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Saturday, May 28, 2022

Champion Osaka crashes out of Open | Bendigo Advertiser

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Naomi Osaka has blown two match points to see her Australian Open title defence go up in smoke with a tense three-set loss to American Amanda Anisimova. The mouth-watering fourth round battle between Osaka and world No.1 Ash Barty is off the table after a fearless performance by Anisimova on Friday night. Osaka was left shell-shocked after the world No.60 hammered home a 4-6 6-3 7-6 (10-5) victory. Up 5-4 in the third set, Osaka had match points on Anisimova’s serve but couldn’t close it out. Anisimova, 20, then got off to a flying start in the tie-break, racing to a 5-2 lead, which four-time grand slam winner Osaka was unable to peg back. The Japan superstar looked like she was in tears as she left Margaret Court Arena. With Osaka returning to the sport this month from a mental break after the US Open in September, Anisimova looked battle-hardened. She won a WTA lead-up tournament in Melbourne, which was her second title, after clinching her first as a 17-year-old. That same year, she reached the fourth round at the Australian Open and became the youngest French Open semi-finalist in more than a decade. But before the US Open, her father and longtime coach Konstantin, died of a heart attack at the age of 52 and she struggled on the tour with her ranking sliding from a high of world No.21. “I’m so grateful that I was able to play so well and get this win, it means a lot,” Anisimova said in her on-court interview. The loss ends Osaka’s nine-game winning streak at Melbourne Park, where she also clinched the title in 2019. Osaka described the Open as the sunshine slam, and was looking to get her career back on track after a tumultuous 2021. Her ranking slipped to No.14 during a year when she withdrew from the French Open after refusing to do any media and then missed Wimbledon altogether. She also admitted the pressure of being the face of the Tokyo Games might have been too much, falling short in her quest to medal after lighting the Olympic cauldron. But she looked mentally refreshed when she arrived in Melbourne, and loomed as the biggest threat to Barty’s bid for her first Australian Open title. That tag now goes to Anisimova. Australian Associated Press

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