Iga Swiatek displays tenacity, saves match point to defeat Naomi Osaka in thrilling French Open encounter

Iga Swiatek

30th May 2024 – (Paris) Defending champion Iga Swiatek showcased her fighting spirit by saving a crucial match point against Naomi Osaka on Wednesday, narrowly avoiding an early exit from the French Open in a captivating second-round clash in Paris. The intense battle, described by seven-time French Open winner Chris Evert as “worthy of a final,” lasted nearly three hours before the 22-year-old Pole emerged victorious with a scoreline of 7-6 (7-1), 1-6, 7-5.

Osaka, known for her powerful baseline strokes, came agonizingly close to causing a major upset in the tournament and securing her first victory over a Top 10 clay court player. However, Swiatek, the top seed and a specialist on clay, demonstrated remarkable resilience and consistency, propelling her to the next round.

Swiatek expressed her astonishment at the intensity of the match, stating, “That was intense, more intense than I expected for a second-round match. We played some amazing tennis.”

Osaka, the former world No.1 who returned to the sport just four months ago following the birth of her daughter, has historically struggled on clay. In contrast, Swiatek, currently ranked world No.1, has thrived on the surface, winning three of her four Grand Slam titles at Roland Garros.

By narrowly escaping defeat against Osaka, whose four major titles have all been won on hard courts, Swiatek has now lost only two of her 32 matches at the French Open.

The encounter saw Osaka break Swiatek with a backhand crosscourt winner, accompanied by a passionate scream, after facing three break points in her opening service game. She then impressively fended off five more break points before Swiatek’s forehand return hit the net. With a 3-0 lead, Osaka appeared to be on the verge of victory when she served for the match at 5-3.

However, Osaka’s hopes were dashed as she hit a forehand into the net, followed by a backhand that sailed long. On Swiatek’s second break point, Osaka’s backhand, which seemed within reach, narrowly missed its mark.

The match was back on serve, and with Osaka serving at 5-all, a double fault handed Swiatek a pivotal 6-5 advantage. Seizing the opportunity, Swiatek unleashed a powerful backhand crosscourt winner, securing a 40-15 lead. A final backhand error from Osaka sealed her defeat.

Reflecting on the match, Osaka, now ranked 134th, revealed her emotions, saying, “I cried when I got off the court, but then, you know, for me, I kind of realised I was watching Iga win this tournament last year, and I was pregnant. It was just my dream to be able to play her.”

In the next round, Swiatek will face either 42nd-ranked Czech player Marie Bouzkova or Croatia’s Jana Fett, currently ranked 135th.

In the men’s draw, Carlos Alcaraz advanced to the round of 32 for the fourth consecutive time at Roland-Garros. In a gripping encounter held under the roof of Court Philippe-Chatrier, the world No.3 overcame Jesper de Jong with a scoreline of 6-3, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2. Alcaraz will now face either 27th seed Sebastian Korda or Soonwoo Kwon in the next round, as their match was postponed due to rain.

Acknowledging the challenges posed by all opponents, Alcaraz emphasized the need for focus and peak performance in every round, regardless of ranking. Last year, Alcaraz reached the tournament’s semifinals before being defeated by Novak Djokovic.

In another men’s match, second seed Jannik Sinner triumphed in straight sets, defeating French veteran Richard Gasquet 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 during the night session. The 22-year-old Italian now awaits Pavel Kotov, who advanced by defeating Stan Wawrinka 7-6(5), 6-4, 1-6, 7-6(5).