The Australian Open was a disappointing start to Naomi Osaka’s return

Naomi Osaka Australian Open

Naomi Osaka returned to Grand Slam tennis after maternity leave in the same way she left it, losing in the first round to Caroline Garcia 6-4 7-6 (2) on Rod Laver Arena at the Australian Open on Monday.

Taking on the seasoned French 16th seed, who, like Osaka, is an aggressive baseliner, was always going to be a tough match for the two-time Australian Open winner, who returned to competition tennis only two weeks ago after a 15-month absence.

The strength that propelled Osaka to four Grand Slam victories before taking a break to give birth to daughter Shai remained, but it would take time for Osaka, 26, to find her precision in key situations.

In the sixth game, Garcia, 30, earned his first break point of the match with a double fault, which he converted quickly to go ahead.

In the eighth game, Osaka had a chance to break back at deuce, but she sent a straightforward backhand into the net. Garcia held with back-to-back aces before winning the set.

The Japanese former world number one won her first three service games in the second set to love, but Garcia’s serving was flawless, and Osaka was unable to put any pressure on it.

On her approach to victory at Melbourne Park in 2021, Osaka defeated Garcia 6-2, 6-3. But this was a far closer match, with the second set won in a tiebreaker.

Garcia, who continued to strike the target with her first serves, raced to a huge lead and sealed the victory on her first match chance when Osaka crashed another backhand into the net.

“The competitive side of me is really frustrated that I’m not winning these matches, of course,” Osaka said at a post-match press conference. “So I wouldn’t say, like, this comeback is how I thought because I’m delusional enough to think I could have won the tournament.”

She grinned and said, “I think my delusion is what allows me to win the tournaments.”

“I have a lot of respect for Naomi as a person and as a player — 15 months she’s been away,” Garcia went on to say. “I’m pleased to have her back. Six months after giving birth, she’s already playing well. We must exercise caution.”

Osaka was one of three former Australian Open winners who returned to Melbourne Park for the first time as mothers, including 2016 winner Angelique Kerber and 2018 champion Caroline Wozniacki.

It was Osaka’s quickest departure in eight Australian Open appearances, as well as her third consecutive loss in the first round of a Grand Slam, following defeats at the French and US Opens in 2022.

Following both events, she took a break from tennis to care for herself. For the time being, she has no plans to take any additional breaks.

“Yeah, I think I just have to keep living day by day and training hard and playing a lot more matches,” she went on to say. “And hopefully my dreams will come true.”

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