– Naomi Osaka returned to Grand Slam tennis after maternity leave in the same way she left it, with a first-round loss after going down 6-4 7-6 (2) to Caroline Garcia on Rod Laver Arena at the Australian Open on Monday.
Taking on the experienced French 16th seed, who is an aggressive baseliner like Osaka, was always going to be a big challenge for the two-time Australian Open champion, who returned to tournament tennis only two weeks ago after being out for 15 months.
The power that took Osaka to four Grand Slam titles before she took time off to have daughter Shai was still there, but it was always going to take Osaka, 26, time to rediscover her accuracy in clutch moments.
A double fault gave Garcia, 30, the first break point of the match in the fifth game, and the former world No. 4 converted it with alacrity to edge ahead.
Osaka had a sniff of a break back at deuce in the eighth game but dumped a routine backhand into the net. Garcia held with back-to-back aces before going on to take the set.
The Japanese former world No. 1 won her first three service games of the second set to love, but Garcia’s serving was brilliant and Osaka was unable to put any pressure on it.
Osaka had beaten Garcia 6-2, 6-3 on the way to her 2021 triumph at Melbourne Park. But this was a much tighter contest, with the second set decided in a tiebreaker.