Down But Not Out, Incredible Will Powers Osaka To Victory

Naomi Osaka

PARIS, May 30, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

When top seed Naomi Osaka and former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, both two-time major champions, squared off in the first match on Day 5 at Roland Garros, a familiar pattern developed for the current World No. 1. She started slow, lost the first set, then fought back from the brink – showing great willpower to go after important, big shots – to dig out another big win. Osaka completed another great comeback and won 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 to advance to the third round.

At one point, Osaka trailed 4-6, 2-4 and Azarenka had a break point at 2-5. However, the World No. 1 was not to be denied. Osaka remembered she’s No. 1 for a reason and won her 16th consecutive Grand Slam match, handing all the big points and closing out the match under pressure.

Osaka’s first serve yielded a 60-percent (42 of 69) success rate and she won 23 of 41 second-serve points, too. She fired 52 winners while committing 43 unforced errors, a few which left her screaming at herself near the end of the two hour and 50 minute match on Court Suzanne Lenglen. Azarenka, who jumped out to an early 4-0 lead in the opening set and was looking for her first win over a No. 1 player in three years, hit 35 winners and 38 unforced errors. It took three match points for Osaka, born to a Japanese mother and Haitian father and now living in the United States, to close out the second-round match.

Osaka, who was two points shy of defeat earlier this week in her first-round match against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, battled back for the second straight time and seemed relieved when it was over. She had passed a major test in besting the 43rd-ranked Azarenka.

Despite losing, Azarenka said she would learn from her loss to Osaka. “Definitely. I know it’s been quite a bit of those for me, but I have been very efficient with taking lessons from my losses and trying to make them better in the next match.

”So, that’s very optimistic for me. I know I’m going to learn a lot from today. And you know, encouragement level is not low for me, for sure. I know that my game is there. Very, very close.”

Next, Osaka will face No. 42 Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic, who beat No. 29 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (8), 6-3, in three hours and 10 minutes. Siniakova came back from down 1-5 in the opening set, then lost a 5-2 lead in the second-set tie break before winning in three sets. Siniakova, who overcame 44 unforced errors by hitting 24 winners and breaking Sakkari’s serve eight times, has reached the third round in back-to-back French Opens.

Williams moves into third round

Three-time French Open champion Serena Williams needed just 67 minutes to move into the third round. The American No. 10 seed defeated Japanese qualifier Kurumi Nara, ranked No. 238, 6-3, 6-2.

The 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams fired 10 aces, won 84 percent (28 of 33) of her first-serve points, lost only nine points on her service, faced no break points, and hit 36 winners – 25 more than the outmatched Nara. It was a big turn around for Williams from her first-round match against Vitalia Diatchenko of Russia on Monday, when she  came from a set down to win 2-6, 6-1, 6-0.

“I was just too nervous in my first-round match and I knew I could play better,” said Williams during an on-court interview with Tennis Channel’s Chanda Rubin after her win against Nara, which was her 801st career victory.

By winning, Williams sets up an all-American third round match against No. 35 Sofia Kenin, who earned a walkover against injured No. 22 seed Bianca Andreescu after the Canadian teen withdrew on Wednesday with an ongoing right shoulder injury. It will be the first time Williams has faced Kenin.

Another impressive win for Barty

No. 8 seed Ashleigh Barty advanced to the third round at Roland Garros for the first time after beating American Danielle Collins, 7-5, 6-1, finishing with an ace to complete the one hour and 20-minute match on Court 1, the “bullring” arena. It was the second meeting of the season for Barty and the 36th-ranked Collins and second win for the Australian, who won in three sets earlier this month in Madrid.

Following her earlier win, Barty said she is pleased with her level of play. “I feel like I’ve been playing a really good level of tennis over the last month. So, it’s just about going out there and trying to improve on that and continuing to do that every match.

“It’s just about going out there and enjoying playing the matches, enjoy competing, making sure I’m there for every rally, there for every point, and trying to give myself the best chance.”

Next, Barty will face either No. 25 seed Hsieh Su-Wei or unseeded Andrea Petkovic.

Around Roland Garros

No. 15 Belinda Bencic completed her suspended match against 95th-ranked Laura Siegemund of Germany and won 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. The match began on Wednesday and was suspended at 9:12 p.m. with the score tied 4-4 in the third set. Next, Bencic will face No. 23 Donna Vekic of Croatia.

• Upbeat American teen Amanda Anisimova upset No. 11 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, 6-4, 6-2, in just 75 minutes to reach her first French Open third round. The 17-year-old Anisimova, ranked 51st, hit 17 winners and took advantage of seven service breaks against Sabalenka, whom she beat earlier this year at the Australian Open. Sabalenka committed 35 unforced errors while managing just 13 winners.

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

“I’m really happy with my performance. I knew it was going to be a tough battle, which it was.”

Next, Anisimova will face No. 116 Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania. Begu advanced over No. 73 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.

• No. 58 Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia came back to beat No. 96 Samantha Stosur of Australia, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 in two hours and 14 minutes on Court Simonne Mathieu. Next, she will face qualifier Aliona Bolsova of Spain, ranked No. 137, who defeated No. 84 Sorana Cirstea of Romania, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3).

• No. 104 Iga Swiatek of Poland, 17, took out No. 16 seed Wang Qiang of China, 6-3, 6-0 in just 53 minutes, taking advantage of five breaks of Wang’s serve and hitting 33 winners.

“She played really well. She played really aggressive,” said Wang.

What they’re saying

• Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’s coach on her preparation for Roland Garros: “We didn’t have as much time as expected to prepare for a Grand Slam. Considering the small amount of time she had I think she did an incredible job.”

• Amanda Anisimova, who is one of two 17-year-olds (along with Iga Swiatek) to reach the third round, on why the youngsters are doing so well this year at Roland Garros: “There are a lot of great players close to my age. … I think it’s just the NextGen on the rise. It’s good to see.”