“I did have a really great team around me that gave me a lot of information,” she acknowledges. But, she notes, “I feel like that’s something that not a lot of people have access to.”

Given where she is now, with all the knowledge she has accumulated about her body, her recovery, and caring for a newborn, I ask whether, when she was embarking on her pregnancy, she was nervous—not just about birth but about her career. After all, it was less than five years ago when Olympian Allyson Felix revealed that her then sponsor Nike wanted to pay her 70% less when she wanted to combine her career with starting a family. (Nike responded to the public outcry by announcing a new maternity policy for their sponsored athletes.)

“I was extremely nervous,” Osaka admits. “I felt like I was stepping into the unknown, and I also felt like the last few years of my career were kind of sporadic too. So I didn’t even know if my sponsors wanted to take up the energy to go through this with me. But I’m really happy that I chose people around me that understand me and we’re going through this adventure together. I guess the biggest elephant in the room is Nike, but they’ve been so extremely helpful.”

In a touching full-circle moment, Felix, whose outspoken testimony paved the way for sporting mothers in her wake, became a key support from Osaka during her maternity leave, calling her for “random checkups because she knew what I was going through. It was really nice to be thought about.”

As Osaka prepares to step on court in Melbourne in just a few days to try to reclaim an Australian Open title, Naomi Osaka the tennis champion and Naomi Osaka the mother are the dual identities she’ll be wearing. It’s a change that she’s still grappling with. “It seems so far apart from being a mom when I walk on the court,” she says. “I’ve been playing tennis since I was three, so that’s something that is as normal as breathing for me.” But at the same time: “I often worry about if I’m a good mom, but at the end of the day, I realize Shai is my daughter. There’s nothing I could do or I want to do that’s going to change that, and I just want to be a good role model for her and I want her to be proud of me.”

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