Naomi Osaka underlines nothing has changed in her Grand Slam aspirations as the four-time Grand Slam champion stands by her statement that she hopes to win at least eight more Majors before walking away from pro tennis.
During her pregnancy last year, Osaka told a Japanese journalist that she would be aiming to win at least eight more Grand Slams and also return to the world No. 1 spot. After playing two comeback tournaments in Australia in January, Osaka is set for her third tournament back at this week’s Abu Dhabi Open.
Ahead of her Abu Dhabi debut, Osaka spoke with Reem Abulleil of The National and revealed that not doing well in Australia – where she lost in the Brisbane International round-of-16 before losing in the Australian Open first-round – motivated her to sign up for Abu Dhabi and try to bounce back in the United Arab Emirates. During their conversation, Abulleil asked Osaka about her Grand Slam statement from last year.
“I definitely still feel that way,” Osaka told The National. “Australia gave me a little bit of self-doubt, just because I wish I could have played more matches and I always do really well in Australia. So it was a bit of a harsh reality.
“But I still think my level is improving every day and I think that I can be better, and I hope that I will be better. I’m always the type of person that would rather set really high goals and maybe I’ll do only 25 percent of that but the 25 percent is still really amazing.
“I don’t think that I would have come back and be like, ‘Oh my goal is to get to the quarter-final of a slam’, which is still really good but that’s not why I’m spending time away from Shai.”
Osaka on challenging Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina & Coco Gauff
While Osaka was sidelined, Swiatek, Sabalenka, Rybakina, and Gauff separated themselves from the rest of the competition.
Swiatek, 22, has four Grand Slams and she is the top-ranked player in the world. Sabalenka, currently ranked at No. 2, won her first two Grand Slam titles in the last two Australian Open editions. On the other side, Rybakina won 2022 Wimbledon and won two WTA 1000 titles last year, while Gauff won her first Grand Slam and WTA 1000 titles in 2023.
Just a few years ago, Osaka was widely considered one of the top players in the game and holding the world No. 1 spot. But then, Osaka started battling personal issues and losing motivation and joy for the game.
After being out for 16 months, 26-year-old Osaka returned to tennis at the start of this season and her motivation and joy for tennis is back. When asked if she sees herself challenging those four players, Osaka admitted that she sees herself there and hopes to join their elite club by the end of 2024.
“I’m at a weird point right now in this comeback. 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,” Osaka said.
“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.”
Osaka on her ‘delusion’ that wins her tournaments
In just her second tournament in 16 months, Osaka was playing at the Australian Open. Although many thought that Osaka being considered a contender for the Australian Open was something very unrealistic, the Japanese felt very upset after losing in the first round to Caroline Garcia.
When addressing her frustration in her post-match press conference, Osaka made an interesting comment, saying: “So I wouldn’t say this comeback is how I thought because I’m delusional enough to think I could have won the tournament. I think my delusion is what allows me to win the tournaments.”
When asked by Abulleil how she feels now about her “delusion” statement, Osaka said she “likes my delusions.”
“I feel like in some capacity, everyone who has achieved something crazy has been called crazy along the way. For me, also just being a more creative person, you have to see things differently and you have to dream big to achieve those dreams. I kind of like my delusions, they’re cool,” Osaka said.
In Abu Dhabi, Osaka faces 2022 Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins in the first round. If Osaka beats Collins, she will play next against top-seeded Rybakina.
It remains to be seen if Osaka can make a run for the Abu Dhabi title this week and win her first title since the 2022 Australian Open.