Smiling Naomi Osaka returns to Melbourne Park ahead of Australian Open title defence

Two-time Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka is back in Melbourne for what she calls the “Sunshine Championships”, with a smile on her face suggesting she is determined to enjoy her title defense.

Osaka’s extended spell out of the ring last season, prioritizing her mental health, saw her ranking drop to 14th, but that made the Grand Slam champion a dangerous float in the open draw as the 13th seed.

Although world number one Ash Barty has a known pragmatic approach to the minefield of Grand Slam draws, presumably she wouldn’t enjoy the idea of ​​a fourth-round duel with one of the few players who has a game to disarm her.

If Barty and Osaka both qualify, they are set to meet in the Round of 16 match.

Osaka sounded upbeat when she told former Nine Network doubles star Todd Woodbridge how she made it back into the ring with a spring in her stride four months later.

It’s a really great feeling, it’s such an honor to be back here and just come and see everyone so happy and smiling,” she said, surrounded by her cup.

“I consider the Australian Open a bit of a ‘sunshine tournament’. It’s really nice to be here.”

When asked what she learned about herself during her vacation, the 24-year-old replied, “I didn’t know if I had learned about myself or if I had just learned what I wanted to do more, to be more patient with myself.”

She hoped that would translate into her performance in court as well.

“Just being patient and forgiving, not rushing to judge myself about the things I’m doing wrong, and instead trying to celebrate the things I’m doing right,” she explained.

At Melbourne Park, she seemed to be doing everything right, having won 16 of her last 17 singles matches and taking the title in two of the last three editions.

“I feel like the start of the season is a bit tough because you’re so nervous and you don’t want to lose in the first round of this year’s Grand Slam, but just embracing the energy here for me is always good,” said Osaka, who will face world number 53 Camila Osorio in the opening round. .

She won three rematches in the Melbourne Summer Group last week, before withdrawing from the semi-finals to protect a minor abdominal injury she didn’t think would hold her back.

Meanwhile, Osaka has been listed as the number one global female sports earner after its most difficult year.

Osaka, which grossed US$57.3 million (AU$79 million) in prize money and endorsements over the past year, according to a Forbes list Thursday, remains a compelling attraction in the sport.

AAP / ABC Sport

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