No.16 seed Caroline Garcia ended former World No.1 Naomi Osaka's return to the Grand Slam stage with a 6-4, 7-6(2) defeat in the first round of the Australian Open.

Osaka gave birth to daughter Shai in July last year, and returned from maternity leave a fortnight ago in Brisbane, falling to Karolina Pliskova in the second round. She had defeated Garcia 6-2, 6-3 in the second round of the 2021 Australian Open en route to her second title in Melbourne Park, but the Frenchwoman delivered a superb serving performance to reverse that result.

Former World No.4 Garcia, whose best Australian Open performances to date are a pair of fourth-round runs in 2018 and 2023, will face Magdalena Frech for the first time in the second round. The No.69-ranked Pole won the longest women's match of the tournament so far, quelling wild card Daria Saville 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-5 in 3 hours and 13 minutes.

The result guarantees a new Australian Open quarterfinalist, as Osaka was the only player in this eighth of the draw to have previously made the last eight here. Along with Garcia, the only other players in this section to have made any major quarterfinal before are No.4 seed Coco Gauff and No.32 seed Leylah Fernandez.

Service supremacy: With both players boasting formidable serves which landed them double-digit aces, it was unsurprising that the match hinged on their performances in this area. By and large, both were able to protect their deliveries, often coming up with clutch first-strike tennis to avoid danger. Garcia did not face a break point all match, and Osaka only faced break point in two games.

Unfortunately for Osaka, those fine margins proved crucial. A double fault and a netted forehand cost the Japanese player her serve at 2-2 in the first set. Though she came up with some ferocious forehands to avoid going down a double break two games later, the lead proved sufficient for Garcia to close out the opener.

There was nothing between the two players through the second set -- indeed, only one point was won by the returner through the first six games. But in the tiebreak, Garcia's ultra-aggressive return position paid off, enabling her to find forehand winners to capture the first two mini-breaks. The former WTA Finals champion converted her first match point as Osaka netted a backhand.

Garcia's final tally was 13 aces to Osaka's 11, and 34 winners to Osaka's 20. She also committed fewer unforced errors, 24 to Osaka's 25, and won seven out of nine points at net.

Garcia overcomes emotions to handle pressure: A few hours ahead of her Rod Laver Arena night-time showdown, Garcia posted some positive vibes on social media, writing: 

"Let's tennis for the experience, for the fun, for the passion, keep growing. Let's do it the best way I'm able to do it today, with all my emotions, my love, my smile, my struggles, my anxiety."

Afterwards, she expanded on what she'd felt in press.

"Sometimes there is a lot going on," said Garcia. "Sometimes I'm really definitely struggling with my emotion. On court I'm not always having a great time lately. Sometimes it's overwhelming.

"Definitely to be playing first round Naomi, coming back, great, great player, playing very late match, I was overwhelmed and I was scared to step out there."

But Garcia and her team were able to get past her fear.

"I let it out, so that means I cried a lot," she said. "I talked with my team. They gave me some positive energy, my partner, my coach. After you realize that you prepared, you trained well, I had a couple of match behind me with some good performance [...] I was feeling good physically. Then I tried to breathe as much as I could every single point. 

"At 5-4 I told my coach, Pressure is coming up, I have to serve it out, and I feel more and more stress. It was just really point at a time today."

Osaka on rusty returns and groundstrokes: "Of course the returns were really important," said Osaka in press. "But I think I could have done a little bit more -- this is my opinion -- from, like, baseline shots. I felt like I was constantly on my back foot and really hesitant. I think it might be because I haven't played matches in a while. I was a little bit overthinking in my head where to go. 

"I think when I'm playing her, I'm aware of patterns that she likes to do. Sometimes for me randomly she'll serve a completely different way or a completely different speed. Sometimes in ways I wasn't expecting it. That's why in the second set I backed up a little bit on the second serve. 

"I'm also not right now the best returner."