Web Stories Thursday, February 29

MELBOURNE: Naomi Osaka returned to Grand Slam tennis after maternity leave in the same way she left it with a first-round loss after going down 6-4, 7-6 (7-2) to Caroline Garcia at the Australian Open on Monday (Jan 15).

Taking on the experienced French 16th seed, who is an aggressive baseliner like Osaka, was always going to be a big challenge for the twice Australian Open champion, who returned to tournament tennis only two weeks ago after 15 months out.

The power that took Osaka to four Grand Slam titles before she took time off to have daughter Shai was still there but it was always going to take the 26-year-old time to rediscover her accuracy in clutch moments.

A double fault gave Garcia the first break point of the match in the fifth game and the 30-year-old former world number four converted it with alacrity to edge ahead at the Rod Laver Arena.

Osaka had a sniff of a break back at deuce in the eighth game but dumped a routine backhand into the net and Garcia held with back-to-back aces before going on to take the set.

The Japanese former world number one won her first three service games of the second set to love, but Garcia’s serving was brilliant and Osaka was unable to put any pressure on it.

Osaka had beaten Garcia 6-2, 6-3 on the way to her 2021 triumph at Melbourne Park, but this was a much tighter contest with the second set decided in a tie-break.

Still hitting the mark with her first serves, Garcia raced to a big lead and clinched the win on her first match point when Osaka dumped another backhand into the net.

It was Osaka’s earliest exit in eight visits to the Australian Open and her third successive loss in the opening round of a Grand Slam after she fell at the first hurdle at the French and US Opens in 2022.

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