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Naomi Osaka loses at French Open, may skip point-less Wimbledon

Naomi Osaka lost her first-round match at the French Open to American Amanda Anisimova. (Martin Divisek/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
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PARIS — Four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka’s return to the French Open ended with a first-round defeat Monday, as the former world No. 1 fell to American Amanda Anisimova, 7-5, 6-4.

Addressing what’s ahead during the news conference that followed, Osaka revealed that she may not compete at Wimbledon next month as a result of the pro tours’ decision to withhold ranking points from competitors in retaliation for the All England Club’s ban of players from Russia and Belarus over their countries’ invasion of Ukraine.

Without ranking points, Osaka explained, Wimbledon would feel “more like an exhibition,” which she suspected would affect her motivation.

“Whenever I think something is like an exhibition, I just can’t go at it 100 percent,” Osaka said in English while responding to a question posed in Japanese. “I didn’t even make my decision yet, but I’m leaning more toward not playing [Wimbledon] given the current circumstances. But, you know, that might change.”

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The Women’s Tennis Association and the Association of Tennis Professionals, which govern the women’s and men’s pro tours, announced Friday that they would not award points for Wimbledon this year — a move that penalizes all players — on the grounds that the All England Club’s decision to bar Russian and Belarusian players was discriminatory. If certain players could not compete, according to the tours’ rationale, then none should earn ranking points that the tours control.

Osaka’s defeat Monday was her second consecutive Grand Slam ouster at the hands of Anisimova, 20, who edged her in a three-set clash at the Australian Open in January that was settled by a tiebreaker. At the time, Osaka was the higher-ranked player, seeded 13th, which made the unseeded Anisimova’s victory an upset.

But the pecking order has since reversed, with Anisimova the French Open’s 27th seed and Osaka unseeded because her ranking has slipped to 38th, largely because she has competed in just three tournaments since Australia. That meant that Osaka arrived at Roland Garros without the protection that seeded players enjoy against formidable first-round opponents.

“I know that I don’t play as many tournaments as everyone else,” Osaka said. “I know that when I enter the draw, there is a chance that I’m going to play players that maybe I wish I don’t play. But it’s kind of the consequences of my own actions type of thing.”

Osaka declared herself pleased to be back at Roland Garros during a genial news conference on the eve of the tournament — her first time back since she withdrew from last year’s event after winning her opener under threat of sanctions for her decision not to participate in mandatory post-match news conferences.

Osaka’s decision, which she later explained was to safeguard her emotional well-being from the dynamic of a group of reporters asking “questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before or … questions that bring doubt into our minds,” started a broader conversation about athletes’ mental health and the obligation of sports organizations to provide appropriate support services.

Osaka, 24, has not advanced beyond the third round at the French Open, the only major contested on clay. All four of her Grand Slam titles have come on hard courts: the U.S. Open in 2018 and 2020 and the Australian Open in 2019 and 2021.

On Monday, Anisimova, a 2019 French Open semifinalist, proved a particularly difficult opponent, the more consistent and confident player.

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Osaka committed 29 unforced errors to 13 winners and landed only 45 percent of her first serves. She overcame an early deficit in the opening set, only to get broken again, serving at 5-5, on a double fault.

A tight second set turned on the same glitch — an Osaka double fault at 3-3 — and Anisimova went on to serve out the match on a backhand down-the-line winner.

“When you see Naomi Osaka in the first round, you don’t think it’s going to be easy,” Anisimova said during her on-court interview. “It was a very tough match.”

For Osaka, it was a victory of sorts as well.

“For me, I’m really happy with myself, because I know the emotions that I left France last year,” Osaka said. “I feel really happy that I was able to play in front of fans, and the feeling is much different compared to last year. So I think I’m really glad that I was able to experience that.”