BRISBANE, Australia – after 15 months and a baby girl, Naomi Osaka returns Monday in Brisbane – the first day of a new year and a new start for the former No. 1.
It’s far too soon to tell how it’s going to go. Beyond the fact that the furious groundstrokes are still there.
But there have been no matches played yet. No Grand Slam media hordes to manage. And none of the extra stress on the body that competition will bring.
There’s little doubt, however, that there’s a wide opening on the women’s tour for a player of her calibre to climb right back up the charts. She’s just that good.
Osaka looks great. And she sounds great. And she’s brought a village with her to navigate this new challenge.
Osaka is back with Win Fissette. And as it happens, she’s back in the place where the two collaborated for the first time, four years ago.
She has former Canadian Davis Cupper Philip Bester as a hitting partner, an experienced coach who can also be an extra set of eyes.
There are physical trainers, putting her through the paces and at some level also showing her the ropes.
And there are not one, but two people charged with photographing and videoing the entire comeback.
Osaka’s daughter isn’t on this trip. But she’s well surrounded.
Here’s how it looked in practice over the weekend.
There was nearly a half hour devoted to stretching and warming up. This feels like it’s pretty new, but also a great addition as she works herself back into competitive form.
Her practice Saturday was short – the stretching, then some groundtrokes, and then some serves and returns. No points.
But the video crew got it all.
Osaka opens up at 11 a.m. Monday against Tamara Korpatsch, a capable German player who on paper would seem to be no match for the power. But it’s a long time to be gone, and no doubt this morning there are already butterflies.
It also will be super humid, with a cover on top of Pat Rafter Arena likely allowing play – as long as the wind doesn’t blow the rain sideways and through the opening between the stands and the cover. Humidity is in the high 80s.
Osaka is one of a number of players happily and eagerly awaited as they return in 2024. That group include Rafael Nadal, who is also returning in Brisbane. And Emma Raducanu, in Auckland.
There might be quite a few happy comeback stories by the time this Aussie summer wraps up.