Nadal, Osaka Through After Djokovic Saga At Australian Open

File photo: Novak Djokovic of Serbia attends a practice session ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 14, 2022. MARTIN KEEP / AFP

 

Rafael Nadal opened his Australian Open campaign in storming style Monday as the first Grand Slam of the year finally began after a chaotic build-up dominated by the visa saga engulfing world number one Novak Djokovic.

Defending women’s champion Naomi Osaka breezed into the second round but teenager Coco Gauff was an early big name casualty, the American 17-year-old dumped out in straight sets by China’s Wang Qiang, who is ranked outside the top 100.

The only Australian Open champion in the men’s draw after nine-time winner Djokovic’s sensational deportation, Nadal started his quest to become the first male to win 21 Grand Slams by sweeping aside the 66th-ranked Marcos Giron 6-1, 6-4, 6-2.

There was relief from Nadal that they were at last playing tennis — he said he had grown “quite tired” of talking about his great Serbian rival, for whom he said he still has respect.

“The ideal situation in the world of sport is that the best players are on court, no?” said Nadal, who next plays Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann in the second round.

“Honestly I wish him all the best. I think the situation has been a mess. He’s not the only one that did probably the things bad.”

– Djokovic in Dubai –

Unvaccinated Serbian Djokovic landed in Dubai early on Monday after his humiliating deportation from Australia, his dreams of a record-extending 10th Australian Open title over for this year.

But it was business as usual for Japan’s Osaka, who registered her 23rd win in her last 24 matches in the city of Melbourne, with a 6-3, 6-3 win against Colombia’s Camila Osorio.

Seeded 13 after a disrupted 2021 season in which she said she had suffered “long bouts of depression”, Osaka raced to a 5-0 lead before cruising through in 68 minutes.

“I would say I feel more comfortable in my skin, if that makes sense,” said the 24-year-old, who won the title at Melbourne Park in 2019 and 2021. She will play American Madison Brengle in the second round.

“I just want to have fun, first of all. I can’t expect myself to win every match, but I do expect myself to have fun and challenge myself.”

Fourth seed Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic, the reigning French Open champion, had little problem in blowing away Germany’s Andrea Petkovic 6-2, 6-0 in 67 minutes.

The highest-ranked player to lose in the first round so far was Britain’s 12th seed Cameron Norrie, easily beaten by American Sebastian Korda, the son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda, 6-3, 6-0, 6-4.

– Jabeur withdraws –

Tunisian ninth seed Ons Jabeur did not even make it onto court.

She withdrew because of injury before her match against Spain’s Nuria Parrizas Diaz and was replaced by lucky loser Irina Bara of Romania.

Italian seventh seed Matteo Berrettini, who reached his first Slam final at Wimbledon last year before losing to Djokovic, dropped a set before powering past American Brandon Nakashima 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3.

There were also four-set wins for Canadian 14th seed Denis Shapovalov and Polish 10th seed Hubert Hurkacz.

Miomir Kecmanovic, who was originally drawn to meet Djokovic, had a much easier time against “lucky loser” Salvatore Caruso, winning 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 in 1hr 56min.

Germany’s Tatjana Maria had the honour of striking the first serve in the tournament on the showpiece Rod Laver Arena before falling to Greece’s Maria Sakkari, the fifth seed, 6-4, 7-6 (7/2).

“We all know how hard first rounds can be and that wasn’t easy,” said the athletic Sakkari.

Olympic gold medallist Belinda Bencic said she was still feeling the effects of Covid-19 a month after falling ill, as she moved into round two by overcoming Kristina Mladenovic 6-4, 6-3.

“I mean, my pulse was getting very up in the practices,” she said.

The night session on Rod Laver Arena is headlined by world number one Ashleigh Barty, who is chasing her first title in her home Grand Slam. The 25-year-old faces Ukrainian qualifier Lesia Tsurenko.

Later third seed and Olympic champion Alexander Zverev plays fellow German Daniel Altmaier.

