Naomi Osaka’s return to Grand Slam tennis at the upcoming Australian Open will “bring some answers”, says Justine Henin, as she assessed the fortunes of those coming back to the game after pregnancy.
Osaka, who won the Australian Open in 2019 and 2021, announced her pregnancy shortly before last year’s tournament and gave birth to her daughter in July.
The Japanese is one of a handful of former champions who will be returning to Melbourne after giving birth, including Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki, the latter making her Grand Slam return at the US Open last August.
“Naomi Osaka, it’s going to be great to see her back now on the courts [but] in what condition is very hard to say,” Henin told Eurosport.
“It’s going to bring some answers, but it’s only the beginning of something.”
Osaka won her first match back on the professional circuit with victory over Tamara Korpatsch at the Brisbane International earlier in January, before falling to Karolina Pliskova in the second round.
The 26-year-old will play 16th seed Caroline Garcia in the first round at the Australia Open.
On returning from a long lay-off, Henin reflected on her own year-long absence from the game and recognised that the array of players returning to action in Melbourne are all experiencing different situations.
“Coming back is never easy,” Henin said. “I went through it also after a year and for most, I had success because I played the final of the Australian Open after a long stop.
“But we also know that we have women who had babies, we have players who stopped for a long time and will come back. It’s different situations and I admire [it] because we know how much effort it takes to come back physically being a mother.
“To take that right, that possibility to be a mother and still do what they like to do to play tennis, their passion, their job. And this is great to see, but we know it’s hard.”
Although the seven-time Grand Slam champion said it would be great to see players return to the court, she explained why it won’t be easy at the first major event of the year which is set to be “something really special”.
“I think that [Elina] Svitolina had success last year and it looks like she’s in good shape already [at the] beginning of the season, so some proof that it is possible to come back at a certain level,” Henin said.
“But you enter in the Grand Slam and we know that globally, the level puts [on] more pressure on the first few rounds and the first round especially. The first Grand Slam of the year is gonna be something really special.
“Disappointment is everywhere in sport because you can win [and] you can lose. It happens quite a lot during [a] career, and these women have that experience. They know it’s going to be difficult, but also, they are champions.
“That is something that’s going to help them. Of course, the physical aspect is something really special. But we are going to pay attention to that [and] it’s exciting to see these names back.
“The women’s draw is going to be exciting and very interesting.”
As well as those who have gone through pregnancy, Emma Raducanu, Jennifer Brady and Amanda Anisimova are also set for a return to major tennis in Melbourne.
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