Former world number one Naomi Osaka has said she plans to return to professional tennis in 2024, the 25-year-old said in an interview with ESPN on Wednesday.
The four-time Grand Champion — who welcomed a baby girl in July with boyfriend, rapper Kordi — said she plans to play a busy schedule next year.
“It’s definitely a lot more tournaments than I used to play in,” Osaka told ESPN. “So I think some people will be happy with that.”
“I think it’s because I realized that I don’t know what the beginning of the year will be like for me. I don’t know the level of play and I think I have to take it easy. At least I will prepare myself for a very good end to the year,” said Osaka.
Osaka, who has not played since the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo in September 2022, has previously said she plans to return to tennis in 2024 to participate in the Australian Open, a tournament she has won on two previous occasions.
Asked if her hiatus from tennis made her miss it, Osaka replied, “Absolutely.”
“I was watching the matches and thought to myself, ‘I wish I was playing too,'” Osaka said. “But I’m in this situation now and I’m so grateful. I really love my daughter so much, but I think it kindled a fire in me.”
Osaka has been away from competitive tennis for some time and made several well-publicized revelations about her struggles with mental health following an incident in 2021 in which she was visibly nervous and emotional while addressing the media during a mandatory press conference at Roland Garros.
She subsequently withdrew from the French Open that year and revealed that she had “suffered prolonged bouts of depression” since winning her first major tournament in 2018.
Osaka attended the US Open in New York on Wednesday. On the same day, she also participated in a panel on mental health at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in the United States of America, and was joined by US Olympic swimming legend Michael Phelps, US General Surgeon Dr. Vivek Murthy, and Dr. Brian Heinlein, President of the US Tennis Association. The Association’s Board of Directors and the NCAA’s Chief Physician.
Osaka said she learned a lot from talking about her experiences with mental health and becoming an advocate for mental health education.
“I feel like a person who is learning all the time. I obviously learned a lot from talking while I was speaking,” said Osaka. “I would say my role is just to raise awareness and let people know that they are not alone.
“Physical pain and mental pain are the same for me. We have doctors for physical health, but when we talk about mental health, it’s not very well received, so just raising awareness about that.”
She was also asked about her previous comments that she felt “lonely” during her pregnancy.
“Of course I only know this world, the world of tennis,” Osaka said. “Just being away from it for so long, it was new for me. I think the new situation was not being able to train as well as I wanted to, which made me feel like I was going to stay at home. … I felt there were a lot of restrictions.