(Reuters) - Second seed Naomi Osaka kicks off her quest for a third Grand Slam title against unseeded Kazakh Yulia Putintseva at Wimbledon on Monday in the Japanese’s first tournament since losing her world number one ranking.
Osaka’s early exit from the Birmingham Classic this month allowed Australia’s Ash Barty to overtake her as world number one, but she has welcomed the easing of pressure on herself as she heads into the year’s third Grand Slam tournament.
“Mentally it was way more stress and pressure than I could have imagined,” Osaka, 21, said on Saturday. “I think it’s better for me now to be... lower-ranked.”
In Putintseva, however, Osaka faces a tricky opponent who has beaten the Japanese in both of their two previous meetings, including at the Birmingham grasscourt warm-up event last month.
Putintseva, ranked 39th in the world, has never gotten past the second round at Wimbledon but has seven career victories against players in the world’s top 10 and won her maiden WTA title at Nuremberg in May.
In one of the more intriguing matches of the opening day, American Venus Williams, 39, a five-times champion at the All England Club, takes on compatriot Cori ‘Coco’ Gauff, who at the age of 15 is the youngest player to qualify for the main draw.
Williams had already won four of her seven Grand Slam titles before Gauff was born and the match has caught the eye of none other than Swiss maestro Roger Federer.
“I think that’s fascinating, that she plays Venus now,” the eight-times Wimbledon champion, whose management company Team 8 also looks after Gauff, told reporters.
“I think it’s a great storyline. I think that would be a great, wonderful experience for Coco and Venus.
“Coco is a nice girl, works really hard. I think she’s obviously got a wonderful future.”
Elsewhere in women’s draw, third seed Karolina Pliskova, who is fresh off her title win at Eastbourne on Saturday, faces China’s Zhu Lin.
Men’s world number one Novak Djokovic kicks things off on Centre Court against Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber, who beat the Serbian top seed in straight sets at Indian Wells in March.
Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, the seventh seed, is in action on Court Two against Italy’s Thomas Fabbiano, while sixth seed Alexander Zverev begins his campaign against the Czech Republic’s Jiri Vesely on Court One.
Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru, editing by Pritha Sarkar