Osaka In Cruise Control To Reach Melbourne Quarters

Japan’s Naomi Osaka reacts during her 2021 US Open Tennis tournament women’s singles third round match against Canada’s Leylah Fernandez at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York, on September 3, 2021. (Photo by Ed JONES / AFP)

 

Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka cruised into the quarter-finals of the Melbourne Summer Set tournament with a 58-minute demolition of Belgium’s Maryna Zanevska on Thursday.

Top-seeded Osaka broke her Belgian opponent twice in the first set and three times in the second as she overpowered Zanevska 6-1, 6-1 on Rod Laver Arena to continue her Australian Open preparations, where she will be the defending champion.

Osaka, playing her first tournament since the US Open in September, was strong in every department as she booked a quarter-final clash with German veteran Andrea Petkovic.

The four-time Grand Slam champion pulled out of all tennis after losing in the third round of the US Open.

She had earlier withdrawn from both the French Open and Wimbledon, citing mental health issues. Osaka did play in the Tokyo Olympics in front of her home crowd but suffered a shock third-round defeat to Czech Marketa Vondrousova.

After defeating Frenchwoman Alize Cornet in three sets in the first round at Melbourne, Osaka said she aimed to enjoy herself on her return to the court.

READ ALSO: Djokovic Fights Deportation After Australia Canceled His Visa

She appeared to be in high spirits against the 82nd ranked Belgian, who has spent most of her career playing on the secondary ITF tour.

“I did get a lot of nerves out in the first match (against Cornet), but I was nervous again today, but just because I’ve never played her before, so it was a bit unfamiliar,” Osaka said.

“I thought that I learned a lot from my match on Tuesday, so I’m really glad that I was able to apply it, and I think my biggest thing was my first serve percentage.

“I’m really happy with how that went today.”

Osaka raced through the first set in only 28 minutes and took just five minutes longer to win the second against her outclassed opponent.

Second seed Simona Halep was also untroubled in her second-round match, beating fellow Romanian Elena-Gabriela Ruse 6-2-6-1.

Halep, like Osaka a former world number one, took just 61 minutes to see off Ruse and book a quarter-final against Viktorija Golubic.

The sixth-seeded Swiss player was impressive in her 6-3, 6-0 win over Dutchwoman Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove.

Osaka Drops Out Of Top Five In WTA Rankings

File Photo of Japan’s Naomi Osaka as she reacts during her 2021 US Open Tennis tournament women’s singles third round match against Canada’s Leylah Fernandez at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York, on September 3, 2021. (Photo by Ed JONES / AFP)

 

Naomi Osaka slipped out of the top five in the WTA rankings on Monday while Simona Halep, another former world number one, continued her slide by also dropping three places.

Four-time Grand Slam champion Osaka fell from fifth to eighth as Halep, who married boyfriend Toni Iuruc last week in a civil ceremony in her hometown of Constanta, tumbled down to 14th.

Ashleigh Barty remains top and French Open winner Barbora Krejcikova climbed to a career-high of fifth.

Danish teenager Clara Tauson rose 18 places to 52nd after capturing her second title of the year in Luxembourg.

Italy’s Jasmine Paolini jumped from 87th to 64th following her first WTA title at Portoroz, Slovenia.

WTA rankings as of September 20:

1. Ashleigh Barty (AUS) 10075 pts

2. Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) 7720

3. Karolina Pliskova (CZE) 5315

4. Elina Svitolina (UKR) 4860

5. Barbora Krejcikova (CZE) 4668 (+2)

6. Iga Swiatek (POL) 4571 (+2)

7. Sofia Kenin (USA) 4413 (-1)

8. Naomi Osaka (JPN) 4326 (-3)

9. Garbine Muguruza (ESP) 4135

10. Petra Kvitova (CZE) 4060

11. Belinda Bencic (SUI) 3820 (+1)

12. Maria Sakkari (GRE) 3750 (+1)

13. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) 3285 (+1)

