Naomi Osaka has warned Coco Gauff, Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka that she can rejoin them at the top of tennis by the end of the year. The former world No. 1 is in the early stages of her return from pregnancy and has already made it clear that she wants to win more Grand Slam titles. While she still has to find her feet and climb back up the rankings, Osaka said it wouldn’t be a stretch to see herself competing with the world’s top three players again.
Osaka is set to continue her comeback this week in Abu Dhabi after returning from a 15-month absence in Australia. The four-time Major winner is 1-2 in her matches so far and has a long road ahead if she wants to regain the form that saw her reach the top of the rankings and win the biggest titles.
But the 26-year-old believes that she could carve out a place among the world’s best again, threatening to disrupt the current dominance of Gauff, Swiatek and Sabalenka. “I’m at a weird point right now in this comeback,” Osaka told The National when asked whether she could challenge the top three.
“I, obviously, have so much respect for them and everything that they’ve done. But I don’t really see myself as a challenger, which is a weird thing.” However, Osaka did make a confident statement about her future as she admitted she could join them at the top of the game as early as this year.
The seven-time title winner continued: “It’s really bold to say but I know what I’m capable of, and I know people are going to probably drag me for saying this, but I don’t think it’s a stretch for me to say that I see myself there.
“And I hope that I can get there this year, hopefully towards the tail-end of the year. But if not, I’m okay with being patient, I’ve always been a patient person, so I’ll get there eventually.”
So far, Osaka has faced tough draws in her first few tournaments. She defeated Tamara Korpatsch in the first round of the Brisbane International before falling to former world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova. At the Australian Open, she drew No. 16 seed Caroline Garcia in the first round, losing in straight sets.
And it will be a difficult path for Osaka again in Abu Dhabi. The Japanese star drew a qualifier, which turned out to be former world No. 7 and 2022 Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins. The winner of that clash will face top seed Elena Rybakina.
“I know it’s better to play scrappy matches to get into the form where I want to be. Australia has taught me a lot about getting some pretty harsh draws,” Osaka said of her tough opponents.
“So hopefully I’ll get my ranking up and I won’t have to play these really great players in the first round. But for right now, I’m the type of person that, even if I play the No. 1 seed, I want myself to win and I kind of expect myself to win, which is the delusion part. But I try not to make too many excuses.