When Naomi Osaka left the tour on her maternity leave nearly almost 12 months ago, some of her most important pillars in the coaching team moved on to pursue other ventures.
Wim Fisette, her tennis coach, had actually left the role by mutual consent six months earlier. Under the Belgian's tutelage, Osaka won two of her four Grand Slam titles.
When she relayed the news of her pregnancy in January 2023, her performance coach, Florian Zitzelsberger, had left his role to work with German player Jule Niemeier.
But since giving birth to her first child and embarking on the long road to full fitness ahead of the new season, Osaka decided to assemble the same band that steered her to success both on and off the court. Because Osaka's relationship with both coaches was still on good terms, she went the extra mile to rehire them.
The Japanese star brought back Wim Fisette to the helm as her new coach for the upcoming season, despite repeated outbursts by China's Qinwen Zheng who had been working with the Belgian coach at the time, and accused him of being unethical.
It was during the US Open tournament when Osaka completed formal talks to rehire Fisette. That same month, she called Florian Zitzelsberger to return to the team and oversee all aspects of her health and fitness. For Zitzelsberger, it was an opportunity he could not pass on, having described their journey as "unfinished".
"It's an interesting journey for me because the work we started was not quite finished. Naomi is a pure talent, quite unbelievable. But still, I see a lot of athletic potential that we can work on. First and foremost, she has to stay healthy, but on the other side, there is so much potential to nurture, strengthen and conquer."
"With Naomi, I am the head of health and performance. I'm a strength and conditioning coach, athletic coach, a physiotherapist and an osteopath. I analyze the biomechanics and work to improve the tennis-specific biomechanics.
Florian Zitzelsberger has worked with many accomplished names on the ATP and WTA tours and takes pleasure from the fact he has helped most of the players he worked with to accomplish their tennis ambitions.
On the ATP side, he helped South Africa's Kevin Anderson reach the world's Top 10 and has previous experience working with WTA players such as Julia Goerges (retired), Petra Kvitova, and Petra Martic.
But unlike all those players and her first term working with Osaka, this will be a new challenge for him, working with a player post-pregnancy. Osaka will be aiming to become the first player to win a Grand Slam as a mother since Kim Clijsters. And Zitzelsberger's challenge extends beyond the tennis landscape.
"At the moment, the biggest focus is not tennis. The biggest focus is just bringing her back to a really athletic and healthy state, while we can now work on the court. From the tennis side, Wim now has the chance to work on things that we always wanted to work on but didn't get the time before."