14. Simona Halep (ROM) 3152 (-3)

15. Angelique Kerber (GER) 3115

16. Elena Rybakina (KAZ) 3068 (+1)

17. Ons Jabeur (TUN) 2975 (+1)

18. Elise Mertens (BEL) 2890 (-2)

19. Coco Gauff (USA) 2815

20. Bianca Andreescu (CAN) 2777

Selected:

52. Clara Tauson (DEN) 1300 (+18)

64. Jasmine Paolini (ITA) 1075 (+23)

Osaka Advances As Tsitsipas Escapes Murray At US Open

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – AUGUST 30: Naomi Osaka of Japan celebrates against Marie Bouzkova (not pictured) of the Czech Republic during their Women’s Singles first round match on Day One of the 2021 US Open at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 30, 2021 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

 

Defending champion Naomi Osaka stretched her Grand Slam win streak to 16 matches on Monday at the US Open while Greek third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas struggled past Andy Murray in five sets.

Osaka, seeking her third US Open crown in four years, defeated 87th-ranked Czech Marie Bouzkova 6-4, 6-1 at a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium to book a second-round matchup with Serbian qualifier Olga Danilovic.

“It feels kind of crazy to play in front of everyone again,” Osaka said. “I feel really comfortable here. I’m just glad I won.”

Osaka beat Bouzkova in their only prior meeting in the first round of this year’s Australian Open on the way to her fourth Grand Slam title.

The 23-year-old Japanese star could become the first back-to-back US Open women’s champion since Serena Williams, out this year with a torn hamstring, won her third in a row in 2014.

Osaka’s major win streak includes her most recent US and Australian Open wins and a first-round win at this year’s French Open before withdrawing over mental health issues.

Osaka, who lit the cauldron at the Tokyo Olympics, gave an Olympic pin to a young girl in the same venue where she won last year’s title when fans were banned due to Covid-19.

“It felt quite lonely for me,” she said. “So I’m quite glad to see little kids in the audience and grown ups too. The energy here is unmatched.”

Osaka broke Bouzkova in the 10th game of the first set when the Czech netted a backhand, the broke for a 2-0 lead in the second set on the way to victory in 93 minutes.

Tsitsipas outlasted Britain’s Murray, a three-time Grand Slam champion, by 2-6, 7-6 (9/7), 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 after four hours and 49 minutes in surroundings more like an intense second-week showdown than a curtain-raiser for the fortnight.

“To have an electric atmosphere out here is something we’ve been waiting for,” Tsitsipas said.

Two-time Olympic champion Murray, ranked 112th lost for the first time in 15 first-round US Open matches.

“It didn’t come easy,” Tsitsipas said.

Tsitsipas, this year’s French Open runner-up, took a long break before the final set, frustrating Murray, who surrendered a break in the opening game. Delay tactics brought a frosty reception at the net after the match.

“I have zero time for that stuff at all and I lost respect for him,” Murray said. “It’s nonsense. And he knows it, as well.”

Tsitsipas, who plays Frenchman Adrian Mannarino next, said he followed ATP rules on breaks and medical timeouts, even as Murray questioned the length and timing.

“I’m playing by the rules and sticking to what the ATP says is fair,” said Tsitsipas. “Then the rest is fine.”

In the second-set tie-breaker, Murray slipped at the net and fell because his sweat-soaked shoes were wet and he didn’t have another pair. Murray missed out on two set points and the 23-year-old Greek star won five of the next six points to grab the set and level the match.

“The shoes got so wet that at the end of the set, I was slipping basically and was losing balance,” Murray said. “That was my bad. It was an important moment in the match.”

Murray broke in the second game of the third set and held out from there, but Tsitsipas took the last two sets to advance.

– Crowd energy returns –

Spectators had to show proof of vaccination to attend but they brouht energy back to Ashe.

“Playing without fans here was brutal,” 2017 US Open winner Sloane Stephens said. “Having these fans out and the energy, the atmosphere, it brings a lot back to tennis.”

Two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep and Stephens each won to reach the second round.

“You feel the energy. You feel alive on court,” Halep said. “Hopefully it will stay like that forever.”

Russian second seed Daniil Medvedev defeated Frenchman Richard Gasquet 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 for his 200th career match win and 160th win on hardcourts.

