Former world number one and new mother Naomi Osaka said on Monday she was proud to have won her first match back after a long break, admitting she had been “super nervous”.
The 26-year-old was on court at the Brisbane International for an hour and 47 minutes before finally seeing off gallant German Tamara Korpatsch 6-3, 7-6 (11/9) on Pat Rafter Arena.
“I was super nervous, but I was excited to be out there,” said Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam champion who stepped away from tennis in September 2022, citing mental health concerns.
“I think it’s better to have harder matches early because it will train me for what’s to come.
“I know all the opponents I play aren’t easy anyway, so it would be very ‘out there’ for me to think my first match would be a 6-1, 6-1 win.
“Looking back on the match now, honestly I’m very proud of myself. I feel like I played at a pretty good level.”
After giving birth to a baby girl in July, Osaka rediscovered her love of the game and decided to return for the 2024 season.
It looked like she had never been away when she broke Korpatsch to love in the opening game then broke once more to take the first set relatively comfortably.
But it was a different story in the second set as Korpatsch lifted and Osaka began to feel the pressure.
Korpatsch broke Osaka’s serve to start the second set and although the Japanese star broke straight back, she was no longer as settled against the tenacious German.
Osaka did break once more and was serving for the match at 5-4, but she was broken again and it went to a tiebreak, where both players had their chances.
Osaka squandered two match points and Korpatsch two set points before Osaka prevailed on her third opportunity with a powerful forehand down the line.
She said courtside that motherhood had changed her outlook on the game, and she had felt too isolated from fans and fellow players previously.
“The last couple of years that I played before I had my daughter I didn’t return as much love as I was given,” she said.
“So I really feel like that’s what I want to do in this chapter. I just really appreciate people coming out and cheering for me.
“I would say she’s (her daughter) helped me grow up so much so quickly,” Osaka added.
“Off the court I’m more aware of people and I appreciate them a lot more, even my opponents and everything.”
In the men’s draw, world number eight and top seed Holger Rune came from a set down to defeat Australian Max Purcell.
The big serving Purcell took the opening set against a rusty looking Rune, but the Dane became increasingly assured as the match wore on and took charge to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Second seed Grigor Dimitrov was also recovered from losing the first set to defeat former world number one Andy Murray 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.
Earlier, Russia’s Roman Safiullin ousted third seeded American Ben Shelton 6-3, 6-7 (5/7), 6-3 in a match lasting over two-and-a-half hours.
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