TOKYO — Two things seemed clear through the first two days of Naomi Osaka’s quest to win an Olympic gold medal. The first was how much it meant to her to be representing Japan, which bestowed her the honor of lighting the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony. The second was that her tennis seemed up to the occasion.
But that’s the amazing thing about sports. Everything we think we know can change in the blink of an eye.
Just like that, Osaka’s run is over after a shocking 6-1, 6-4 loss to Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, continuing the trend of high seeds bowing out early in the women’s singles draw.
Based on nearly every factor imaginable, it would have been hard to see this coming. Vondrousova, a 22-year old lefty, surprisingly made the French Open final in 2019 but has just one WTA title to her name. Her form lately has been inconsistent at best, having fallen to No. 42 after a stint in the top 20.
But Vondrousova came out from the first ball with an aggressive game plan against Osaka, putting her on the back foot with deep returns and forehands from the middle of the court. Against an opponent with far more power from the baseline than what Osaka faced in two easy wins to open the tournament, she responded with too many wild misses and never seemed like she was able to control rallies or go on offense. Vondrousova was the better player from start to finish.
Osaka, who made 32 unforced errors, hadn’t lost prior to the quarterfinals of a hardcourt event since the 2020 Australian Open.
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This was Osaka’s first tournament since withdrawing from the French Open, citing the need to take a break for her mental health. Her focus now will turn to defending her U.S. Open title later this summer, but in many ways, her entire year had been built around trying to win a gold medal in Tokyo.
Now that dream is gone, opening up the field reminiscent of the 2016 Olympics when longshot Monica Puig took gold. In addition to Osaka, who was the No. 2 seed here, world No. 1 Ash Barty and No. 3 Aryna Sabalenka both suffered early defeats.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Naomi Osaka upset in third round of Olympics tennis tournament