Tennis: Osaka narrowly avoids catastrophic Roland Garros shock

Osaka in action during her first round match against Slovakia's Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.
Osaka in action during her first round match against Slovakia's Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (AFP) - Japan's Naomi Osaka battled back from a set and a break down to defeat Slovakia's Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 0-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-1 on Tuesday (May 28) to reach the Roland Garros second round.

Osaka, bidding to add the French Open to her US and Australian Open titles, was within a whisker of becoming just the second top seed to lose in the first round in Paris in the modern era after Angelique Kerber in 2017.

World number 90 Schmiedlova, who hadn't won a match at the tournament since 2014, twice served for the tie in the 10th and 12th games of the second set.

At one stage, she was just two points away from a famous victory.

But Osaka, who had arrived in Paris still feeling the effects of a hand injury suffered in Rome, battled back to set-up a second round duel with former world number one and two-time major winner Victoria Azarenka.

Osaka was broken three times in the opening set, losing it in just 20 minutes.

The 21-year-old hit 13 unforced errors while the Slovakian didn't need to hit a single winner such was the error-strewn show coming from the other side of the net.

It was the first time since 2000, when Ruxandra Dragomir "bageled" Martina Hingis, that the top seed in the Roland Garros first round had suffered such an indignity.

The Japanese star had not herself been 'bageled' since the Wimbledon second round in 2017.

Osaka recovered her composure for a break and a 3-0 lead in the second set but a brief suspension for rain disrupted her composure and allowed the Slovakian to hit back to 3-3.

Former top 30 player Schmiedlova served for the tie at 5-4 but Osaka dug deep to save herself.

The errors kept coming and the 24-year-old Slovakian was handed a second chance to serve for victory.

Still, she couldn't convert despite being just two points from victory and Osaka stayed alive, sweeping through the tie-breaker.

That was the cue for Osaka to illustrate the gap of 89 places between her and the slender blonde in the world rankings.

She broke three times in the 25-minute final set to extend her streak at the Slams to 15 successive wins.

Osaka ended the match with 10 aces, 36 winners and 38 unforced errors with just four of those coming in the decider.

Azarenka, a semi-finalist in 2013, reached the second round for the first time since 2015 with a 6-4, 7-6 (7/4) win over 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko.

"Just the usual second round match," smiled Azarenka.

"But it's going to be exciting for me. I love to challenge myself against the best players."