A comeback gives no assure of success, however few sports activities present extra comebacks than skilled tennis.
They are arriving wave after wave, significantly within the girls’s sport, the place returning to motion after maternity has develop into extra widespread.
After the WTA stars Elina Svitolina and Caroline Wozniacki got here again final season, the development is continuous in 2024, with Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber, each former No. 1 gamers and a number of main champions.
Both are new moms who’ve been out of the sport for greater than a 12 months and each will likely be within the draw because the 2024 season begins in earnest on Sunday with the Australian Open, the 12 months’s first Grand Slam match, which Kerber received in 2016 and Osaka in 2019 and 2021.
“I’m so happy to see it,” stated Kim Clijsters, the previous world No. 1 from Belgium who made one of the vital profitable post-motherhood comebacks, profitable the 2009 United States Open as a wild card. “I know when I started, some of the rules that are in place now were not in place. I know that Serena [Williams] definitely changed a lot of that: the different guidelines which just makes it easier for players to not feel the pressure, the pressure that female athletes feel to postpone a pregnancy. They might feel ready for it and want to do it, but because of the career and sponsors, they might keep postponing it.”
Significant obstacles stay, significantly for gamers who weren’t extremely ranked earlier than their maternity leaves or lack the monetary means to journey on tour with their households and help groups. But the panorama is shifting.
Tennis has a historical past of moms profitable singles majors: The Australians Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong did it within the Nineteen Seventies and the Eighties earlier than Clijsters. But the variety of working moms on tour has elevated. Serena Williams reached 4 main singles finals, dropping all of them, after her return to the tour in 2018.
Osaka, 26, and Kerber, who will flip 36 on Thursday, are at totally different levels of their careers, however each are returning after greater than a 12 months away.
They will likely be joined on the Australian Open by Emma Raducanu, the big-surprise U.S. Open champion in 2021, who’s getting back from a number of surgical procedures at age 21 after practically eight months away. They all would have been joined in Melbourne by Rafael Nadal, one of many best gamers in historical past, if Nadal had not withdrawn due to a brand new harm suffered throughout his comeback match final week in Brisbane.
Nadal, a 22-time Grand Slam singles champion, missed practically a 12 months of motion due to an harm to his left hip and psoas muscle that required surgical procedure in June. In Brisbane, after two convincing victories filled with winners and verve, he was overwhelmed by Jordan Thompson within the quarterfinals. Nadal later introduced that he had a small muscle tear that was not in the identical spot as his earlier harm.
Comebacks include ample uncertainty, significantly at age 37. But the oft-injured Nadal plans to return to motion once more in what he has stated is almost definitely his closing season. His goal is to peak for the European clay courtroom season, which is able to culminate with the French Open and the Summer Olympic tennis occasion, each staged at Roland Garros, the place Nadal has been at his most dominant, profitable a document 14 singles titles.
Osaka has extra time on her facet. She left the tour in late 2022 and stated she briefly thought of retirement as a result of she was now not discovering pleasure within the sport. But she is again after giving delivery to a daughter in July and although she is ranked No. 833 and misplaced within the second spherical of her comeback match in Brisbane, she confirmed flashes of glowing and overpowering type.
“It would be sad to lose Naomi to tennis at such an early age,” stated Paul Annacone, the previous coach of Pete Sampras, Roger Federer and Sloane Stephens. “It would definitely be a hit to the game, but I think if she stays healthy mentally and physically, I don’t see any reason that she can’t get back and contend and give herself chances at the latter stages of majors. But a lot of it is going to be how well the mind leads the body for her.”
Osaka’s first serve and groundstrokes stay a few of the most potent weapons within the girls’s sport, and her big-bang base-line play is comparable in strategy to the leaders of the ladies’s sport: No. 1 Iga Swiatek, No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka and No. 3 Elena Rybakina.
Many contemplate that Osaka’s mobility and selection want work, nonetheless, and whereas she has expressed a need to develop into extra versatile, she stays a one-surface risk with little expertise or success on grass courts or clay. Still, a majority of the tour, together with the Australian Open, is performed on the hardcourts that swimsuit Osaka’s high-risk sport, and her eagerness to compete was evident in Brisbane.
“The most important thing I’ve heard from her is that she’s super motivated,” Clijsters stated. “I think when she has that and the belief, I think she can do anything. Of course, to win a Slam, everything has to kind of fall into place. There are a lot of good players out there who are really hungry to win and who make it tough. But Naomi can definitely have a great run in this frame of mind.”
Clijsters has skilled profitable and unsuccessful comebacks. When she ended her early retirement in 2009, she went on to win three majors earlier than retiring once more in 2012 due to nagging accidents and a need to spend extra time along with her rising household. But when she returned to the tour once more at age 36 in 2020, she struggled with the isolation on tour due to the pandemic and performed simply 5 singles matches over two years, dropping all of them.
She is now retired for good, dwelling along with her husband and three youngsters in New Jersey and is honorary president of the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
“Now that I’m older, and I look back on it, the best times in my career were those times when I was training for a big goal,” she stated. “Holding up the trophy is a very short moment. What I think is the addicting part about it, is the part before the big moment.
“I think a lot of people on the outside struggle with accepting that once you’ve won a lot of Grand Slams and once you’ve been No. 1 in the world that you find enjoyment in playing tournaments and maybe losing early. It’s not fun to lose, don’t get me wrong, but there’s still an enjoyment in the preparation and in getting out there and trying to find solutions. Of course, the goal at the end of the day is holding up the trophy, but that’s not what drives you every day when you wake up. It’s the little goals.”
Osaka, just like the others beginning their comebacks, will likely be unseeded for the Australian Open, that means they may have drawn anybody within the first spherical. She drew the No. 16 seed, Caroline Garcia, whereas Kerber will face Danielle Collins, a former Australian Open finalist who can also be unseeded.
Kerber returned to competitors on the United Cup, a blended males’s and ladies’s staff occasion. Her staff, Germany, received the title, although she received simply one among 5 singles matches. She can nonetheless transfer and skim the circulation of play fantastically, however her counterpunching sport seems to be to many as underpowered at this stage.
But she, Osaka, Raducanu and Wozniacki have the potential to make seeded gamers endure in Melbourne.
“They are all floaters, which is pretty scary,” stated Jessica Pegula, the American ranked No. 5, referring to harmful unseeded gamers who might land wherever within the draw.
It ought to make for a gripping opening week, however the actual thrills would come if Osaka or one other member of the comeback crew can go deep within the second week, as nicely.