French Open 2019

Zverev and Osaka squeeze through

Top: Naomi Osaka stretching to hit a return to Anna Karolina Schmiedlova during their first-round match. The Japanese world No. 1 prevailed despite being served a bagel in the opening set. Above: Alexander Zverev pumping his fist after winning a poin
Naomi Osaka stretching to hit a return to Anna Karolina Schmiedlova during their first-round match. The Japanese world No. 1 prevailed despite being served a bagel in the opening set. PHOTOS: EPA-EFE
Top: Naomi Osaka stretching to hit a return to Anna Karolina Schmiedlova during their first-round match. The Japanese world No. 1 prevailed despite being served a bagel in the opening set. Above: Alexander Zverev pumping his fist after winning a poin
Alexander Zverev pumping his fist after winning a point against John Millman of Australia. The German was taken the full five-set distance before winning. PHOTOS: EPA-EFE

Stars avoid first-round exits but need swift improvement with tougher challenges ahead

PARIS • There were more than a few moments in yesterday's bruising four-hour marathon that exposed flaws in Alexander Zverev's game, showing why his Grand Slam record makes for painful reading.

The German had come into the French Open in decent form, having won the Geneva Open last weekend and 56th-ranked John Millman was not expected to pose much of a challenge.

However, the fifth seed had to draw on all of his reserves just to reach the second round after a 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 2-6, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3 battle that could have swung either way.

While Zverev fired 57 winners, he also committed 73 unforced errors on a blustery day at Roland Garros and those mistakes brought out a furious reaction from the 22-year-old, who destroyed his racket after the match went into a fifth-set decider.

Perhaps that is why the player, who has never been ranked outside the world's top five since breaking into that elite company in September 2017, has just one Major quarter-final appearance - at last year's French Open.

Zverev denied he had underestimated Millman, claiming he was well aware the Australian had upset Swiss maestro Roger Federer in the last 16 at last year's US Open.

The world No. 5, who is bidding to become the first German man to win in Paris since Henner Henkel in 1937, said: "John is a tough player who beat Federer so I knew it would be difficult today.

  • 6-0

    It is the first time since 2000, when Martina Hingis was served a bagel by Ruxandra Dragomir, that the top seed in the French Open had suffered such an indignity in the first round.

"It was very windy today so that made the conditions very difficult. It was a first match against a great opponent. I got through and that's all that matters."

Next up for Zverev is Swedish qualifier and 148th-ranked Mikael Ymer, who marked his Grand Slam debut with a 6-0, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) win over Slovenia's Blaz Rola.

Argentinian eighth seed Juan Martin del Potro, a semi-finalist last year, also made the next round with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 win over Chilean world No. 58 Nicolas Jarry to set up a meeting with Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka.

In the women's draw, two-time Grand Slam winner and former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka defeated 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) in a match which featured 13 breaks of serve.

The Latvian has now lost in the opening match on her last two visits to Paris with her wretched performance highlighted by an ugly 60 unforced errors.

Belarusian Azarenka, ranked 43rd, will next face Naomi Osaka, who narrowly avoided a catastrophic Roland Garros shock.

The world No. 1, who is bidding to win a third straight Grand Slam title after the US and Australian Opens, was within a whisker of becoming just the second top seed to lose in the first round in Paris in the modern era after Germany's Angelique Kerber in 2017.

World No. 90 Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, who has now lost nine straight first-round matches at the Majors, twice served for the tie in the 10th and 12th games of the second set.

The Japanese player, who is still feeling the effects of a hand injury suffered in Rome, battled back from a set and a break down to defeat the Slovak 0-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 29, 2019, with the headline 'Zverev and Osaka squeeze through'. Print Edition | Subscribe