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French Open PIX: Swiatek survives Osaka challenge in thriller

May 30, 2024 10:06 IST
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Poland's Iga Swiatek in action during her second round match against Japan's Naomi Osaka

IMAGE: Poland's Iga Swiatek in action during her second round match against Japan's Naomi Osaka. Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq/Reuters

Defending champion Iga Swiatek was pushed to the brink by fellow four-times Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka but secured a 7-6(1) 1-6 7-5 victory after saving a match point in a high-voltage second-round match at Roland Garros on Wednesday.


In a clash worthy of a final between the current and former world number one, Swiatek showed the steely grit she possesses in abundance but has rarely needed at her favourite major, to extend her streak to 16 wins after triumphs in 2022 and 2023.

"It's hard to have any logical thoughts... it was really intense and on a really high level. I was in huge trouble in the third set but I managed somehow to win this match. I'm glad that I didn't give up," Swiatek told reporters.

"I honestly didn't believe I could win, because I would be pretty naive. But it didn't change the fact that I just tried to do work to play better. I actually managed to be more focused at the end of the match, which went pretty badly.

"In first and second set I felt like I wasn't completely in the zone. When I was under the biggest pressure I was able to switch that and maybe that made the difference."

Swiatek's clay prowess makes her a firm favourite against anyone but the 22-year-old top seed, who entered the contest on the back of 13 wins and titles in Madrid and Rome, faced huge pressure and was a point away from dropping the first set.

Naomi Osaka 

IMAGE: Japan's Naomi Osaka in action during her second round match against Poland's Iga Swiatek. Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq/Reuters

In testing conditions under the roof on Philippe Chatrier, the powerful Osaka posed a litany of problems in one of her best matches since coming back this year from a maternity break but did not capitalise while up 40-30 at 5-4, hitting a shot long.

Three-times champion Swiatek raised her level and ran away with the opening set in the tiebreak but the Pole found herself trailing 4-0 in the next set as the 26-year-old Osaka shrugged off any disappointment to comfortably level the contest.

Osaka saved two break points to hold at the start of the decider and fired a sublime backhand crosscourt winner in the next game to pounce for a 2-0 lead, which the Japanese player extended on serve after another almighty battle.

A rattled Swiatek clawed her way back from 5-2 down and saved a match point before taking full advantage of late errors from a nervy Osaka's racket to complete a famous victory and avoid her earliest exit from the Grand Slam.

Defeat was a bitter blow for Osaka, who produced one of her most memorable performances on her least favourite surface after fully dedicating herself to it in the build-up to the major and left the main showcourt to a standing ovation from the crowd.

"The journey that she had. I'm happy she's back, because her tennis deserves to be on the biggest stages. She deserves to be there," Swiatek added.

"It wasn't easy on her, but if she's going to play better and better, it means that she did some work to improve... She played amazing today. I have big respect for her coming back."

Gauff cruises past Zidansek to reach French Open third round

American Coco Gauff rolled past Slovenian Tamara Zidansek 6-3, 6-4 in the second round of Roland Garros on Wednesday, harnessing her mighty forehand in front of a crowd squarely on her side.

The US Open winner sent over nearly two dozen winners and overcame issues with her serve, including six 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 number three showed early signs of nerves as former semifinalist Zidansek broke her serve in the opening game of the match.

But Gauff, a finalist in 2022, broke back in the sixth and eighth games, and got the decisive second-set break in the ninth game before pumping her fist with satisfaction as Zidansek sent the ball out of bounds on match point.

The American has revamped her serve since picking up her maiden major on home soil last summer but has not been able to snap a three-year clay-court drought before arriving at Roland Garros.

"I felt like I could have, especially in the second set, probably won it a little bit sooner, maybe 6-3 6-2," Gauff told reporters.

"But with the matches, I mean, there's always things you can do better, and I try not to over-analyse everything."

Sinner blows out Gasquet to advance

Italian tennis star and Australian Open champion Jannik Sinner delivered a fine performance in the second round of the ongoing French Open competition, defeating home favourite Richard Gasquet on Wednesday night.

He beat Gasquet by 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 in a match lasting two hours and 14 minutes in which he played with his top form after a recent hip injury. But signs of physical struggle and strain appeared in the final set, as he walked gingerly in between points while facing a late surge from Gasquet.

The second-seeded Italian has moved to round three without dropping a set.

Sinner faced just two break points and erased Gasquet's first big opportunity to consolidate a break at love late in the opening set. But the Frenchman fought back, breaking level the third set at 2-2. Despite some physical struggles in the final set, Sinner regrouped, but not before Gasquet fought through four deuces to hold and make his opponent serve out the match.

Sinner is just four wins away from gaining the top spot in the ATP Rankings. In case he reaches the final or the current number one Novak Djokovic does not make it to the title clash, Sinner will make history by becoming the first-ever Italian world number one after the tournament.

Gasquet, 37, playing his 21st French Open tournament, reached the quarter-final at Roland Garros back in 2016.

Sinner will next face Pavel Kotov, who defeated Stan Wawrinka 7-6 (5), 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (5).

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