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Naomi Osaka goes down in hard-fought loss to Caroline Garcia on Grand Slam return

Naomi Osaka showed plenty of encouraging signs as she went down in two tight sets to Caroline Garcia on her return to the Australian Open stage.

Playing in her first major tournament since the US Open in 2022 following the birth of daughter Shai last summer, Osaka gave Garcia a good fight but fell to a 6-4 7-6 (2) defeat on Rod Laver Arena.

It is the first time the 26-year-old, who won the title in Melbourne in 2019 and 2021, has lost in the opening round here.

Osaka certainly looked the part, her iridescent jacket, dress and shoes shimmering in the floodlights.

She made her return in Brisbane a fortnight ago, beating Tamara Korpatsch before a narrow loss to Karolina Pliskova.

This was a step up both in occasion and opponent but Osaka showed her serve and groundstrokes have lost none of their potency, drawing grasps from the crowd with her crisp ball-striking.

There were a few too many errors, though, and Garcia's break of serve to lead 3-2 ultimately decided the set.

Neither player could find the breakthrough in the second set but France's Garcia, who served 13 aces in all, was the stronger in the tie-break.

"I thought it was a really good match," said Osaka. "I felt like I did the best that I could possibly do. It was just really nice to be on Rod Laver again, hear the audience, how much they interacted with the match. That was fun.

"I don't regret anything. I think I've learned a lot during this trip, both on the court and off the court. Also, I think I just played some really good people. It's a little unfortunate.

"I wouldn't say this comeback is how I thought because I'm delusional enough to think I could have won the tournament. I think my delusion is what allows me to win the tournaments.

"I think I just have to keep living day by day and training hard and playing a lot more matches, and hopefully my dreams will come true."

Coco Gauff eased into the second round but Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova was an early casualty.

The Czech seventh seed, a surprise winner at the All England Club last summer, won only three games in a 6-1 6-2 thumping by Ukrainian qualifier Dayana Yastremska.

The 23-year-old spoke afterwards about the inspiration she takes from the bravery of people in her war-torn homeland, saying: "I'm very proud of Ukraine, proud of the people, proud of the warriors and just the civilians.

"When I was in Brisbane, before my match the rocket arrived on my grandmother's house so it was pretty hard to play, but I think we just need to remember about it and give as much support as possible to Ukraine. I'm proud to be Ukrainian."

Vondrousova reached the quarter-finals of the US Open but has otherwise struggled since defeating Ons Jabeur in the Wimbledon final.

She made 19 unforced errors, while the big-hitting Yastremska racked up 26 winners.

Gauff opened proceedings on Rod Laver Arena on the second day of the tournament for her first grand slam match since she lifted the US Open trophy in September.

And she brushed aside Slovakia's Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 6-3 6-0 in exactly an hour, winning nine games in a row to set up a second-round clash with countrywoman Caroline Dolehide.

"I felt good," said the 19-year-old, who was been working on her serve with former world number one Andy Roddick.

"I was a little bit nervous coming in today."

There was more success for Ukraine on the 1573 Arena, where 19th seed Elina Svitolina, who missed last year's tournament following the birth of daughter Skai, saw off Australian wild card Taylah Preston 6-2 6-2.

Sixth seed Jabeur made a confident start, beating qualifier Yuliia Starodubtseva 6-3 6-1 to set up a second-round clash with Russian Mirra Andreeva – the third 16-year-old to reach the last 64.

The teenager was a beaten finalist in the girls' singles last year but has made rapid strides in the senior game, including a run to the fourth round of Wimbledon.

"I know she's 16 years old, but she's very tough," said Jabeur. "I might be her idol, but she wants to go there and kick my ass for sure."

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