Naomi Osaka opens up about her bold goals – ‘I know people are going to probably drag me’

Shahida Jacobs
Naomi Osaka arrives on court

Naomi Osaka has admitted that self-doubt crept in following her disappointing return, but that doesn’t mean she has changed her goals as she revealed she is confident she will be able to compete with the likes of Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka and Coco Gauff at the top of the game.

After skipping the entire 2023 season as she gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Shai in July, Osaka made her comeback in January.

The former world No 1 won her first match at the Brisbane International before going down in the second round while she was brushed aside by Caroline Garcia in the first round of the Australian Open.

Osaka will return to action at the Abu Dhabi Open this week and she admits her self-confidence took a blow with her results in Australia, but that doesn’t mean she is shying away from setting high goals for herself.

“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,” she told The National.

“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 per cent of that but the 25 per cent 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.”

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Those goals include adding to her four Grand Slams while she also has hopes of not just challenging, but competing with the best in the business at the moment.

Osaka had slumped down the rankings before she went on maternity leave and Swiatek, Sabalenka, Gauff as well as Elena Rybakina are currently the dominant players on the WTA Tour.

But the 26-year-old is setting her sights high as she wants to battle for the biggest honours in tennis.

“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,” the Japanese star 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 has a tough draw in Abu Dhabi as she takes on American Danielle Collins in the first round and if she comes through that match then top seed Elena Rybakina awaits.

She added: “I always knew that going into this. Because even when I left, I was having tough losses, because mentally I wasn’t really in it. And I know coming back, it’s not like I’m in my 2021 form right away.

“But I’m trying more one day at a time. 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. 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.”