Tennis

Naomi Osaka stages another great escape at Roland Garros

AFP-JIJI

Top seed Naomi Osaka staged a second successive Roland Garros great escape on Thursday when she battled back from a set and a break down to defeat Victoria Azarenka 4-6, 7-5, 6-3.

World No. 1 Osaka, bidding to add the French Open to her U.S. and Australian Open titles, had been two points from defeat in her opener against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

Against former No. 1 and two-time major winner Azarenka she was staring down the barrel yet again at 2-4 down in the second set.

However, the 21-year-old held her nerve, despite squandering two match points, to secure her place in the third round and a clash against either Greek 29th seed Maria Sakkari or Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic.

“I was lucky to have played her twice before. I knew she had been playing well coming into the tournament,” said Osaka.

“It was an unfortunate second round for me so I am happy to win.”

Osaka finished the 2-hour, 50-minute encounter on Court Suzanne Lenglen with 52 winners and 43 unforced errors.

She becomes the first top seed to win her two opening matches at Roland Garros after losing the first set since Lindsay Davenport in 2005.

Azarenka, now at No. 43 in the world, claimed the 40-minute first set having stretched out to a 5-1 lead on the back of two breaks of serve.

Osaka was undone by 15 unforced errors.

She appeared doomed when she slipped 4-2 down in the second set after failing to convert three break points in the fourth game.

But she rallied to level at 4-4 after a 10-minute eighth game, secured on an Azarenka double fault.

The Belarusian, who had knocked out 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko in the first round, then saved three set points in the 12th game before Osaka leveled the contest with a pinpoint, down-the-line winner.

After an 85-minute set, Azarenka stretched a bathroom break to 10 minutes before squandering three break points in the first game of the decider.

Osaka made her pay, breaking twice for a 5-1 lead.

However, in a rollercoaster of a match, Azarenka cut the deficit to 5-3, saving two match points in the process.

“I choked on this side and almost choked there, too. I am a very emotional person,” Osaka said, explaining how she almost allowed Azarenka back into it.

Also Thursday, 17-year-olds Amanda Anisimova and Iga Swiatek both romped into the third round with comprehensive victories over seeded players to firmly mark themselves out as future stars.

The United States’ Anisimova followed up her shock Australian Open third-round victory over Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka by dismantling the 11th seed again, 6-4, 6-2.

Polish hope Swiatek, who turns 18 on Friday, thrashed Chinese 16th seed Wang Qiang 6-3, 6-0 in under an hour to reach the last 32 of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time.

World No. 51 Anisimova has seen her section of the draw open up to the extent that she cannot even face a higher-ranked player than her until at least the quarterfinals.

“I’d never passed a round at the French Open, so obviously it’s super special. It feels great,” she said.

Anisimova is the youngest American woman to get this far at Roland Garros since 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams in 1999, and she revealed the three-time French Open winner helped her after a difficult recent defeat.

“I mean, she’s done so much for the sport. She’s a huge inspiration to me. I really look up to her. That’s just great to be achieving stuff similar to her,” she added.

World No. 10 Serena Williams defeated Kurumi Nara 6-3, 6-2 in a second-round match.

Williams will face Sofia Kenin for a last-16 spot, after her fellow American received a walkover following Canadian Bianca Andreescu’s withdrawal through injury.