Naomi Osaka has sent an ominous message to the tennis world with a stunning return to international tennis at the Tokyo Olympics.
The Japanese 23-year-old defeated 52nd-ranked Zheng Saisai of China 6-1, 6-4, days after lighting the Olympic cauldron and getting the Tokyo Games underway.
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It had been more than a month since Osaka last played, having withdrawn prior to the second round of the French Open, citing her mental health and a desire to avoid speaking with media at Roland Garros.
Osaka also withdrew from Wimbledon, but her road to Olympic gold became much easier after world No.1 Ash Barty was knocked out of the first round in stunning fashion.
Three aces in four points against Saisai was indication enough for many that Osaka's time off hadn't come anywhere close to affecting her form.
The second-ranked Osaka was sharp from the start, serving an ace down the T on the opening point of the match and and racing out to a 5-0 lead.
Wearing a bright red dress and a red visor and with her hair styled in red-and-white braids to match the colors of the Japanese flag stitched onto the left side of her chest, Osaka served six aces in all and produced 25 winners to Zheng's 10.
— #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) July 25, 2021
Naomi Osaka won the first set, 6-1, over China's Saisai Zheng. She was dominant.
— Jorge Castillo (@jorgecastillo) July 25, 2021
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) July 25, 2021
Osaka’s match was originally scheduled to open the tournament on Saturday but then was pushed back a day before her starring role in Friday’s opening ceremony.
Osaka will next face 50th-ranked Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland.
Ash Barty knocked out in stunning first round boilover
For other top players in the tennis tournament at the Tokyo Games, it wasn't so straightforward.
Top-ranked Ash Barty was upset by 48th-ranked Spanish opponent Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-4, 6-3 and two-time defending gold medalist Andy Murray withdrew from singles because of a right quad strain.
Both still remain in the doubles competition.
Barty won with Australian partner Storm Sanders on Saturday while Murray and British partner Joe Salisbury beat the second-seeded French team of Pierre-Hughes Herbert and Nicolas Mahut.
Barty’s singles defeat came 15 days after she won Wimbledon for her second Grand Slam title.
She struggled with a whopping 55 unforced errors to Sorribes Tormo’s 13 and got in only 54% of her first serves compared to her opponent’s 83%.
“I never really felt comfortable out there and wasn’t able to play the match on my terms,” Barty said.
“The key to my game is serving well and I wasn’t able to do that today. I was a bit erratic and made too many errors.”
Murray pulled out shortly ahead of his scheduled opener against ninth-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada on Center Court.
“I am really disappointed at having to withdraw but the medical staff have advised me against playing in both events, so I have made the difficult decision to withdraw from the singles and focus on playing doubles with Joe,” Murray said.
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