Naomi Osaka, Novak Djokovic extend bids for Olympic gold
Serbia's Djokovic attempting to complete 'Golden Slam'
Naomi Osaka has the hopes of the entire host nation resting on her.
Novak Djokovic is attempting to accomplish something that no man has done before in tennis.
Both players are after something special at the Tokyo Olympics and both produced convincing victories Monday to reach the last 16 at Ariake Tennis Park.
Osaka crushed winners off both wings — forehand and backhand — seemingly at will in a 6-3, 6-2 victory over 49th-ranked Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland. Then Djokovic dispatched 48th-ranked Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany 6-4, 6-3.
Despite this being her first tournament back from a two-month mental health break, Osaka's strong start is hardly a surprise considering that the Olympic tournament is being played on hard courts — the surface on which she has won all four of her Grand Slam titles.
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 honour at the Games' opening ceremony by lighting the Olympic cauldron.
The Japanese superstar, who grew up in the United States, was asked in March to handle the flame honours 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.
"It's something that you see as a kid on TV. You gather around the TV with your family at the Olympics and you watch the whole ceremony," Osaka went on. "I know my grandparents were probably crying and my mom of course."
Steffi Graff only player to achieve Golden Slam
If Djokovic can win four more matches, he'll not only have won his first Olympic title, he'll also be four-fifths of the way to a Golden Slam — victories in all four Grand Slam tournaments and Olympic gold in the same calendar year.
The Serb already won the Australian and French Opens as well as Wimbledon this year. Now he needs the Tokyo title and the U.S. Open trophy to complete the unique collection. Djokovic's next opponent will be 16th-seeded Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain, who defeated John Millman of Australia 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-3.
Steffi Graf is the only tennis player to ever achieve the Golden Slam, doing so in 1988.
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This is Osaka's first event since she withdrew from the French Open in May, revealing that she has dealt with depression. She then sat out Wimbledon.
Two more wins and Osaka will be in line for more honours in her Olympic debut — a medal.
"Definitely it would mean a lot for me but I know it's a process," Osaka said. "The flag is next to my name no matter what tournament I play but I feel like the scale of this is much bigger. It's something I've been waiting for for eight years [since she turned pro in 2013]."
The second-ranked Osaka will next face 2019 French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, who beat Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania 6-1, 6-2.
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.
Other top women struggled
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.
On her first match point, Osaka hit a big second serve down the T then rushed forward to meet Golubic's weak return with an inside-out forehand winner.
With her work for the day done, Osaka clenched her left fist and glanced back at her support team behind the court with a grin — as the photographers clicked away.
A couple of other top women struggled.
Donna Vekic of Croatia beat third-seeded Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (3) and Alison van Uytvanck of Belgium rallied past 2016 bronze medallist Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic 5-7, 6-3, 6-0.
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In men's action, second-seeded Daniil Medvedev of ROC and fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany each advanced quickly. Medvedev beat Sumit Nagal of India 6-2, 6-1 and Zverev eliminated Daniel Elahi Galan of Colombia 6-2, 6-2.
Meanwhile, the International Tennis Federation announced that Dutch player Jean-Julien Rojer tested positive for COVID-19 and was withdrawn from the doubles tournament with partner Wesley Koolhof.
The eighth-seeded pair were scheduled to play Marcus Daniell and Michael Venus of New Zealand. Daniell and Venus received a walkover into the quarterfinals and Rojer was placed in isolation.
Also advancing on the women's side were seventh-seeded Garbine Muguruza of Spain, French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic and No. 9 Belinda Bencic of Switzerland.