Curious move sparks wild Naomi Osaka Olympics rumour

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Pictured here, Naomi Osaka trains ahead of her first match at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Naomi Osaka is a popular choice to light the cauldron in Tokyo at the Olympic opening ceremony. Pic: Getty

It was the most closely guarded secret before Friday night's Olympic Opening Ceremony: who would be bestowed the honour of lighting the cauldron in Tokyo.

The most troubled Olympics in modern history finally opened in Tokyo on Friday night, struggling to shake off lingering virus fears after a one-year postponement and a build-up marred by scandal and controversy.

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Japan was desperate to move on from the countless dramas and who the host nation chose to light the cauldron proved to be a powerfully symbolic force.

Tennis superstar Naomi Osaka was understandably one of the favourites, with the four-time grand slam winner arguably Japan's most famous global superstar.

Osaka is the highest-paid female athlete in the world, an advocate for racial equality and a role-model for woman all around the world.

The 23-year-old was also supposed to kick off her tennis campaign in Tokyo on Saturday, however a request from Olympic organisers sent the rumour mill into overdrive.

As confirmed by the International Tennis Federation (ITF), Osaka's first match has been pushed back by one day, which fuelled speculation it was because she had been chosen to light the cauldron in Tokyo.

Naomi Osaka makes Olympics history

And the rumours proved correct, with Osaka becoming the first tennis player in Olympics history to light the cauldron on Friday night.

Battered by scandal on the eve of the opening ceremony, Tokyo 2020 organisers had the chance to patch up the Games' image when they gave Osaka the honour of carrying the Olympic flame the final few steps to light the stadium's cauldron.

The identity of the final torchbearer is one of the Games' most closely held secrets yet speculation had swirled for months around well-known athletes including Osaka, baseball star Ichiro Suzuki, judo champion Tadahiro Nomura and Masters golf champion Hideki Matsuyama, among the other favourites.

Osaka is preparing for a much-awaited comeback after her bombshell decision to quit the French Open following the bitter fall-out from her decision to boycott all media activity at the tournament.

The four-time major champion consequently set off a debate about mental health, and likened post-match news conferences to "kicking people when they're down".

She later revealed her battle with depression and anxiety in a post on social media, saying she wanted to take time away from the game to get better.

Osaka's route to gold at Ariake Tennis Park begins with a first-round tie against China's Zheng Saisai.

Pictured here, Naomi Osaka at the 2021 French Open before she withdrew from the tournament.
Noami Osaka hasn't played a competitive match since pulling out of the French Open. Pic: Getty

Poland's Iga Swiatek, last year's French Open winner and a doubles gold medallist at the 2018 Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, could await her in the quarter-finals, with Ashleigh Barty, the newly-crowned Wimbledon champion, the top seed.

Whoever carries the torch will do so into a new stadium - built on the same site as the one used for the 1964 Games - that will be nearly empty, with only around 950 people, mostly officials and journalists, watching in the stands.

Yet the torchbearer's face will likely be seen by hundreds of millions of people watching around the world.

In the hours leading up the opening ceremony, Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Emperor Naruhito met with a series of dignitaries who will attend the event, including US first lady Jill Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron.

with agencies

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