TOKYO - It was a successful return to Japan for Naomi Osaka on Tuesday at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, but not the way the Japanese would have liked.
The four-time Grand Slam champion is a massive star in her country, and she walked out onto the court at the Ariake Coliseum to loud cheers from her compatriots.
But her fans did not have the chance to watch her in action for long, as her opponent Daria Saville of Australia injured her knee and retired after just one game with Osaka leading 1-0, 30-30 nine minutes into their match.
"I feel really bad right now because of how it ended... I thought that she was just yelling because she thought her forehand was out, then I realised that she was yelling because she was in pain," said the 24-year-old, who rushed to the stricken Saville's aid on the court and also shared a warm embrace with her when she retired.
"Then I got really scared because I felt like as athletes we have a pretty high pain tolerance. It seemed really bad... I've been injured for most of the year so I just want people to clap for her. She's an amazing player."
Saville had treatment after her injury - which she picked up while leaping for a forehand - but was unable to continue. Thankfully for the Australian, she was still able to walk off the court on her own.
Osaka will next face fifth seed Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil, who beat the 21-year-old Japanese wildcard Yuki Naito 6-4, 6-2 to advance to the second round.
Osaka is the defending champion at this event, albeit from three years ago as the tournament returns for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic.
The former world No. 1 has plummeted to 48th in the rankings after a wretched run that has seen her crash out in the first round of her last three tournaments.
She is aiming to break out of her slump after not winning a title since the Australian Open in 2021 and has been hampered by injury this term - including achilles, back and abdominal issues.
In other matches, Czech sixth seed Karolina Pliskova and Chinese No. 28 Zhang Shuai took just 57 minutes each to make it through to the second round. Pliskova will take on Croat Petra Martic next while Zhang is up against second seed Caroline Garcia of France. AFP