Naomi Osaka eliminated in third-round stunner at Tokyo Olympics
All Naomi Osaka could do was blankly stare at the blue hard court inside Ariake Tennis Park, befuddled by the unfortunate break on a frustrating Tuesday afternoon.
Marketa Vondrousova’s shot somehow landed on the back line, within arm’s length, to give her a 4-3 lead in the second set. Osaka reacted without emotion. The match already was wearing on her. Little was going right. Within minutes, her gold medal hopes at the Tokyo Games came to a stunning end.
Osaka, the host country’s face of these Games, lost in straight sets to Vondrousova of the Czech Republic — 6-1, 6-4 — in the third round of the women’s tennis tournament. Vondrousova, the 42nd-ranked player in the world, advanced to the quarterfinals to face either Croatia’s Donna Vekic or Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina.
“How disappointed am I?” Osaka said. “I mean, I’m disappointed in every loss, but I feel like this one sucks more than the others.”
Tokyo Olympics Coverage
It was a shocking outcome. Osaka, the No. 2 player in the world, was the clear-cut favorite to win the tournament in her Olympic debut once Australia’s Ash Barty, the top-ranked player, was bounced in the first round Sunday.
Osaka followed by dominating Zheng Saisai of China in straight sets in her Olympic debut and first match in two months. She then sailed by Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland in the second round in 65 minutes.
On Tuesday, however, Osaka never found her footing under the roof protecting Centre Court from an approaching typhoon. Vondrousova was better from the start. She compiled 66 points to Osaka’s 47. She broke Osaka five times. Osaka countered once. She finished with 32 unforced errors. Vondrousova had 10. Osaka said “everything” went wrong.
“I feel like there’s a lot of things that I counted on that I couldn’t rely on today,” Osaka said.
Osaka briefly reversed the momentum early in the second set when she jumped out to a 2-1 lead and reached game point. But the Vondrousova thwarted her to tie the set 2-2 and didn’t fall behind in the set again.
“It’s one of the biggest wins of my career,” Vondrousova said. “Naomi is a great player, she has so many Grand Slams, so I knew it would be a tough match. I’m very happy with my play. I played amazingly in the first set, and then the second set was really tough. I’m just happy to be through.”
Vondrousova finished Osaka off in 68 minutes, an abrupt conclusion for one of these Games’ biggest stars. Osaka is the most famous athlete representing Japan in these Games and the highest-paid female athlete in the world. She was selected to light the Olympic cauldron in Friday’s opening ceremony on the heels of appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue and her documentary debuting on Netflix.
“I definitely feel like there was a lot of pressure for this,” Osaka said. “I think it’s maybe because I haven’t played in the Olympics before and for the first year [it] was a bit much.”
The pressure didn’t appear to be an issue in her first two rounds. She took questions from reporters Sunday for the first time since withdrawing from the French Open after declining to fulfill the media obligations and appeared relaxed.
“The Olympics has been a dream of mine since I was a kid so I feel like the break that I took was very needed,” Osaka said Sunday. “I feel definitely a little bit refreshed and I’m happy again.”
She said representing Japan at the opening ceremony and on the court had her “a little bit out of my body.” It was an experience she’ll never forget. It just ended sooner than anyone expected.
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