Former No.1 Naomi Osaka made a triumphant 2022 debut at the Melbourne Summer Set, defeating Alizé Cornet 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in the first round Tuesday.
The match was Osaka's first since September, when she announced she would take an indefinite break from the sport after the US Open. Ultimately, the reigning Australian Open champion says her break was much shorter than she originally anticipated.
"I actually really thought I wasn't going to play for most of this year," Osaka told reporters after the first round. "I'm really happy with myself that I love the sport that much because I literally said that I was unsure when I was going to play after the US Open and I'm here right now.
"In the break I was feeling like I didn't know what my future was going to be. I'm pretty sure a lot of people can relate to that. Of course you never know what the future holds, but it was definitely an indecisive time.
"But I'm really happy to be sitting here right now."
More insights from Osaka's first press conference of the season:
On her goals for the 2022 season:
"I only really have one major goal this year, and it's completely unrelated to results and stuff like that. For me, I just want to feel like every time I step on the court I'm having fun. I can walk off the court knowing that even if I lost, I tried as hard as I could.
"Also, I have a goal in the press room, that I'm never going to cry again, so hopefully that works out in my favor.
"I'm the type of person that cared a little bit too much about the results and the ranking and stuff like that and I just need to find a way to enjoy the game again. Because that's the reason why I was playing in the first place."
On what triggered her decision to start training again:
"What probably got me ready again was just talking to people. I tend to internalize everything, and I think that might be just based on how I grew up. I didn't really have that many friends, so I didn't really talk to anyone in the first place.
"Then during the off-season I just hung out with my friends and talked to my family a lot. I felt like that was a way of decompressing the pressure I had on myself. Then I just slowly started to regain the feeling of love that I had towards the game.
"It's not like it ever completely went away, but I felt like it got overshadowed by a lot of emotions that I was feeling just by constantly playing year after year. I started tennis when I was 3 years old, and I never really took a break. Sometimes it's just good to remember why you're playing and stuff."
On decompressing after the US Open:
"I had no plan after the US Open. Honestly, I didn't really know what I was going to do. I kind of expected myself to travel, but I didn't really feel like that was safe because of COVID.
"I kind of stayed at home. My friends live near San Francisco, so I was driving to go see them and stay over at their house and bother them quite a few times. I feel like that's also an experience that I haven't been able to have in my life, just based on the fact that I play tennis and I travel a lot and I haven't been able to have sleepovers and stuff like that. It was cool to be able to do that."
Osaka: “Shout out to my team. I really love them. They’re like my family. Of course I took time off and they told me to let them know when I was ready. When I got bored enough at home I texted them and told them I would love to play again if you guys don’t dislike me too much."— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) January 4, 2022
On reuniting with her team:
"The reason why I hope my team doesn't dislike me is because I probably traumatized them last year. Honestly, there's a lot of things that were happening that I wasn't talking to them about, so it was kind of unfair to them, and I really appreciate them for sticking with me because I wouldn't want to be in my team last year. There was a lot.
"I just really wanted to tell them that I was grateful, and if they still want to work together, then that would be amazing if they could come over and we could all hang out and hit balls and stuff."
On whether she plans to change how she handles press conferences:
"Honestly, that's not the type of person I am. In the very beginning, right after everything happened at Roland Garros, I was really scared to come back in here because I didn't know what the energy was going to be like. But I feel like the people that know me get what I mean, and I feel like we kind of established a trust and kind of like a friendship-ish.
"I think that I'm just going to keep being myself, and you can interpret it how you want to. That's kind of how it's been working out for us this whole time."