Iga Swiatek saves a match point and comes back to beat Naomi Osaka at the French Open

Iga Swiatek saves a match point and comes back to beat Naomi Osaka at the French Open
Poland’s Iga Swiatek plays a shot against Japan’s Naomi Osaka during their second round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris on May 29, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 29 May 2024
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Iga Swiatek saves a match point and comes back to beat Naomi Osaka at the French Open

Iga Swiatek saves a match point and comes back to beat Naomi Osaka at the French Open
  • Surging down the stretch as Osaka faded, Swiatek saved a match point and grabbed the last five games to sneak her way to a 7-6 (1), 1-6, 7-5 victory
  • “For sure, this match was really intense,” Swiatek said

PARIS: Iga Swiatek played like the current No. 1 and the two-time defending champion at the French Open. No surprise there. That Naomi Osaka looked like the former No. 1 that she is — and on clay, no less — amounted to an announcement that she is still quite capable of elite tennis.
Surging down the stretch as Osaka faded, Swiatek saved a match point and grabbed the last five games to sneak her way to a 7-6 (1), 1-6, 7-5 victory in the second round of the French Open on Wednesday night in a thrill-a-minute contest befitting two women who both own four Grand Slam titles.
“For sure, this match was really intense. Much more intense for the second round than I ever expected. For sure, I’ll be more ready next time,” Swiatek said. “Naomi played amazing tennis. … I’m happy that she’s back and she’s playing well.”
For Swiatek, this extended her Roland Garros winning streak to 16 matches as she pursues a third consecutive trophy at the clay-court major. For Osaka, who cried when she left the court after letting a 5-2 lead in the concluding set slip away, this amounted to a return to her big-hitting best.
They went back-and-forth for nearly three hours as rain loudly pelted the outside of the closed roof at Court Philippe Chatrier — showers forced the postponements of 23 singles matches until Thursday — and a riveted, if hardly full, crowd alternated their support between the two players. Sometimes, spectators called out before a point was done, prompting admonishment from chair umpire Aurélie Tourte during the match. And from Swiatek afterward.
“Sometimes, under a lot of pressure, when you scream something during the rally or right before the return, it’s really, really hard to be focused,” Swiatek said. “The stakes are big and there is a lot of money here to win. So losing a few points may change a lot. So please, guys, if you can support us between the rallies but not during, that would be really, really amazing.”
Osaka served for the victory at 5-3 in the final set, and was a point away from winning, but she put a backhand into the net. Soon, when Osaka missed another backhand, this one long, Swiatek finally converted a break point on her 10th chance of that set, and they played on.
Maybe the lack of high-level matches caught up to Osaka, because her mistakes continued to mount, including a double-fault that put Swiatek in control 6-5. Swiatek, who has led the WTA rankings for nearly every week since April 2022, then held serve one last time.
“I don’t necessarily feel like I regret anything,” Osaka said.
Still, this was, without a doubt, Osaka’s top performance since she returned to the tour in January after 15 months away while becoming a mother. (Her daughter, who is 10 months old now, accompanied Osaka to Paris and recently started walking.)
“I was watching Iga win this tournament last year, and I was pregnant. It was just my dream to be able to play her,” Osaka said. “When I kind of think of it like that, I think I’m doing pretty well. And I’m also just trying not to be too hard on myself. I feel like I played her on her better surface. I’m a hard-court kid, so I would love to play her on my surface and see what happens.”
Because of the weather, only nine matches were completed Wednesday, and winners included Coco Gauff, Ons Jabeur, Sofia Kenin, Carlos Alcaraz, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Andrey Rublev.
It’s been a few years since Osaka played this capably and confidently, hammering big serves at up to 122 mph (197 kph) and imposing groundstrokes. Her quick-strike capabilities were on full display: Osaka won 82 of the 139 points (59 percent) that lasted four strokes or fewer, and she finished with a 54-37 advantage in total winners.
All of those familiar mannerisms were back, too. She turned her back to Swiatek to reset between points, hopped in place, tugged at her pink visor’s brim and slapped her palm on her thigh. Osaka celebrated points by shaking a clenched fist and shouting “Come on!”
She grabbed nine of 10 games to dominate the second set and lead 3-0 in the third. Then 4-1. Then 5-2.
As one ball or another would fly past Swiatek, zipped near a corner or right at a line, she turned toward her guest box and shot a look of confusion or concern in the direction of her coach and her sports psychologist.
“I felt for most of the match that I wasn’t really (in the) here and now,” Swiatek said. “My mind was, like, playing around sometimes.”
She’s not used to this sort of one-way traffic coming head-on in her direction. Normally, it’s Swiatek who is delivering lopsided sets at a foe’s expense, especially on clay. She now has won her last 14 matches this month, with titles on the surface at Madrid and Rome — a clay double no woman had done since Serena Williams in 2013.
But this marked a sudden return to the Osaka everyone came to expect, match in and match out, back when she was at the height of her powers, climbing atop the rankings and gathering two trophies apiece at the US Open and Australian Open from late 2018 to early 2021.
It was in May 2021 that Osaka withdrew from the French Open before her second-round match, explaining that she experiences “huge waves of anxiety” before speaking to the media and revealing she had dealt with depression. She took time away from the tour for a mental health break, then opted for another hiatus after her title defense at the US Open a few months later ended with a third-round loss.
She helped usher in a change in the way athletes, sports fans and society at large understood the importance of mental health — and prompted those in charge of various sports, including tennis, to take the issue seriously and try to accommodate and protect them better.
Osaka entered with an 0-4 record on the red stuff against opponents ranked in the top 10 and never has been past the third round at Roland Garros. This also would have been her first win anywhere against a top-10 opponent since January 2020.
Instead, though, it is Swiatek who moves on and continues her bid to become the first woman with three championships in a row in Paris since Justine Henin in 2007-09.


