Australian Open 2024; Naomi Osaka realistic on chances in unpredictable draw

Naomi Osaka wants to add a third Australian Open title to her collection but concedes it is unlikely to come at this tournament only two professional matches into her return.

The former world No. 1 warned fans “a lot of time and patience” will be needed before she rediscovers her best, but is intent on making progress in her grand slam return beginning with Sunday’s opening round clash against 16th seed Caroline Garcia.

Osaka, who returned to tennis at the Brisbane International last week following a 15-month hiatus after giving birth to her daughter, Shai, said she was having trouble managing her own expectations as her return to Melbourne Park brought memories of her triumphs flooding back.

“I’ve been able to hit with a couple of players and I guess feel the nostalgia again,” Osaka said.

“Just being able to hit on Rod Laver, look up the sky and just realise, ‘I’ve been able to win here twice’ … I would love to do it again.

“I do think of all the amazing memories … even hitting today with Ons (Jabeur), I caught myself getting a little disappointed when I would make some mistakes, but I’m hitting against Ons … I think it’s just one of those things where I now think that I have to give myself a lot of time and patience.”

Osaka said Garcia would be a difficult first round battle but had one eye on an open remainder of her part of the draw, which could include a second round encounter with Australian wildcard Daria Saville.

“My immediate thought (drawing Garcia) was ‘okay, this is tough’, but I definitely think I can achieve what I want to achieve,” she said.

“In a weird way I’m glad I’m playing a seed so that if I get through, the next match won’t be as difficult.”

Another former Australian Open champion returning after giving birth is Angelique Kerber, who said she had arrived at Melbourne Park with a “completely different mindset” from previous years which she believed was shared by fellow new parents Osaka and Elina Svitolina.

“We are not really the most important person right now in our lives … there is someone else,” Kerber said.

The German left-hander was drawn in a jam-packed top quartet featuring current world No. 1 Iga Swiatek along with 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin and 2021 finalist Danielle Collins, who will meet Kerber in the first round.

Swiatek will need to beat two of the unseeded stars just to reach the third round before a potential fourth round blockbuster against Svitolina, who upset the Polish star in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon last year.

Swiatek, who was knocked out in straight sets by eventual runner-up Elena Rybakina in the fourth round at Melbourne Park last year, said she felt she was moving in the “right direction” dealing with the game’s heaviest hitters after a number of disappointments at majors.

“For sure there’s a lot of stuff I can work on – I feel I am going in the right direction,” she said.

“These matches, like (her early US Open exit last year), I was feeling pretty stressed overall.

“This year I’ve done it differently … I don’t feel so tired, I don’t feel like I am burdened with this off-court stuff.”

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