Naomi Osaka got the experience of lighting the Olympic cauldron to open the Tokyo Games, but she will not get the experience of winning an Olympic medal.
The biggest name in women's tennis was eliminated from the Olympic tournament on Tuesday, losing her third-round match 6-1, 6-4 to the Czech Republic's Marketa Vondrousova.
— #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) July 27, 2021
The match opened with Vondrousova on a tear, punishing Osaka's serve to break her first two service games and build up a 4-0 lead in the first set. Osaka looked much better to open the second set, breaking Vondrousova and finally holding serve. That wouldn't last, with Vondrousova breaking her twice more to produce one of the more shocking results of the Games.
Osaka finished the match with 18 unforced errors to Vondrousova's six, and just couldn't take control with her serve like she usually does at her best. Meanwhile, Vondrousova had no trouble in her service games, winning 14 of 16 first service points and posting 10 winners, many of them drop shots.
Vondrousova entered the tournament ranked No. 42 in the WTA women's singles rankings and was unseeded in the tournament.
Naomi Osaka's first tournament since French Open withdrawal
The 23-year-old announced days before the French Open that she would not speak to the media during the tournament, citing concerns about her mental health. The ensuing controversy became the story of the first round, with tournament organizers fining her $15,000 and threatening to default her from the tournament if she continued her boycott.
Osaka, who has been open about her struggles with mental health, eventually announced her withdrawal from the tournament after winning her first match, saying she no longer wanted to be a distraction while conceding she could have done a better job with her communications.
The Olympics were Osaka's first tournament since that withdrawal. She re-entered the public eye in a big way when she was the surprise lighter of the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony last week, then met with the media after her first-round win.
How she described speaking with reporters again:
"I don't feel that weird about it. It might feel weird to you guys but ... I'm happy that, I guess, you guys are asking me questions," Osaka told one of the small clusters of reporters. "But more than anything I was just focused on playing tennis and I feel a little bit out of my body right now."
Olympics haven't been kind to top seeds
In addition to Osaka, top seed Ashleigh Barty and No. 3 seed Aryna Sabalenka have also been eliminated from a tournament that was already missing a number of top 10 women's singles players.
Barty, the world No. 1 and recent Wimbledon champion, fell in straight sets in the first round to Spain's Sara Sorribes Tormo, while Sabalenka went down in a second-round marathon against Donna Vekic. No. 6 seed Iga Swiatek was also eliminated in the second round, was No. 11 seed Jennifer Brady, the top American woman in the tournament.
Elina Svitolina of Ukraine is the top-ranked remaining player at No. 4.
Osaka's exit may be the most shocking of them all, though. The Japanese star is the consensus best hard court player in the world right now, and was playing for a chance to be a member of history in her home country. Now, it's another missed opportunity in a summer full of them.
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