Ons Jabeur ‘avoids risk’ by missing Paris Olympics

Ons Jabeur ‘avoids risk’ by missing Paris Olympics
Updated 18 June 2024
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Ons Jabeur ‘avoids risk’ by missing Paris Olympics

Ons Jabeur ‘avoids risk’ by missing Paris Olympics
  • Earlier in the day, world number three Aryna Sabalenka said she would also miss the Olympics to protect her fitness

PARIS: Three-time Grand Slam runner up Ons Jabeur said on Monday she will sit out this summer’s Paris Olympics to avoid further injury to her knee.
Tunisian Jabeur, 29, will miss the Games, between July 27-August 4. The competition being played Roland-Garros, meaning a switch back to clay immediately after the grass season and before the hard-court run up to the US Open.
Last year Jabeur underwent surgery on her right knee.
“After consulting with my medical team regarding attending to the Olympics in Paris, we have decided that the quick change of surface and the body’s adaptation required would put my knee at risk and jeopardize the rest of my season,” Jabeur said on her social media accounts.
“Unfortunately I will not be able to participate in the 2024 Olympics,” she added.
Jabeur reached the final at Wimbledon in 2022 and 2023 and at the US Open in 2022. She competed at the Olympics in London in 2012, in Rio in 2016 and in Tokyo five years later.
Wimbledon starts on July 1 with the US Open beginning on August 26.
Earlier in the day, world number three Aryna Sabalenka said she would also miss the Olympics to protect her fitness.


Alcaraz defeats Zverev in final for his third Grand Slam title

Alcaraz defeats Zverev in final for his third Grand Slam title
Updated 09 June 2024
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Alcaraz defeats Zverev in final for his third Grand Slam title

Alcaraz defeats Zverev in final for his third Grand Slam title
  • Carlos Alcaraz is a 21-year-old from Spain who grew up watching countryman Rafael Nadal win trophy after trophy at Roland Garros — a record 14 in all

PARIS: Carlos Alcaraz came back to defeat Alexander Zverev 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 on Sunday and win the French Open for his third Grand Slam title.

Alcaraz is a 21-year-old from Spain who grew up watching countryman Rafael Nadal win trophy after trophy at Roland Garros — a record 14 in all — and now has eclipsed Nadal as the youngest man to collect major championships on three surfaces. Nadal was about 1.5 years older when he did it.

Sunday’s victory — in which he trailed two sets to one, just as he had in the semifinals against Jannik Sinner on Friday — allowed Alcaraz to add the clay-court championship at Roland Garros to his triumphs on hard courts at the US Open in 2022 and on grass at Wimbledon in 2023. Alcaraz is now 3-0 in Grand Slam finals.

Zverev dropped to 0-2 in major title matches. The 27-year-old from Germany was the runner-up at the 2020 US Open after blowing a two-set lead against Dominic Thiem.

This time, Zverev lost after surging in front by reeling off the last five games of the third set. Alcaraz’s level dipped during that stretch and he seemed distracted by a complaint over the condition of the clay at Court Philippe Chatrier, telling chair umpire Renaud Lichtenstein it was “unbelievable.”

