Paris | Swiatek survives Osaka thriller at rain-hit Roland Garros

The first week of the French Open is often wet and cold, and generally gives way to beautiful spring weather in the second week, which is of little consolation to all those players who sat around for much of Wednesday hoping for a break that would enable them either to continue play, or start their matches on the outdoor courts.

This match was really intense, much more intense for the second round than I ever expected. Naomi played amazing tennis and maybe she is going to be a clay-court specialist. Iga Świątek

As it happened, Tuesday’s play began late as rain delayed the start, and, on Wednesday, several matches did get underway at the normal time before being suspended around 40 minutes later.

Eventually all action on the outdoor courts, both in singles and doubles, was cancelled, leaving the schedule in some disarray and having to play catch-up over the coming days.

Fortunately for some fans and a worldwide television audience, there was play on Courts Philippe-Chatrier and Suzanne-Lenglen, thanks to the retractable roofs that have been added in recent years, and there was considerable drama in the 4 women’s matches that were completed over the course of the day.

Courts with roofs play differently to the outside courts, and even between Chatrier and Lenglen, the latter which lets more air in, and so it feels cooler than on Chatrier, where the humidity rises once it becomes an indoor court.

The main effect of the cold weather is on the ball, though, which gets wetter and heavier in these conditions, and suits some players more than others.

It probably saved Iga Swiatek, who survived a thriller of a contest against Naomi Osaka, coming from 0-3 and 2-5 down in the final set to win 7-6(1) 1-6 7-5, and saving a match point in the process.

“That was much more intense for a second-round match than I expected,” Swiatek said in her on-court interview. “She played really, really great tennis. For sure, I’m happy that she’s back.

“Nowadays, in women’s draw, you can play Grand Slam champions early in the tournament. It is pretty tricky because you know these players are really experienced. They also achieved many great things. So they have bigger kind of belief.”

Osaka was appearing at a second Grand Slam since giving birth to her daughter last July, and she was on the cusp of her biggest win since returning to the tour in January, before it slipped from her grasp.

She said she cried when she got off the court, but 30 minutes later was decidedly upbeat, and quite thoughtful in her responses to the media.

“Probably the most fun match that I have played [since her comeback] so far,” Osaka said. “It just felt really incredible, the atmosphere, and how fun I guess everyone in the crowd was having, too. It was definitely very memorable for me. I’ve felt worse, that’s for sure.

“I, kind of, realise I was watching Iga win this tournament last year, and I was pregnant. It was just my dream to be able to play her. When I, kind of, think of it like that, I think I’m doing pretty well.”

Both Swiatek and Osaka are 4-time Grand Slam champions, and while the Japanese former World No 1 won all of hers on hard courts, the 22-year old Pole is the current World No 1 and dubbed the ‘Queen of Clay’, with 3 Roland Garros titles already to her name in addition to her US Open title last year.

Swiatek is the defending champion here, and she had to fight back from the brink of defeat to outlast Osaka and keep her bid for a 3rd successive Roland Garros title on track.

Naomi Osaka was on the cusp of her biggest win since returning to the tour in January, before it slipped from her grasp against Iga Swiatek

© Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images

Osaka was a revelation as she pounded the ball into the corners and used deft angles to keep Swiatek off balance, to the point where the Pole trailed 2-5 in the deciding set before she narrowed the deficit.

Although the Japanese served for the match at 5-3 and held a match point, she muffed it, which was just enough brief uncertainty for Swiatek to pounce, and she won the final 5 games by the narrowest of margins to avoid a shock early exit.

“I honestly didn’t believe I could win, because I would be pretty naive,” said the Pole, who now holds a 30-2 record in 5 trips to Paris. “But it didn’t change the fact that I just tried to work to play better. I actually managed to be more focused at the end of the match, which went pretty badly [overall].

“In first and second set I felt, like, I’m not completely in the zone. When I was under the biggest pressure I was able actually to switch that and, maybe, that made the difference.”

Osaka actually won more points, had 17 more winners and more service breaks, but Swiatek proved the better when it really mattered.

Little separated them in the first set, which ended up in a tiebreak, which was a disaster for Osaka because she could only win 1 point.

Everything she had done so well leading into the breaker had evaporated, but her response was majestic, as she jumped all over Swiatek in the second, taking an early lead and applying pressure to quickly win it with the loss of just 1 game, and the defending champion was now in real trouble.

After splitting the first two sets, Osaka faced 3 break points in her opening service game, and saved them all, before breaking Swiatek with a backhand crosscourt winner, which induced a primal scream.

In Osaka’s 2nd service game, she saved 5 more break points, before Swiatek’s forehand return found the net, giving the Japanese a 3-0 lead, and she served for the match at 5-3, but, at 30-all, she smashed a forehand into the net followed by a backhand that flew long, while, on the top seed’s second break point, Osaka hit what looked like a make-able backhand just long.

