Twelve months ago, Naomi Osaka and Stefanos Tsitsipas were both riding the highest of highs after stunning Australian Open runs. Now, the pair have both been left licking their wounds after making shock third-round exits.
For 22-year-old defending champion Osaka, her 6-3 6-4 defeat to Coco Gauff particularly stung, more from the indignity of losing to a 15-year-old than the pain of losing her title.
“This one hurts a little bit more,” she admitted afterwards.
“It’s just tough. I love her, but I don't like this feeling of losing to her. You don't want to lose to a 15-year-old. I think it's because I have an age problem. I don't like losing to people that are younger than me, and there is hardly (any) people that are younger than me. I took this very personally.”
Osaka described the defeat as a reality check, and said while she knew Gauff had improved since beating her 6-3 6-0 at last year’s US Open, she was not expecting the teenager to bring such a high level to the court. In contrast, her own game was particularly lacking – especially her backhand, which leaked errors throughout the match.
“I don't really have the champion mentality yet,” she mused. “Which is someone that can deal with not playing 100 per cent. I have always wanted to be like that, but I guess I still have a long way to go. It's just something that I think some people are born with, and some people have to have really hard trials and stuff to get it.”
Having seen her section of the draw open up with Serena Williams’ shock loss earlier in the day, Osaka was left regretting missed opportunities.
“I feel bad for my entire team,” she said. “We came here to win the tournament, and I'm sort of the vessel that everyone's hard work is put into. And I wasn't able to do what I was supposed to do. And also my dad and my mom were here, so that kind of hurts more.”
But while Osaka was frustrated at her own inability to rise to the occasion, Tsitsipas – who made the semifinals at Australian Open 2019, shocking Roger Federer along the way – found himself frustrated and oddly helpless as Milos Raonic served him out of the tournament.
“Myself, I felt a bit stupid returning his serves. I felt like I was slow,” he said.
“My anticipation was not there.”
Tsitsipas was left reflecting on what he described as the ‘strange’ and ‘monotonic’ nature of tennis when up against a big server in supreme form, even admitting that it can get boring.
“You're just there, getting punched in the face with one shot,” he said.
“You can't do much. Serving aces – T, wide, on the line, so precise, so accurate, is a skill. I'm not saying it's luck. It's a skill. And the person deserves to win those points. But just one thing all the time and if you cannot keep up with it, if you cannot catch up, you're down.”