PARIS (REUTERS) - For the second match running, world No. 1 Naomi Osaka stared at an early French Open exit but once again she fought like a champion, recovering from a woeful start to beat Victoria Azarenka 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 on Thursday (May 30).
The 21-year-old Japanese lost the first four games against a fired-up former top-ranked player but reacted superbly to claw herself back on Court Suzanne Lenglen and claim a 16th successive Grand Slam match win.
She is aiming to win a third successive major event, having bagged her first two at the US and Australian Opens but she is doing it the hard way in Paris.
In the men's draw, Austrian Dominic Thiem overcame a tough test to reach the third round with a 6-3, 6-7 (6-8), 6-3, 7-5 win over defiant Kazakh Alexander Bublik on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Fourth seed Thiem, who reached the final at Roland Garros last year, had to use his full range of shots to overcome 91st-ranked Bublik, who put up a fight against the "prince of clay".
Azarenka seemed poised to follow up her first-round win over 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, when she moved 4-2 ahead in the second set playing with the kind of control and aggression that took her to two Australian Open triumphs.
But Osaka flicked a switch and began pummelling heavy groundstrokes that kept the 29-year-old Belarusian at full stretch.
Osaka piled on the pressure when Azarenka served at 5-6 but squandered three set points before finally levelling the match with a screaming backhand winner.
She raced into a 5-1 lead in the decider and although Azarenka grabbed the next two games, Osaka kept her focus to reach the third round.
Earlier, the fancied Thiem, who is looking for his first Grand Slam success, broke Bublik in the second game of the first set and, while the Kazakh produced a cheeky underarm serve that helped him hold for 4-2, he did not threaten the Austrian's serve.
However, the 25-year-old Thiem was broken in the fourth game of the second set and, despite battling back with a break of his own at 5-3 down, the Austrian was outfoxed in the tiebreak.
Thiem was clearly in a contest against the tricky Bublik, who was making his Roland Garros debut at 21, and had to dig deep before breaking in the eighth game and taking the third.
Bublik never gave up in the first meeting between the pair and broke in the second game of the fourth before squandering two set points at 5-2. Thiem sensed his chance and took the next five games to wrap up victory with an exquisite drop shot.