Naomi Osaka will not win an Olympic medal on home soil after being defeated 6-1, 6-4 by Markéta Vondrouová of the Czech Republic in the third round of the Tokyo Games.
After top seed Ashleigh Barty’s early loss, Osaka, who lit the Olympic flame in her home Games, was the highest ranked player left in the draw and the clear tournament favorite. She has won the last two hard court grand slams, the US Open and the Australian Open, and she has established a firm grip on the surface. Vondrouová, despite being ranked 42nd, is a capable and talented young player who reached the French Open final in 2019 at the age of 19 and was ranked in the top 20 until earlier this year.
Osaka began the match by making a slew of errors and struggling to get the ball into play against a solid, streetwise Vondrouová, who returned efficiently. In a matter of minutes, Osaka was down 4-0, and as unforced errors continued to pile up, Vondrouová took the first set 6-1.
An immediate response was required, and Osaka delivered, establishing a quick break in the second set. However, Vondrouová absorbed pressure from Osaka’s first strike, was effective behind her swinging lefty first serve, and peppered Osaka with her trademark delicate drop shots throughout the match. Osaka lost her break, and after a long final game, she lost with two backhand errors.
Vondrouová, in many people’s eyes, was not even supposed to be in the draw. Only the top four players from each country are allowed to compete in the singles draws, and No23 Karolna Muchová is the fourth ranked player from the Czech Republic, one of the dominant nations in women’s tennis.
Vondrouová took advantage of an unanticipated loophole to qualify for the Olympics by using a protected ranking for a pre-pandemic injury from 2019 despite not needing it for a year. During her brief stay in Tokyo, she has already ended Kiki Bertens’s singles career and put an end to Osaka’s Olympic hopes.
Naomi Osaka’s third-round exit at the Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday saddened Japan’s Kei Nishikori, who sympathized with her over the huge expectations to win gold.
Former US Open runner-up Nishikori advanced to the third round of the men’s draw after defeating American Marcos Giron. Nishikori is the only Japanese player left in singles.
As a four-time Grand Slam champion, Osaka carries a lot of weight heading into the tournament, but Nishikori, who won bronze in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, also has a lot riding on her shoulders.
“Of course, I’m saddened and surprised that Naomi lost,” Nishikori said.
“But I knew she was under a lot of pressure; this is her first Olympics, and I know it’s not easy.” Nishikori stated that he had not contacted Osaka following her defeat, but that he intended to message her to express his support.
Nishikori will face Ilya Ivashka of Belarus in the quarterfinals, where he could face world number one Novak Djokovic.
When asked if his loss and the focus shifting to him affected his approach, Osaka replied, “Not really, I just need to focus on what I have to do on the court.”