Japan’s Naomi Osaka saw her highly-anticipated return to the court with a back-to-back victory, while world number one Ashleigh Barty was knocked out in a surprising first round at the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday.
Osaka, the star of the opening ceremony, beat China’s Zheng Saisai 6-1 6-4 in her first match since taking an eight-week break for mental health reasons.
“I was really nervous being in Japan and playing here for the first time in almost two years, and for it to be my first Olympics,” said Osaka, who was chosen as the first tennis player to light the Olympic cauldron on Friday.
“It was definitely nerve-wracking. But I’m glad I managed to win, she is a very strong opponent.”
“I feel more than anything that I focus only on playing tennis. Playing the Olympics has been my dream since I was a child,” she added.
“I feel like the break I took was much needed, but I’m definitely feeling a little refreshed and happy again.”
The Australian Open champion has not played since May, when she withdrew from Roland Garros saying the media obligations were hurting her mental health.
Osaka showed little signs of rust as it played its opening five games at Ariake Coliseum Central Stadium, which would likely have been packed to capacity had it not been for a spectator ban due to coronavirus restrictions.
She broke second seed Cheng, seeded 52, to advance 2-1 in the second set and capped an 87-minute win on match-third point.
The 23-year-old Osaka is trying to become the first Olympic champion in tennis in Japan. And she will play with the Swiss Victoria Golubic in the last 32 round.
Osaka is now the favorite for gold after Wimbledon champion Barty dropped serve twice in each set and made 55 unforced errors in a 6-4 6-3 loss to 48th seed Sarah Soribes Tormo of Spain.
“I’m disappointed I couldn’t get through the day, it just wasn’t my day,” Barty said.
“I never really felt comfortable there and couldn’t play the match on my terms. I was a bit erratic and made a lot of mistakes.”
Soribes Tormo will face France’s Fiona Ferro in the second round.
“It feels great, I still can’t believe it,” she said.
Barty exits while Murray withdraws
Barty fell to a double break behind at 1-4 in the opening set and failed to convert two points to tie in the eighth inning as Sorribes Tormo held his ground.
The duo traded breaks to start the second set, but Barty withered on another hot day in Tokyo and Sorribes Tormo won the last four games to take the lead.
Defending champion Andy Murray withdrew from the men’s singles competition with quadriceps muscle strain just hours before he was due to play Felix Auger-Aliassime.
Murray, 34, will remain in Japan to play a duo with Joe Salisbury. The duo won their opening game of the competition on Saturday.
“I am very disappointed that I had to withdraw but the medical staff advised me not to play in both events, so I made the difficult decision to withdraw from singles and focus on playing doubles with Joe,” Murray said in a statement to GB. .
Three-time Grand Slam champion Murray is the only athlete to win two singles Olympic titles (2012 and 2016). He was replaced by Australian Max Purcell in a tie that beat ninth seed Auger Aliassime 6-4, 7-6 (7/2).
Fourth seed Alexander Zverev beat Taiwan’s Lu Yen-hsun 6-1 6-3 while French Open second-placed Stefanos Tsitsipas kicked off his Olympic campaign against veteran German Philipp Kohlschreiber.
Fifth seed Karolina Pliskova, the last Wimbledon runner-up, defeated France’s Alize Cornet 6-1, 6-3, while third seed Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus made a quick shot of Pole Magda Linate 6-2, 6-1.
Ukrainian Elina Svitolina beat Laura Sigmund 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 in a match that lasted more than three hours.