Tokyo Olympics: Naomi Osaka lights cauldron to mark opening of Games

By Sports Desk July 23, 2021

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were declared open on Friday, with the global face of Japanese sport, Naomi Osaka, given the honour of lighting the cauldron.

Osaka carried the torch on its short final leg at the newly-built Japan National Stadium before walking the steps to light the flame and end an opening ceremony that took place with no spectators, save for 1,000 delegates and the athletes from 205 countries.

The four-time grand slam champion is the face of the Games for the host country, having become the first Japanese player to win a major title at the 2018 US Open.

She followed that success with victory at the 2019 Australian Open that saw her become the first Asian player to be ranked number one in the world in singles.

Though she followed up another success in New York by winning again in Australia in 2021, it has been a tumultuous year for Osaka, who withdrew from the French Open after the first round to protect her well-being having caused controversy by electing not to take part in post-match media conferences.

She subsequently skipped Wimbledon but will be back in action in Tokyo, where she is competing in the Olympics for the first time.

And, regardless of what happens on the court, it is a Games she will forever remember, with Osaka's lighting of the cauldron the defining image of a unique opening ceremony.

 

 

Related items

  • US Open: Fernandez feeds off Flushing Meadows crowd to 'put on a show' against Osaka US Open: Fernandez feeds off Flushing Meadows crowd to 'put on a show' against Osaka

    Leylah Fernandez revealed how the energy of the Flushing Meadows crowd helped power her to a stunning comeback win over Naomi Osaka at the US Open. 

    Reigning champion Osaka appeared on course to progress when up a set and serving for the match at Arthur Ashe Stadium, only to let the opportunity slip away. 

    The world number three lost her serve and then also her composure in the tie-break that followed, throwing her racquet on more than one occasion as Fernandez prevailed to force a decider. 

    The Canadian teenager broke immediately at the start of the third set and retained that advantage through to the finish, allowing her to complete a famous victory in New York. 

    "I wasn't really focused on Naomi, I was focused on my game and what I needed to do," Fernandez told the media. 

    "Having the crowd there, supporting me, backing me up after every point, it was amazing. It gave me the energy to keep fighting, keep working, keep running for those balls that she hit.

    "I was just glad that I was able to put on a show for everyone who came to watch."

    The 18-year-old also explained how she has always had a competitive streak, adding: "From a very young age, I knew I was able to beat anyone who was in front of me.

    "Even playing different sports, I was always that competitive and saying I was going to win against them, win against my dad in soccer, even though that was impossible, I've always had that belief, tried to use that in every match when I go on. I guess today that belief came true."

    Osaka announced in her post-match media duties that she plans to "take a break from playing for a while", as well as apologising for her outbursts on court.

    She received a warning for hitting a ball into the stands but appeared set to launch a fightback of her own in the deciding set, only for the impressive Fernandez to hold firm.

    "I've watched her win the US Open, I've watched her win the Australian Open the very next year – just seeing her, learning from her, has helped shape my game," Fernandez said of Osaka.

    "She is a great example for anybody on Tour, and all the little girls in the world.  

    "I'm just glad I had the opportunity to play against her, show everyone I am also able to compete against the best players out there."

  • US Open: Tearful Osaka says 'I'm going to take a break' from tennis after imploding in New York US Open: Tearful Osaka says 'I'm going to take a break' from tennis after imploding in New York

    Naomi Osaka's short-term future appears away from the tennis court after the tearful former world number one said she plans to "take a break from playing for a while" following her shock US Open elimination.

    Osaka's US Open title defence came to a remarkable end after imploding in Friday's surprise 5-7 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 loss to teenage sensation Leylah Fernandez.

    Up a set and serving for the match at 6-5 on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Osaka lost her cool and composure after throwing her racquet three times in an unsuccessful second-set tie-break.

    Amid boos in New York, Osaka was also warned after hitting a ball into the crowd and while the four-time major champion tried to dig herself out of a hole, she crashed out in incredible fashion.

    It comes following a difficult couple of months due to mental health concerns as a result of "long bouts of depression" since winning the 2018 US Open.

    Osaka withdrew from May's French Open having won her first-round match, after she was fined and threatened with further punishment – and possible expulsion from the grand slam – for skipping obligatory media duties.

