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Tennis

Naomi Osaka Bounced From Australian Open in Third Round

Unseeded American Amanda Anisimova outplayed the reigning champion in the third-set tiebreak.

Naomi Osaka plays a forehand return to Amanda Anisimova in their third-round match at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia, on January 21. (Simon Baker/AP)

Naomi Osaka’s quest to win back-to-back Australian Open women’s singles titles came to a crashing halt on Friday, January 21.

Amanda Anisimova, No. 60 in the latest world rankings, ousted world No. 14 Osaka 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (10-5) in the third round.

The 20-year-old American will face world No. 1 Ash Barty, who advanced by beating 30th-seeded Camila Giorgi 6-2, 6-3, in the fourth round.

In the back-and-forth duel with Osaka, Anisimova hit 46 winners. Osaka finished with 21. What’s more, Anisimova saved two match points at 5-4 in the decisive third set.

"I'm speechless, I absolutely love playing in front of you guys in Melbourne. Honestly, it's so much fun," Anisimova told the crowd after her triumph.

“I mean, I can't stop smiling even when I'm playing, even though I should be serious."

The unseeded Anisimova ousted Belinda Bencic, the gold medalist at the Tokyo Olympics, in the second round at Melbourne Park. 

To reach the fourth round, Anisimova, a 2019 French Open semifinalist, insisted that she needed a strong performance against Osaka.

"I knew I had to be playing sharp if I wanted to give myself a chance," Anisimova told reporters after her 2-hour, 15-minute match.

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Osaka, who won her first Australian Open title in 2019 and then, as the No. 3 seed, was knocked out in the third round in 2020 (losing 6-3, 6-4 to unseeded American Coco Gauff), beat Colombia’s Camila Osorio 6-3, 6-3 in the first round on Monday, January 17. Osaka eliminated Madison Brengle 6–0, 6-4 in the second round two days later.

The four-time Grand Slam singles champion decided to take an extended break from the WTA Tour after her third-round loss at the U.S. Open in September. She returned to competition earlier this month at a tuneup tournament in Australia.

The long layoff appeared to have some impact on Osaka’s performance against Anisimova, especially in the third set, when she had 21 unforced errors and six winners.

Osaka pulled out of the French Open last spring and chose to skip Wimbledon, citing her mental health as the factor.

Despite the disappointment of her loss to Anisimova, Osaka said she has a newfound perspective on dealing with the ups and downs of her career.

"There are days where I'm going to have bad days and days where I'm going to have great days," Osaka said in a post-match news conference. "It's always random, and I never know, but no matter what happens, I want to leave the court knowing I fought for every point.

"Today there were things I could improve on, but even with that I had two match points and that's something I can be proud of myself for."

Author:  Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward's [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays,  in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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