A fire was lit to start the Olympics, but Naomi Osaka’s Tokyo 2020 dreams fizzled out too soon on Tuesday in just over an hour by Marketa Vondrousova. With a series of unforced errors and growing frustration, the tennis star’s games ended in a 6-1, 6-4 loss to Vondrosova, the 42nd seed in the world.
Osaka seemed elusive to Vondrosova, her serve failed to bring results (she won only 25 points out of 43 on her first serve). She made 32 unintentional mistakes compared to Vondrosova’s 10.
When asked then what went mistaken, she replied: “Everything – if you watch the match you’ll probably see. I feel like there’s a lot of things I rely on that I can’t count on today.”
It wasn’t supposed to be this way for Osaka. Chosen to light the Olympic torch at the opening ceremony, Osaka was a key confront of these games, which were planning hosts, who tied with the United States for the most gold medals as a nation.
Osaka took an eight-week burst prior the tournament and looked very relaxed during the first two rounds with victories over Zeng Saisai and Victoria Golubic, but then collapsed on Tuesday as Hurricane Nepartak landed on the roof of Ariak Tennis Court.
It was the 2021 rollercoaster for the four-time Grand Slam champion. After winning the Australian Open in February, Osaka was the player to triumph on the Women’s Tour. But when the French Open began, she announced that she would skip press conferences for the tournament, citing her mental health.
After winning her first round match at Roland Garros, she withdrew from the tournament and later decided not to participate in Wimbledon, focusing on returning the gold medal to her native Japan.
“I definitely feel there was a lot of pressure for this,” Osaka said. “I think maybe it’s because I’ve never played in the Olympics prior and for the first year (it was) a lot. I think I’m happy with the way I played, taking that burst I got.”
It seemed like everything was set perfectly for her when world number 1 Ash Barty came out in the opening round of the Olympics, opening the door for Osaka to persevere Japan’s gold-medal run at the Home Games.
By the time Osaka hit the field on Tuesday, Japan had collected eight gold medals: two in skiing, four in judo, and one in swimming and table tennis. Osaka dreamed of adding another one.
Big disturbance on the tennis court.
– #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) 27 July 2021
But this dream did not come true. She dropped the first set in 24 minutes, and although she took three game points in the second, her backhand sailed away, sending Vondrosova into the quarter-finals.
“How disappointed I am? I unkind, I feel disappointed in every loss, but I feel this loss is more bad than the others. I know my expectations were much higher,” Osaka said. “I feel like my situation wasn’t that distinguished because I don’t really know how to handle that pressure, so it’s the best I could have done in this situation.”
However, while the loss would certainly hurt Osaka, she has already left a powerful legacy off the field in her home country. The image of lighting the torch was a symbol of hope for a country that went ahead and held the Olympic Games amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
It also had the effect of ending the stigma surrounding mental health. In her self-written article for TIME Magazine, which came out prior the games, she spoke of her desire to make the Japanese people “elated”, and it was not necessary to accomplish this with a medal.