NAOMI OSAKA’S dream of Olympic singles gold on home soil has been cruelly dashed.
Japan’s biggest sports star was favourite to win the women’s singles in Tokyo, particularly following the elimination of world No1 Ash Barty from Australia.
And yet the world No2, the weight of a nation sitting heavy on her shoulders, was destroyed 6-1 6-4 by unfancied 42nd-ranked Marketa Vondrousova in a 68-minute third-round clash.
This is a huge blow to the credibility of the Olympic tournament, which has no fans inside the Ariake Coliseum due to the Covid pandemic, and desperately needed Osaka to go deep to sustain TV viewing figures.
Osaka, 23, was chosen to light the cauldron during Friday’s Opening Ceremony.
And questions will be asked if that late-night appearance affected her preparations.
Asked if the pressure and expectation of playing in her homeland for Olympic gold was too much, Osaka responded: “I mean yes and no.
“I feel like I should be used to it by now. But at the same time, the scale of everything has been a bit hard because of the break that I took. I am glad I didn’t lose in the first round at least.
“For me, I am really glad to be here. I am sad I lost, of course, but all in all, I am really happy with my first Olympic experience.”
The four-time Grand Slam champion, one of the best players around on a hard court, was appearing on a tennis court for the first time since quitting last month’s French Open following a media boycott.
She has spoken to the media this week via TV interviews and in a mixed zone capacity.
However, the questions have been capped and it has been controlled carefully by the governing body ITF.
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Osaka’s sudden departure means the highest-ranked player left in the draw is Ukrainian Elina Svitolina but the startdust has gone completely – and so will the attention of the Japanese public.
Czech player Vondrousova, who beat British No1 Jo Konta in the 2019 French Open semi-finals, has made a habit of giant-killing this week.
She beat former world No4 Kiki Bertens in three sets in the first round in what was the Belgian’s final career singles tournament.
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