TOKYO — There were never any questions about Naomi Osaka’s potential on the tennis court when she took a two-month mental health break.
Especially on hard courts — the surface being used at the Tokyo Olympics and the surface on which Osaka has won all four of her Grand Slam titles.
The Japanese superstar crushed winners off both wings — forehand and backhand — seemingly at will in a 6-3, 6-2 win over 49th-ranked Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland on Monday to reach the last 16 at the Ariake Tennis Park.
It was similar to the way Osaka overwhelmed Zheng Saisai of China a day earlier and it extended her momentum after carrying out the ultimate honor at the Games’ opening ceremony by lighting the Olympic cauldron.
Osaka was asked in March to handle the cauldron honors but said she “didn’t feel pressure” about the assignment.
“I felt more excitement,” Osaka said. “It was like a sense of duty, like something I wanted to accomplish.”
Two more wins and Osaka will be in line for more honors – an Olympic medal.
“Definitely it would mean a lot for me but I know it’s a process,” Osaka said of her prospects of winning a medal for the host country. “So I’m trying to take it one match at a time. All in all I’m just really happy that I’m here. I haven’t been in Tokyo for like a whole year.”
This is Osaka’s first event since she withdrew from the French Open in May to take a mental health break, revealing that she has dealt with depression. She then sat out Wimbledon.
In windier, cooler and more overcast conditions than the sweltering opening two days of the competition, Osaka compiled 29 winners to Golubic’s 14 and had only 11 unforced errors to her opponent’s 21.
Perhaps more telling was that Osaka required only 65 minutes to dispatch a player coming off a quarterfinal appearance at Wimbledon.
Osaka took control with a break for a 5-3 lead in the opening set, slapping her left thigh before returning serve to get herself motivated and then crushing a forehand cross-court winner to conclude the game.
Two more breaks followed at the start of the second set and Osaka cruised from there.
While the Ariake Coliseum is empty of spectators like all events at the Tokyo Games because of the pandemic, the photographers’ pit during Osaka’s matches is busy as ever with her every move documented.
The second-ranked Osaka will next face either 2019 French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic or Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania.
Later, top-ranked Novak Djokovic of Serbia was to play 48th-ranked Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany in his quest for a Golden Slam.