Naomi Osaka announces pregnancy, future return to tennis

Naomi Osaka
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Naomi Osaka is pregnant and plans to return to tennis by the January 2024 Australian Open, her agent confirmed.

Osaka, 25 years old and a four-time Grand Slam singles champion, shared a sonogram dated Dec. 12 on social media on Wednesday.

“One thing I’m looking forward to is for my kid to watch one of my matches and tell someone, ‘that’s my mom’, haha,” Osaka posted. “2023 will be a year that’ll be full of lessons for me and I hope I’ll see you guys in the start of the next one cause I’ll be at Aus 2024.”

Osaka, ranked 47th in the world, last played in September. She can freeze her ranking through her absence to remain eligible for direct entry into tournaments upon her return.

Last Sunday, Australian Open organizers said that Osaka, the Open champion in 2019 and 2021, will not be playing at the major tournament that starts next week. A reason was not given.

In Osaka’s most recent match, she withdrew during the second round of September’s Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo. She won her first round match at that tournament when Australia’s Daria Saville withdrew after one game with a knee injury.

Osaka won one completed match since May and was beaten in the first round of her three previous tournaments, including the U.S. Open at which she also is a two-time champion.

Last week she posted pictures on social media of a trip to Europe with her United States rapper boyfriend Cordae and had been considered unlikely to play in the first Grand Slam of the season.

Osaka took a mental health break after missing the 2021 French Open, lit the Tokyo Olympic cauldron and later said she had been struggling with depression and anxiety for several years.

“These few months away from the sport has really given me a new love and appreciation for the game I’ve dedicated my life to,” Osaka posted Wednesday. “I realize that life is so short and I don’t take any moments for granted, everyday is a new blessing and adventure.”

There is a history of major tennis champions returning from pregnancy to have more success. Belgian Kim Clijsters retired at age 23 in 2007, had daughter Jada at age 24 and returned to competition at age 26, winning in her third tournament back, the U.S. Open. She repeated at the U.S. Open the next year and won her fourth and final major at the 2011 Australian Open.

Serena Williams finished runner-up at four majors after her life-threatening pregnancy and childbirth at age 35 in 2017.

Australian Evonne Goolagong had a daughter at age 25, then won the Australian Open seven months later. Three years after that, she became the first (and so far only) mom to win Wimbledon in the Open Era.

Margaret Court had her first child at age 29 in 1972, then won three majors the following year.

Ash Barty, who won the French Open, Wimbledon and the Australian Open from 2019-22, announced last week she was pregnant. She retired last year while holding the No. 1 ranking.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Isabeau Levito, Bradie Tennell, Amber Glenn named to U.S. team for World Championships

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SAN JOSE, Calif. – With a calm command belying her age, Isabeau Levito has taken control of U.S. women’s skating at age 15.

Levito came here as the solid favorite to take her first national title, and she did it with a seemingly effortless grace, her balletic style producing solid winning performances in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate.

She was the last of 18 skaters in the free skate, following rivals who made mistakes big and small. Levito did not need perfection, but her skating approached it, even if the execution of some jumps could have been better.

Levito left no doubt of her superiority and burst into a wide smile even before the scores were announced. After a narrow win over Bradie Tennell (.02 points) in the short program, Levito (223.33) wound up 10.21 points ahead of the runner-up Tennell (213.12) in the final standings.

Amber Glenn was third at 207.44. She, Levito and Tennell will fill the three women’s places on the U.S. team for the March World Championships in Japan.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Two of the three U.S. women’s skaters on the 2022 Olympic team have announced their retirements (Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell; Karen Chen is a student at Cornell and might not return). Given that and Tennell’s recurrent problems with injuries, Levito’s stature as the leading U.S. woman seemed assured. Whatever pressure she felt holding that position was not evident.

“My entire goal truly for both programs was to stay composed and to really try to suppress my nerves as much as possible and to really not let little minor silly mistakes happen,” Levito said. “I feel as though I did just that today and I’m very proud of myself for it.”

“I’ve gotten very good at suppressing nerves,” she had said after the short program. “I still feel the effects of the competition. But I find my own way mentally to handle it.”

For both Tennell and Glenn, there was a redemptive quality to their skating.

Neither had a result at last year’s nationals. Glenn had to withdraw after the short program when she tested positive for COVID. Tennell never made it to the event because of the foot injury that kept her out of competition for all last season.

“Honestly, it was terrifying being back here after the conclusion of my season last year,” Glenn said. “That was a big mental hurdle for me, but I was happy I was actually able to enjoy myself again and enjoy competing.”

Glenn made her 10th career attempt at a triple axel, stepping out of the landing after getting full rotational credit. Her persistence in trying that jump, which she never has landed cleanly, is one reason she was holding her hip after finishing the free skate. Glenn insisted it was just soreness.

“An unfortunate side effect of being 23 and doing these ultra (difficult) elements is my body can’t always keep up very well,” Glenn said.

Tennell, who turns 25 Tuesday, has been battling an injury in her right foot for more than a year, then an injury in her left foot since October. She fought past all that to make the podium for the fifth time in her last five nationals – twice first, twice second and once third.

“This one probably means the most, because I didn’t think I was going to be able to do this again,” Tennell said. “To be here and to have achieved it, especially after the (poor) start of my season and the bumps that I had to overcome, I’m very proud of what I accomplished.”

Levito, the reigning world junior champion, reeled off seven triple jumps, two in combination with other triple jumps. She glided from element to element seamlessly.

“I finally skated the free the way I’ve been training to do it,” she said.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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Scotty James wins fifth X Games snowboard halfpipe title

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Scotty James doesn’t have Olympic gold, but he remains king of the X Games halfpipe.

James, the Australian snowboarder who took bronze and silver at the last two Olympics, earned his fifth Aspen gold, repeating as champ of the biggest annual contest under falling snow in the Colorado Rockies. Only the retired Shaun White has more X Games men’s snowboard halfpipe titles with eight.

Nobody on Friday night attempted a triple cork, which was first done in competition by Japan’s Ayumu Hirano last season en route to the Olympic title. Hirano placed sixth Friday.

“It was a tough night, pretty interesting conditions,” James said. “Had to adjust the game plan. The show goes on.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression over the course of a three-run jam session for the entire field rather than scoring individual runs.

Earlier, Olympic gold medalist Zoi Sadowski-Synnott of New Zealand repeated as women’s snowboard slopestyle champion, passing Olympic bronze medalist Tess Coady of Australia on the final run of the competition. Sadowski-Synnott, the only snowboarder or skier to win Olympic, world and X Games slopestyle titles, capped her finale with back-to-back 900s.

The competition lacked 2014 and 2018 Olympic champion Jamie Anderson, who announced her pregnancy last month.

Canada’s Megan Oldham landed the first triple cork in women’s ski big air competition history to beat Olympic silver medalist Tess Ledeux of France, according to commentators. Oldham, a 21-year-old ex-gymnast, was fourth at the Olympics.

Eileen Gu, the Olympic champion from China, did not compete but is entered in halfpipe and slopestyle later this weekend.

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