Osaka, Alcaraz off to winning starts at French Open

Tokyo, 27 May, /AJMEDIA/

Naomi Osaka swept to her first victory at the French Open in three years on Sunday, setting up a potential showdown with Iga Swiatek, as Carlos Alcaraz maintained his record of never losing in the first round of a Grand Slam.

Osaka, a four-time major winner who has yet to get past the third round in Paris, needed three sets to defeat Italy’s 48th-ranked Lucia Bronzetti on the showpiece Court Philippe Chatrier, 6-1, 4-6, 7-5.

The 26-year-old fired 31 winners, including six aces, and 45 unforced errors in a match where she gave up a 4-0 lead in the decider before finding herself 5-4 down.

However, she rallied strongly to register her first win at a Grand Slam since the 2022 Australian Open.

“It feels really nice to be back and I’m just really grateful to be here in front of everybody,” said Osaka. “I think there were moments when I played really well.”

The Japanese star, a former world number one now at 134 in the rankings, has endured a bittersweet relationship with the French capital.

In 2021, she was fined for opting out of mandatory media commitments before withdrawing from the tournament in order to protect her mental health.

A year later, she fell in the first round before leaving the sport in September 2022 for 16 months to give birth to her daughter.

Top seed and defending champion Swiatek, chasing a fourth French Open, will face Osaka if the Pole gets past qualifier Leolia Jeanjean on Monday.

World number three and reigning Wimbledon champion Alcaraz eased to a 6-1, 6-2, 6-1 win over America’s J.J. Wolf, the 107th-ranked player who entered the main draw as a ‘lucky loser’ from qualifying.

Alcaraz, 21, who made the semi-finals in 2023 where he was defeated by Novak Djokovic, took his first-round record at the majors to 13-0.

Alcaraz showed no sign of suffering from the right arm injury which sidelined him from the Rome Open as he coasted to victory on the back of 27 winners and nine breaks of serve.

“I don’t need too many matches to be at my best,” said Alcaraz. “I have practised with a lot of top players in Paris this week and the forearm is feeling better and better.”

Defending champion Novak Djokovic begins his bid for a fourth French Open title and 25th major on Tuesday.

“Low expectations and high hopes,” said the Serb on Sunday after arriving in Paris without a title in the season for the first time since 2018.

Andy Murray’s French Open career ended when he went down to a straight sets first round defeat to 2015 champion and fellow three-time Grand Slam title winner Stan Wawrinka who hailed the Briton as “a great champion”.

Murray, the runner-up at Roland Garros in 2016, lost 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 in his last appearance at the tournament before retiring later this year.

Wawrinka becomes only the third man over the age of 39 to win a match at the French Open since 1980.

Murray, 37, had already announced he plans to retire later in the summer with Wimbledon and the Paris Olympics as the two high-profile events left on his schedule.

He left to a standing ovation from the crowd on Court Philippe Chatrier and Murray returned the gesture by applauding the fans.

Elsewhere on Sunday, two-time quarterfinalist Andrey Rublev, the sixth seed, defeated Japan’s Taro Daniel in four sets.

Eighth-seeded Hubert Hurkacz needed five sets to see off Japanese qualifier Shintaro Mochizuki while Grigor Dimitrov, the 10th seed, defeated Aleksandar Kovacevic in straight sets.

Jelena Ostapenko, the 2017 champion, swept past Jaqueline Cristian while former Australian Open winner and 2020 Roland Garros runner-up Sofia Kenin came back from a set down to defeat Laura Siegemund of Germany.

© 2024 AFP

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