No. 1 Naomi Osaka was shockingly ousted from the French Open over the weekend, losing her shot at a third consecutive Grand Slam title and an eventual calendar Grand Slam.
Osaka, who opened the year with victory at the Australian Open but has had middling success overall, said via espnW it is “probably the best thing that could have happened.”
Osaka: losing at French Open a good thing
Osaka lost in straight sets 6-4, 6-2 in a 77-minute match to world No. 42 Katerina Siniakova in the Round of 32.
It wasn’t an easy go for the 21-year-old at Roland-Garros. She dropped the first set of the tournament, 0-6, only to come back 7-6 (4), 6-1 against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova. Osaka fell behind again in the second round to Victoria Azarenka, a former world No. 1 and two-time Australian Open champion. Osaka survived by scores of 4-6, 7-5, 6-3.
"You know, it's weird, but I think me losing is probably the best thing that could have happened. I think I was overthinking this, like, calendar slam," Osaka said. "For me, this is something that I have wanted to do forever, but I think I have to think about it like, if it was that easy, everyone would have done it."
Serena Williams, the 23-time major champion, was also out of the French Open shortly after Osaka on Saturday. The players who served the upsets — Siniakova and Sofia Kenin — were both out in the next round.
Pressure of being world No. 1
Osaka’s majors streak extends to the 2018 US Open, where she famously defeated Williams in the final. The Japanese player was ranked 19th in the world heading into the tournament and suddenly had the world’s eyes on her afterward.
She was ranked fourth heading into the calendar year and won the Australian Open in January, becoming the first player since 2001 to win her second Slam immediately after her first. It pushed her to the No. 1 world ranking she’s held since Jan. 28. She became the first Asian player to top the rankings.
The French Open was the first Grand Slam she played as the statistical best in the world.
Her unease at the ranking has been a constant since she was named No. 1. When she fired her coach, Sascha Bajin, and lost her first match as the No. 1 at the Dubai Championships in February she was in tears telling reporters she couldn’t block out the noise.
“I don’t think I necessarily understand what position I’m in, in a way, because last year I wasn’t even anywhere close to this ranking,” Osaka said then, per the New York Post. “People didn’t pay attention to me. That’s something that I’m comfortable with.”
She has spoken at length about it for various features and in post-match press conferences, including after a third-round loss at the Miami Open.
Fellow greats see Osaka’s ranked struggles
Spanish tennis great and three-time French Open champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario noted Osaka’s struggles as No. 1 to Reuters prior to the Italian Open, where Osaka pulled out with a hand injury.
“It happens to everyone. When you reach No. 1, the pressure is double and everyone wants to beat you.
“It’s hard to put it all together but once you’re ready for it... it’s a different story.”
Sanchez Vicario pulled off a stunning defeat of Steffi Graf in the 1989 French Open finals for her first major. She was 17 and in a similar situation to Osaka’s, where she was expected to win everything, she said.
Osaka’s ranking might be intact
The French Open has seen many a top-ranked player defeated so far in the tournament. Four of the world’s top-five players are out, limiting any chance of someone overtaking Osaka’s point total in the rankings at least for this upcoming one.
French Open results will be added and others from 52 weeks ago will be subtracted, including 2,000 points taken off for third-ranked Simona Halep. Halep, the reigning French Open champion, is the only top-five ranked player to reach the quarterfinals at Roland-Garros.
World No. 2 Kvitova Pliskova lost in the third round Monday. No. 4 Kiki Bertens lost in the second round and No. 5 Angelique Kerber lost in the opening round.
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