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Pressure tells as Naomi Osaka’s Olympic title bid ends

Being the face of the Olympic Games on home soil – and all the pressure that goes with it – always made it unlikely that the Japanese would win a medal having not played for two months

Naomi Osaka Naomi Osaka

For Naomi Osaka, the Olympic dream is over.

The Japanese left the media mixed zone in tears on Tuesday, the emotions flowing over following her shock 6-1, 6-4 defeat by the former French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova in the third round of the Tokyo Games.

Naomi Osaka: “I feel like I should be used to it by now”

Having not played since the French Open due to mental health concerns, it was always asking a lot for Osaka to win the gold medal in her first event back. As the face of the Games, and having lit the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony, there was enormous pressure on her shoulders.

Two impressive wins in her first two matches had raised hopes, though, that the Australian Open and US Open champion might make it all the way through but reality struck on Tuesday as she was well beaten by Vondrousova, the former Roland-Garros runner-up.

Having initially left without talking to media, Osaka returned and admitted things had been hard to handle.

“I think it’s maybe because I haven’t played in an Olympics before and for the first one to be here was a bit much,” she told reporters.

“I feel like I should be used to it (the pressure) by now,” she said. “But at the same time, I think the scale of everything is a bit higher because of the break that I took. I’m glad I didn’t lose in the first round, at least.

Ariake Tennis Park - Tokyo, Japan - July 25, 2021. Naomi Osaka of Japan celebrates after winning her first round match against Zheng Saisai of China

Osaka emphasises the positives

On a more positive note, Osaka said she had enjoyed her return to action, on the biggest stage of all.

“I’m really glad to be here. I’m sad that I lost, of course, but all in all really happy with my first Olympic experience,” she said.

Vondrousova was quick to admit that being such a high-profile athlete, at a home Games, must have been hard for Osaka to handle.

“She’s the greatest in the game, and she was also the face of the Olympics so it was tough for her, I think, to play like this,” the Czech said.

Will Osaka return for US Open?

So what next for Naomi Osaka?

Having pulled out of the French Open after her first round following her initial desire not to speak to the written press after matches, due to mental health concerns, Osaka missed Wimbledon, choosing to stay away and get herself ready for Tokyo.

Th 23-year-old is entered in the field for both the National Bank Open in Canada and then the Western and Southern Masters in Cincinnati, the two big lead-in events for the US Open, where she is the defending champion.

The longer Osaka stays away from the Tour, the harder it may be when she does come back, so perhaps the experience of being in Tokyo will allow her to get back to her best, sooner rather than later.

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