Naomi Osaka Opens Up About Missing Tennis and Feeling ‘Lonely’ During Her Pregnancy

Osaka also announced her plans to return to tennis at the Australian Open in January

<p>Anthony Behar/Sipa via AP Images</p> Naomi Osaka

Anthony Behar/Sipa via AP Images

Naomi Osaka

When Naomi Osaka returned to Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York City on Wednesday and walked through the players’ tunnel, the two-time US Open champion told reporters it gave her the “itch to want to play again.”

“I feel a lot of joy coming back here. It’s kind of like seeing an old friend I haven’t seen in a long time.” Osaka, 25, told ESPN's Chris McKendry about returning to the court. "I went through the little players' tunnel, but obviously, I'm not playing. It made me itch to want to play again, but I guess I'll have to wait until next year."

The former World No. 1 hasn’t played tennis since last September’s Toray Pan Pacific Open when she announced she was stepping away from the game during her pregnancy and the arrival of her daughter Shai this past July.

Osaka returned to the US Open grounds on Wednesday to speak about mental health awareness in a panel that also included retired Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps.

In the ESPN interview afterwards about her return, Osaka opened up about feeling “lonely” during her pregnancy and announced her plans to return to competitive tennis at the Australian Open in January, which she won in both 2019 and 2021.

"I realized that I don't know how the beginning of the year is going to go for me," she said. "I don't know the level of play, and I think I have to ease into it. At the very least, I'm going to set myself up for a very good end of the year."

Related: Naomi Osaka Celebrates Victoria’s Secret World Tour at First Red Carpet Since Welcoming Baby Girl

<p>Mary Altaffer/AP Photo</p> Naomi Osaka and Michael Phelps

Mary Altaffer/AP Photo

Naomi Osaka and Michael Phelps

Osaka said she’s been watching matches, which has motivated her to play again.

“I'm like, 'I kind of wish I was playing too,' but I'm in this position now and I'm very grateful,” she said. “I really love my daughter a lot, but I think it really fueled a fire in me."

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The Japanese tennis star said she continued to train in a lighter capacity during her pregnancy but struggled to deal with “a lot of restrictions” that come with being pregnant — something she said began to impact her mental health.

Related: Pregnant Naomi Osaka Hopes to Make Her Baby 'Proud' with New Mental Health Series for Kids

<p>PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty </p> Naomi Osaka


Naomi Osaka

“I definitely only know this world, the tennis world, and just being away from that for a long time, it was new for me,” she said. “I think it was just the whole new situation and not being able to train like I wanted to things like that, it kind of made me feel like I just had to stay at home and, you know how doctors tell you not to travel after a certain amount of weeks, it just felt like a lot of restrictions. I think that was what it was.”

But Osaka told ESPN motherhood has been “treating me well.”

“Shai means God's gift and I think that's what I wanted her to feel like she was a gift to me and her dad [rapper Cordae],” Osaka explained. “She's spreading a lot of joy already, so it's very exciting.”

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