Australian Open

Disappointed Osaka falls at 1st hurdle in Grand Slam return

Reuters

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Disappointed Osaka falls at 1st hurdle in Grand Slam return

TOUGH RETURN. Japan's Naomi Osaka reacts during her first round match against France's Caroline Garcia in the Australian Open.

Edgar Su/REUTERS

Out of the game for 15 months as she gave birth, Naomi Osaka exits the Australian Open after bowing to Caroline Garcia in the opening round

MELBOURNE, Australia – Naomi Osaka was disappointed to bow out of the Australian Open in the first round on her Grand Slam return on Monday, January 15, but thought she was making rapid progress in her comeback after 15 months out of the game.

The Japanese former world No. 1, who took time out to have daughter Shai, went down 6-4, 7-6 (2), to French 16th seed Caroline Garcia at the Rod Laver Arena court where she won two of her four Grand Slam titles.

“I thought it was a really good match. For me, I felt like I did the best that I could possibly do,” Osaka told reporters.

“I think I still feel like a bit disappointed … I did feel nervous, but I felt like I kept telling myself to be positive. I thought I kept doing better as the match went on.”

“So, yeah, I’m not too happy right now, but I think I can learn from the progress.”

Taking on the experienced Garcia was always going to be a big challenge for Osaka, who had played only two matches in Brisbane two weeks ago since her return to tournament tennis.

A double fault gave Garcia the first break point of the match in the fifth game and the former world No. 4 converted it to edge ahead.

Osaka had a sniff of a break back at deuce in the eighth game but dumped a routine backhand into the net and Garcia held with back-to-back aces before going on to take the set.

Back foot

Two-time US Open champion Osaka won her first three service games of the second set to love, but Garcia was serving so well that Osaka was unable to build any pressure with her returns.

“I felt like I was constantly on my back foot and really hesitant,” Osaka added.

“I was a little bit overthinking in my head where to go. I think that’s something that will come in time, but right now, it kind of sucks a little.”

Garcia, who raced through the second-set tiebreak to clinch her place in the second round, said she was sure it would not be too long before Osaka was back at the top of the game.

“She has had an amazing career, she has been away for 15 months and been through a lot,” the 30-year-old said.

“Six months after giving birth and she’s playing amazing, so we have to watch out.”

It was Osaka’s earliest exit in eight visits to the Australian Open and her third successive loss in the opening round of a Grand Slam after she fell at the first hurdle in the French and US Opens in 2022.

The 26-year-old was clearly struggling to reconcile her disappointment at the loss with the fact that she was so competitive after such a long period on the sidelines.

“Of course, there’s a voice in my head that is, ‘Who are you to think you can come back and immediately start winning matches?’,” Osaka said.

“I don’t know. I kind of always expect myself to stand a chance anyways.” – Rappler.com

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