Tokyo: Japan’s Naomi Osaka sent out an ominous message to competitors at the Tokyo Games on Monday, sweeping past 50th-ranked Viktorija Golubic 6-3 6-2 to book a place in the third round.
The Japanese second seed has been in impressive form this week, returning to competition after a two-month break and embracing her role as one of the host country’s most prominent ambassadors of the Games. Winning Olympic gold on home soil would be the icing on the cake though Osaka said she was determined not to look too far ahead.
Well you know, definitely it would mean a lot for me to win gold here but I know it’s a process, she said. You know, these are the best players in the world and I honestly haven’t played in a while so I’m trying to keep it one match at a time. All in all, I’m just really happy to be here.
Osaka had not played a match since withdrawing after the first round at the French Open in May, amid controversy over her decision to skip mandatory press conferences during the tournament in a bid to protect her mental health. She made her first public appearance since the withdrawal by lighting the Olympic cauldron at the Games’ opening ceremony last week, a task she described as a sense of duty to Japan.
Honestly I didn’t feel pressured. For me, I felt more excitement, this was like a sense of duty, like something I wanted to accomplish. The 23-year-old was relentless in her match against Golubic, barely troubled on serve in the first set and reeling off four games in a row to start the second.
The Swiss managed to retain her serve after but was unable to hold off the onslaught from the world number two. Osaka secured the win with a powerful forehand to set up a meeting with either Romania’s Mihaela Buzarnescu or Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic.
Meanwhile, Defending champion Fiji kicked off the Olympic rugby sevens competition with a 24-19 comeback win over Japan on a humid, cloudy Monday morning at Tokyo Stadium.
The highly favored Fijians scored in the opening 30 seconds, with Jiuta Wainiqolo posting the first points of the men’s tournament after Japan failed to control the ball from the kick off.
But the hosts rallied and threatened a major upset by taking the halftime lead and having a seven-point margin midway through the second half.
The Japanese produced the upset of the tournament at Rio de Janeiro in 2016 when rugby sevens made its Olympic debut, beating New Zealand in the group stage and reaching the semifinals.
Again, they put pressure on a top-tier team, with Fiji starting the tournament as a strong contender to win back-to-back golds.
It was Wainiqolo’s knock-on when he attempted a one-handed pick-up off the ground as he chased a kick through in the third minute that led directly to Japan captain Chihito Matsui running three-quarters of the field to equalize.
The Fijians soon regained the lead with a second try, but, after the half-time siren sounded, Japan’s Fiji-born Lote Tuqiri crossed to give the hosts a surprising 14-12 margin at the break.
Japan, a semifinalist in 2016, extended the margin to seven points before Fiji responded with two tries to clinch the win.
The gold in the men’s rugby sevens competition in Rio five years ago gave Fiji its first Olympic medal of any kind and was recognition of its decades-long domination of the condensed rugby format.
The 2016 title was sealed with an emphatic win over Britain, with South Africa beating Japan for the bronze medal.