But Alcaraz reset himself and surged to the finish, taking 12 of the last 15 games while being treated by a trainer at changeovers for an issue with his left leg.

No. 3 Alcaraz and No. 4 Zverev were making their first appearance in a French Open final. Indeed, this was the first men’s title match at Roland Garros since 2004 without Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer.

Nadal lost to Zverev in the first round two weeks ago; Djokovic, a three-time champion, withdrew before the quarterfinals with a knee injury that required surgery; Federer is retired.

There were some jitters at the outset. Zverev started the proceedings with a pair of double-faults — walking to the sideline to change rackets after the second, as though the equipment was the culprit — and eventually got broken. Alcaraz lost serve immediately, too, framing a forehand that sent the ball into the stands — which he would do on a handful of occasions — and double-faulting, trying a so-so drop shot that led to an easy winner for Zverev, then missing a backhand.

Let’s just say they won’t be putting those initial 10 minutes in the Louvre. A lot of the 4-hour, 19-minute match was patchy, littered with unforced errors.

Alcaraz managed to come out strong in the fourth set, grabbing 16 of the first 21 points to move out to a 4-0 edge, including one brilliant, sliding, down-the-line forehand passing winner that he celebrated by thrusting his right index finger overhead in a “No. 1” sign, then throwing an uppercut while screaming, “Vamos!”

No, he is not ranked No. 1 at the moment — Sinner makes his debut at the top spot on Monday — but he has been before and, although a “2” will be beside Alcaraz’s name next week, there is little doubt that he is as good as it gets in men’s tennis right now.


Paolini beaten again as Gauff, Siniakova win French Open doubles

Paolini beaten again as Gauff, Siniakova win French Open doubles
Updated 09 June 2024
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Paolini beaten again as Gauff, Siniakova win French Open doubles

Paolini beaten again as Gauff, Siniakova win French Open doubles
  • Coco Gauff, the reigning US Open singles champion, wins her first Grand Slam doubles title

PARIS: French Open singles runner-up Jasmine Paolini suffered another defeat in Sunday’s women’s doubles final as she and partner Sara Errani lost 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 to Coco Gauff and Katerina Siniakova.
Gauff, the reigning US Open singles champion, won her first Grand Slam doubles title. The 20-year-old American was a losing finalist at the 2021 US Open and 2022 French Open in doubles.
Siniakova, 28, captured her eighth Grand Slam doubles crown and third at Roland Garros. She claimed the other seven titles with fellow Czech Barbora Krejcikova.


Swiatek dismantles Paolini to win third straight French Open title

Swiatek dismantles Paolini to win third straight French Open title
Updated 08 June 2024
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Swiatek dismantles Paolini to win third straight French Open title

Swiatek dismantles Paolini to win third straight French Open title
  • Swiatek’s 21st straight victory at her happiest hunting ground put her in fourth place in the list of longest winning streaks at Roland Garros
  • The diminutive Paolini went toe to toe with Swiatek from there but cracked in the sixth game

PARIS: Iga Swiatek strengthened her reputation as the queen of clay by capturing a third straight French Open crown with a crushing 6-2 6-1 victory over 12th seed Jasmine Paolini on Saturday to claim her fifth Grand Slam title.
Swiatek’s 21st straight victory at her happiest hunting ground put her in fourth place in the list of longest winning streaks at Roland Garros in the Open era behind only Chris Evert (29), Monica Seles (25) and Justine Henin (24).
The 23-year-old, who arrived in Paris in the form of her life having lifted titles in Madrid and Rome, extended her run of victories on clay this year to a career-best 19 matches and celebrated with her fourth French Open title in five years.
Swiatek came out all guns blazing early in the contest but after narrowly missing the chance to break from 0-40 down in the second game, the top-seeded Pole made heavy weather of the next to surrender her serve, before bouncing right back.
The diminutive Paolini, only the third Italian woman after Francesca Schiavone and Sara Errani to reach the Roland Garros final since the sport turned professional in 1968, went toe to toe with Swiatek from there but cracked in the sixth game.
With the momentum shifting, claycourt specialist Swiatek began to dominate the exchanges from the baseline, superbly working the angles and sealing the opening set in 37 minutes after winning 20 out of 24 points since going down a break.
A shell-shocked Paolini smiled and soaked up the support and applause from the crowd on the main showcourt when she won the odd point early in the next set, but her challenge faded in the afternoon sun as Swiatek broke twice to build a 4-0 lead.
Swiatek, who dropped only one set throughout the tournament in a second-round epic with Naomi Osaka, won 10 successive games before Paolini got on the scoreboard, but there was to be no late comeback drama and the knockout blow was not long in coming.
Swiatek closed out the victory when Paolini sent a shot long and rejoiced by dropping to her knees and pumping her fists, letting out a huge roar, before joining her entourage in the stands for another round of celebrations.


