Japan’s poster child Naomi Osaka, who had looked to be a shoe-in for the gold medal at Tokyo 2020, fell to Marketa Vondrousova in straight sets on Tuesday, joining Ash Barty, Aryna Sabalenka, Iga Swiatek and Petra Kvitova at the exit gate of the Olympic Tennis Event’s women’s singles draw.
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’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. Naomi Osaka
This elite group of top tenners also received two other new members with the addition of Karolina Pliskova, upset by Camila Giorgi, and Barbora Krejcikova, who was beaten by Belinda Bencic.
This all leaves Elina Svitolina the highest ranked player left in the draw at No 4, who battled past Maria Sakkari in 3 tight sets on Day 4.
The Ukrainian got past the tricky 14th-seeded Greek, 5-7 6-3 6-4, after 2 hours 40 minutes, and will take on Giorgi in the quarter-finals.
On a day delayed by bad weather, Garbiñe Muguruza moved comfortably through to the quarter-finals, as the 7th seed from Spain dispatched Belgium’s Alison Van Uytvanck, 6-4 6-1.
It was Muguruza’s 4th win in 5 tries against the Belgian, and she has yet to drop a set here in Tokyo.
Van Uytvanck couldn’t cope with Muguruza’s severe service game and the Spaniard won 43 of 54 first-serve points (80 percent), and all 11 of her second-serve points.
The highs and lows of tennis are being exposed as players win or lose in Tokyo.
On Monday, Swiatek was left sobbing court-side after losing to another Spaniard, Paula Badosa.
“We are also human,” said the Pole after she went down 6-3 7-6(4). “It seems to me that 90 percent of players cry after losing matches.
“This time it happened to me. Competing at the highest level every week is not easy.
“Tennis is such a frustrating sport at times, but of course there is nothing to complain about,” the former French Open champion added.
For Badosa, there was joy, especially as she continued her run with a 6-2 6-3 win over Argentine Nadia Podoroska on Tuesday to reach a quarter-final fixture against Vondrousova.
There were tears for Osaka after the World No 2 was swept aside 6-1 6-4 by the 22-year old Vondrousova from the Czech Republic.
The World No 2 faced the press afterwards and was visibly emotional when asked if she felt the pressure to perform at her home Olympics.
“I should be used to the pressure, but it’s stronger because of my break,” she said. “At least I’m glad I didn’t lose in the first round.”
Osaka, who lit the Olympic cauldron on Friday to open the Games, seemed out of sorts on the Tokyo blue courts, and never settled into a rhythm, spraying a costly 18 unforced errors in the match, which was three times more than Vondrousova, who never looked back.
The Japanese had looked impressive in her first two matches, particularly against Viktorija Golubic from Switzerland on Monday, but 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 in just over an hour, marking the first time Osaka has lost before the quarter-finals of a hardcourt event since the 2020 Australian Open.
Osaka opened the match by spraying the ball as she struggled to put it into the court, going down 4-0 in a few minutes as the unforced errors continued to pile up, and helping Vondrousova take the first set 6-1.
The Czech mixed her trademark drop-shots with big serves and powerful groundstrokes, and defended brilliantly when Osaka got her game going in the second set.
23-year-old Osaka, who had won 25 of her last 26 matches on hard courts, looked sluggish and frustrated as Vondrousova moved her around the court with a peppering of drop-shots.
The 4-time Grand Slam champion did not move as well as she can, perhaps a legacy of the 8-week break she took for mental health reasons prior to this tournament, but she did respond well at the start of the second with a break of serve that was quickly pegged back and, although she saved 2 match points at 5-4, another followed, which she conceded with a backhand wide.
Vondrousova is ranked 42 and a capable and talented young player, who reached the French Open final in 2019, aged 19, and was ranked in the top 20 until earlier this year.
In some view, she was not supposed to be in the draw as only the top 4 players from each nation can compete in the singles draws and the 4th ranked player from the Czech Republic, one of the dominant nations in women’s tennis, is World No 23 Karolína Muchova.
Vondrousova, however, took advantage of a loophole by using her protected ranking for a pre-pandemic injury dating back to 2019, despite not needing it for a year.
In Tokyo she has already ended the singles career of Kiki Bertens, a former World No 4, and shut down Osaka’s Olympic dreams.
“It’s tough for her also playing in Japan and in the Olympics,” Vondrousova reflected. “I also [beat] Simona [Halep] twice, but I think now she [Osaka] is the greatest [win].
“The greatest in the game, and she was also the face of the Olympics so it was tough for her, I think, to play like this.
“I just really believed the second I stepped on the court. I think that that’s the main thing.”
Following her defeat on Centre Court, Osaka struggled to come to terms with her shock defeat.
“How disappointed am I? I mean, I’m disappointed in every loss, but I feel like this one sucks more than the others,” she said.
When questioned what went wrong, Osaka replied: “Everything. If you watch the match, then you would probably see. I feel like there’s a lot of things that I counted on that I couldn’t rely on today.”
The World No 2, who struggled to hold back the tears in the mixed zone, said she struggled to cope with the pressure at her home Olympic Games.
“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’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.”
Later in the day, Camila Giorgi continued her impressive run with a 6-4 6-2 demolition over 6th-seeded Karolina Pliskova
Meanwhile, Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova took out Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo, who upset World No 1 Barty in the first round, 6-1 6-3, and she will meet 9th seed Belinda Bencic after the Swiss scored an upset of her own over Czech Barbora Krejcikova, 1-6 6-2 6-3.
Pavlyuchenkova is flying under the radar and creating history by moving into the quarter-finals with a record fewest games scored since Olympic tennis returned as a full-medal sport in 1988.
The 13th seed has dropped just 7 games in total in victories over Sara Errani, Anna-Lena Friedsam and Sorribes Tormo.
Seeking to be as efficient as possible in tricky humidity in Tokyo, Pavlyuchenkova could have polished off the Spaniard a little sooner, having held break-points for a 6-1 4-0 lead on Tuesday, but was forced to take her foot off the gas.
“I was getting a little tired,” admitted the 30-year-old. “The weather’s getting hot again, so I tactically tried to play smart and make the rallies shorter as well.
“With these conditions it’s very tough to play every single point at 100%, which I usually do, but here it takes a lot of energy out of me, so I’m trying to be a bit smarter with that.”
Pavlyuchenkova will face Bencic in the last eight after the Swiss blocked any chance of a re-match of the Roland Garros final.
Bencic has won 4 of their previous 6 meetings, but the identity of her next opponent is of little concern to Pavlyuchenkova.
“I honestly don’t focus on that at all,” she said. “I don’t focus on the names. I don’t focus on the rankings. I just take it match by match.
“It’s going to be another new match. All I focus on is myself. I want to feel good. I want to play good tennis, fight and do the best I can to win.”
Bencic, the No 9 seed, cooled off No 8 Barbora Krejcikova, delivering only the second loss for the Czech in her past 24 matches.
Because of rain, the matches on the outside courts at Ariake Tennis Park began an hour late, just after 12 pm local time.
After they got in 4 games, there was another interruption. Krejcikova was up 3-1 at the time, thanks to a break of Bencic’s serve when she double-faulted, but when they returned, the Czech reeled off 3 straight games for the set.
Bencic, however, made things complicated by winning the second and extending the match.
With Krejcikova serving at 3-4 in the third, the Swiss forced a critical break and served it out the match, screaming with delight when her backhand down the line fell in for a winner.