Five-time singles winner Venus Williams also sent out in the first round
LONDON — July 1, 2019: Naomi Osaka knows the secret to her meteoric rise to the tennis summit was her ability to enjoy herself on court and, by the same token, that her current slump has drained every bit of fun out of her game.
Her first-round Wimbledon exit to Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva today was the tournament’s first major shock and she was left close to tears in an emotional news conference as she tried to put into words how her form has deserted her.
Having thrust herself into the limelight by winning back-to-back Grand Slam titles at the U.S. and Australian Opens, the pressure and scrutiny that come with being among the sport’s biggest stars has seemingly taken its toll on the 21-year-old.
At times in her 7-6(4) 6-2 defeat, the second seed looked visibly despondent as the attacking game that had taken her to world number one delivered little more than a flurry of unforced errors.
The weapons that had been so potent in New York and Melbourne were wayward and scattergun on Centre Court and as the match swiftly got away from her in the second set, Osaka looked increasingly forlorn.
When she was asked by reporters if her new-found fame had been difficult to get used to, she cut the conversation short.
“Can I leave? I feel like I’m about to cry,” she said.
Having only reached one semi-final since lifting the Australian Open trophy in January, the coming weeks will lead to head-scratching analysis from Osaka as she tries to rediscover the missing ingredients from her game.
“The key for me was just, like, having fun, I guess, like learning how to have fun, kind of taking pressure off myself. I hope I can somehow find a way to do that,” she said.
After her third-round exit at the French Open, which ended her run of Grand Slam success and was closely followed by her losing the top ranking, she said a weight of expectation had been lifted off her shoulders.
Yet there was little evidence today that she was playing with a new-found freedom.
School girl Gauff causes one of the biggest upsets in defeating idol Venus
In another game, Cori Gauff served up the perfect excuse for playing hooky from school as the 15-year-old American caused one of the biggest shocks in Wimbledon history by dispatching Venus Williams 6-4 6-4 in the first round.
Aged 39, Williams is considered Wimbledon royalty as she has been part of the All England Club family for over two decades, having won the singles title five times — including two before Gauff was even born.
But Gauff, the youngest player to qualify for the main draw in the professional era, was in no mood to play a lady-in-waiting as she made a mockery of the 24-year-age difference and 269 ranking spots that separate her from her idol Williams.
Playing a fearless brand of tennis that belied her young age, she bullied Williams into submission.
“I don’t even know how to explain how I feel,” Gauff, who wiped away a tear as she walked off Court One, said moments after her remarkable win.
“I definitely had to tell myself to stay calm, I have never played on a court so big, but I had to remind myself that the lines on the court are the same size, everything around it might be bigger, but the lines are the same and after every point I was just telling myself to stay calm.
“I never thought this would happen, I am literally living my dream right now, and not many get to say that. So I am just happy that Wimbledon gave me the opportunity just to play and I obviously never thought it would be this far,” added the teenager, who was given a wildcard into the qualifying tournament.
Before the match, Gauff, known as Coco, had told her Instagram followers: “Two of my teachers found out I played tennis after I made the main draw here.”
If her Florida-based teachers needed any proof on exactly what she was up to, they only needed to tune into their TVs to see just why Wimbledon was going Coco-crazy today. — Reuters