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This one hurt more than others.
Naomi Osaka’s Olympic debut was cut short when she fell 6-1, 6-4 on Tuesday to No. 42 ranked Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic in the third round of the Olympic tennis tournament.
“I’m disappointed in every loss, but I feel like this one sucks more than the others,” Osaka said.
The 23-year-old was a headliner for this year’s Games and had the honor of lighting the Olympic cauldron. Osaka was making a return from her two-month mental health break and had become the presumed gold medal winner before she even stepped on the court. The four-time Grand Slam champ believes that the pressure of representing Japan got to her.
“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.”
“It’s tough for her also playing in Japan and in the Olympics,” Vondrousova said. “It’s so much pressure, I cannot imagine.”
Osaka — who is currently ranked No. 2 in the world — struggled with her consistency and her usually trusty groundstrokes. Vondrousova took an early 4-0 lead and Osaka never managed to catch up.
Vondrousova played impressive tennis, highlighted by a scooped forehand that landed exactly on the line, stunning herself and Osaka.
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The reigning Australian Open and U.S. Open champion was coming off wins in the first two rounds of the tournament. The Olympics marked Osaka’s return after withdrawing from the French Open and being fined $15,000 after refusing to speak to reporters.
“I’ve taken long breaks before and I’ve managed to do well,” said Osaka, who initially chose not to speak to the media after her loss, but returned shortly after to do so. “I’m not saying that I did bad right now, but I do know that my expectations were a lot higher.
“I feel like my attitude wasn’t that great because I don’t really know how to cope with that pressure, so that’s the best that I could have done in this situation.”
Japanese media was a frenzy following the Summer Games’ poster girl’s loss. Headlines stating “Masaka,” which translates to “no way,” ran across TV screens and news outlets.
“Her mother’s motherland. Her dream to stand at the pinnacle, with the rising sun on her heart, was not to be,” wrote Sports Hochi, a Japanese daily sports newspaper.
Japanese tennis racket maker and one of Osaka’s biggest sponsors, Yonex, saw its stock drop following her defeat. While much of the loss was recouped, the stock is still down 1.8%
However, sympathy toward Osaka and pride toward her achievement accounted for the vast majority of reports and posts about the match. Osaka has become somewhat of a national hero not only for her skills on the court but also as a symbol for a more diverse Japan.
“The opponent just played a smarter game this time,” one fan said. “She will have another chance at the gold.”
— With AP
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