Naomi Osaka admitted she struggled to handle the pressure of carrying a nation’s hopes in her home Olympics after losing in the third round of the women’s singles to Marketa Vondrousova in Tokyo.
The 23-year-old had hoped to play a starring role in the Games on the court as well as off it but lighting the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony will remain the high point.
Osaka, who had hoped to become the first Japanese tennis player to win Olympic gold, had no answer to Vondrousova in the first set.
Here’s what you need to know about Osaka’s exit.
Why is Naomi Osaka out of the Olympic Games?
Osaka had looked good in her first two matches, particularly against Viktorija Golubic on 26 July.
But the former French Open finalist Vondrousova was a step up in level and the young Czech produced an excellent performance under the roof at the Ariake Tennis Park to win 6-1 6-4.
Vondrousova mixed her trademark drop shots with big serves and powerful groundstrokes and defended brilliantly when Osaka got her game going in the second set.
The four-time grand-slam champion did not move as well as she can, perhaps a legacy of the eight-week break she took for mental health reasons prior to this tournament.
What did Naomi Osaka say?
Osaka said: “I definitely feel like there was a lot of pressure for this. I think it’s maybe because I haven’t played in the Olympics before and for the first year (it) was a bit much. I think I’m glad with how I played, with taking that break that I had.
“I’ve taken long breaks before and I’ve managed to do well. I’m not saying that I did bad right now, but I do know that my expectations were a lot higher.
“I feel like my attitude wasn’t that great because I don’t really know how to cope with that pressure so that’s the best that I could have done in this situation.”
Osaka initially appeared to have left the site without talking to the media.
However, she returned to answer questions and admitted it was a painful defeat, saying: “I’m disappointed in every loss, but I feel like this one sucks more than the others.”
Who is Naomi Osaka?
Naomi Osaka is a Japanese professional tennis player, and has been ranked number one by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). She is the first Asian player to hold the top ranking in singles.
Osaka is a four time Grand Slam singles champion, and is the reigning champion at the US Open and the Australian Open.
Born in Japan, Osaka has lived and trained in the US since she was three years old, and rose to prominence in the tennis world at 16 when she defeated former US Open champion Samantha Stosur in her WTA Tour debut.
In 2018, Osaka would go on to win against 23 time Grand Slam tennis champion Serena Williams in the final of the US Open. Since 2018, Osaka has won a Grand Slam singles title for four years in a row.
In 2020, Osaka became the highest paid female athlete of all time, and she has worked with brands such as Nike, Adidas, Yonex, Nissan and Louis Vitton.
In May 2021 she made headlines after announceing that she would not be doing any press during The French Open tournament, also known as Roland Garros.
She will now turn her attentions to the defence of her title in New York, although Osaka added: “I am a person who wings a lot of things. That is either a really good thing or a really bad thing.”