Why Naomi Osaka's Post-Maternity Career Can Be Even Greater Than Before

Why Naomi Osaka's Post-Maternity Career Can Be Even Greater Than Before

by Erik Virostko

Naomi Osaka is one of the greatest tennis players of the 21st century, and while her tennis career was great before becoming a mother, it can become even greater now.

The Japanese player's talent was never in question. Before the likes of Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina started causing headaches to their opponents by how fast their balls flew over the net, it was Osaka who was one of the hardest hitters on the WTA Tour, and one of the best servers too.

Prior to taking a break from the sport because of pregnancy, she stood in four major finals, and she won all four of them, beating legendary Serena Williams, but also the likes of Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka.

However, while her career before becoming a mother was really great, successful, and likely Hall-of-Fame-worthy, some numbers were not adding up, compared to players with similar achievements.

While Osaka won four majors and was also the world number one player, she actually played only in 11 WTA Tour-level finals, winning only three other trophies than Grand Slams, with only one title below a WTA 1000 level.

Comparing that to, for example, Iga Swiatek, who, too, has four majors to her name at the moment, the Polish player played in 25 Tour-level finals, and she has 21 titles to her name, including four Grand Slams, but also five titles of WTA 500 category.

The reason is simple. Already early on in her career, Osaka picked her spots, choosing her calendar based on her strengths, regularly missing the clay and grass-court parts of the season, focusing only on the hard courts.

That also explains why her only major triumphs came at the Australian Open and the US Open, as she played only 12 matches at the French Open, and 7 at Wimbledon throughout her tennis career.

But everything seemingly changed when the Japanese tennis player became a mother and welcomed her daughter Shai. Now, she seems to be more motivated than ever.

In fact, she completed the full clay-court part of the season in 2024 during her comeback year, and she even made an appearance at the Rouen Open, which is a WTA 250 tournament in clay, something she did only once in her career before.

Her motivation comes from being a mother and trying to show to her daughter what she can do on the tennis court, but also because she values the time spent away from her daughter even more, knowing she wants to maximize every minute that she can't be with her child.

On top of the motivation factor, having a daughter can help Osaka also overcome mental challenges, something she struggled with before. Now, the Japanese player knows that no matter what happens on the tennis court, nothing will change for her away from it, and she spoke about that at the 2024 Italian Open.

"I just feel like, I don't know, no matter what happens on the court, nothing will change for me off the court. Like, my daughter will still love me. I have so many people around me, so..."

"I hope that mentality stays and continues. I don't know. I'm just really excited to learn more about clay court and develop and go to Paris. Shai is coming to Paris, so that's something that's keeping me very, I don't know, happy."

Becoming a mother was really a significant moment in Osaka's career, and she confirmed it also during a recent talk with The Guardian's Tumaini Carayol in Paris, saying it changed her perspective on life.

"It forced me to see life in a different way. I know a lot of people probably think I retired in that year but it just made me a lot more grateful for the sport and, in turn, made me just know there’s so many possibilities outside tennis and I realised I would still love to play tennis."

While Osaka's career was great before she became a mother, at 26, there's certainly much more she can still achieve, and it may be her daughter, Shai, who may prove to be the missing piece in the puzzle in Osaka's motivation and calmness on the tennis court.


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