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‘I’m really sorry’: Vondrousova on knocking home hero Osaka out of Olympics

“This is one of the biggest matches of my career,” Vondrousova said. “Naomi is the greatest now. She was also the face of the Olympics, so it was also tough for her to play like this.”

Naomi Osaka serves on day four of the Tokyo Olympics.

Naomi Osaka serves on day four of the Tokyo Olympics.Credit:Getty Images

Vondrousova said she benefited from the timing and location of the match. She and Osaka played second on centre court and with a roof in place on Tuesday they did not have to worry about weather delays.

When it was over she and Osaka had a brief exchange at the net, with Osaka telling her “good match” and Vondrousova thanking her for the compliment.

“I am really sorry but I am so happy with my game today,” Vondrousova said of knocking off the biggest star of the Olympics for Japan.

“She has a lot of pressure playing in Japan and at the Olympics. I knew she was going to fight to the end. The end was very tight. It could have gone both ways. It’s so much pressure I can’t imagine.”

Vondrousova now advances to the quarterfinals.

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The Olympic tournament has been a tough nut to crack for even some of the game’s greatest players. It requires winning six matches in just eight days. Roger Federer has never won the gold medal.

Osaka arrived after causing upheaval in the tennis world, and intensified the discussion around athletes and mental health, when she withdrew from the French Open and skipped Wimbledon as well after her refusal to endure what she called the stress of mandatory news conferences at tennis events, especially at Grand Slam tournaments.

She revealed that she has struggled with depression since 2018, and said she was uncomfortable in the sometimes adversarial public setting of news conferences. She quit the tournament after organisers threatened to disqualify her if she did not meet her press obligations.

To the public, it was unclear for a while when Osaka would play again, even with the Olympics coming. Few knew that she had been asked in March to light the Olympic flame and skipping the tournament was extremely unlikely given the magnitude of that honour.

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So in mid-June she announced she would skip Wimbledon, which is contested on grass, but would return to competition at the Tokyo Games.

She was born in Japan and chose to represent the country in international competition in 2019. Osaka’s mother is Japanese and her father is Haitian. She was raised mostly in the United States. The Olympic tournament is also played on a hard court, the surface on which Osaka has had the most success.

On Friday night, joined a short list of illustrious Olympic flame lighters, including Muhammad Ali and Wayne Gretzky.

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Two days later she was still absorbing the experience and adjusting to life as the face of Olympic stardom.

“I feel a little bit out of my body right now,” Osaka said on Sunday, minutes after winning her first-round match.

Osaka will now head to North America for the hard court swing of the professional tennis tour that climaxes with the US Open in late summer. She is the defending US Open champion and will be looking for her fifth Grand Slam singles title.

The New York Times

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