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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Tuesday February 13, 2024

Naomi Osaka is not even eight months removed from becoming a mother for the first time. The 26-year-old gave birth to her baby Shai on July 3rd, and quickly returned to the court to commence preparations for her “second career.”

Tennis Express

When we take this into account, the way she is playing at the moment is rather remarkable.

It took Osaka just six months to play her first competitive matches as a mom. Another five and a half weeks after that she already has earned her first Top-25 win (on Monday against No.21 Caroline Garcia) and her first back-to-back victories (she took out Petra Martic on Tuesday to reach the round of 16 in Doha).

But the journey has been far from easy for Osaka. She opened up to reporters in Doha on Tuesday and confessed that she felt like she was driving a car that wasn’t hers.

It’s a clever – and honest – analogy, one that highlights the oft-overlooked challenge of postpartum recoveries and the insightful perspective that Osaka brings to her press conferences.

“It's been a really tough journey,” Osaka told reporters. “I feel like for me I always feel like or felt like I was chasing myself in the past, and honestly it wasn't really healthy to do.

“Like after giving birth, I feel like I trained, like, really quickly, and that was my choice, of course, and I was really happy to do that, but I also felt like I'm a very big perfectionist, and it's kind of tough when you don't see results as quickly. I give this example a lot: I kind of felt like I was driving a car that wasn't mine, so my body didn't feel like the body that I was used to.”

The four-time Grand Slam champion said she found the experience surreal at times. Going from being in the prime of her life to hardly being able to get out of bed. But having her daughter Shai in her life has been a true spark for Osaka. She’s tapped into a superpower: it’s feeding her inspiration and helping her find a true sense of self.

“It was honestly a really strange feeling just to not even be able to get out of bed, so I couldn't do a situp or anything,” she admitted. “That kind of continued for months. I don't know. It was in that journey I felt like I learned how to love myself as I am now, and it was a really special feeling, because I got to wake up every day and see my daughter and know that I was strong enough for her to come into this world. So that was cool.”

Returning like…. Nole?

Blessed with one of the most lethal serves in women’s tennis, Osaka didn’t need to worry too much about that element of her game as she prepared with her team to return to the tour. But she did want to shore up her return.

Osaka says she had deep discussions with coach Wim Fissette about improving in that area, and made technical changes.

“I did change my return – I don't want to say "style," – but I guess form,” she said. “I don't know how to describe it."

Osaka says she is split-stepping differently, and taking a page from the Novak Djokovic playbook.

“Before I was taking one step, one step, and then jumping in, but now I'm kind of just jumping in with both feet, because apparently Djokovic does that, so why not copy the best returner in the world,” she said with a smile, adding that she is satisfied with her progress over the last few weeks:

“I had a conversation with Wim, and it was just kind of frustrating knowing that my serve is one of the best serves, dare I say, in the world, but I just really wanted to work on the things that I know should be a lot better and the return was one of them. So we were talking about it a lot in the offseason, and I guess, leaving Melbourne, definitely needed to improve it.”