can walk off the court knowing that even if I lost, I tried as hard as I could.
“Also, I have a goal in the pressroom, that I’m never going to cry again, so hopefully that works out in my favour.
“I’m the type of person that cared a little bit too much about the results and the ranking and stuff like that and I just need to find a way to enjoy the game again. Because that’s the reason why I was playing in the first place.”
Following her Australian Open triumph last year, Osaka withdrew from the French Open for mental health reasons after being threatened with expulsion over refusing to fulfil media duties, and then missed Wimbledon. The 24-year-old broke down in tears in Cincinnati in August during what was her first press conference since the French Open withdrawal.
Osaka represented Japan at the Tokyo Olympics in July, losing to Marketa Vondrousova in the third round, before making the US Open exit at the same stage in September.
“I actually really thought I wasn’t going to play for most of this year,” Osaka said. “I’m really happy with myself that I love the sport that much because I literally said that I was unsure when I was going to play after the US Open and I’m here right now.
“In the break I was feeling like I didn’t know what my future was going to be. I’m pretty sure a lot of people can relate to that. Of course you never know what the future holds, but it was definitely an indecisive time. But I’m really happy to be sitting here right now.”
She added: “What probably got me ready again was just talking to people. I tend to internalise everything, and I think that might be just based on how I grew up. I didn’t really have that many friends, so I didn’t really talk to anyone in the first place.
“Then during the off-season I just hung out with my friends and talked to my family a lot. I felt like that was a way of decompressing the pressure I had on myself. Then I just slowly started to regain the feeling of love that I had towards the game.
“It’s not like it ever completely went away, but I felt like it got overshadowed by a lot of emotions that I was feeling just by constantly playing year after year. I started tennis when I was three years old, and I never really took a break. Sometimes it’s just good to remember why you’re playing and stuff.”
Osaka committed 57 unforced errors, including eight double faults, as she struggled with her accuracy against Cornet.
She won the opening set and took an early break in the second before Cornet fought back to win four straight games and the set. The former world number one, now ranked 13th, claimed the first three games of the final set then served out the win from a 0-30 deficit.
Osaka will face Belgium’s Maryna Zanevska in the second round.