Olympics: Osaka leading light on and off court

Medal contenders Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic continue to shine as the absorbing tennis keeps getting better and better at Tokyo 2020.

Naomi Osaka / Jeux Olympiques Tokyo 2020©Kopatsch/Sato/Sidorjak
 - Alex Sharp

The wait was a little longer than usual but the Tokyo Olympics finally burst into life at the Ariake Tennis Park over the weekend. Already there has been a reel of shocks and performances brimming with pride as players fly their nation’s flag over in Japan.

Osaka a beacon on and off the court

Friday’s Opening Ceremony set the tone and four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka was honoured with the role of lighting the Olympic cauldron to signal the start of the Games. Footage and pictures beamed around the world to billions, Osaka taking centre stage at her home Olympics.

“Undoubtedly the greatest athletic achievement I will ever have in my life,” wrote the 23-year-old on social media.

“The flag is next to my name no matter what tournament I play, but I feel like the scale of this is much bigger. It’s something I’ve been waiting for eight years.”

Naomi Osaka arrived on home soil having not competed in two months, but has transferred back into action with aplomb.

Five games dropped to Zheng Saisai, just five games lost to Viktorija Golubic, the No.2 seed has been torching shots past her opponents. 47 of 59 first-serve points won, seven of seven break points saved, 27 forehand winners, 16 backhand winners, it’s been mightily impressive thus far.

“For me, I feel like I’ve watched these players playing the tournaments while I was on my break, so I just really, really want to do well,” Osaka told reporters, determined to embrace her home Olympics.

“I feel like, as long as I work hard, relatively keep my head down, then good things will happen,” she added. “For me, it’s a dream to be here, to play the Olympics. This is my first time. I’m just trying to cherish this experience.”

Dialled in Djokovic edging towards glory

How about the world No.1 duo? Novak Djokovic has navigated past his opening two opponents with very little bother, however Australia’s Ash Barty succumbed to the spirited Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo.

Djokovic, hunting down the calendar ‘Golden Slam’, has been in business mode, sweeping aside Hugo Dellien and Jan-Lennard Struff in straight sets. The Serbian has been striking some scorching shots to match the blistering heat in Tokyo.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion, a frequent fixture of selfies with athletes around the site, left the court in tears at Rio 2016 following a first round defeat to Juan Martin del Potro.

“I cry a lot, you just don’t see it,” joked Djokovic, competing in his fourth Olympic Games, summing up the Olympic spirit.

“The Olympics, representing your country, has always raised the expectations, the pressure and the emotional involvement from my side. All the tennis players and athletes would agree.

“The Olympics is once every four years. That’s why the build-up is so important, and of course if you lose you feel like the whole world fell apart in that moment. But the next day you move on, that’s sport. Hopefully I can keep smiling in a week’s time, let’s see.”

Can Spanish youngster Alejandro Davidovich Fokina conjure up the answers to down Djokovic in the third round?

Barty bows out amidst Spanish and Czech success

Women’s top seed Barty struggled to impose her game in the searing heat whilst world No.48 Sorribes Tormo had “goosebumps” having completed a 6-4, 6-3 triumph, ahead of replicating her fine form to prevail past French hope Fiona Ferro 6-1, 6-4.

Sorribes Tormo has been joined in the third round by compatriots Paula Badosa, who edged 2020 Roland-Garros champion Iga Swiatek 6-3, 7-6(4), and the ruthless Garbine Muguruza.

Monday was a day of shocks as Belgium’s Alison van Uytvanck overhauled two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova from a set down and No.3 seed Aryna Sabalenka was edged 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(3) in a compelling clash with Croatia’s Donna Vekic.

Joining the Spanish triumvirate, the Czech Republic also had a trio secure a third round ticket. Roland-Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova, with 22 wins in her last 23 singles matches, has soared through alongside Wimbledon finalist Karolina Pliskova and Marketa Vondrousova.

Home star Nishikori joining contention

Away from the spotlight on Djokovic, No.2 seed Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas have managed to fend off tricky tests.

Medvedev nullified the threat of the unpredictable Alexander Bublik in two tight sets, whereas Roland-Garros finalist Tsitsipas, the first Greek man to win an Olympic singles match since Paris 1924, was forced into a decider by Philipp Kohlschreiber.

In terms of shocks, home charge Kei Nishikori rolled No.5 seed Andrey Rublev 6-3, 6-4 and world No.190 Max Purcell, a late replacement for Andy Murray, rose to the occasion to dispatch No.9 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4, 7-6(2) in the opening round.