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TOKYO — It’s tennis, where upsets and off days are commonplace, especially when you haven’t played in nearly two months.
Still, for Naomi Osaka, the Japanese-American star, being eliminated in the third round of the Japanese Olympics that you kicked off by lighting the cauldron just days ago will, no doubt, sting for a while.
You can’t just wait until next year to get this opportunity back.
Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic played a brilliant match though, repeatedly breaking Osaka’s serve in the first set and putting the four-time major champion on her heels to win convincingly, 6-1, 6-4.
For Osaka, this was an event set up for her. It was chance to return to the country of her birth (she and her family moved to New York when she was three) and serve as a beacon of excitement for an Olympics that has been beset with COVID delays, unpopularity among the public and empty grandstands.
The IOC even moved her first-round match from Saturday to Sunday — a rare bit of flexibility — so she could enjoy the immense honor of lighting the Olympic cauldron at Friday’s Opening Ceremony (while Tokyo 2020 drafted off her popularity, of course).
By the time she won her first-round match Sunday, she acknowledged it had been a whirlwind.
“I feel a little bit out of my body right now,” Osaka said.
And when world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty lost early for Australia, the path to the podium looked wide open.
The schedule, though, was a challenge unto itself — matches on three consecutive days. This coming off a self-imposed nearly two-month layoff after she dropped out of the French Open citing her mental health and seeking to avoid post-match press conferences. She then decided to skip Wimbledon as well.
This was Osaka’s return to the spotlight and there isn’t one brighter than the Olympics, especially for someone who was born in the Osaka region of the country, about a six-hour drive southwest of here.
The dream was, no doubt, to be crowned with a gold medal.
These are the Olympics though and nothing is just handed out. Vondrousova, ranked 42nd in the world, was sharp and determined and had little interest in narratives.
So the Japanese Olympics started bright and ended early. Osaka, who did speak to the media earlier in the event, reportedly left the tennis center without comment Tuesday but then returned to speak briefly with the media.
In time, this Olympic experience will no doubt be looked back on fondly. Right now, though, it was a loss that you just can’t get back.
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