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Naomi Osaka has been targeted in a series of "disgusting" attacks on social media in the wake of her heartbreaking exit from the Tokyo Olympics.
Osaka lost to former French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic 6-1 6-4 in the third round of the Tokyo tennis tournament on Tuesday.
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The second-ranked Osaka, who was born in Japan and grew up in the United States, struggled with her usually reliable groundstrokes while the 42nd-ranked Vondrousova produced a series of drop-shot winners and other crafty shots that drew her opponent out of her comfort zone.
Osaka, who lit the Olympic cauldron in Friday's opening ceremony, won her opening two matches in straight sets following a two-month mental-health break.
But conditions were different Tuesday with the roof closed because it was raining outside.
Shortly after the match was over, organisers said that Osaka had left the venue and would not be talking to the media.
Instead, the Japanese star exited the tennis complex no doubt shattered after her Olympic dream was ended.
Osaka famously withdrew from the French Open earlier this year after being threatened with fines and suspensions from future tournaments for boycotting the media.
The Japanese then took a break from the sport citing mental health concerns.
Despite that, some fans took to social media after her Olympic exit to slam the Japanese star for failing to front the media, having done so after her opening win at the Tokyo Games.
One user went as far as branding her a "spoilt little brat", arguing that she's happy to speak the media after a win, but not a loss.
However, many fans across the tennis world rallied around the 23-year-old in the wake of her third round upset.
They argued that as the face of Japan's Olympic Games, Osaka carried the hopes and expectations of a nation on her shoulders like no other athlete.
Understandably, many supporters were disgusted by the abuse Osaka had been subjected to on social media, considering how shattered she would have been to come away from the Olympics empty-handed.
Naomi Osaka's Olympic dream ends in despair
For Osaka, this was an event set up for her. It was chance to return to the country of her birth (she and her family moved to New York when she was three) and serve as a beacon of excitement for an Olympics that has been beset with COVID delays, unpopularity among the public and empty grandstands.
The IOC even moved her first-round match from Saturday to Sunday — a rare bit of flexibility — so she could enjoy the immense honour of lighting the Olympic cauldron at Friday’s Opening Ceremony (while Tokyo 2020 drafted off her popularity, of course).
By the time she won her first-round match Sunday, she acknowledged it had been a whirlwind.
“I feel a little bit out of my body right now,” Osaka said.
And when world No. 1 Ash Barty lost in her opening match, the path to the podium looked wide-open.
The schedule, though, was a challenge unto itself — matches on three consecutive days. This coming off a self-imposed nearly two-month layoff after she dropped out of the French Open citing her mental health and seeking to avoid post-match press conferences. She then decided to skip Wimbledon as well.
This was Osaka’s return to the spotlight and there isn’t one brighter than the Olympics, especially for someone who was born in the Osaka region of the country, about a six-hour drive southwest of Tokyo.
The dream was, no doubt, to be crowned with a gold medal.
These are the Olympics though and nothing is just handed out. Vondrousova, ranked 14th in the World, was sharp and determined and had little interest in narratives.
The Czech played brilliantly, repeatedly breaking Osaka’s serve in the first set and putting the four-time major champion on her heels throughout the contest.
Vondrousova came out with her entire game clicking from the start and quickly ran out to a 4-0 lead in the first set as Osaka hardly had time to gather herself.
Osaka then broke Vondrousova's serve in the opening game of the second set but almost immediately handed the break back when she double-faulted to make it 2-2.
After Osaka lost her serve again to end the match by hitting a cross-court backhand wide, she shook hands with Vondrousova at the net, walked to her chair, zipped her racket up in her bag and followed Vondrousova off the court.
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