Alcaraz outduels Sinner to reach French Open final

Alcaraz outduels Sinner to reach French Open final
Updated 07 June 2024
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Alcaraz outduels Sinner to reach French Open final

Alcaraz outduels Sinner to reach French Open final
  • Alcaraz, 21, will play fourth seed Alexander Zverev or two-time Roland Garros runner-up Casper Ruud on Sunday
  • “It’s one of the toughest matches I’ve played for sure,” said Alcaraz

PARIS: Carlos Alcaraz beat incoming world number one Jannik Sinner 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 on Friday to reach the French Open final and continue his bid for a third Grand Slam title.
Alcaraz, 21, will play fourth seed Alexander Zverev or two-time Roland Garros runner-up Casper Ruud on Sunday after becoming the youngest man to reach Grand Slam finals on all three surfaces.
“It’s one of the toughest matches I’ve played for sure,” said Alcaraz.
“The toughest I’ve played in my short career have been against Jannik. I hope to play many, many more like this.”
“You have to find the joy in suffering,” the Spaniard added.
Alcaraz has won both of his two previous major finals — at Wimbledon last year and the 2022 US Open. Victory on Sunday would see him head to the Australian Open next January seeking a career Grand Slam.
Both Alcaraz and Sinner arrived in Paris under an injury cloud, gradually finding their best level over the course of the tournament to set up a meeting billed as the match “everybody wants to see.”
The ninth chapter of an enthralling rivalry destined to shape the future of the sport was the youngest Grand Slam semifinal pairing since Andy Murray beat Rafael Nadal at the 2008 US Open.
It was their first Grand Slam meeting since a spectacular five-set quarter-final two years ago in New York, and while perhaps not as exhilarating this one was no less gripping.
Alcaraz, who was hampered badly by cramp in last year’s semifinal loss to Novak Djokovic, had said that playing Sinner was like running a marathon, and it was the Spaniard doing much of the chasing early.
Sinner pinned Alcaraz on the back foot straight away as he broke in the very first game, blending impenetrable defense with searing groundstrokes as he went on the attack.
After holding with ease the Australian Open champion belted a forehand winner for another break opportunity in the third game, sweeping 3-0 in front following an Alcaraz miscue.
Alcaraz finally got on the board in the fifth game before retrieving a break, but he handed it right back and Sinner bagged the first set when the Spaniard dumped a drop-shot into the net.
Sinner began the second set in identical fashion, earning another break after a loose Alcaraz service game and consolidating for a 2-0 edge on a picture-perfect day in Paris.
Alcaraz belatedly spluttered into life though as Sinner struggled to maintain his sky-high standards from the opening set and presented his rival three break points with a double-fault.
A brilliant cross-court winner hauled Alcaraz back on serve, with the Spaniard soon accelerating 5-2 ahead following another break as Sinner sprayed his forehand wide.
Sinner temporarily slowed the Alcaraz charge, ending his five-game winning stretch, but the third seed levelled up the match the next game.
The early onslaught from Sinner felt a distant memory as Alcaraz pounced to break for a 2-1 lead in the third set, flicking a sublime backhand passing shot beyond a powerless Sinner.
Yet the momentum was quickly back with Sinner.
He ripped a blistering one-two combination of forehands to get back on serve and then resisted four break points in a lengthy fifth game before holding for 3-2.
Sinner received a massage from the physio for apparent cramp in his right forearm, but he brushed off any physical issue as he hammered a backhand return past Alcaraz to break again.
A tame Alcaraz forehand into the net handed Sinner the third set. A sense of calmness enveloped the fourth, with not a single break point on offer until a sizzling Alcaraz backhand brought about a set point.
He didn’t flinch and sent the match to a decider with a winner into the open court.
Alcaraz’s approach to grind Sinner down coupled with timely shotmaking allowed him to strike the critical blow in the second game of the fifth set.
Sinner, while visibly flagging more than his re-energised rival, did not go down without a fight, but Alcaraz finally put him away after four hours of another seismic showdown.