Day 2 of the Olympic Tennis Event saw the completion of first round matches, with Elina Svitolina and Petra Kvitova, seeded 4 and 10, advancing to the second round with wins over Laura Siegemund and Jasmine Paolini respectively late on Sunday.
More than anything else, I’m just focused on playing tennis. 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. I feel definitely a little bit refreshed, and I’m happy again. Naomi Osaka
Svitolina married Gael Monfils a week ago in Switzerland but any plans for a honeymoon were shelved so they could both compete at Tokyo 2020, and the Ukrainian fought her way through a 3-set battle with Siegemund, eventually winning 6-3 5-7 6-4 to set up a meeting with Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic, who led Yaroslava Shvedova 7-5, 3-2 when the Kazakh was forced to retire.
Tomljanovic recovered from a 3-5 deficit in the first set, winning 4 straight games to close out her opener in 55 minutes.
Further pressuring Shvedova, who returned to the tour in 2020 after becoming a mother to twins in 2018, by securing the opening two games of the second set, Tomljanovic did not face another break point in the 90-minute encounter.
It is believed that Shvedova’s retirement was heat-related.
Tomljanovic is the lone Australian woman in the singles draw in Tokyo, after Ash Barty was shocked by Sara Sorribes Tormo in her opening match earlier on Sunday, and Sam Stosur exited to No 15 seed Elena Rybakina on Saturday.
Svitolina is playing the Olympics for the second time, having won her first 3 matches, including a Round of 16 victory against Serena Williams, before falling to Petra Kvitova in the quarter-finals at Rio 2016.
“For me, it’s very special when I play for my country,” Svitolina said in a recent interview with the ITF. “You find this edge to fight more, to play better.
“Now it’s time to focus on tennis. There is no time for resting.”
Svitolina is also competing in doubles with countrywoman Dayana Yastremska, while husband Monfils is representing France in both singles and doubles.
The 4th seed was understandably up and down in her match with the German and could find the 28-year old Tomljanovic a bit of a handful as the Aussie s coming off her first career major quarter-final at Wimbledon.
Meanwhile, in the third match of the day on Court 3, 2016 bronze medallist Kvitova of the Czech Republic snapped a three-match losing streak by seeing off Italy’s Paolini in straight sets to record the 9th Olympic victory of her career.
Riding a losing streak of 3 matches dating back to the Bad Homburg semi-finals a month ago, leftie Kvitova saw off the Italian, starting off the match with strong serving and holding to love in her opening two service games.
Paolini, however, was determined to not let the Czech have things her way as she stayed toe-to-toe with her more experienced 31-year old opponent, even coming out on top in the sixth game, the only one to stretch to deuce in the first set.
The first break point opportunities of the match came in the 10th game, with the Italian serving to stay in the set at 4-5, when Kvitova raced off to 3 set points, sealing the set on the second after 35 minutes.
The second set was a more straightforward affair for Kvitova, who broke Paolini in the second game to race off to a 2-0 lead in no time.
A messy game from Kvitova on serve, however, saw her produce two double-faults and proved costly as Paolini broke back right away, to love.
Kvitova was quick to put that glitch behind as she came back to steal the break lead in the next game, before consolidating the lead to come within two games of the win.
By now, it was too late for the 25-year-old Paolini as Kvitova went on to drop just two more points on serve, eventually serving it out as match time clocked at 71 minutes.
The Czech was successful in 3 of the 5 chances she created, fired 5 aces, and struck 15 winners, in addition to a 79% success rate on first serve points.
On Paolini’s end, the Italian could not do much to harm Kvitova’s mission as she managed just 6 winners, and a much meagre first serve percentage of 53% in contrast her opponent’s 63%.
“It’s a valuable victory,” Kvitova said later. “It’s the first round of Olympics, and it’s never easy, even in the current weather of Tokyo ([with summer heat and humidity] because I have asthma, so it is a challenge for me.
“I do not mind the heat so much, but rather the humidity, which is damp and stuffy, hence I am fighting it. It is a challenge that I have to overcome to win, and it worked today.”
Kvitova next faces Belgian Alison van Uytvanck on Monday in the second match scheduled on Court 5, the pair’s only prior encounter coming indoors at St. Petersburg February last year.
In that clash, Kvitova needed more than 2 hours to see off van Uytvanck in 3 sets, where they combined for a total 33 break point chances, and so will be looking for a more straightforward result this time especially in the current sweltering conditions in Tokyo.
Elsewhere, Ekaterina Alexandrova representing ROC upset Elise Mertens, the No 12 seed from Belgium, 4-6 6-4 6-4.
Osaka’s opening match was moved back to Sunday when the Tokyo Olympic Committee asked her to light a little fire under these Games, dipping the torch into the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony.
In her first match since withdrawing from the French Open after winning her first-round match on 30 May, the No 2 seed looked like she’d never been away, cruising to a 6-1 6-4 victory over Zheng Saisai., starting with an ace down the T.
With the loss of top seed Ash Barty, Osaka is now considered by many the favourite to win gold.
Osaka won 28 of 32 service points and has now beaten Zheng three of four times.
The 23-year-old spoke with the media for the first time since declining to speak with reporters at the French Open, a controversial decision that led to fines and her eventually withdrawing from the tournament.
“More than anything else, I’m just focused on playing tennis,” Osaka said. “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.
“I feel definitely a little bit refreshed, and I’m happy again.”
Throughout the two sets, Osaka, who is representing Japan, showed off her hardcourt dominance as she served 6 aces, producing 25 winners compared to Zheng’s 10.
Following the match Sunday, Osaka, who was clad in red and white braids for her native Japan, said that she felt ‘a little bit out of my body’ speaking to reporters, emphasising that it was from nervousness.
“There’s nothing wrong with my body; I just felt really nervous,” she said.
“I haven’t played since France, so there were definitely some things that I did a bit wrong, but I think I can improve in the matches that I continue playing.”
The reigning US Open and Australian Open champion also elaborated on lighting the Olympic flame, revealing that she had kept it a secret since March.
“When I lit the flame, I was super honoured,” Osaka said. “I think that’s a position that you dream about and not anyone can do it. So, for me, when they asked me if I wanted to, I was very surprised but very honoured.
“And I’m just very happy to be here and very happy to play — especially in Tokyo.”