LONDON • Naomi Osaka's bid to win a third Grand Slam title came to a premature end yesterday when the world No. 2 lost to Kazakh Yulia Putintseva 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 in the first round at Wimbledon.
The Japanese, 21, said she had felt a weight lifted from her after losing her top ranking to Australia's Ashleigh Barty, but it did not show against a talented opponent who had never been on Centre Court.
Indeed, Putintseva simply replicated the form from last month's Birmingham Classic where she had beaten the US Open and Australian Open champion in straight sets in the second round.
The world No. 39 took the opening set 7-4 on a tie-break, and refused to let Osaka back into the match as the Japanese star wilted in the second set. The second seed could only muster two games in the second set and her jubilant opponent was able to close out the match with consummate ease.
Osaka also lost in the third round of the French Open as her form continued to dip since parting company with coach Sascha Bajin in February.
And, after this setback, she is still yet to progress beyond the third round at the All England Club.
Putintseva, 24, will next take on Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland.
1st rd Kevin Anderson (Rsa) bt Pierre-Hugues Herbert (Fra) 6-3 6-4 6-2, Stan Wawrinka (Sui) bt Ruben Bemelmans (Bel) 6-3 6-2 6-2, Jiri Vesely (Cze) bt Alexander Zverev (Ger) 4-6 6-3 6-2 7-5.
1st rd Elina Svitolina (Ukr) bt Daria Gavrilova (Aus) 7-5 6-0, Karolina Pliskova (Cze) bt Zhu Lin (Chn) 6-2 7-6(7-4), Magdalena Rybarikova (Svk) bt Aryna Sabalenka (Blr) 6-2 6-4, Yulia Putintseva (Kaz) bt Naomi Osaka (Jpn) 7-6(7-4) 6-2.
Earlier, former world No. 1 Simona Halep of Romania shook off a leg injury early in her opener, winning five games in a row in the second set to overcome Belarus' Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-4, 7-5.
In the men's draw, Novak Djokovic began his defence of his Wimbledon title with a solid 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 win against Philipp Kohlschreiber yesterday on Centre Court that reached no great heights but eased the world No. 1 into the second round without fuss.
After a shaky start, his serve grew in precision, firing 12 aces and striking 36 clean winners, while keeping his unforced errors down to 19 as his opponent found the chore of resistance too wearing towards the end.
It is no secret that Djokovic can be vulnerable early on in a match and, when he double-faulted at the start, a mild thrum of concern rippled through the stands.
But, following a few early wobbles, he hit the mark with his serves and, in his post-match interview, he credited new coach Goran Ivanisevic for his booming deliveries.
Of the 2001 Wimbledon champion, also the only man to win Wimbledon as a wild card, the Serb said: "He's someone I've always looked up to and we've been friends for a long time, though usually on the opposite side of the net.
"He's coached lots of great players, so it's great to have him on my side. It's a great pleasure to have such a champion and, hopefully, we can have a long collaboration."
REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN
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