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Naomi Osaka is out of the Australian Open after losing to American star Amanda Anisimova in a gripping three set epic on Margaret Court Arena on Friday night.
Likely set for an almost unthinkable drop to 84th in the world rankings thanks to a large points loss for not defending her Australian Open title, Osaka went down 4-6 6-3 7-6 (10-5) to a resurgent Anisimova.
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Anisimova bounced back strong after losing the first set before the third set became an arm wrestle, but Anisimova was able to race out to a 5-2 lead in the tiebreak Osaka wasn't able to make much headway into.
Despite the loss, Osaka was clearly rejuvenated after opting to skip both the French and US Opens following a demanding build-up to the Tokyo Olympics, where the Japanese star lit the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony.
The 24-year-old said after the match that she was proud of her performance, quipping that she was 'not God' and couldn't win every match she played.
"I'm not God. I can't win every match," she said.
"I think this for me is the biggest step - even though I lost, I think I was really focused throughout the entire match and I didn't have a dip.
"So that's really good, you know.
"Hopefully as the season continues, I'll be able to keep this up, and get even better at it.
"For me, I feel like I grew a lot in this match. The last match I played in New York I had a completely different attitude."
Yet following what must have been a particularly hard loss to take against Anisimova, after holding two match points, Osaka is set to freefall down the rankings from No.14 to No.84 with questions hanging over how she'll respond after her mental health struggles in 2021.
Concerns for Naomi Osaka amid likely rankings freefall
While fans were impressed with Osaka's return to the grand slam arena, some tennis experts felt the 24-year-old could potentially struggle to regain her footing in the world rankings.
Set to drop well outside the top 50, former grand slam champion John McEnroe said Osaka was in a 'difficult position' of her own making.
"This is another hurdle she's going to have to overcome mentally. Unfortunately, while the era of bringing mental health to the forefront is a great idea, now we're going to be discussing it more (with Osaka)," he told Eurosport
"How's she going to handle losing after holding match points? How's she going to handle losing early? Is she going to play a lot of events before the French Open? Will she even play the French, will she play Wimbledon?
"Things are going to be talked about quite a bit and, for me, shed more light on her.
"So she's going to have to be prepared to handle that or else she's not going to be playing a lot of tennis events."
The rankings freefall has largely come about after Osaka's lack of activity in 2021 but it will still be a shock to see the world's biggest-earning woman athlete, in the prime of her career at 24, languishing at such a low ranking.
Triple Australian Open champion Mats Wilander wonders if we'll see the best of her again.
"I'm not sure we're ever going see the Naomi Osaka who's going to win grand slam tournaments again but I think it's really important that we realise that it's going to be tough for her and should we help her out by laying off her a bit," said the Swede.
"She's going to have to re-evaluate a little bit. It's going to be a rough road but she needs to look forward. It's not going to be easy."
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