Naomi Osaka ‘refreshed and happy’ as she kicks off her Olympic campaign with dominant victory against Saisai Zheng

Two days after lighting the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony — a second she referred to as “the best athletic achievement and honor” of her life — Osaka took to the tennis court docket for her first recreation in virtually two months on Sunday, defeating China’s Saisai Zheng 6-1 6-4 on Ariake Tennis Park’s Centre Court docket.

Wimbledon champion Ashleigh Barty’s shock loss in opposition to Sara Sorribes Tormo earlier on Sunday means Osaka is now the top-ranked participant within the girls’s attract her bid to turn into the primary Japanese lady to win an Olympic tennis medal.

The four-time grand slam champion hadn’t performed since withdrawing from the French Open on the finish of Could, which adopted her determination to not undertake media duties for psychological well being causes.

She selected to not play in Wimbledon, too, however has arrived in Tokyo rejuvenated and able to make her mark.

“This, taking part in the Olympics, has been a dream of mine since I used to be a child, so I really feel just like the break I took was very wanted,” the 23-year-old Osaka advised reporters. “I really feel positively a bit bit refreshed and glad once more.”

Osaka hits a forehand as she makes a winning start to the Tokyo Olympics.

Baking warmth

Excessive warmth and humidity has proved a problem for tennis players in Tokyo and Osaka’s match occurred in baking, noon warmth, damaged often when a light-weight breeze swept throughout the court docket.

Her entrance was greeted by an enthusiastic stadium announcer and a smattering of applause from the near-empty stands, which primarily comprised teammates, officers and members of the media.

Regardless of her absence from the tour, Osaka confirmed few indicators of rustiness as she opened her Olympic marketing campaign, cruising by means of the primary recreation with three aces, earlier than twice breaking Zheng to race right into a 4-0 lead within the first set.

World No. 52 Zheng, who’s showing in her second Olympics, had alternatives to interrupt again within the fifth recreation, just for Osaka to carry on and wrap up the primary set in simply 32 minutes.

That dominance continued into the second set as Osaka secured one other early break of serve, however this time Zheng was capable of construct extra of a foothold and had two break factors to stage the set at 4-3.

It proved to be solely a glimmer of hope, nevertheless, as Osaka bounced again to take the sport and, shortly afterwards, the match.

“I felt actually nervous being in Japan and taking part in right here for the primary time in perhaps two years, and for it to be my first Olympics,” mentioned Osaka. “It was positively actually nerve-wracking. However I’m glad I used to be capable of win, she is a really robust opponent.”

Osaka put in an impressive serving performance againt Zheng.

Historical past maker

The sport, initially scheduled for Saturday, was moved to Sunday forward of the opening ceremony, fueling hypothesis that Osaka, who was born in Japan and moved to the US when she was three years outdated, may need been chosen to mild the cauldron.

She duly did, becoming a member of the likes of boxer Muhammad Ali –– on the Atlanta Video games in 1996 — and Cathy Freeman 4 years later in Sydney to participate in a historic second that can dwell lengthy within the reminiscence.

Osaka can be the primary tennis participant to have the honour of lighting the cauldron.

“Naomi Osaka is a house favourite and lots of eyes are on her,” males’s world No. 1 Novak Djokovic mentioned after his victory on Saturday.

“Being at dwelling taking part in is lots of strain, however it’s nice for our sport simply normally to see that there is lots of consideration in direction of it.”

Osaka is certainly one of Japan’s star athletes, her face displayed on billboards throughout Tokyo and native media celebrated the choice to make her the ultimate torch bearer of those Olympics.

Newspaper Nikkei referred to as it a second of “range and concord,” whereas Mainichi Shimbun described how prime athletes with abroad roots “symbolized range, one of many visions of the Olympic Video games.”

Despite her nerves on her Olympic debut, Osaka seemed composed on the court docket. She subsequent faces Switzerland’s Viktorija Golubic for a spot within the third spherical of a girls’s draw that’s with out a lot of large names, together with Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep and Bianca Andreescu.

That, nevertheless, is unlikely to cease dwelling followers, who’re being evaded venues in Tokyo amid the pandemic, from retaining an in depth eye on the event and Osaka’s progress.

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