Naomi Osaka, a Japanese tennis star, is well known as one of the best female tennis players in the game today. She’s a four-time Grand Slam champion, has been ranked the #1 female tennis player in the world by the World Tennis Association, and is the highest-earning female athlete in the world. She’s also a new mom, and is learning to juggle her passion for tennis with her love for her daughter.
In a new interview with ESPN, she said she has a busy year planned for 2024, despite having just given birth in July. “It’s definitely way more tournaments than I used to play,” she said. “I think some people will be happy with that.”
Osaka announced her pregnancy in January, writing that she couldn’t wait for her daughter to cheer her on at tennis matches.
“These few months away from the sport has really given me a new love and appreciation for the game I’ve dedicated my life to. I realize that life is so short and I don’t take any moments for granted, every day is a new blessing and adventure,” she wrote in her Instagram announcement. “One thing I’m looking forward to is for my kid to watch one of my matches and tell someone, ‘That’s my mom.'”
Though Osaka is an incredibly successful, talented athlete, her pregnancy announcement garnered criticism from naysayers, who claimed it would negatively impact her career — and she didn’t hold back in her response.
“Btw to the people that are suddenly concerned about my career — There are plenty of male athletes with kids that are significantly less accomplished, you might wanna worry about them instead,” she tweeted. “Thanks for the concern, might wanna redirect it to someone that needs it though.”
Osaka, who represents Japan, is eyeing a spot in the 2024 Olympics, and hopes her busy schedule gives her the ability to ease back into playing competitively. “At least I’m going to set myself up for a very good end of the year,” she said, adding, “I’ve been watching matches and I’m like, ‘I wish I was playing too.’ But I’m in this position now and I’m very grateful. I really love my daughter a lot, but it has really fueled a fire in me.”
During her pregnancy, Osaka continued training, though at a lighter pace than before, which she said did affect her mental health. “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.”
But though the break was difficult, she still is loving her experience as a mother.
“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],” she said. “She’s spreading a lot of joy already, so it’s very exciting.”