Naomi Osaka opened up about the feeling of unfinished business that drove her to return to tennis after easing into the second round of the Australian Open.
The defending champion took to Rod Laver Arena for just her fourth match since early September and defeated young Colombian Camila Osorio 6-3 6-3.
Osaka cut short her season after a third-round loss at the US Open to focus on her mental wellbeing and has been noticeably happier and calmer since the start of the new season.
She said: “I think it kind of came throughout this off-season that I had where I felt like I wanted to come back to play tennis. Usually it feels a bit automatic, like we as tennis players have the little break, then we immediately start the off-season again.
“I came back when I wanted to come back. I just felt like there are situations where I previously would get upset. But, at this point in my life, I’m here because I want to be here and because I find that it’s fun for me. Might as well enjoy it while I still can.
“I think just to be playing on Rod Laver and to have such a good streak on Rod Laver is something I could be proud of and something I enjoy.”
Osaka initially stepped away from tennis to bring to an end an unedifying row over her decision not to attend press conferences at Roland Garros last spring.
“I feel like there was a time after the French Open where I felt like everyone was judging me,” she said. “It feels a bit weird when you go into a stadium to play and you’re kind of concerned what everyone’s gaze means. Basically right now I’m trying to learn how to be more selfish but in a positive way.
“I would say the turning point was after the US Open last year. I was just sitting in my house wondering, ‘What do I want to do in the future?’ I felt like there’s still so many things that I want to do in tennis. I haven’t played Wimbledon in two to three years. I want to go back and experience that whole thing.
“It’s like a little bit of unfinished business, but also knowing that everything can’t be perfect all the time. I accept the fact that I’ll have dips, and I need to figure out a way to overcome it.”
Osaka could face world number one Ashleigh Barty in the fourth round, and the home hero was in dominant form on Rod Laver to kick off the evening session.
The Australian came very close to a double bagel in round one for the second straight year but, after missing a match point in the 12th game, had to settle for a 6-0 6-1 victory over Ukrainian qualifier Lesia Tsurenko.
China’s Wang Qiang, who beat Serena Williams here two years ago, caused an upset by knocking out an error-strewn Coco Gauff 6-4 6-2 while former champion Sofia Kenin lost a high-quality encounter against fellow American Madison Keys 7-6 (2) 7-5.
Gauff, who is still only 17, said: “I think just everything disappointed me about today. I feel like in the pre-season I worked really hard and I felt like I was ready to have a good run here. Today I just didn’t perform well.”
Fourth seed Barbora Krejcikova raced to a 6-2 6-0 victory over Andrea Petkovic while there were also wins for Maria Sakkari, Elina Svitolina, Belinda Bencic and Victoria Azarenka.