Tennis

Naomi Osaka eliminated in first round at Wimbledon

AP, Kyodo

After winning two straight Grand Slam titles, Naomi Osaka has now failed to reach the second week at the last two majors.

Osaka, who was ranked No. 1 in the world until last week, lost to Yulia Putintseva 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 on Monday in the first round at Wimbledon.

The second-seeded Osaka won the U.S. Open last year and the Australian Open this year, but she lost in the third round at the French Open and now the first round at the All England Club.

Osaka had 38 unforced errors on Centre Court, while Putintseva had only seven.

Despite grabbing an early break, world No. 2 Osaka lost serve in the sixth game and dropped the opening set in a tiebreaker as her errant shots piled up. Osaka committed 21 unforced errors in the set as compared to six from her opponent.

Putintseva seized the first break of the second set, taking a 3-2 lead with a backhand winner that just barely clipped the line. Osaka failed to capitalize on a break chance in the next game, then dropped serve again to go down 5-2.

Her opponent closed out the match at the 1-hour, 35-minute mark.

The 39th-ranked Putintseva has now prevailed in all three of her career matches against Osaka, including a second-round upset last month at Birmingham that led to the Japanese phenom’s ousting from her world No. 1 ranking.

“She mixes the ball up really well,” a teary-eyed Osaka said in her post-match press conference of Putintseva’s all-court style.

“I don’t think I played that well but I wasn’t surprised because I’ve played her like twice already. It’s very hard,” she said, visibly upset, when asked how hard it is to play against a player she recently lost to.

Osaka reached the top spot after winning last year’s U.S. Open followed by the Australian Open in January. She was passed by French Open champion Ashleigh Barty of Australia, who captured the title in Birmingham and was to face China’s Saisai Zheng in the first round at Wimbledon.

Osaka made it clear the change of form is “not related at all” to her split with coach Sascha Bajin, who helped her win two Grand Slams, in February. She also didn’t blame her age for her inconsistency since they stopped working together.

“I wouldn’t blame my age on anything,” Osaka said. “I’ve done a lot of good things and I’ve done a lot of bad things, but I’m not the type of person that would say ‘because I’m young I can get away with doing certain things.’ “

When asked how she would restore her confidence after the loss and who would help her pick herself up, Osaka said “I don’t know. There’s answers to questions you guys ask that I still haven’t figured out yet.”

Osaka spoke softly and gave short answers in the news conference that began 30 minutes after her loss and lasted less than five minutes.

“The key for me (in the past in bouncing back from defeat) has been to learn to have fun and take pressure off myself. I hope I can somehow find a way to do that,” she said.

Osaka cut the press conference short after whispering to the tournament moderator, “Can I go? I feel like I’m about to cry.”

“Honestly, every match is a battle, you never know what’s going to happen, but I was hoping and doing all my best, that’s pretty much all I can do,” Putintseva said. “To go out there and play my best, to do just what I can and then we’ll see what happens. And today I think I did a great job. That’s amazing.”

Earlier, last year’s Wimbledon men’s finalists both advanced to the second round on the opening day of this year’s tournament.

Defending champion Novak Djokovic was first on Centre Court, as is tradition at the All England Club. He beat Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 in the first round.

“It’s a sacred court, the cradle of our sport for sure,” four-time Wimbledon champion Djokovic said in the tunnel after walking off the grass. “It has a very special place in my heart, in my career as well.

“I’ve been blessed to be very successful on this court over the years so every time I step on it memories come back and a great feeling.”

Djokovic started the match in a hole, with Kohlschreiber breaking in the top-seeded Serb’s opening service game. But the troubles ended there for Djokovic, who had lost to Kohlschreiber in Indian Wells on a hard court this year.

Fourth-seeded Kevin Anderson, who lost to Djokovic in straight sets in last year’s final, moved into the second round by beating Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in only his third match since March.

“Different expectations coming in right now given that I’ve not played many matches this year,” said Anderson, a South African who also reached the 2017 U.S. Open final. “But I think there’s a lot of positives I can take from today, and hopefully I’ll be able to keep building on that.”

Stan Wawrinka, seeded 22nd, also advanced. The three-time Grand Slam singles champion, who has won each of the other three majors but never Wimbledon, defeated Belgian qualifier Ruben Bemelmans 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

Simona Halep, a former No. 1 on the women’s tour who is seeded seventh at Wimbledon, advanced despite some pain in her left knee and foot. The Romanian, who called for a trainer after winning the first set, trailed 5-2 in the second set before rallying to beat Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-4, 7-5.

Coco Gauff, at 15 the youngest competitor to qualify at the All England Club in the professional era, showed the poise and power of a much older, much more experienced player, pulling off a 6-4, 6-4 victory in the first round over Venus Williams, who at 39 was the oldest woman in the field.