Naomi Osaka will not win an Olympic medal on home soil in Japan after she was upset in the third round of the Tokyo Games by Markéta Vondroušová of the Czech Republic 6-1, 6-4.
Osaka, who opened her home Games by lighting the Olympic flame, was the highest ranked player left in the draw and the clear tournament favourite after top seed Ashleigh Barty’s early loss. She has won the last two hard court grand slams, the US Open and the Australian Open, and she has established a clear measure of dominance on the surface.
However, the Olympics marked her first tournament since she decided to withdraw from the French Open and Wimbledon in order to prioritise her mental health after her decision to boycott press conferences led to a mass of attention and criticism.
Although ranked 42nd, Vondroušová is 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.
Osaka opened the match by spraying errors and struggling to put the ball into the court against a solid, streetwise Vondroušová who returned efficiently. Osaka fell down 4-0 in a few minutes and as the unforced errors continued to pile up, Vondroušová took the first set 6-1.
An immediate response was needed and Osaka did initially produce one, establishing a quick break in the second set. But through the encounter, Vondroušová soaked up pressure from Osaka’s first strike, effective behind her swinging lefty first serve and peppered Osaka with her trademark delicate drop shots. Osaka lost her break and after an extended final game, Osaka fired two backhand errors to lose.
In many eyes, Vondroušová actually was not supposed to even be in the draw. Only the top four players from each nation can compete in the singles draws and the fourth ranked player from the Czech Republic, one of the dominant nations in women’s tennis, is No23 Karolína Muchová.
Vondroušová took advantage of an unforeseen loophole to reach the Olympics by utilising a protected ranking for a pre-pandemic injury dating back to 2019 despite having not needed it for a year. During her short time in Tokyo has already ended the singles career of Kiki Bertens, former No4, and shut down Osaka’s Olympic dreams.