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Swiatek survives Osaka classic in French Open


Iga Swiatek plays a forehand return to Naomi Osaka. PHOTO: AFP

AFP – Defending champion Iga Swiatek escaped from match point down against Naomi Osaka to reach the French Open third round late on Wednesday.

Swiatek outlasted fellow four-time Grand Slam winner Osaka 7-6 (7/1), 1-6, 7-5 in a breathtaking second-round clash, livening a gloomy day in which 23 singles matches were postponed.

World number one Swiatek won the last five games of the match to keep her bid for a third successive Roland Garros title on track.

Justine Henin was the last woman to achieve the feat in 2005-07. She is attempting to become only the fourth woman in the Open era to lift four Roland Garros titles and just the second – after Serena Williams – to complete the clay-court treble of Madrid, Rome and French Opens in the same season.

“This match was really intense, much more intense for the second round than I ever expected,” said Swiatek, who fought off a break point on Osaka’s serve while trailing 5-3 in the deciding set.

“Naomi played amazing tennis and maybe she is going to be a clay-court specialist in a while.”

Osaka, appearing at only a second Grand Slam since giving birth to her daughter last July, was on the cusp of her biggest win since returning to tennis at the start of the year but took a philosophical view to an agonising defeat.

“I cried when I got off the court, but then, you know, for me, 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,” said Osaka, now ranked 134.

Entering the showdown with a 29-2 record in Paris, Swiatek landed the initial blow in the first meeting on clay between past and present world number ones, breaking Osaka to love for a 2-1 lead.

Osaka, who won a match at a Grand Slam event for the first time since the 2022 Australian Open with her opening victory over Lucia Bronzetti, clawed back to 4-4 as Swiatek miscued a forehand following a lengthy rally.

The Japanese star had Swiatek in trouble down set point on the Pole’s serve in the 10th game, but the top seed knuckled down and forced a tie-break, which she dominated to snatch the opening set after 69 minutes.

Naomi Osaka. PHOTO: AFP

Osaka produced a stirring response and broke Swiatek to begin the second set before she powered into a 4-0 lead, dropping just one point on serve on her way to levelling up the match.

Three break points eluded Swiatek to start the deciding set and Osaka’s clean hitting quickly had her opponent again on the back foot.

Osaka blasted a backhand winner to break for a 2-0 advantage before demonstrating her resolve once more to save another five break points.

Swiatek fended off a break opportunity to stay in touch at 2-4, but she looked doomed when Osaka brought up match point three games later.

A terrific return kept her alive and a loose backhand from Osaka handed Swiatek a break to get back to 4-5.

After a tough hold, Swiatek broke again to move 6-5 in front before holding her nerve to wrap up victory after nearly three hours.

Swiatek will next play 42nd-ranked Czech Marie Bouzkova or Jana Fett, the world number 135 from Croatia.