Naomi Osaka has become the latest high-profile WTA Tour ace to announce a year off the pro circuit to become a first-time mother.
The former world no.1, who revealed that she is expecting a baby with Grammy-nominated American rapper Cordae, follows in the recent footsteps of Germany's Angelique Kerber and Ukrainian Elina Svitolina.
Three-time Grand Slam champion Kerber and ex-world no.3 Svitolina revealed their respective pregnancies last August and October, with both adamant that they will return to the Tour.
The legendary American ace Serena Williams, who won the 2017 Australian Open in a thrilling final against her older sister Venus while pregnant, was back on court later that year. However, she remains unsure about competing this season as the 41-year-old has vowed to concentrate on other ventures.
Osaka, who withdrew from the 2023 Australian Open without giving a reason, proudly explained on social media platforms four days later that she would become a mother.
She shared a photograph of her pregnancy scan on both Instagram and Twitter by posting: “Can’t wait to get back on the court, but here’s a little life update for 2023.”
This was followed by a longer statement, presented via a screenshot of her iPhone Notes app, which read: “The past few years have been interesting to say the least, but I find that it’s the most challenging times in life that may be the most fun.
“I know that I have so much to look forward to in the future, one thing I’m looking forward to is for my kid to watch one of my matches and tell someone, ‘that’s my mom.’”
Osaka, born in Japan to a Haitian-American father and a Japanese mother, has lived and trained in the United States since the age three.
She burst onto the professional scene as a promising 16-year-old. Her thunderous serve coupled with fearless determination saw her capture back-to-back majors, the 2018 US Open and the 2019 Australian Open, to become the first Asian to reach the no.1 world ranking. She repeated the feat on the same centre courts at Flushing Meadows in 2020 and Melbourne Park in 2021.
Osaka revealed in 2021 that she had suffered bouts of depression ever since she became the first Japanese player to win a grand slam three years earlier. It was also announced that she was a co-owner of North Carolina Courage in the National Women's Soccer League.
Following a five-month break from the sport in September 2021, Osaka’s return was halted in the 3rd round at last year’s Australian Open.
That was Osaka’s best showing in the 2022 grand slams with a 1st round exit at Roland Garros, skipping Wimbledon because of injury and then losing in the opening round at the US Open.
Her last tournament was September’s Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, when she withdrew because of abdominal pain. Her dismal set of results have seen Osaka drop to world no.47 in the world rankings.
She has vowed that she would like to return for the 2024 Australian Open, with her last grand slam success Down Under two years ago.
Although Osaka is not in with a shot of winning this year’s opening major (16-29 January), the tournament seems wide open as world no.1 Iga Swiatek is suffering from a shoulder injury.
Yet the three-time grand slam winner, who took the WTA Tour by storm last season, remains the strong favourite to start the season with a sizzle according to the bookmakers — who price the Pole at 12/5 to secure the major.
As there are plenty of players who have a shot at dashing Swiatek’s hopes, it is worth checking out the best bonus bets if you fancy a flutter on those in the hunt for glory. The bookies have just Belarussian Aryna Sabalenka (6/1), American world no.3 Jessica Pegula (9/1), France’s WTA Tour Finals champion Caroline Garcia (12/1), America’s tenacious teenager Coco Gauff (14/1) and Tunisia’s world no.2 Ons Jabuer (14/1) as the biggest realistic threats to Swiatek.
There are outsiders who could spring a surprise that include China’s Zheng Qinwen, who scooped the 2022 WTA Newcomer of the Year accolade, an Britain’s 2021 shock US Open winner Emma Raducanu.
Then there’s the US trio of Amanda Anisimova, Danielle Collins and Madison Keys. Anisimova is a former French Open semi-finalist, Collins was the 2022 Australian Open runner-up to the now retired Aussie Ashleigh Barty and Keys is a former US Open finalist.
Romanian ex-world no.1 Simona Halep and Wimbledon winner Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina are also in the mix to start their season with a coveted trophy.
With so many ladies who could spring a surprise at Melbourne, the field does look wide open although Swiatek’s athleticism and vicious serve are expected to earn her the top prize in Melbourne on 28 January.