Former world number one wins on return after four-month break
Japan’s Naomi Osaka made a winning comeback after four months out with victory in the first round of the Melbourne Summer Set event.
The 24-year-old was playing her first match since September’s US Open after taking a break to deal with mental health issues.
She was far from her best but still did enough to beat France’s Alize Cornet 6-4 3-6 6-3.
Osaka had 57 unforced errors, including eight double faults.
“I really love playing here,” she told the WTA after the match.
“I love New York, but this [the upcoming Australian Open] might be my favourite slam so it feels really good to always come back here.”
Osaka won the opening set and broke early in the second before Cornet fought back to win four straight games and the set.
The former world number one claimed the first three games of the final set before serving out the win from 0-30 down and set up a meeting with Petra Martic or Maryna Zanevska.
At last year’s French Open, the four-time Grand Slam winner said she would not do news conferences to protect her mental health.
She went on to pull out of the event and missed Wimbledon to take a break from tennis, having experienced anxiety and depression.
Osaka returned to play at her home Olympics in Tokyo, where she lit the flame at the opening ceremony before going on to lose in the third round and she then saw her US Open title defence ended by eventual finalist Leylah Fernandez in the third round before stepping away from the sport again.
Meanwhile, Nick Kyrgios has withdrawn from the men’s event in Melbourne because of asthma.
The 26-year-old played only 15 matches in 2021, winning seven of them and has not been in action since late September because of knee issues, slipping to 93rd in the rankings.
He was set to take on Slovakian Alex Molcan but will now begin his 2022 season at next week’s Sydney Tennis Classic. BBC