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Superb Garcia sends Osaka to early exit

  • Lee Goodall

Caroline Garcia produced a powerful, focused and disciplined performance to spoil Naomi Osaka’s return to the Grand Slam stage at Australian Open 2024 on Monday night.

MORE: All the scores from Day 2 at AO 2024

With the tennis world wondering whether the former four-time Grand Slam winner Osaka could make it a memorable Australian Open return just six months after becoming a mother, Garcia produced too much quality for the former world No.1 throughout an impressive 6-4 7-6(2) victory at Rod Laver Arena.

The French 16th seed dominated behind her first serve all night. She broke the Japanese star once in the opening set and played a perfect tiebreak to seal it as she moved into the second round in just under an hour and a half.

MORE: AO 2024 women's singles draw

It was the 30-year-old’s serving that provided the foundations for such a formidable performance. Garcia struck 34 winners including 13 aces, and dropped just four points behind her first delivery all night.

When Garcia was asked by on-court interviewer Jelena Dokic to talk through the key points of the match, she admitted most of it was a blur.

Garcia's serve started strongly and never wavered, the Frenchwoman finishing with 13 aces

“I can’t remember everything,” she joked. “I was so anxious I was just trying to breathe, you know? I knew I would have to be very solid against Naomi and to bring some balls back and be as aggressive as I could every time I had chances.

“Obviously I had a lot of pressure on my serve – she was really trying to put pressure on my second serve, but I managed to stay solid and to be a little more aggressive at the end.

“I heard in the presentation it’s 15 months she’s been away so she’s been through a lot, and I’m very glad to see her back.

"I hope she can enjoy her tennis now and have fun out there. Six months after giving birth she’s playing quite amazing already.”

Indeed, that sentiment will be shared by everyone who enjoyed the quality of the ball-striking on display.

Osaka was the first to admit in the lead-up to what was the most anticipated first-round match of the tournament that her expectations would be realistic.

Even though the night ended in defeat, there were plenty of signs it won’t be too long before she is back to her best at the majors.

Osaka made a swift exit, but showed signs of her trademark quality

The first four games featured only two points against serve, and the first pivotal moment came at 2-2. Osaka double-faulted at deuce to present Garcia with a chance to break that was converted when the former world No.1 missed a forehand into the net.

Although Garcia continued to press to create another two break points for a 5-2 lead, Osaka held firm and will be pleased with the way she kept the scoreline close.

She forced Garcia to play some of her best tennis when she served for the set at 5-4, the Frenchwoman wrapping up the game in style from 15-30 with a superb forehand winner, an ace and another unreturnable first serve. 

The first 12 games of the second didn’t feature a single break point, and it was Garcia who made the first move in the shootout.

The 2022 US Open semifinalist ripped a forehand winner to secure the first mini break and a 3-2 lead, and piled on the pressure from there.

That 3-2 advantage quickly become 5-2 with two strong service points, and another forehand winner earned her four match points at 6-2. Moments later she was celebrating surviving one of the toughest possible first-round assignments. 

Garcia, who also won the WTA Finals title at the end of 2022, has never gone beyond the fourth round in Melbourne.

If she can reproduce this level of tennis going forward and build on the confidence she will have gained from such a solid display, she will be hard to stop.