Women’s second seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus outlasted Serbia’s Nina Stojanovic 6-4, 6-7 (4/7), 6-0 while Russian men’s fifth seed Andrey Rublev ousted 221st-ranked Ivo Karlovic 6-3, 7-6 (7/3), 6-3.

AFP

Survivors Welcome Extradition Of Rwandan Genocide Suspect

 

Clothes of victims of the Tutsi genocide stored in Gatwaro Genocide Memorial in Kibuye, western province of Rwanda, on December 1, 2020.

 

Rwanda’s main genocide survivor group on Tuesday welcomed the extradition of a top fugitive to stand trial over the 1994 killings as a “step in the right direction” for justice.

Prosecutors in Kigali said that Venant Rutunga, a 72-year-old genocide suspect, was flown late Monday from the Netherlands to Rwanda where he is accused of directing massacres over a quarter century ago.

Rutunga, an agricultural scientist, headed a government research institute in Rwanda’s south at the time of the genocide and allegedly mobilised soldiers to kill Tutsis in his department and surrounding area.

“Every time a top genocide fugitive is extradited, it is a step in the right direction for justice,” Naphtali Ahishakiye, executive secretary of the Ibuka survivors’ association, told AFP.

“It has taken decades but we welcome the extradition of Venant Rutunga to Rwanda, who was responsible for the murder of many Tutsi he worked with and lived with in his home area.”

READ ALSO: British Museum To Restore Objects damaged in Beirut Blast

Rutunga was detained by the Dutch authorities in 2019 after Rwanda issued a warrant for his arrest and extradition some years earlier.

Dutch courts rejected his appeal against being returned to Rwanda for trial.

Rutunga becomes the third genocide suspect to be extradited from the Netherlands after Jean Baptiste Mugimba and Jean Claude Iyamuremye returned to stand trial in 2016.

Rwanda’s National Public Prosecution Authority thanked Dutch authorities for their “continued cooperation in matters of mutual legal assistance and contribution to global efforts to fight impunity”.

Some 800,000 mainly Tutsi people were beaten, hacked or shot to death in the genocide, a roughly 100-day killing spree carried out mostly by Hutu forces.

AFP

Coco Gauff, 15, Stuns Title-Holder Osaka At Australian Open

 

 

Unseeded 15-year-old Coco Gauff beat reigning champion Naomi Osaka in straight sets in a major upset at the Australian Open on Friday.

The American prodigy, making her Melbourne debut this year, beat the third seed 6-3, 6-4 in the third round to avenge her heavy defeat at last year’s US Open.

The youngest player in the draw will play 14th seed Sofia Kenin of the United States or China’s Zhang Shuai.

“Oh my gosh. Two years ago I lost the first round in the juniors and now I’m here — this is crazy,” said Gauff.

“I was just telling myself one point at a time and just keep fighting because you never know what happens on this court.”

This was the second installment of a budding rivalry that could light up tennis for the next decade or more, having met at the US Open, where Osaka won easily.

READ ALSO: Serena Williams Stunned At Australian Open, Ending Record Bid

The teenager Gauff, who spent time training with Serena Williams in the off-season, had said she would be less nervous and more aggressive this time round.

And so it proved as they rattled through the first five games in barely 15 minutes at the 15,000-capacity Rod Laver Arena.

Osaka, a relative veteran at age 22, fired into the net to drop serve in game eight and then racked up more unforced errors in gifting Gauff the first set in 32 minutes.

“Come on!” shouted Gauff, ranked 67 but fast making a name for herself as the most exciting prospect in women’s tennis.

The young American carried the momentum into the first game of the second set, breaking a subdued and rattled Osaka, a two-time Grand Slam champion.

The Japanese broke back for 1-1 when Gauff volleyed into the net, but it was a rare mistake by the American and she broke once more, before serving for the match at 5-4.

The nerveless teenager clinched victory on the first match point when Osaka fired into the net.

Gauff announced herself to the sporting world at Wimbledon last year when, as a qualifier, she stunned Venus Williams in the first round.

