Naomi Osaka is hoping to “genuinely have fun” as she aims to return to form this summer with her father back on her team.
The former world No. 1 recently split with coach Wim Fissette after a two-year partnership that included two of Osaka’s four Grand Slam victories.
Osaka is yet to hire a replacement and at this week's Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic is working with father Leonard Francois, who served as her primary coach until 2018.
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Osaka, who has
, hasn’t played since losing in the first round of the French Open in late May due to an Achilles injury.
But the 24-year-old is excited to get back on court at this week's WTA 500 event in San Jose.
"I just would like to have fun and I know I say that very often, basically every tournament for the last year now, but to genuinely have fun," she said ahead of her first-round match against Zheng Qinwen.
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"I was telling my dad literally this morning when we were practising in the rain, years ago we would have to fight to practice on public courts. It was just me and my sister and my dad alone.
"Now I've gotten to the point where people pay to watch me play, and for that I am very grateful. I would have never imagined that as a child. Just having fun and being grateful in the moment and trying to engage with everyone to the best of my abilities."
Osaka has had a challenging 12 months and has struggled to find her best form since her withdrawal from the 2021 French Open due to mental health concerns.
Her strongest performance this season was in her last hard-court tournament as she made the Miami Open final in March, losing to world No. 1 Iga Swiatek.
Osaka won her first WTA Tour match at the Silicon Valley Classic as a 16-year-old in 2014, beating Sam Stosur in the first round.
She says having her father back on the team can help provide a much-needed boost at times.
"I wanted to bring my dad back because he always makes me think outside the box.
"Whenever I think something is really bad he always makes me realise that things are much more positive than they seem. When I get stressed out he starts dancing or something to make me feel better.
“It's just nice to have him around and it makes me remember the times when I was a kid. For right now, he would be my main coach. I would give him that title."
Reflecting on the split with Fissette, she added: “It was really good times with Wim and he's a really amazing coach.
"We didn't part on bad terms. I just felt I needed different energy, and at the same time, he's a very ambitious guy. I was getting injured and I'm sure he would have wanted to go to Wimbledon.
"So it was two different mindsets, I would say. But he's a really cool guy still. So confirming that there were no bad things happening."
Can Osaka challenge again?
Osaka’s progress is one of the more intriguing storylines to track this summer. The 24-year-old has fallen down to No. 41 in the world rankings and could miss out on a seeding spot at the US Open, where she is a two-time champion.
Even though her level has dipped, she remains one of the biggest stars in the women’s game and the tour would surely benefit from an in-form Osaka challenging again. Hopefully she has fully recovered from the Achilles injury that saw her miss the entire grass season and can build some momentum ahead of New York.
Perhaps significantly, Osaka appears to be in a good place mentally and her determination to “have fun” suggests she is not putting too much pressure on her results.
Osaka is far and away at her best on hard courts. When she last played the upcoming National Bank Open and Western & Southern Open in the same year in 2019 she made the quarter-finals of both, and in 2020 she made the final of the latter. And if she can play freely and with a smile on her face again then the results may follow.
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