The match was back on serve, and, in the end, Osaka just could not close out the deal.

There were some tired-looking forehands and, with Osaka serving at 5-all, a double-fault gave Swiatek a pivotal 6-5 advantage.

Leading 30-15, the World No 1 hit a screaming backhand crosscourt winner to go up 40-15, and one more errant backhand from Osaka handed her the match.

“This match was really intense, much more intense for the second round than I ever expected,” added Swiatek, who goes on to play Jana Fett or Marie Bouzkova in the Last 32. “Naomi played amazing tennis and maybe she is going to be a clay-court specialist.”

Swiatek is attempting to become only the 4th woman in the Open era to lift 4 French Open titles, after Chris Evert, Steffi Graf and Justine Henin.

She is also aiming to become just the 2nd, after Serena Williams, to complete the clay-court treble of Madrid, Rome and French Opens in the same season.

The World No 1 laid into the crowd, saying in her on-court interview after the match: “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, and we are also making money because of you.

“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. I usually don’t bring this up because I want to be this, kind of, player that is in the zone, and really focused.

“This is serious for us. We are fighting our whole lives to be better and better. Sometimes it’s hard to accept that. The stakes are big. There is a lot of money to win. The few points may change a lot.

“So please, guys, if you can support us between the rallies, not during, that would be really, really amazing.

“I hope you are still going to like me because the French crowd might get some players that they don’t like, and boo. I love you guys. I love playing here – let’s continue that.”

The French Open crowds are notoriously hostile to any advice or criticism, so Swiatek took a risk with this statement.

Sofia Kenin upset No 21 seed Caroline Garcia in the first match on Court Philippe-Chatrier on Day 3 at Roland Garros

© Bertrand Guay/AFP via Getty Images

Earlier, America’s Sofia Kenin upset home favourite Caroline Garcia, 6-3 6-3, in a polished performance against the frustrated French No 1 to make it into the 3rd-round.

She arrived in Paris with a 4-13 record this season ahead of the French Open, and has now handily eliminated the No 21 seed.

“Her game annihilates my strong points,” Garcia said later. “She takes the ball early. She changes directions. She returns quite well. That actually makes her difficult to out-play.”

Kenin is a 25-year-old based in Florida who won the Australian Open in 2020 and made it to the final in Paris later that year where she lost to Swiatek.

Her career, though, was knocked off track by a series of health issues, and she is now ranked 56 after having been as high as No 4 in the world, and had not participated in the French Open since 2021.

“I mean, I love red clay,” Kenin said. “I feel like it suits my game. I try to use it to my advantage, and I love the courts here. Especially playing on Philippe-Chatrier was even more special and memorable. I feel, like, I’m super comfortable on that court.”

Over the years, Kenin has had to deal with a lingering foot injury, a bout with COVID-19 and a right ankle problem.

Ons Jabeur dropped the middle set but prevailed against Camila Osorio to advance to the Last 32 in Paris

© Clive Mason/Getty Images

Later, Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur beat Colombia’s Camila Osorio, 6-3 1-6 6-3, in a roller-coaster match in humid conditions under the roof on Court Suzanne-Lenglen to move into the 3d round of the French Open on Wednesday.

Jabeur, seeded 8, hardly put a foot wrong in the opening set, but she allowed Osorio to get back into the match with a poor second-set performance, before raising her intensity in the third to secure the win.

“Obviously tough conditions for me,” Jabeur told reporters. “I don’t like when the ball gets too heavy. I didn’t know how to manage much in the second set, but I’m glad I turned it back in the third one.

“I was trying to be more aggressive. Obviously when the balls are new, it’s even better for me. I felt like it was a bit humid inside that court… I would say, a lot humid.”

Jabeur combined power and finesse in the opening set to put Osorio on the back foot, with some of her shots carrying an air of nonchalance as she made the Colombian run to all corners of the court.

Coco Gauff found her way past former French Open semi-finalist Tamara Zidansek in straight sets on Court Suzanne-Lenglen on Wednesday evening

© Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images

American Coco Gauff, the No 3 seed, rolled past Slovenian qualifier Tamara Zidansek, 6-3 6-4, harnessing her mighty forehand in front of a crowd squarely on her side.

The US Open winner sent over nearly 2 dozen winners and overcame issues with her serve, including 6 double-faults, to set up a meeting with the winner of a match between China’s Wang Yafan and Ukrainian Dayana Yastremska.

“I’m very happy with how I played. Conditions [were] very slow and muggy but I got through it,” said Gauff.

The World No 3 showed early signs of nerves as former semi-finalist Zidansek broke her serve in the opening game of the match, but Gauff, a finalist here in 2022, broke back in the 6th and 8th games, and got the decisive second-set break in the 9th game before pumping her fist with satisfaction as the Slovenian sent the ball out of bounds on match point.



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