Naomi Osaka is back.
The 24-year-old tennis superstar has arrived Down Under ahead of next month’s Australian Open, and she’s already hit the court for training.
In a video shared from the official Australian Open Twitter account, the four-time Grand Slam champion was all smiles during a practice session on center court at Melbourne Park’s Rod Laver Arena.
—#AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) December 30, 2021
While rallying with her hitting partner, Osaka won a point by charging the net and delivering an artful cross-court shot that dropped just inside the singlest sideline. She was then seen laughing before smack-talking her opponent across the net.
“See that?” she said, walking back to her baseline. “That’s skill.”
Then she broke into a fit of giggles.
Osaka has found incredible success at the Australian Open, dominating the field to take home titles in two of the past three women’s singles competitions. And though she’s the reigning champion and an early favorite to win it all in 2022, the young star enters the upcoming tournament with more question marks than in years past.
After winning last year’s Australian Open, Osaka faced adversity on and off the court. She suffered a shocking loss to Greek opponent Maria Sakkari in the Miami Open quarterfinal in March, then fell in the Round of 32 in two consecutive tournaments — the Madrid Open and the Italian Open — later in the spring.
Next up was the French Open, where Osaka famously refused to speak to the press and subsequently dropped out of the tournament following an intense public debate over the media blackout. She subsequently skipped Wimbledon and made her return more than a month later at the Tokyo Olympics, where she represented the host country.
Despite a strong start at the games, Osaka bowed out early from the Olympics tournament, too. She dropped straight sets against Czech opponent Marketa Vondrousova in the third round and said the loss “sucks more than the others” after failing to medal for Japan.
Osaka failed to advance past the Round of 16 at any other tournament in 2021. And after the US Open in September, she announced that she’d be taking an indefinite hiatus from tennis competition.
Now, she’s ready to right the ship in Australia, where she’s enjoyed some of the greatest successes of her still-young tennis career.
Osaka appears to be in top form ahead of the competition, which begins January 17. And by the early looks of it, she seems to be having fun with it, too.