Naomi Osaka planning on playing ‘way more tournaments’ on return to tennis | Naomi Osaka

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Naomi Osaka is intending to play “way more tournaments” on her return to tennis following the birth of her daughter. The four-time grand slam champion, who has not played a competitive match since last September, announced her pregnancy in January and gave birth to baby Shai in July.

Osaka, who has two US Open and two Australian Open titles to her name, had played an increasingly sparse schedule before her maternity leave, stepping away from the court several times to prioritise her mental health.

But time away has reinvigorated her love for the sport and, speaking to ESPN, Osaka said of her plans for next season: “It’s definitely way more tournaments than I used to play. So I think some people will be happy with that.”

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The 25-year-old, who confirmed she is planning to play at the Australian Open in January, added of her reasoning: “I think it’s because I realised that I don’t know how the beginning of the year is going to go for me. I don’t know the level of play and I think I have to ease into it. So, at the very least, I’ll set myself up for a very good end of the year.”

Osaka was at Flushing Meadows on Wednesday to take part in a forum on mental health and sport alongside former swimmer Michael Phelps. She discussed her year away from the sport, saying: “It’s definitely been really interesting. The whole process, it felt long and short at the same time.

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“When I stepped away, it was Tokyo, that was the last tournament I played. I just remember watching the Australian Open and being very devastated, because I’ve never missed an Australian Open. When I was watching Serena and Venus [Williams], I was thinking: ‘Ah, I probably no way will ever play at their age,’ but sitting here, I’m like: ‘You know what? I might do that actually.’

“It really raised my love for the sport. It made me realise I’m not going to play forever. I have to embrace the times. I’ve been playing tennis since I was three. I don’t think I can predict what I’ll do. I never am able to do that, but it definitely made me appreciate a lot of things that I took for granted.”

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