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June 24, 2024

Osaka’s Grand Slam Return Ends in First Round Defeat

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Jan 15, 2024

Two-time Australian Open Champion Falls to Garcia

Naomi Osaka, the two-time Australian Open champion and former world number one, made her highly anticipated return to Grand Slam tennis on Monday after taking time off to have a baby. However, her comeback ended abruptly with a straight sets defeat to French player Caroline Garcia in the first round.

Osaka took an extended break from tennis following her early exit at the 2022 US Open to give birth to her first child, a daughter named Bobbie. She arrived at this year’s Australian Open seeded 13th but with no competitive matches under her belt since August 2022.

Up against Garcia, herself a recent new mother, Osaka struggled on serve from the outset. She was broken three times in the first set as Garcia dominated with her aggressive baseline play. The Frenchwoman closed out the set 6-2 in just 31 minutes.

Osaka Battles But Garcia Prevails

The second set saw Osaka steady the ship and begin fighting back. She saved five break points early on and then broke Garcia to level the set at 3-3. The Rod Laver Arena crowd, staunchly supportive of Osaka, willed her on as she continued competing fiercely.

However, Garcia would not be denied. Her superior court coverage and piercing groundstrokes enabled her to break Osaka once more. Serving for the match at 5-3, Garcia overcame the rowdy Melbourne fans cheering raucously for Osaka and polished off the straight sets win.

“I knew it would be tough against Naomi with the atmosphere and coming back from motherhood,” said Garcia after her 6-2, 6-3 victory. “I had to stay really focused and try to put aside the atmosphere. I’m really happy with the mindset.”

Match Statistics

| Winner/Unforced Errors | Garcia: 26/14 Osaka: 19/28
| 1st Serve % | Garcia: 70% Osaka: 57%
| 2nd Serve Points Won | Garcia: 63% Osaka: 31%

Osaka Optimistic Despite Defeat

A reflective Osaka stated she was simply happy to be back on court playing at a Grand Slam again.

“I thought I served pretty well in the second set,” she said. “My return was a bit shaky but overall I’m generally happy.”

“It’s a bit shocking being back in this situation again. I can’t believe I played Caroline Garcia in the first round – that’s random.”

Having not played a professional match since the 2022 US Open, Osaka admitted she entered with tempered expectations. “I didn’t really know what to expect playing my first match. I didn’t think I played that bad actually.”

Looking ahead, the former Australian Open champion believes she will continue improving with more matches under her belt.

“I feel like there’s a lot of room for growth. It always feels a bit uncomfortable when you come back from break because you sort of have to get used to the motions again.”

“But I feel like there’s progress and I’m really excited to see what happens next.”

First Major as a Mother

At just 26 years of age, Osaka has already firmly cemented her place as one of the leading players of her generation. Her four Grand Slam titles include two Australian Opens in 2019 and 2021.

After rising rapidly up the rankings in her late teens, Osaka became world number one in 2019 on the back of those two Melbourne triumphs. She has spent over 100 weeks ranked first or second and earned more than $25 million in prize money to date.

However, this Australian Open marked Osaka’s first major tournament since taking an extended maternity break to have her first child. It was a highly anticipated return for someone who transcends tennis as a global icon and inspiration.

Osaka gave birth to daughter Bobbie last October and has documented parts of her motherhood journey publicly. She features with Bobbie in a recent campaign for women’s health brand Bobbie encouraging better maternity leave policies.

The Japanese superstar has been vocal about challenges facing moms returning to elite sport. “I obviously want to make sure I’m still at the top while balancing being a mom,” Osaka told People magazine last November.

What’s Next for Osaka?

Despite falling at the first hurdle in Melbourne, Osaka said she already feels at home again on the tennis court. She has committed to a full schedule in 2024 including next month’s prestigious Indian Wells and Miami events.

Osaka also stated a key focus is regaining fitness and feel ahead of the clay and grass court seasons. It points towards her again eyeing Grand Slam glory at Roland Garros and Wimbledon later this year.

“I’m really excited to be playing a full schedule again,” Osaka told reporters. “I learned I don’t really like to take massive breaks like I did. I feel very happy when I’m out on court training or playing matches.”

With her prodigious talent and competitive spirit, few would bet against Naomi Osaka making further waves upon her return to the WTA Tour. She showcased typical battling qualities against Garcia and the loss seems only a minor bump on the road back to the top.

As Osaka herself put it, “This is just the beginning and I know I’m heading in a good direction.”

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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