Naomi Osaka eliminated in third-round stunner at Tokyo Olympics

All Naomi Osaka could do was stare blankly at the unforgiving, blue hard court inside Ariake Tennis Park, resigned to the unfortunate break on a frustrating Tuesday afternoon.

Marketa Vondrousova’s shot somehow landed on the back line, within arm’s length, to give her a 4-3 lead in the second set. Osaka reacted without emotion. Within minutes, her gold medal hopes at the Tokyo Games came to a shocking end.

Osaka, the host country’s face of these Games, lost in straight sets to Vondrousova of the Czech Republic — 6-1, 6-4 — in the third round of the women’s tennis tournament.

Vondrousova, the 42nd-ranked player in the world, advanced to the quarterfinals to face either Croatia’s Donna Vekic or Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina.

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It was an unexpected result for Osaka, the No. 2 player in the world. She was the clear-cut favorite to win the tournament once Australia’s Ash Barty, the No. 1 player in the world, was bounced in the first round Sunday. Osaka followed by dominating Zheng Saisai of China in straight sets in her Olympic debut and first match in two months. She then sailed by Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland in the second round in 65 minutes.

On Tuesday, however, Osaka never found her footing. Vondrousova was better from the start. She compiled 66 points to Osaka’s 47. She broke Osaka five times. Osaka countered once. She finished with 32 unforced errors. Vondrousova had 10. It was a thorough drubbing.

Osaka briefly turned the momentum early in the second set when she jumped out to a 2-1 lead and reached game point. But the 22-year-old Vondrousova thwarted her to tie the set 2-2 and didn’t fall behind in the set again.

She finished Osaka off in 68 minutes, an abrupt conclusion for one of these Games’ biggest stars. Osaka was selected to light the Olympic cauldron in Friday’s opening ceremony on the heels of appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue and her documentary debuting on Netflix.

On the court, she didn’t appear rusty in her return against Zheng. After the match, she took questions from reporters for the first time since withdrawing from the French Open after declining to fulfill the media obligations.

“The Olympics has been a dream of mine since I was a kid so I feel like the break that I took was very needed,” Osaka said Sunday. “I feel definitely a little bit refreshed and I’m happy again.”

She said representing Japan at the opening ceremony and on the court had her “a little bit out of my body.” It was an experience she’ll never forget. It just ended sooner than anyone expected.

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