Only a few days after lighting the Olympic cauldron at the Opening Ceremony, Naomi Osaka’s first Olympic games has come to an end. The Japanese tennis star lost in the third round of the women’s singles tournament to Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic.
On Sunday, the four-time Grand Slam champion had a hopeful start, defeating Zheng Saisai of China 6-1, 6-4. But on Tuesday, Osaka reportedly appeared “nervous” and played “loose,” down four games in less than 15 minutes. She won her first service game before losing the set 6-1 in only 24 minutes.
“I’m disappointed in every loss, but I feel like this one sucks more than the others,” Osaka told the Associated Press. “I definitely feel like there was a lot of pressure for this… I think it’s maybe because I haven’t played in the Olympics before and for the first year [it] was a bit much.”
The 23-year-old has had a whirlwind of a year. Osaka’s Sunday match was her first time competing since withdrawing from both the French Open and Wimbledon in efforts to protect her mental health. Osaka has continued to make headlines for publicly sharing her experiences with mental health on her own terms and being intentional to limit her interactions with the media. Prior to her elimination, Osaka shared with the press that her hiatus from the courts was necessary to her well-being, and that she felt “refreshed” and “happy again.”
Osaka’s Olympic knockout comes on the same day as Simone Biles’ withdrawal from the gymnastics final. Biles pulled out after experiencing a medical issue, and it is currently unclear whether she’ll compete in the upcoming individual all-around competition.
Biles, who is the most decorated gymnast of all-time, explained to reporters that she decided to withdraw to prioritize her mental health, citing Osaka as her inspiration. “Whenever you get in a high-stress situation, you kind of freak out. I have to focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and well-being,” said Biles.
“We have to protect our body and our mind,” she continued. “It just sucks when you’re fighting with your own head.” Biles shared that her team plans to have a “mental rest day” on Wednesday.
For Olympic stars like Osaka and Biles, the pressure to deliver a win can reach astronomical heights, especially during such a tumultuous cultural climate — a win for an Olympic athlete can be a win for their entire country, a symbol of hope, success, and joy.
“It’s tough for her also playing in Japan and in the Olympics,” said Czech tennis player Marketa Vondrousova after defeating Osaka. “It’s so much pressure, I cannot imagine.”
“I’ve taken long breaks before and I’ve managed to do well,” Osaka told ESPN after her loss. “I’m not saying that I did bad right now, but I do know that my expectations were a lot higher… I feel like my attitude wasn’t that great because I don’t really know how to cope with that pressure, so that’s the best that I could have done in this situation.”
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