She did the same thing to the seven-time Grand Slam champion on her Melbourne debut this week, then came back from a set and 3-0 down to defeat Sorana Cirstea on Wednesday.

When Gauff and Osaka met five months ago in New York, also in round three, then-world number one Osaka crushed the tearful and overawed teenager 6-3, 6-0 in a little over an hour.

That first clash was memorable also for what happened afterward when the teenager cried and Osaka consoled her before Osaka herself began welling up.

Osaka Advances To Pan Pacific Final In Home City

Japan’s Naomi Osaka reacts while playing against Belgium’s Elise Mertens during their women’s singles semi-final match at the Pan Pacific Open tennis tournament in Osaka on September 21, 2019/ AFP

 

Japanese tennis sensation Naomi Osaka beat Elise Mertens of Belgium on Saturday to reach the final of the Pan Pacific Open, thrilling her Japanese fans in the city of her birth.

Top seed Osaka dispatched No. 9 seed Mertens 6-4, 6-1 in Osaka, western Japan, to reach her first final since winning the Australian Open.

The pair both held their serves for the first set until Osaka broke Mertens in the 10th game.

Osaka, 21, rounded into form in the second, and after the pair traded early breaks, won the last four games of the match to sprint to victory in just over an hour.

“It’s been kind of rough like the past couple of months so I’m really glad that I made it to the final,” she said.

READ ALSO: Barcelona Predict €1bn Income This Season

She tried to stay calm because the 23-year-old Belgian player is “an amazing player and it’s so hard to hit her balls,” she said.

Earlier in the day, Osaka saw off Yulia Putintseva in straight sets, even as she was tricked at times by the Kazakh player’s slices and drop shots.

“For me, I learned a lot from when I played her at Wimbledon, and I know that a hard court is where I feel most comfortable,” Osaka told press after beating Putintseva.

Last week, Osaka announced she was splitting with her coach, her second break-up this year as she battles to regain form after slipping from the top of the world rankings to number four.

Osaka had already caught the tennis world by surprise when she announced she was parting ways with coach Sascha Bajin, who had overseen her stunning rise to win two Grand Slams — the US Open in 2018 and the Australian Open title in January.

Her challenger in the final will be Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, 28, who ousted former world number one Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-3, 6-3.

Serena Dominates Osaka To Reach Toronto Semis

Serena Williams of the United States hits a shot against Naomi Osaka of Japan during a quarterfinal match on Day 7 of the Rogers Cup at Aviva Centre on August 09, 2019 in Toronto, Canada./ AFP

 

Serena Williams powered past Naomi Osaka 6-3, 6-4 on Friday to reach the semi-finals of the WTA tournament in Toronto.

In a rematch of last year’s controversial US Open final won by Osaka, eighth-seeded Williams was firing on all cylinders against the second-seeded Japanese star.

READ ALSO: International Friendly: Nigeria To Face Ukraine In September

The 23-time Grand Slam champion fired 12 aces and didn’t face a break. Williams next faces either fourth-seeded Simona Halep — who beat her in the Wimbledon final in July — or Czech qualifier Marie Bouzkova.

Although Osaka won’t depart Toronto with a trophy, her run to the quarters — along with a second-round departure for top-ranked Ashleigh Barty and a quarter-final exit for world number three Karolina Pliskova — will see the Japanese star regain the world number one ranking next week.

Tearful Osaka Joins Hingis In First Round Exit Humiliation

Japan’s Naomi Osaka looks downwards as she leaves the pitch after being defeated by Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva during their women’s singles first round match on the first day of the 2019 Wimbledon Championship

 

Naomi Osaka’s bid to win a third Grand Slam title came to a premature end on Monday when she lost to Kazakh Yulia Putintseva, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 in the first round leaving her on the verge of tears.

The 21-year-old second-seeded Japanese became the first top-two seed to lose in the first round at Wimbledon in the women’s singles since top-seeded Martina Hingis bowed out in 2001.

The loss came as a crushing blow to the US Open and Australian Open champion who cut short her post match press conference.

