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Caroline Garcia Tops Naomi Osaka in Australian Open Opener

Caroline Garcia of France celebrates a point in their round one singles match against Naomi Osaka of Japan during the 2024 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 15, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia. Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Walking past the posters of past champions toward her Rod Laver Arena return, Naomi Osaka paused to tap the image of herself.

Striding behind Osaka, Caroline Garcia flashed a picture-perfect serving performance to knock the four-time Grand Slam champion out of the Australian Open.

Garcia cracked 13 aces and did not face a break point, stopping former No. 1 Osaka 6-4, 7-6(2) in a superb Australian Open opener.

“I feel definitely happy,” Garcia said. “It was a great atmosphere out there. Kind of my first late-night session. It definitely feels different. Playing Naomi in these courts, it’s always very special.

“Yeah, it will be a match I will remember. That’s also why I play tennis.”

Former world No. 4 Garcia advanced to the second round for the ninth time where she will face Magdalena Frech. The 72nd-ranked Frech fought off Aussie wild card Daria Saville 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-5.

Playing her first major match since the 2022 US Open and first Slam match since giving birth last July, Osaka showed the skills that made her a two-time Australian Open champion.

Afterward, Osaka said she was pleased with her level of play, but disappointed she couldn’t crack Garcia’s serve. 

“I thought it was a really good match. For me, I felt like I did the best that I could possibly do,” Osaka told the media in Melbourne. “It was just really nice to be on Rod Laver again, hear the audience, how much they interacted with the match. That was fun.”

The 16th-seeded Garcia faced the fire with calm confidence.

In a match popping with ballistic ball striking, Garcia smacked 14 more winners than Osaka—34 to 20—and fired some key forehand strikes in the tiebreaker to avenge a 6-2, 6-3 loss to Osaka at the 2021 AO.

This blockbuster between two big servers saw Garcia spread the serve box beautifully. Garcia served 57 percent and won 33 of 37 first-serve points, including winning 18 of 19 first-serve points in the second set.

It was Osaka’s third match in the last 16 months as she took a break from tennis for mental health and to give birth to her first child, daughter Shai.

“Of course I have to tell myself, Hey, like six months ago you were pregnant, stuff like that,” Osaka said. “Of course, like, there’s a voice in my head that is, Who are you to think you can come back and immediately start winning matches?

“I don’t know. I kind of always expect myself to stand a chance anyways. So I guess just being nicer to myself is like a key thing that I learned in my time away. But it is really tough to I guess play a good server and not make too many returns.”

Despite today’s defeat, Osaka should be encouraged with her high level of play against the 2022 WTA Finals champion. Osaka will likely want to continue refine her return game—she had 10 more break points than Karolina Pliskova in her 6-3, 6-7, 4-6 loss to the former No. 1 in Brisbane last week and couldn’t crack the code of Garcia’s serve today—but given her long layoff, Osaka has not missed much of a beat on serve.

Asked to assess the former world No. 1’s level, Garcia called it “quite impressive.”

“I mean, for someone who have been out for 15 months, giving birth six months ago, it’s quite impressive,” Garcia said. “I think if she come back and play tournament, that mean she feels ready and she’s motivated to go get some big title again.

“Her ball is heavy, serve is heavy, forehand is heavy. Come fast. You have to be really ready. Yeah, it’s great to see her back. She bring so much to tennis in the last couple of years. She had some struggle. Now she feels ready to come back. It’s great. I hope it goes well for her.”