Japan's Naomi Osaka reacts during her women's singles tennis match against France's Caroline Garcia at the Qatar WTA Open at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex in Doha on February 12, 2024. (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR/AFP)

Naomi Osaka put last week's first-round defeat in Abu Dhabi behind her with a straight-sets loss to 15th seed Caroline Garcia at the Qatar Open on Monday.

This was former world number one Osaka's second victory in the five matches she has played since returning last month after a 15-month break on maternity leave from the tour.

The Japanese four-time Grand Slam winner was getting revenge on Garcia with her 7-5 6-4 victory in Doha, as it was French star Garcia who knocked her out in the first round of last month's Australian Open.

And she reckons she's starting to get her groove back after becoming a mother.

“I feel like I’m a much better player now. In Australia, my returns weren't as good and I don't feel like I was as focused as I am now,” Osaka said.

On returning physically after pregnancy, she added: “It’s been a very difficult journey.

“I felt like I was chasing myself in the past and honestly it wasn't very healthy to do that.

“After giving birth I feel like I trained too quickly, I'm a very perfectionist and it's difficult when I don't see results so quickly.

“I felt like I was driving a car that wasn't mine. So my body didn’t feel like the body I was used to.”

“It was on this journey that I felt like I learned to love myself as I am now. I was able to wake up every day and see my daughter and know that I was strong enough for her to come into this world.”

Osaka's next assignment on her return is a second round with Petra Martic of Croatia.

This is the second time the pair have crossed swords, but it comes a decade after their first meeting.

The 16-year-old Osaka won on that occasion, in the final qualifying round match at Stanford in 2014.

The omens did not look good for Osaka on Monday when Garcia won her first 11 service points, but she fought back and finally broke her opponent when she was serving for the set to tie at 5-5.

She then avoided two break points before ending the set with a love break.

Another break of serve in the last game of the match gave him the stimulating victory he needed after an early knockout a week ago.

“Every time I had a break point opportunity, I was very accurate with my shot,” Garcia said.

“And I was able to take advantage of that opportunity in Australia and not today.

“Just like Australia, it was played with just a few points. In those areas she was a better player today.”

Two-time champion Iga Swiatek began her quest for a third successive title in emphatic fashion with a 6-1 6-1 second-round victory over Romania's Sorana Cirstea.


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“I feel like it was a really solid match. I kind of felt like I managed to keep my focus from start to finish and after each game I was more confident and could even relax a little more at the end,” said the world number one.

Sixth seed Marketa Vondrousova also qualified after a 6-2, 0-6, 6-4 defeat of Belgian Greet Minnen.



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