“Can I leave? I feel like I’m about to cry,” she said.

Osaka, who was constantly staring and picking at her racket throughout the match after playing a poor point, said she had felt a weight lifted from her after losing her number one world ranking last month.

READ ALSO: Wimbledon Champion Djokovic Off To Winning Start

But it did not show against a talented opponent on Centre Court.

Osaka, who had complained at the French Open that the top ranking had provoked severe headaches and stress, says she has to fathom how to relax more on court after a string of unenforced errors at crucial moments undermined any hopes of a comeback against her opponent.

“The key for me was having fun, I guess learning how to have fun, kind of taking pressure off myself,” she said.

“I hope I can somehow find a way to do that.”

Osaka said she was at a loss as to how she would pick herself up after the defeat adding losses such as these were things she still had to learn how to absorb.

She admitted tha the fact she had lost to Putintseva at Birmingham just two weeks ago had played on her mind.

“It’s very hard,” she said.

Russia-born Putintseva had never been on Centre Court before and admitted to being taken aback by its circular shape, although she was far from over-awed.

“I did a good job out there and I was fighting great,” said the 24-year-old. “It is amazing.”

Putintseva said she was getting more accustomed to grass, although, she still feels clay is her best surface, and added having a good record against Osaka counted for nothing when they walked out onto Centre Court.

“Honestly every match is a battle I don’t know what is going to happen,” she said after her third win in three against the Japanese.

“I do my best, that is all I can do.”

G20 Summit Officially Opens In Japan’s Osaka

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro, French President Emmanuel Macron, Indonesia President Joko Widodo, Chinese President Xi Jinping, US President Donald Trump, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Salman, Japan Prime Minister Shinxo Abe, Argentine President Mauricio Macri, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, (Second row L-R) Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, Egypt President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, British Prime Minister Theresa May, India Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, European Union President of the European Council Donald Tusk, Senegal President Macky Sall, Chile President Sebastian Pinera and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and third row’s invited guests attend the family photo during the G20 Osaka Summit in Osaka on June 28, 2019.

 

Leaders of the Group of 20 opened a high-stakes summit in Japan’s Osaka on Friday that is expected to be one of the most fractious in years.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe opened the meeting, which will be dominated by contentious discussions on trade, geopolitical tensions, and climate change.

But the mood appeared friendly in the opening minutes, with smiles on the faces of the arriving leaders as they posed for the traditional “family photograph”.

US President Donald Trump and China’s Xi Jinping, whose countries are mired in a damaging trade war, exchanged a handshake before the photo.

And as the leaders headed into the first session, French President Emmanuel Macron leaned down to whisper something into Trump’s ear, covering his mouth for privacy as he did so.

The first session of the meeting is focused on the digital economy, with concerns about privacy and security on the agenda.

“Digitalisation has rapidly changed various aspects of our society and economy,” Abe said as he opened the session.

“I’m happy to see the momentum to globally tackle the digital economy.”

But in a sign of the ongoing tensions likely to dominate talks, Trump appeared to make reference to US concerns about the security threat posed by Chinese telecoms firm Huawei.

As “we expand digital trade, we must also ensure the resilience and security of our 5G networks”, he said.

Trump’s administration has taken measures to ban Huawei, with China reportedly seeking an end to the restrictions as part of any resumption of talks on resolving the trade war.

The summit is being overshadowed by the trade war between the world’s top two economies, with hopes that Xi and Trump can reach a truce when they hold talks on Saturday on the sidelines of the summit.

AFP

Osaka, Zverev Survive Roland Garros Horror Shows

Japan’s Naomi Osaka celebrates after winning against Slovakia’s Anna Karolina Schmiedlova at the end of their women’s singles first round match on day three of The Roland Garros 2019 French Open tennis tournament / AFP

 

Japan’s Naomi Osaka battled back from a set and a break down to reach the Roland Garros second round on Tuesday while Grand Slam under-achiever Alexander Zverev needed four hours to get through his opener.

Top seed Osaka, bidding to add the French Open to her US and Australian Open titles, defeated Slovakia’s Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 0-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-1.