    The Japanese star subsequently pulled out of Wimbledon before returning for the Olympic Games, though she suffered a surprise loss on home soil in Tokyo and was reduced to tears during a news conference in Cincinnati.

    During an emotional post-match news conference, Osaka told reporters: "I'm going to say what we said, I think, like, in the hallway. How do I go around saying this?

    "I feel like for me recently, like, when I win I don't feel happy. I feel more like a relief. And then when I lose, I feel very sad. I don't think that's normal. I didn't really want to cry.

    "I feel like… this is very hard to articulate. I feel like I'm kind of at this point where I'm trying to figure out what I want to do, and I honestly don't know when I'm going to play my next tennis match [tearing up]. Sorry."

    Osaka – who was bidding to become the first woman to defend the US Open since Serena Williams in 2014 – added: "I think I'm going to take a break from playing for a while."

    Typically reserved and quiet, Osaka was uncharacteristically frustrated on court – the 23-year-old immediately left the court and emerged with a towel over her head before the start of the final set.

    On her outburst, Osaka said: "I'm really sorry about that. I'm really sorry about that. I'm not really sure why.

    "I was telling myself to be calm, but I feel like maybe there was a boiling point. Like normally I feel like I like challenges. But recently I feel very anxious when things don't go my way, and I feel like you can feel that. I'm not really sure why it happens the way it happens now.

    "It's basically why. You could kind of see that. I was kind of like a little kid."

  • US Open: Osaka suffers epic meltdown as Fernandez ousts defending champion in boilover US Open: Osaka suffers epic meltdown as Fernandez ousts defending champion in boilover

    Naomi Osaka's quest for back-to-back US Open crowns came to a shock end, the defending champion imploding in a remarkable 5-7 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 loss to teenage sensation Leylah Fernandez.

    Up a set and 6-5, Osaka had the chance to close out the third-round contest before the four-time major champion suffered an epic meltdown on Arthur Ashe Stadium, where fans booed the titleholder.

    Osaka – typically reserved and quiet but in the spotlight amid her mental health concerns after withdrawing from the French Open, having skipped Wimbledon – threw her racquet three times in the unsuccessful second-set tie-break on Friday.

    The Japanese star received a warning after hitting a ball into the crowd in the final set and while she tried to dig herself out of a hole, 18-year-old Canadian Fernandez completed a stunning upset in New York.

    Fernandez showed no fear in her first career meeting with Osaka, going toe-to-toe against the former world number one.

    There were no breaks of serve through nine games – Osaka serving to stay in the set at 5-4 and she did so easily before flicking the switch.

    Osaka broke to love in the very next game, reeling off nine successive points to take the opening set.

    In the third round of the US Open for the first time and with a 1-2 record against top-10 players, Fernandez was not overawed on the big stage.

    Behind her big first serve and powerful baseline hitting, Fernandez ensured the second set followed a similar pattern as Osaka was prevented from racing away with the match.

    It appeared as though the second set would go down the same path as the first after Osaka broke for a 6-5 lead.

    But Osaka imploded on centre court – after failing to serve out the match, she lost her composure in the tie-break, throwing her racquet on numerous occasions as Fernandez forced a deciding set with ease.

    Osaka immediately left the court and emerged with a towel over her head before the start of the final set, however, she still looked off her game, broken in the opener.

    Continuing to struggle, Osaka was then given a warning for hitting the ball into the crowd, though she boosted her confidence by holding serve and avoiding falling 3-0 behind.

    But Fernandez's sole break point was all she needed, sending the defending champion home, much to the delight of the crowd.

     

     

    Data slam: Fernandez steps up

    Her only top-10 victory came against Belinda Benic at the 2020 Billie Jean Cup, having lost to Elina Svitolina and Sofia Kenin last year. But Fernandez claimed the unlikely scalp of Osaka on Friday. The result also ended Osaka's bid to come the first woman to defending the US Open since Serena Williams in 2014.

    WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

    Fernandez – 28/24
    Osaka – 37/35

    ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

    Fernandez – 6/2
    Osaka – 15/2

    BREAK POINTS WON

    Fernandez – 2/5
    Osaka – 2/5

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.