Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 19 October 2019

French Open: Naomi Osaka loses first six games but still wins first round match

Japanese world No 1 comes from behind to beat Slovakian Anna Schmiedlova 0-6, 7-6, 6-1

Japan's Naomi Osaka went through a gruelling match against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia on Tuesday. Christian Hartmann / Reuters
Japan's Naomi Osaka went through a gruelling match against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia on Tuesday. Christian Hartmann / Reuters

World No 1 Naomi Osaka survived an almighty scare against Anna Schmiedlova on Tuesday before beating her 0-6, 7-6, 6-1 in the first round of the French Open.

Osaka looked down in the dumps when she lost the first set 6-0 to Slovakia's Schmiedlova. But the Japanese star came from behind to win the second and third sets to reach the second round of the season's second grand slam tournament.

Osaka was within a whisker of becoming just the second top seed to lose in the first round in Paris in the modern era after Angelique Kerber in 2017.

"I was really close, so it hurts I lost so many chances," Schmiedlova said. "Maybe I felt like it was against the world No 1. It was not easy in my head."

World No 90 Schmeidlova, who had not won a match at the tournament since 2014, twice served for the tie in the 10th and 12th games of the second set. At one stage, she was just two points away from a famous victory.

But Osaka, who had arrived in Paris still feeling the effects of a hand injury suffered in Rome, battled back to set up a second-round duel with former world No 1 and two-time major winner Victoria Azarenka.

Osaka was broken three times in the opening set, losing it in just 20 minutes. She hit 13 unforced errors while the Slovakian did not need to hit a single winner such was the error-strewn show coming from the other side of the net.

It was the first time since 2000, when Ruxandra Dragomir "bagelled" Martina Hingis, that the top seed in the Roland Garros first round had suffered such an indignity. Osaka had not been "bagelled" since the Wimbledon second round in 2017.

She recovered her composure for a break and a 3-0 lead in the second set but a brief suspension for rain disrupted her composure and allowed the Slovakian to hit back to 3-3.

Former top 30 player Schmiedlova served for the tie at 5-4 but Osaka dug deep to save herself.

The errors kept coming and the 24-year-old Slovakian was handed a second chance to serve for victory.

But she could not convert despite being just two points from victory and Osaka stayed alive, sweeping through the tie-breaker.

That was the cue for Osaka to illustrate the gap of 89 places between her and her opponent in the world rankings.

She broke three times in the 25-minute final set to extend her streak at the majors to 15 successive wins.

Osaka ended the match with 10 aces, 36 winners and 38 unforced errors with just four of those coming in the decider.

Azarenka, a semi-finalist in 2013, reached the second round for the first time since 2015 with a 6-4, 7-6 win over 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko.

"Just the usual second-round match," Azarenka smiled. "But it's going to be exciting for me. I love to challenge myself against the best players."

Updated: May 29, 2019 02:46 AM

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