Naomi Osaka suffered a surprise defeat by France’s Kristina Mladenovic in her first match since winning the Australian Open and becoming world No.1.
The Japanese top seed went down 6-3-6-3 in just over an hour at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
It was also Osaka’s first match since announcing the split with her coach, Sascha Bajin, a decision which had garnered a lot of attention in recent days.
“This match is the result of that,” she told the media.
“I’m pretty sure as time goes on you guys will stop talking about it. For now, it’s like the biggest tennis news, I guess.
“See, it’s a little bit hard because I feel like people are staring at me, and not in a good way.
Upsets Osaka, 6-3, 6-3! pic.twitter.com/LMr20ULEVm
— WTA (@WTA) February 19, 2019
“I don’t think I necessarily understand what position I’m in, in a way, because last year I wasn’t even anywhere close to this ranking. People didn’t pay attention to me. That’s something that I’m comfortable with.”
Osaka described her serve as “a disaster” and revealed that she had not been playing well in practice, but she remained optimistic of a return to form when she attempts to defend her title in Indian Wells next month.
“I mean, the Australian Open was not even a month ago,” she said.
“This was just one match. I feel like even if I don’t win any matches for the rest of the year, I wouldn’t say I’m concerned. I think I’m pretty young. I still feel like I have a lot to learn.”
Mladenovic broke serve seven times as she claimed a first-ever win over a reigning world No.1.
“It means a lot, honestly,” said the world No.67, who next faces Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro. “I know I’m capable of beating great players. I did that in the past exactly on this court.”
Australian Open runner-up Petra Kvitova rallied from a set down to beat Czech compatriot Katerina Siniakova 6-7(3) 6-4 6-4, while third seed Simona Halep advanced with a 7-6(4) 6-4 victory over Canadian wildcard Eugenie Bouchard.
Kvitova, the second seed, was almost the architect of her own downfall with nine double faults in the match, but recovered to set up a clash with American qualifier Jennifer Brady.
Brady pulled off another of the day’s upsets when she beat 14th seed Caroline Garcia of France 6-4 7-5, joining compatriot Sofia Kenin in the next round.
Kenin ousted last year’s Dubai runner-up Daria Kasatkina of Russia 6-3 2-6 6-4 and Alison Riske beat France’s Alize Cornet 6-2 6-3 to mark another good day for the Americans in Dubai.
Defending champion Elina Svitolina also advanced after her second-round opponent Ons Jabeur of Tunisia was forced to retire with an apparent shoulder injury while trailing 7-6(4) 4-0.
There were also wins for fourth seed Karolina Pliskova, fifth seed Angelique Kerber, eighth seed Aryna Sabalenka and 12th seed Garbine Muguruza.
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