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Naomi Osaka wins first elite tennis match in return from maternity leave

Motherhood has helped give Naomi Osaka a new mindset when things are getting tough on court.

In her first competitive match since September 2022, the four-time major winner was broken while serving for the match and needed three match points in the tiebreaker before converting a 6-3, 7-6 (9) victory over Tamara Korpatsch on Monday at the Brisbane International.

Osaka didn't play the Australian Open last year and later revealed she was pregnant. She and her partner, rapper Cordae, became parents to daughter Shai in Los Angeles in July.

"It's a big change overnight," former No. 1-ranked Osaka said of returning to the tour as a mom. "For me, I love it a lot because ... in a way I would say (Shai) has helped me grow up so much so quickly.

"Off the court I'm more aware of people and I appreciate them a lot more — even my opponents and everything," she said. "On the court it's just helping me be strong and staying in the moment more."

2024 Brisbane International: Day 2
Naomi Osaka of Japan celebrates winning against Tamara Korpatsch of Germany during day two of the 2024 Brisbane International at Queensland Tennis Centre on Jan. 1, 2024 in Brisbane, Australia. Chris Hyde / Getty Images

Every time she missed an opportunity to win the match on Monday, she composed herself and focused on giving herself another hance.

"I was super nervous the whole time," Osaka said. "A part of me felt like Shai was watching me. I wanted to do my best for her.

"While I'm playing, I'm aware of it in the sense that I want to be a good role model for my daughter. Other than that I think I'm pretty much trying to be the same old me."

Before Monday, the first day of 2024, Osaka had only played one competitive match since her first-round exit at the 2022 U.S. Open. Osaka has won four Grand Slam titles over her career. 

But she has spent many months preparing for her return, including a renewed focus on living in the moment.

"The last couple years that I played before I had my daughter, I didn't return as much love as I was given," she told the crowd at Pat Rafter Arena. "So I really feel like that's what I want to do in this chapter."

And, of course, she's paying more attention to the younger people in the crowd.

"I guess like towards the end when I was signing autographs, I was more aware of kids," she told a post-match news conference. "I see them differently now because now I'm a mom, too, and I can picture Shai being that age."

Osaka will play a fellow former No. 1, three-time Brisbane International champion Karolina Pliskova, in the second round.

At one point, Osaka was ranked the No. 1 women's tennis player. She took a "step back" in 2021 after withdrawing from the French Open rather than attend the required press conferences. On social media, Osaka cited her mental health: "I have suffered long bouts of depression … and i have had a really hard time coping with that."

Persistent rain in Brisbane meant matches on outside courts were suspended, confining matches to the covered main stadium.

In the men's draw, top seed Holger Rune rallied to beat Australian Max Purcell 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 and No. 2-seeded Grigor Dimitrov overcame Andy Murray 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 in a 2 1/2-hour night match between two former Brisbane International champions.

Third-seeded Ben Shelton, the 21-year-old American who reached the U.S. Open semifinals last year, lost 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3 to Roman Safiullin.

The 26-year-old Safiullin is ranked 39th but had wins over Carlos Alcaraz and Alexander Zverev last year.

The Brisbane International is one of the key tune-up events for the Australian Open which begins Jan. 14 in Melbourne.

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