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TENNIS

Osaka gives up AO crown: 'This is the biggest step, even though I lost'

Amanda Anisimova eliminated Naomi Osaka from the Australian Open on Friday, but the defending champion reflected with pride.

Update:
Osaka gives up AO crown: 'This is the biggest step, even though I lost'
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Naomi Osaka is taking pride from her Australian Open campaign despite suffering a shock third-round exit to unseeded Amanda Anisimova on Friday.

The two-time Melbourne champion fell short in her latest title defence with a 4-6 6-3 7-6 (10-5) loss to Anisimova in a thrilling contest on Margaret Court Arena.

Osaka, who eased past Camila Osorio and Madison Brengle in straight sets in the first two rounds, squandered two match points to overcome 20-year-old opponent Anisimova.

It means the Japanese star has now failed to defend any of her four major crowns, with Victoria Azarenka the last women's player to do so at Melbourne Park in 2012 and 2013.

But competing in her first competitive event since exiting the US Open to Leylah Fernandez in September, Osaka was pleased with her efforts.

"I fought for every point. I can't be sad about that," said Osaka, who nearly walked away from tennis last year.

Japan's Naomi Osaka reacts as she plays against Amanda Anisimova of the US during their women's singles match on day five of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 21, 2022. (Photo by William WEST / AFP) / -- IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDI
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Japan's Naomi Osaka reacts as she plays against Amanda Anisimova of the US during their women's singles match on day five of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 21, 2022. (Photo by William WEST / AFP) / -- IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDIWILLIAM WESTAFP

"I'm not God, I can't win every match. It would be nice to win the tournament, but I can't think of winning the grand slam at the start of the year every time.

"I feel like I grew a lot in this match. The last time I played in New York I think I had a completely different attitude, so I'm really happy, even though I lost. I'm happy how it went."

Osaka's Australian Open title defence has been halted by a breakthrough American talent for the second time, having previously lost to Coco Gauff at the same stage in 2020.

Despite match points passing the world number 13 by, she refused to be too downbeat by the manner of the defeat.

"There are days that I'm going to have bad days, and there are days that I'm going to have great days," she said. 

"It's always random, and I never know, but no matter what happens for me, I just want to leave the court knowing that I fought for every point.

"Today, of course there were things I felt I could improve on, but even with that, I had two match points, and I think that's something that I can be proud of myself for."

Osaka had dropped just one set in her first five matches this season and looked in the mood as she raced ahead against Anisimova.

But Anisimova hit more than twice the number of winners that Osaka managed (46 to 21) to pull off a huge upset and set up a last-16 clash with top seed Ash Barty.

The American lifted her second career title at Melbourne Summer Set 2 earlier this month and has now won 10 of the last 11 matches she has played, including all eight in 2022. 

It is the first time Anisimova has won from match point down since the 2019 Mallorca Open and the youngster was lost for words in her on-court interview.

"I'm speechless. I absolutely love playing in front of you guys [the crowd] in Melbourne. It's honestly so much fun. I can't stop smiling," she said.

"I knew I had to be playing sharp if I wanted to give myself a chance, Naomi is always going to be playing well and she's an absolute champion. 

"I knew I had to step up my game and try to be aggressive, I think that's what I started doing in the second set.

"I'm so grateful I was able to play well and get this win, it means a lot. Stepping on to the court, all I'm thinking is having fun. Every day here is an amazing opportunity."

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