New York – The only complication for fourth-seeded Naomi Osaka in the second round of the U.S. Open was the attempted on-court video call with her mother, Tamaki, after her victory over Camila Giorgi.
"Hi! What are you doing?” Osaka said.
The audio connection wasn’t great, and Osaka eventually ended the sweet but slightly awkward exchange.
"Bye, Mom,” Osaka said. "I’ll call you later.”
Things went much more smoothly against world No. 74 Giorgi, with Osaka cruising past the Italian 6-1, 6-2 in just over an hour to reach the third round.
The same couldn't be said for top-seeded Karolina Pliskova, who who lost 6-1, 7-6 (7-2) against 50th-ranked Caroline Garcia.
Osaka, the 2018 champion, said she had set out to dominate her hard-hitting Italian opponent from the outset.
"I never want to depend on what the other person's going to do," Osaka said.
"I definitely played I think the best out of the two weeks that I've been here today."
The 22-year-old Osaka entered the tournament with concerns about her condition after withdrawing from the Western & Southern Open final last week due to a hamstring injury.
Her weary body was given a thorough test in her first round match on Monday, when compatriot Misaki Doi took her to three sets.
There was no sign of fatigue from Osaka on Wednesday as she romped to victory. In all, Osaka finished with 14 winners and only 11 unforced errors. Her powerful service game also looked good, with Osaka winning 79 percent of points on her first serve.
Osaka entered Arthur Ashe Stadium wearing a facemask emblazoned with the name of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died in police custody last year after being placed in a chokehold and injected with a sedative.
"For me, I think when I heard about his story it was very hurtful," Osaka said of McClain. "I mean, they're all very hurtful, but just the fact of the character and the way that he was, just to hear stories about him, for me it was very sad. Today was very special in the way that I wanted to represent him very well."
Osaka has said she plans to wear masks honoring different victims of social injustice throughout the tournament.
While Osaka moves on, Pliskova was knocked out of an event were she wouldn't have been seeded No. 1 under normal circumstances. So while a second-round loss certainly would have been disappointing to her, and noticed by others, it wouldn’t have been as newsworthy.
But what’s normal in 2020? With the women who are 1-2 in the rankings choosing to skip the trip to Flushing Meadows because of the pandemic, No. 3 Pliskova ascended to the top spot in the draw — and by Day 3, she was gone.
Pliskova, the 2016 runner-up at the U.S. Open, made her mood clear by throwing a racket during her match against Garcia and then again afterward with a series of clipped responses at her news conference.
She fidgeted with the microphone. Sighed. Shrugged her shoulders. Rolled her eyes.
When a reporter offered possible explanations for the defeat — a new, faster surface on the courts, a lack of atmosphere because there are no spectators, the pressure of her high seeding — Pliskova replied: "Nothing from what you said.”
Her reasoning for the result? "I didn’t play good,” Pliksova said, "so that’s it.”
When another member of the media said this back-and-forth must be boring to Pliskova, she said, "Yeah, a little bit. Did you see the match or no?” and soon after remarked, "I don’t know if you understand tennis well enough.”
After a first round that went more to form than ever — 29 of 32 seeded women won their opening matches, a U.S. Open record since the number of seeds was doubled from 16 in 2001 — the surprises started in the second round.
Shelby Rogers, ranked 93rd, beat 11th-seeded Elena Rybakina 7-5, 6-1; Ann Li, who is ranked 128th, topped 13th-seeded Alison Riske 6-0, 6-3 in a matchup between two players from Pennsylvania; and Madison Brengle, ranked 84th, took out 19th-seeded Dayana Yastremska 6-2, 6-3.
Other seeded women who were eliminated: No. 12 Marketa Vondrousova, No. 30 Kristina Mladenovic, No. 31 Anastasija Sevastova.
Mladenovic’s loss was the wildest of them all. She led 6-1, 5-1, then later held four match points, but was never able to finish things off and ended up on the wrong end of a 1-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-0 result against 102nd-ranked Varvara Gracheva.
Two seeded men exited, too: No. 13 Cristian Garin and No. 24 Hubert Hurkacz.
Pliskova had chances to take the second set against Garcia, who had been 0-8 against top-five opponents at Grand Slam tournaments.
Garcia trailed 5-4 in that set while serving at 15-40, two break points that also were set points.
On the first, Pliskova got a look at an 89 mph (143 kph) second serve, but she pushed a forehand return wide. On the second, Garcia smacked a quick-strike forehand to a corner and Pliskova's running reply found the net.
Garcia grabbed the next two points with a service winner followed by a gutsy second-serve ace to take that game and then was superior in the tiebreaker.
"I knew she was going to come back and not give me the match. When she came back very well,” Garcia said, "I stayed calm and that was important.”
Although much has been expected of her, the 26-year-old Garcia has only reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal once and has never been past the U.S. Open’s third round. To do so this time, she'll need to beat 28th-seeded American Jennifer Brady.
As a teen, Garcia built, albeit lost, a big lead against Maria Sharapova at the 2011 French Open, inspiring Andy Murray to write on Twitter that the Frenchwoman "is going to be No. 1 in the world one day."
Never happened, although she did get as high as No. 4.
Pliskova, meanwhile, did get to No. 1 briefly.
Couldn’t really come up with how to describe why Wednesday's loss happened, but this statistic was telling: Garcia produced 30 winners, more than twice as many as Pliskova.
And another: Pliskova has led the WTA in aces four of the past five years, but she hit only three, the same number as Garcia.
"That’s how it is, sometimes,” Pliskova said. "I am not a robot, so I don’t have to play every day amazing.”
Unlike Pliskova, the No. 1-seeded man, Novak Djokovic, only had a brief blip on his way to the third round and a 25-0 record in 2020. Going back to late last season, his winning streak is 28 matches overall.
"I’m actually glad I did drop a set and got tested the way I did today against Kyle,” said Djokovic, who has won five of the past seven Grand Slam tournaments to raise his major trophy total to 17, three behind Roger Federer and two behind Rafael Nadal. "I expected it to be a tough, tough task.
"I’m really glad having an early kind of tough match in the tournament,” Djokovic said, because it kind of serves me better, I think, for the rest of the tournament.”
Next up for him is No. 28 Jan-Lennard Struff, someone Djokovic dismissed 6-3, 6-1 last week at the Western & Southern Open.
Other winners Wednesday included No. 5 Alexander Zverev and No. 7 Davis Goffin.