Naomi Osaka played at the Australian Open on Monday, competing at a Grand Slam for the first time since giving birth to her daughter, Shai, in July 2023.
It was just Osaka's third match in 15 months, and while it was hard-fought, Garcia got the better of her, winning 6-4, 7-6 (2). Garcia, seeded 16th, didn't face a single break point all match.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 15, 2024
Garcia had kind words for Osaka during her post-match interview.
“I have a lot of respect for Naomi as a person and player," Garcia said. "She’s had an amazing career. She was away for 15 months. She’s been through a lot. I hope she can enjoy tennis now and have fun out there. She’s a great girl. She’s done so much for our tennis in the last few years. Six months after giving birth, she’s playing amazing already. We have to watch out.”
Following the match, Osaka reflected on spending time away from her daughter, and wished she could have done better for her.
“I talk to and I think about Shai a lot," Osaka said. "Before my match, I got sent a video of her. She wasn't obviously saying good luck, but I got a video of someone saying, ‘Shai says good luck.’ It was really cute. It made me happy and motivated, but at the same time a little frustrated because I felt like I should do better with the time I had away from her. Yeah, hopefully I get there one day, though.”
Osaka joins the ranks of a growing number of elite tennis players to return to competition after giving birth. Angelique Kerber, Elina Svitolina, Tatjana Maria, and Victoria Azarenka have all done it and are still playing at or near (or even above) the level they were before going on maternity leave.
It will take time for Osaka to get to that point. She just has to play more matches. And she plans to. She told the media that her schedule for the next few months includes Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami and Charleston.