Former world No. 1 Naomi Osaka intends to return to professional tennis in 2024, the 25-year-old said in an interview with ESPN on Wednesday.
The four-time major champion – who welcomed a baby girl in July with her boyfriend, rapper Cordae – said she plans to play a busy schedule next year.
“It’s definitely way more tournaments than I used to play,” Osaka told ESPN. “So, I think some people will be happy with that.”
“I think it’s because I realized 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’m going to set myself up for a very good end of the year,” Osaka said.
Osaka, who has not played since the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo in September 2022, has previously said she planned to return to tennis in 2024 for the Australian Open, a tournament she has won on two previous occasions.
Osaka was asked if her break from tennis made her miss it, to which she responded “definitely.”
“I’ve been watching matches and I’m like, ‘I wish I was playing too,’” Osaka said. “But I’m in this position now and I’m very grateful. I really love my daughter a lot, but I think it really fueled a fire in me.”
Osaka took some time away from competitive tennis and made several highly publicized disclosures about her struggles with mental health following an incident in 2021, where she was visibly stressed and emotional while addressing the media during a mandatory news conference at Roland Garros.
She subsequently pulled out of the French Open that year and revealed she had “suffered long bouts of depression” since winning her first major championship in 2018.
Osaka was in attendance at the US Open in New York on Wednesday. She also participated the same day in a forum on mental health at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, joined by USA Olympic swimming legend Michael Phelps, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, and Dr. Brian Hainline, chairman of the US Tennis Association’s board and NCAA chief medical officer.
Osaka said she learned a lot from talking about her experiences with mental health and becoming an advocate for mental health awareness.
“I feel like I am someone that’s learning all the time. Obviously, I learned a lot from the talk as I was talking,” Osaka said. “I would say my role is just raising awareness and letting people know that they’re not alone.
“Physical pain and mental pain are sort of the same to me. We have doctors for physical health but when we talk about mental health it’s not as well received, so just raising awareness on that.”
She was also asked about her comments previously that she felt “lonely” while she was pregnant.
“I definitely only know this world, the tennis world,” Osaka said. “Just being away from that for a long time, it was new for me. I think it was just the new situation and not being able to train like I wanted to, it made me feel like I would just stay at home. … It felt like a lot of restrictions.”