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Naomi Osaka’s comeback ends with earliest exit at Australian Open

Naomi Osaka acknowledges the fans after her loss to Caroline Garcia on Monday night.

Naomi Osaka acknowledges the fans after her loss to Caroline Garcia on Monday night. Photo: Getty

Naomi Osaka’s return to the top of women’s tennis has hit a speed-bump with the former world No.1 bowing out in the first round of the Australian Open for the first time.

The Japan star has won the title twice at Melbourne Park, in 2019 and 2021, with her previous worst result a second round elimination back in 2017.

But French 16th seed Caroline Garcia handed the 26-year-old a 6-4 7-6 (7-2) defeat in their opening clash on Rod Laver Arena on Monday night.

Despite the scoreline Osaka can take heart with her performance – returning to tennis at last week’s Brisbane International just six months after the birth of her daughter, with the Australian Open her first major since the US Open in 2022.

She warned fans last week “a lot of time and patience” will be needed before she rediscovers her best, but the four-time grand slam champion believes she’s capable of returning to the top of the game.

Veteran Garcia, who reached the fourth round last year, claimed an early break in the first set and never looked back.

The pair went toe to toe in the high-quality second set, with Osaka finding her range and rhythm as the match went into a tiebreak.

While Osaka opened with an ace, world No.19 Garcia lifted her own service game to keep her rival at bay.

She finished the match with 13 aces and 89 per cent of first-serve points won, while she hit 34 winners to Osaka’s 20.

-AAP

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