However, she came within a whisker of becoming only the second top seed to lose in the first round in Paris in the modern era after Angelique Kerber in 2017.

“I was really close, so it hurts I lost so many chances,” said Schmiedlova.

“Maybe I felt like it was against world number one. It was not easy in my head.”

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

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

READ ALSO: Andre Villas-Boas Appointed As Marseille Coach

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.

Former top 30 player Schmiedlova failed to serve out the tie at 5-4 and 6-5 in the second set.

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.

World number 43 Azarenka triumphed in a match punctuated by 13 breaks of serve and 60 unforced errors by Ostapenko who hasn’t won a match at the tournament in her last two visits.

German fifth seed Zverev, a quarter-finalist in 2018, battled past Australia’s John Millman 7-6 (7/4), 6-3, 2-6, 6-7 (5/7), 6-3 in a shade over four hours.

The champion in Geneva last weekend fired 57 winners past world number 56 Millman who stunned Roger Federer at the US Open last year.

– Karlovic wins at 40 –
However, he also committed 73 unforced errors on a blustery day in the French capital.

“John is a tough player so I knew it would be difficult today,” said Zverev, bidding to become the first German man to win the Roland Garros title since Henner Henkel in 1937.

Next up for Zverev is Swedish qualifier Mikael Ymer, the world number 148 of Ethiopian origin, who marked his Grand Slam debut with a 6-0, 6-3, 7-6 (7/5) win over Slovenia’s Blaz Rola.

Argentine eighth seed Juan Martin del Potro, a semi-finalist in 2009 and 2018, made the second round with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 win over Chilean world number 58 Nicolas Jarry.

“I think I’m playing well at the moment, but my main goal is still the knee, my health,” said Del Potro who is still feeling his way back after knee surgery.

Next up for the giant Argentine is a clash against Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka.

Canada’s Bianca Andreescu, the surprise champion at Indian Wells, marked her Roland Garros debut by beating Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.

The 18-year-old, playing for the first time since Miami after suffering a shoulder injury, hit 58 winners and 60 unforced errors.

Ivo Karlovic made a mockery of his 40 years to beat relative spring chicken, 37-year-old Feliciano Lopez, in the oldest ever men’s match-up at Roland Garros.

Croatian Karlovic, the tallest player on the tour at 6ft 11in (2.11m), defeated Lopez 7-6 (7/4), 7-5, 6-7 (7/9), 7-5.

He is the oldest man to win a Grand Slam match since Ken Rosewall in 1978.

Later Tuesday, defending champion Simona Halep faces Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic, the world number 47, who reached the fourth round in 2014.

Osaka Retains Number One Ranking, Reaches Rome Quarters

Japan’s Naomi Osaka returns the ball to Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic during their WTA Madrid Open round of 8 tennis match at the Caja Magica in Madrid on May 9, 2019.
GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

 

Japan’s Naomi Osaka won twice on Thursday to reach the Italian Open quarter-finals, retaining the world number one ranking ahead of the start of the French Open next week.

She eased into the last eight in Rome with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Mihaela Buzarnescu.

Osaka beat the 29th-ranked Romanian in 78 minutes after earlier beating Slovak Dominika Cibulkova by the same scoreline in one hour and 42 minutes in the second round, as players doubled up after the previous day was washed out.

At the start of the day, the 21-year-old had needed to make the quarter-finals to ensure Romanian Simona Halep could not swipe the number one ranking and with it top seeding in the French Open.

But Osaka’s top spot was guaranteed when reigning Roland Garros champion Halep fell to Czech Marketa Vondrousova 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 in the second round.

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Osaka next meets Madrid champion and sixth seed Kiki Bertens for a place in the final four.

Osaka, who broke through by winning the US Open last year and Australian Open this year, did not survive the second round in her two previous appearances in Rome.

Before this year Osaka had never made the last eight of any clay tournament, but has also reached the semi-finals in Stuttgart and quarter-finals in Madrid as she warms up for the French Open start on May 26.

AFP