World No.1 Naomi Osaka struggled in her opening match at the French Open on Tuesday but came through a tough battle against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 0-6, 7-6(4), 6-1. Defending champion Simona Halep did not have things her own way but also came through in three sets against Ajla Tomljanovic. Fifth seed Alexander Zverev has not had a good year but showed signs of form winning the Geneva Open title last week. He was facing a tough opponent in John Millman who counts Roger Federer among his scalps at Slams but the German survived in five sets after almost losing a two sets to love lead as the Australian made a comeback to stretch it to a fifth set.
Top seed Osaka comes into the French Open having won the last two Slams and does not have a great record at the clay court major but she was confident of her hopes of doing well at Paris. That appeared to be misguided when Schmiedlova rushed through the first set winning it 6-0 as Osaka started off very nervous and was hardly able to put the ball in play. The Japanese 21 year old improved in the second set but a string of errors at 4-4 deuce gave the Slovakian a chance to serve out the match. Osaka raised her level to break her but again lost serve in a long game giving her opponent one more chance to complete the upset. Schmiedlova came within two points of a win on a few occasions but Osaka fought hard and managed to get the break. Thereafter Osaka took the lead in the tiebreaker and never looked back taking it 7-4. Osaka has a great record in deciding sets and it showed as she broke thrice to win the final set 6-1.
After the match, Osaka admitted to being nervous. “I think this is the most nervous I have ever been my entire life during a match. I think you could see that in the first set. I was literally not hitting any balls in the court. Today was weird because usually the nerves go away, but it kind of stayed the entire match. Then I just felt like it was a fight of willpower. First time playing a Grand Slam as No.1. Won the last two, so I kind of want to win this one really bad. I have never played on Chatrier before.”
Halep is trying to become the first woman to successfully defend the French Open title since Justine Henin in 2007 and she made a strong start winning the opening set 6-2. But Tomljanovic, the hard hitting Australian fought back to take the second set 6-3. Halep quickly rebounded in the third set to take a 5-0 lead and then closed out the deciding set to advance.
Victoria Azarenka faced 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in a blockbuster opening round that featured some exciting play and 13 breaks of serve. The match started with both players having trouble on serve with eight consecutive breaks of serve. Azarenka was the first to hold firing an ace a game point. She broke through to win the set 6-4. In the second set Ostapenko continued swing freely and got an early break to lead 3-1. Azarenka levelled the set and even had two match points at 5-4 in the second set but Ostapenko came up with some fierce ground strokes to hold serve.
The Latvian appeared to have the momentum as she then broke Azarenka and lead 30-0 on serve two points from levelling the match. But a rash of errors including a few tepid backhand and missed backhand volley helped Azarenka break serve. In the tie break Azarenka got a quick lead but Ostapenko fought back to 4-5. Azarenka played a brave point attacking the net to reach match point and she took it this time to win 6-4, 7-6(4) and she advances to a second round meeting against Osaka. Ostapenko’s serve proved to be her downfall as she committed 17 double faults in windy conditions.
Zverev has had some tough moments in 2019 but was buoyed by his title run in Geneva prior to Paris and he looked good taking the first two sets against the dangerous Millman. The Australian however fought hard and took the next two sets to set up a decider. In the fifth set they were on serve at 4-3 when the young German made his move and got the crucial break. He served out the match with ease to complete a 7-6(4), 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-3 in just over four hours.
Eighth seed Juan Martin Del Potro brushed off the loss of the first set to beat Nicolas Jarry 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4. Ninth seed Fabio Fognini saw off countryman Andreas Seppi in 4 sets while 40 year old Ivo Karlovic beat 37 year old Feliciano Lopez in a battle of veterans in a match that featured a combined age of 77. In doubles, India’s Rohan Bopanna and Marius Copil produced an upset win over sixth seeds Raven Klaasen and Michael Venus 6-3, 7-6(4) in the first round match.