Playing her first Grand Slam tournament as a mom, Naomi Osaka was beaten in the first round of the Australian Open.
Osaka, a four-time major champion, fell to No. 16 Carolina Garcia of France, 6-4, 7-6(2) in just her second tournament since returning from maternity leave following the birth of her daughter Shai last July.
“It’s a nightmare opponent in your first match at a major, to play Garcia, the ultimate disruptor,” ESPN’s Pam Shriver said on air.
Osaka was one of several new mothers along with Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki in the draw. Kerber and Wozniacki have yet to play their first-round matches.
“In regards to Naomi, I always say you never underestimate a champion,” ESPN’s Mary Joe Fernandez said ahead of the tournament. “She’s won the Australian Open a couple times. I watched her play last week, as well. I thought she was striking the ball very well after a long time away. Actually thought she was moving pretty well.
“If she can find a way to get through the first few rounds, she always becomes a threat. She has major weapons with her serves and groundstrokes.
“You look at the top four with Iga [Swiatek], [Aryna] Sabalenka, [Elena] Rybakina and Coco [Gauff], tough to get through those I think at the moment. I thought it was very promising what we saw last week from Naomi.”
Garcia won the first set in 41 minutes and hit a service winner on set point.
In the second set tiebreak, Osaka hit a backhand into the net on match point.
“Of course the returns were really important,” said Osaka in press. “But I think I could have done a little bit more — this is my opinion — from, like, baseline shots. I felt like I was constantly on my back foot and really hesitant. I think it might be because I haven’t played matches in a while. I was a little bit overthinking in my head where to go.
“I think when I’m playing her, I’m aware of patterns that she likes to do. Sometimes for me randomly she’ll serve a completely different way or a completely different speed. Sometimes in ways I wasn’t expecting it. That’s why in the second set I backed up a little bit on the second serve.
“I’m also not right now the best returner.”
Garcia didn’t face a single break point in the match and banged out 13 aces. She dropped just one point on her first serve in the second set.
“If Caroline Garcia plays that well,she’s going to win the tournament,” ESPN’s Rennae Stubbs. “I mean, that’s a joke how well she played tonight.”
COCO GAUFF ROLLS IN OPENER
Playing her first major as a Grand Slam champion, No. 4 Coco Gauff got off to a roaring start.
The U.S. Open champion routed Slovakia’s Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, 6-3, 6-0, to advance to the second round
“I think I did well returning and then I found my serve towards the end,” Gauff said on court. “She’s a tough player to play but I’m happy with how I was able to manage my emotions today.”
The 19-year-old Gauff credits her improved serve to working with former U.S. Open champ Andy Roddick during the offseason in Charlotte, N.C.
“I think I just need to continue to trust it and trust all the work that I did in the off-season,” Gauff said, per the WTA. “He’s probably one of the best servers in history, and especially on the American side. I don’t think I could have gotten anybody else better to kind of help me with that.”
Gauff is now 6-0 in 2024 after having defended her title in Auckland, New Zealand last week.
“I think mentally when I have the aggressive serving mindset, that’s when I play my best tennis,” Gauff said. “It’s not so much why my serve doesn’t come off hard. It’s more so why am I not going for it more.
“I think I’m trying to go for it more. Hopefully, I can continue to have that aggressive mindset. I think I play my best tennis when I do.”