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French Open: Iga Swiatek survives Naomi Osaka challenge to come through Roland

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World No 1 and defending champion Iga Swiatek survived match point before sneaking past Naomi Osaka 7-6 (7-1) 1-6 7-5 in the second round of the French Open on Wednesday.

Osaka looked set to pull off her biggest win in years when she led the world No 1 and defending champion 5-2 in the third set.

But the 26-year-old from Japan will have nightmares about a missed forehand as Swiatek survived a match point to come from brink of defeat and win a classic.

“For sure this match was more intense than I expected,” said the three-time winner at Roland Garros. “Osaka played great tennis, she’ll be the clay specialist in a while. I’m so happy she’s back.

“My mind was flying around at times but the pressure made me play better. I just kept going forward and I hope my game improves.”

It was a remarkable effort from Osaka, the former world No 1, who only returned to action after maternity leave in January.

It was only three years ago that she pulled out of the French Open, suffering from depression, and put her tennis career on hold.

She has never particularly liked playing on the clay, either, having not progressed past the third round in Paris, and is now ranked 134th in the world.

Swiatek, by contrast, has looked invincible on her best surface this season, winning her last 13 matches including titles in Madrid and Rome, and was a red-hot favourite for a third successive Roland Garros title, and a fourth in five years.

Winning streak

At 22 years and 363 days, Iga Swiatek is the third youngest women’s player after Monica Seles and Steffi Graf to win 16 consecutive matches at the French Open during the Open Era

Swiatek has won her 30th match at Roland Garros, as many as Seles before turning 23; only Steffi Graf (47), Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (39), Gabriela Sabatini (34) and Martina Hingis (31) have registered more wins U-23 at this event during the Open Era

How Swiatek edged Osaka in classic…

Osaka’s start was not very encouraging but, broken in the first game, she settled as the opening set wore on and hit back for 4-4 and forced a set point on Swiatek’s serve.

Swiatek averted that crisis and, when she took a one-sided tie-break, the game looked up for Osaka.

But the 2021 US Open champion began swinging and Swiatek started scrambling.

Such has been Swiatek’s dominance at the tournament she had only previously dropped seven sets in five years at Roland Garros.

But at times she looked on in bewilderment as Osaka pummelled winner after winner – she hit 54 in all – past her to level the match.

In the decider Osaka hit an astonishing five winners in one game, even standing and admiring the backhand which fizzed across Swiatek to clinch another break.

Osaka had a match point on her racket but Swiatek repelled it with a fine return and instead a forehand into an open court that floated millimetres too long allowed the 22-year-old from Poland to break back.

The pressure was telling on both players, with Swiatek berating a spectator for calling out during a point.

Yet, when Osaka tightened up badly and double-faulted Swiatek, who had trailed 5-2, served for the match and an enthralling contest of immense quality ended when the Osaka’s backhand drifted wide.

Swiatek had not forgotten the scream from the crowd which cost her a point afterwards and told them: “I am sorry to bring this up. I have huge respect for you guys and I know we are playing for you. This is entertainment.

“But sometimes under a lot of pressure when you scream something during the rally or right before the return, it’s really, really hard to be focused.”

Osaka issued her rival a friendly challenge. She said: “I cried when I got off the court, then I thought that I watched Iga win this tournament last year when I was pregnant.

“When I think about it like that I think I’m not doing too badly. I would love to play her on my surface and see what happens.”

Was tiredness the issue for Osaka?

Japan'S Naomi Osaka Reacts After Missing A Shot Against Poland'S Iga Swiatek During Their Second Round Match Of The French Open Tennis Tournament At The Roland Garros Stadium In Paris, Wednesday, May 29, 2024. (Ap Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
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Osaka only returned to action after maternity leave in January

“I think they were both nervous, understandably so. Naomi’s game style is to go for her shots no matter what so when her arms started to feel a little bit tighter, that made all the difference,” said Laura Robson on Eurosport.

“You can see she was trying to commit to the same forehands but it wasn’t quite as free with that and her footwork.

“She handled it pretty well but what a showcase for women’s tennis!”

Wins for Gauff, Jabeur & Kenin

Tunisia'S Ons Jabeur Celebrates Winning Her Second Round Match Of The French Open Tennis Tournament Against Colombia'S Camila Osorio At The Roland Garros Stadium In Paris, Wednesday, May 29, 2024. (Ap Photo/Christophe Ena)
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Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur also found herself in a scrap to reach round three

US Open champion Coco Gauff rolled past Slovenian Tamara Zidansek 6-3 6-4, harnessing her mighty forehand in front of a crowd squarely on her side.

The American sent over nearly two dozen winners and overcame issues with her serve, including six double faults, to move into the next round.

The finalist from two years ago showed early signs of nerves as the unseeded Zidansek broke her serve in the opening game of the match.

But Gauff broke back in the sixth and eighth games, getting the decisive second-set break in the ninth game before pumping her fist with satisfaction as Zidansek sent the ball into the tramlines on match point.

Tunisia’s Our Jabeur beat Colombia’s Camila Osorio 6-3 1-6 6-3 in a roller-coaster match to move into the third round.

Jabeur hardly put a foot wrong in the opening set, combining power and finesse to put Osorio on the backfoot but a fall in the second set upset her rhythm.

That opened the door for Osorio to claw her way back into the contest while Jabeur made several unforced errors as the Colombian took a set off the eighth seed for the first time in three meetings.

Both players struggled on serve in the decider which had five break points converted, but it was Jabeur who raised her intensity towards the end, taking a 4-1 lead before wrapping up the match with 31 winners.

Former Australian Open Champion and French Open finalist Sofia Kenin breezed into the third round with a convincing 6-3 6-3 victory over home hope Caroline Garcia.

“Yes, I am super happy it means a lot that I won today, Garcia is an amazing player. I am sorry for winning,” the American said. “I am putting in the hard work and it’s paying off, merci.”

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