MELBOURNE -- As Naomi Osaka caught her breath during a practice session with Ons Jabeur on Friday at the Australian Open, the former World No.1 took a moment to reflect on the nostalgia of it all. 

Jabeur and Osaka met for the first time eight years ago at the WTA Rising Stars Invitational at the WTA Finals in Singapore. Both have spoken fondly of their first encounter, as the extroverted Jabeur made it her mission to break through Osaka's introverted defenses. Ever since, Osaka has been Jabeur's biggest fan.

"I was sitting with Ons today and I was thinking in my head, like, we've come a long way from Singapore," Osaka told reporters at Australian Open Media Day. 

Who would have known then that Osaka would go on to be a four-time Slam champion and global icon? Or that Jabeur would truly become the Tunisian trailblazer she out to be, making two Wimbledon finals and a Top 10 staple.

And let's not forget the woman Osaka had to beat in the Rising Stars final, one Caroline Garcia, who rose to a career-high No.4 two years ago after winning the WTA Finals in Fort Worth.

As fate would have it, Osaka is preparing to face 16th-seeded Garcia once again. The two have been drawn together in the first round and will play on Monday. It will be Osaka's first appearance at a Grand Slam in over a year.

"Whenever I play her, I always think she's an incredible player," Osaka said. "She has every shot that a Top 5 player needs. My immediate thought was, 'OK, this is tough, but I definitely think I can achieve what I want to achieve.' Hopefully during the match I'm able to have things go my way. 

"Yeah, in a weird way I'm glad I'm playing a seed so that hopefully, if I get through that, the next match won't be as difficult."


While Osaka has landed in the bottom half of the draw, the name at the top of the draw has been unchanged ever since Ashleigh Barty retired in 2022. For the eighth consecutive Slam, Iga Swiatek sits at No.1.

The 22-year-old Polish player, who has started the season undefeated, will have her own nostalgic rematch in the first round when she faces 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin. 

In their only prior meeting, Swiatek beat Kenin 6-4, 6-1 to win the French Open. 

"It kind of strikes me sometimes that my first Grand Slam final was against Sofia and now we're playing in the first round," Swiatek told reporters. "It's pretty weird. That's how our life journeys kind of went apart."

Back then, on that cool autumn day at Roland Garros, No.54 Swiatek trounced No.6 Kenin to become the youngest champion in Paris since Monica Seles in 1992. Kenin followed that breakout season with two injury-laden years before working her ranking back up inside the Top 50 last year.

2020 Roland Garros highlights: Swiatek seals Kenin to claim title

Now ranked No.38, Kenin is on the upswing. Last fall she made the San Diego final, her first final since that day in Paris. She followed it up immediately with a semifinal run in Guadalajara.  

"I know she's been playing some solid tennis," Swiatek said. "She was playing in Abu Dhabi. It's not going to be easy. 

"I'll just get prepared the same way as usual. We're going to talk about the tactics. We haven't played in a while, so I have to kind of see how she's playing right now."