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Upset Osaka shows the strain of stardom after her shock defeat

Going home: Naomi Osaka shows her frustration
Going home: Naomi Osaka shows her frustration
Yulia Putintseva

By Eleanor Crooks

An emotional Naomi Osaka walked out of her press conference after suffering a shock first-round exit at Wimbledon.

Osaka's last match before arriving at the All England Club was a straight-sets loss to Yulia Putintseva at the Nature Valley Classic in Birmingham and it was deja vu as the Kazakh again proved too consistent.

Osaka led by an early break but could not hold onto her advantage and Putintseva celebrated a 7-6 (4) 6-2 victory, one of the biggest of her career.

It was clear how disappointed second seed Osaka was by the defeat as she spoke barely louder than a whisper in her post-match press conference and gave very brief answers.

The 21-year-old has not reached the final of any tournament since winning her second successive Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January and climbing to World No.1.

Handling the extra attention and pressure has been a big challenge and, asked how she has picked herself up in the past, Osaka said: "The key for me was just having fun, I guess, kind of taking pressure off myself. I hope I can somehow find a way to do that."

After contemplating answering the next question about how difficult it has been to adjust to her new level of fame, Osaka turned to the moderator and said: "Can I leave? I feel like I'm about to cry," before walking out.

Osaka bizarrely sat on the grass instead of her chair during changes of ends in Birmingham, saying on Saturday she felt she needed to try something different.

She looked in a much better place mentally here, striking the ball sweetly and coming to the net regularly, and quickly moved into a 3-1 lead.

But Putintseva is known as one of the best competitors on tour and, after she fought back to 3-3, things became increasingly complicated for Osaka.

The Japanese player was the one applying most of the pressure but she could not break and a wild end to the tie-break left her a set down.

Osaka continued to hit eye-catching winners, but too often Putintseva retrieved one ball more than her opponent was expecting.

The Kazakh benefited from a slice of luck at 2-2 and break point when a mis-hit backhand was shown just to have caught the edge of the line for a winner.

Osaka had a chance to break straight back but placed a volley wide, and that proved the beginning of the end.

When Osaka dumped a final backhand into the net for a 37th unforced error, Putintseva pumped her fists and looked around Centre Court in disbelief.

Putintseva now holds a 3-0 record against Osaka, and she said: "I think I was able to keep my concentration up high all these three matches.

"I feel like whenever I am going down with Naomi in bad concentration, she's straight doing so many winners. I was trying to make it as more uncomfortable for her as possible.

"It was a very tough match, especially mentally, because she's always pressing, pressing, pressing. You have to stay cool. Sometimes when she does an unbelievable winner, you have to accept it. To play on this amazing court, it's a great experience. I really loved it out there."

Belfast Telegraph


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