Osaka aims to return to top spots, inspired by daughter Shai
Former world No. 1 Naomi Osaka believes she can get back among the top spots in the rankings by the end of the year as the Japanese player draws inspiration from being a new mum.
The four-time Grand Slam champion suffered an early Australian Open exit following 15 months out of the sport after having her first child but is confident of getting back to the top as she prepares for the WTA 500 event in Abu Dhabi.
"I obviously have so much respect for (the top-ranked players) and everything that they've done. But I don't really see myself as a challenger, which is a weird thing," Osaka told The National in an interview published on Monday.
"It's really bold to say but I know what I'm capable of and I know people are going to probably drag me for saying this, but I don't think it's a stretch for me to say that I see myself there.
"I hope that I can get there this year, hopefully towards the tail-end of the year. But if not I'm okay with being patient, I've always been a patient person, so I'll get there eventually."
There will clearly be sacrifices to get back to the top for the 26-year-old, who in July became a first-time mum, but her daughter Shai is motivating Osaka to reach her objectives.
"I'm always the type of person that would rather set really high goals and maybe I'll do only 25 percent of that but the 25 percent is still really amazing," Osaka said.
"I don't think that I'd have come back and be like, ‘Oh my goal is to get to the quarter-final of a slam’, which is still really good, but that's not why I'm spending time away from Shai."
Osaka, who plans to play tournaments in Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami and Charleston to get back into her rhythm, said becoming a mum had helped her gain a new perspective.
"I really think having Shai balanced me out a lot," she said. "It feels nice to know that no matter what happens, someone's going to be there that loves you and cares about you.
"Of course I'm not saying she's the only person. But for some reason she's the only one that I think about."
Osaka faces 71st-ranked American and 2022 Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins, 30, in the round of 32 at the Abu Dhabi Open on Tuesday. – REUTERS