This past week, Elina Svitolina was named the WTA Comeback Player of 2023 after returning from maternity leave. She was ranked No.1,344 in April after a 12-month absence from the tour but ended the year at No.25. The Ukrainian won Strasbourg for her 17th career title, made the Roland Garros quarterfinals and reached the Wimbledon semifinals, where she knocked off Iga Swiatek along the way.
Who could be potentially in line for that award next year? Svitolina beat out a shortlist of players that also included Marketa Vondrousova and Karolina Muchova — all of whom were flagged in our guide to 2023’s comebacks 12 months ago — and 2024 promises to be just as strong.
Four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka gave birth to daughter Shai in July, and three months later, she began posting training clips. Last week, she spoke about how motherhood has recalibrated her approach to the game.
“I feel more like I’m playing for [Shai]”, Osaka told NHK. “In the first chapter of my tennis, I got away with just being myself and playing with my instincts. I think I want to be someone who understands the game a lot more.”
The 26-year-old former World No.1 has thrived off the court in recent years, launching her talent agency Evolve in May 2022 and production company Hana Kuma a month later. But she has not played since September that year, when she reached the second round of Tokyo before withdrawing with an illness. Osaka currently holds a special ranking of No.46.
She will be returning to action next month in Brisbane and then the Australian Open, where she previously won in 2019 and 2021 — her most recent title.
Three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber gave birth to daughter Liana in February and will be returning to action at the United Cup, followed by the Australian Open — a trophy she walked away with in 2016.
Like Osaka, Kerber has been keeping busy off court during maternity leave. The former World No.1’s autobiography “Strength of Will: My Journey to the Top” was published in Germany in 2022, with an English translation following in May this year. That journey isn’t over yet, though.
Kerber, 34, has specifically targeted an appearance at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games as a goal of her comeback. She has previously contested two Olympic Games, in 2012 and 2016. At Rio seven years ago, she won the silver medal.
Kerber, whose last professional outing was a third-round run at Wimbledon 2022, holds a special ranking of No.31.
Very little about Emma Raducanu’s career thus far has been conventional. Two years after winning the 2021 US Open as a teenage qualifier, the 21-year-old has yet to play a full, healthy season. A litany of injuries and illnesses marred her 2022, and in May 2023, she underwent multiple surgeries on both wrists and one ankle.
Now ranked No.298, down from a career-high of No.10, Raducanu has not competed since a first-round loss in Stuttgart to Jelena Ostapenko. She has not won a match since reaching the fourth round of Indian Wells in March. Originally scheduled to return to the court at an exhibition tournament in Macau this month, Raducanu withdrew from it in November, citing the need for more recovery time.
The Briton now intends to make her comeback in Auckland, where she reached the second round this year before sustaining an ankle injury, next month. She is also entered in the Australian Open but, with a special ranking of No.103, currently lies six spots outside the main-draw cutoff. Should she have to go through the qualifying rounds, though, the extra match practice — and fond memories of her Cinderella run in New York — will surely motivate her regardless.
In May this year, following a first-round loss in Madrid to Arantxa Rus, Amanda Anisimova announced that she would be stepping away from professional tennis indefinitely.
“I’ve really been struggling with my mental health and burnout since the summer of 2022,” she wrote in a social media post. “It’s become unbearable being at tennis tournaments. At this point my priority is my mental well-being and taking a break for some time.”
Anisimova burst on to the scene as a teenage prodigy noted for her impeccable timing, reaching the 2019 Roland Garros semifinals as a 17-year-old and also making the 2022 Wimbledon quarterfinals. Amid the impressive results, there was also tragedy: Her father, Konstantin, died of a heart attack in August 2019.
During her time away, Anisimova has turned her attention to her art. The 22-year-old’s website “For A Cause” donates proceeds from sales of her abstract paintings to organizations that combat mental illness, hunger and child abuse. In September, Anisimova announced she had resumed training with a “changed perspective,” and she will make her comeback to tennis in Auckland next month. Officially ranked No.370, Anisimova holds a special ranking of No.61.
Others to watch out for
Former US Open semifinalist and World No.11 Anastasija Sevastova gave birth to daughter Alexandra in December 2022. Exactly a year later, she returned to action at the WTA 125 event in Andorra two weeks ago. Playing her first tournament since January 2022, the Latvian reached the quarterfinals via an upset of Dayana Yastremska, demonstrating that her renowned drop shot had lost none of its deftness during her time off.
Sevastova is now ranked No.850 and competing again this week in the Limoges WTA 125 event, where she has reached the second round so far. The 33-year-old is no stranger to a comeback. She previously retired from the game due to injury in 2013 and, despite returning with no ranking in 2015, took less than a year to re-enter the Top 100.
Former Top 5 players Bianca Andreescu and Paula Badosa will both be coming back after sustaining stress fractures in their backs during 2023. The injury was the latest in a long line of physical issues for Andreescu, the 2019 US Open champion. The 23-year-old Canadian has not played since a first-round loss to Camila Giorgi in Montreal, and her ranking has fallen to No.96. Andreescu has not entered the Australian Open.
Badosa, 26, has not competed since her injury forced her to retire against Marta Kostyuk in the second round of Wimbledon. The Spaniard is now ranked No.63 and is in the Australian Open entry list.
Caroline Wozniacki and Jennifer Brady drew headlines on their promising returns to action this summer and are due to continue their comebacks in Australia. Former World No.1 Wozniacki, who won the Australian Open in 2018, resumed her career after a three-and-a-half year absence as a mother of two. The 33-year-old Dane played three tournaments this summer, compiling a 4-3 record and reaching the fourth round of the US Open and is now ranked No.246.
Brady, 28, compiled a 6-6 record in 2023 following a two-year hiatus with a foot injury and is now ranked No.230. The American, who was the Australian Open runner-up in 2021, holds a special ranking of No.14.
Former Top 50 players Ajla Tomljanovic and Polona Hercog also began injury comebacks in 2023. Tomljanovic, 30, was sidelined for 10 months between the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup Finals and the 2023 US Open with a knee injury. She competed in four tournaments — plus the 2023 Billie Jean King Cup Finals — this autumn, culminating in her biggest title run to date at the Florianopolis WTA 125 event and seeing her ranking rise to No.290. The Australian has entered her home major with a special ranking of No.33.
Hercog, 32, returned from a 12-month absence with a knee injury this May. Competing in ITFs, WTA 125s and Grand Slam qualifying, the Slovenian compiled a 28-15 record and has risen to No.265. Last month, Hercog reached two WTA 125 quarterfinals in Colina and Buenos Aires; an upset of Mayar Sherif at the former was her first Top 100 win in two years.