PARIS — Naomi Osaka’s quest for a third consecutive Grand Slam title almost came to an abrupt end on Tuesday as a number of top players struggled to book their spots in the second round of the French Open.
On a windy and chilly day at Roland Garros, world number one Osaka, who won the US and the Australian Opens, lost the opening set to love against Slovakian Anna Karolina Schmiedlova before rallying back for a 0-6 7-6(4) 6-1 victory.
Defending champion Simona Halep, Osaka’s potential semi-final opponent, lost her way in the second set against Australian Ajla Tomljanovic in a 6-2 3-6 6-1 victory on a windswept Court Philippe Chatrier.
In the men’s draw, German fifth seed Alexander Zverev was also pegged back during his match against Australian John Millman and needed five sets to progress after winning the first two.
Last year’s semi-finalist Juan Martin Del Potro also huffed and puffed into round two with a four-set win against Nicolas Jarry of Chile.
Victoria Azarenka avoided the fate of fellow former world number ones Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki, who were knocked out in the first round, when she beat 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko in straight sets.
Osaka had the biggest scare, however, as spots of rain and swirling winds disrupted her game with the Japanese failing to put a mark on the scoreboard in the first set.
Schmiedlova twice served for the match, only for Osaka to raise her game and force the contest into a decisive third set during which her variety of shots and power proved too much to handle for the world number 90.
Croatia’s Ivo Karlovic became the oldest man to win a match at the French Open for 46 years as he beat Spain’s fellow veteran Feliciano Lopez in the first round.
Karlovic, who turned 40 in February, won a match featuring players with a combined age of 77 — the oldest in a Grand Slam in the professional era. He became the oldest male player to win a Grand Slam match since Ken Rosewall, aged 44, did so at the 1978 Australian Open.
AZARENKA HANDS OSTAPENKO ANOTHER FIRST-ROUND EXIT
Jelena Ostapenko suffered her second successive first-round loss at the French Open since winning the 2017 title as she was beaten by former world number one Victoria Azarenka on Tuesday.
Considering the calibre of her opponent, a 6-4 7-6(4) loss was not as demoralizing as last year’s defeat by Ukraine’s Kateryna Kozlova.
But it continued a steep decline for the 21-year-old who also fell in round one at the Australian Open and has managed back-to-back wins just once in 2019.
The match statistics made grim reading for Ostapenko with 60 unforced errors to Azarenka’s 19.
Two years after she held the world’s media captive after a stunning final victory over Simona Halep, the world number 39 was asked just one English question for.
While the Latvian looks to arrest the slide, two-times Australian Open champion Azarenka is heading in the right direction having risen back into the top 50 after giving birth to son Leo in December 2016.
Despite all her experience it was the 29-year-old Belarussian who began the match in charitable fashion, opening with two double faults before watching two Ostapenko backhands flash by her.
She broke back in the next game but dropped serve for the third time in a topsy-turvy set to trail 4-3.
Ostapenko double-faulted four times in the next game to hand back the advantage, then twice more at 5-6 to surrender a scrappy opener.
She continued to mix flashing winners with unforced errors in the second, leading 4-2 but allowing Azarenka back in.
Ostapenko served for the set at 6-5 and led 30-0 only to offer up more free points to her grateful opponent.
In the tiebreak Azarenka brought up match point with a thumping forehand winner and another Ostapenko misfire ended the contest.
Azarenka, a semi-finalist in 2013, will now face world number one Naomi Osaka in another blockbuster clash.— Reuters