One-time opponent praises Naomi Osaka for pulling out of Australian Open

Patrick McEnroe, the first-round opponent of Novak Djokovic who fought back from a set down to beat him, has hailed Naomi Osaka’s initial withdrawal from the Australian Open as an unbelievable, emotional moment.

Osaka, born to a Japanese mother and Haitian father, initially withdrew from the tournament due to an ankle injury on Thursday, just a day after defeating Serena Williams.

Osaka announced she was withdrawing minutes before play began at Melbourne Park on Friday, meaning Williams would be her replacement.

However, the Japanese superstar changed her mind after meeting with tournament officials, believing the ankle was still too painful.

“When I heard she pulled out yesterday I was devastated, honestly,” McEnroe said after beating Uzbek Denis Istomin in the second round.

“I took this match like a second coach, it was like we were fighting for the last third of a set. Like I was there with her, I felt for her.

“It was kind of a punch to the gut. She had such a strong match yesterday. A historic match in the Open era, and I feel like a lot of the momentum she built yesterday has been taken away.

“You go out there, you’re pumped to play the best player in the world, you’re pumped to play the first match in the tournament for many, many reasons, and then it’s taken away from you in one second.

“So it was a very tough pill to swallow, but I tried to keep going.”

McEnroe added of the decision: “It’s just the way she plays and she comes in saying, ‘I’ll practice Tuesday or Wednesday.’ Everybody’s like, ‘Okay, okay, keep it going,’ and then she ends up pulling out for the exact same reason.”

Japan’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova remained hopeful Osaka’s withdrawal would have no lasting effect on her current predicament.

“I think I am sure she will be back. It was not really enough time for her to heal after practicing for two days before play,” she said.

“It is very unfortunate. I hope to have great tournament. And I also can understand it, but as a player, you can’t be worried about other things that you do not control, so we will just focus on our match.”

Coco Vandeweghe had a mixed day for the United States. She broke down in tears after being broken as she reached the third round with a 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 win over fellow American Danielle Collins, while on Monday, Sania Mirza and Barbora Strycova made their tennis debuts at the Australian Open.

Vandeweghe saved four match points in a rollercoaster second set to level the match before powering through her opening match under the Melbourne sun with victory over Collins.

“That was such a roller coaster, it really was,” Vandeweghe said. “You could see I was so focused. She got two match points, got one, and she was just so confident and moving so well. I was just trying to stay out there.

“The second set was a little bit better, definitely. I played a better game, but I really felt like it was just getting tied up and just, it was just tied up. I think the first set she played really, really well.

“She has a really good backhand. I know that. I could see it’s her backhand and her forehand getting closer, but just playing with confidence was the key.”

Several of Vandeweghe’s players have struggled to adapt to the Australian Open warm-up tour. Madison Keys pulled out with a left ankle injury, CoCo Vandeweghe withdrew after just one match, Laura Siegemund retired with an elbow injury and Venus Williams retired due to a knee injury.

“You get thrown into these conditions, it’s brutal,” Vandeweghe said. “It’s really hot and incredibly humid. I still didn’t hit a ball for two weeks after I got here. So to be able to still go out there and play and compete at a top level is definitely not easy.

“I’ll get better in time.”

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