Tennis·French Open

Osaka battles through 2nd round victory, keeps Grand Slam streak alive

Naomi Osaka is grinding her way through the French Open the hard way. To cling onto her quest for a third consecutive Grand Slam title, the top-ranked Osaka has twice had to rally from first-set woes. The latest opponent was former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, beaten 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 in the second round Thursday.

Japanese youngster beats former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 in 2nd round

Japan's Naomi Osaka serves against Victoria Azarenka of Belarus during their second round match of the French Open on Thursday, a match Osaka took in three set. (Christophe Ena/The Associated Press)

Naomi Osaka screamed "Oh, my God!" after one shanked shot. Mouthed something and clasped her hands together, as if praying, after another. There were plenty of deep sighs and exaggerated eyerolls, too.

The No. 1-seeded Osaka got off to a terrible start at the French Open again, never masking her frustration. After some slip-ups near the end, Osaka also prevailed again, displaying the grit and groundstrokes that just won't let her lose during what's become a 16-match Grand Slam winning streak.

Osaka trailed by a set and a break Thursday against former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in the second round at Roland Garros, before coming all the way back to win an entertaining matchup 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 and prolong her bid for a third consecutive major championship.

"I have this mindset that I feel like I can win if it gets down to the wire. Like, if I have to break a person, I feel like I have the ability to do that," Osaka said. "So I probably shouldn't wait until the last minute."

WATCH | Osaka survives scare to advance:

After dropping the first set and falling behind in the second, Naomi Osaka rallied to beat Victoria Azarenka in their second round match. 1:12

Probably.

In the first round, Osaka not only dropped the opening set, but did so by a 6-0 score.

This time, Osaka ceded the first four games against Azarenka and was responsible for their match's initial seven unforced errors.

"Technically, like, she kind of killed me in the first set," Osaka said, "and I just kept trying to find a way to stay positive."

Azarenka sought to control points with deep, attacking strokes and by going after Osaka's backhand side.

"I played very smart. I really played the right spots," Azarenka said. "I was doing everything that I was supposed to do. And, especially, moving well and pushing her back."

Azarenka knows a thing or two about how to perform on the sport's biggest stages: She won two titles at the Australian Open, reached two finals at the U.S. Open and was a semifinalist at both Wimbledon and, back in 2013, the French Open.

She is currently ranked 43rd, though, on account of missing time over the past few seasons while pregnant and then dealing with a custody issue involving her son.

Osaka chasing history

So what, in terms of talent and tenacity, could have passed for a late-in-the-proceedings showdown at a major was held, instead, in Week 1, with the temperature barely above 15 Celsius and the occasional raindrop.

Osaka chasing history

When Azarenka sprinted for a cross-court forehand winner that closed a 15-stroke exchange, she led 4-2 in the second set after 77 minutes.

They would play for more than 1 ½ additional hours, and Azarenka certainly had opportunities to edge even farther ahead, such as when she had a break point to go up 5-2 and serve for the victory but netted a forehand. Or the three times she was one point from leading 5-3 but got broken there with her second double-fault of the game.

It was Azarenka's serve that faltered down the stretch. It also was Osaka's top-notch returning that contributed to a key stretch in which she grabbed 9 of 11 games.

"She has, obviously, a lot of confidence," Azarenka said.

Which Osaka should, of course, given that she won the U.S. Open in September and the Australian Open in January and is trying to become the first woman in tennis history to collect her first three Slam trophies in a row.

Williams, Djokovic, Halep advance

Defending champion Simona Halep required that same sort of resolve to get through her own test, blowing a big lead in the second set and a trio of match points before holding on to beat 87th-ranked Magda Linette 6-4, 5-7, 6-3.

Halep, who said afterward she felt a "little bit sick" and plans to "sleep all day tomorrow," was up a set and 5-3 in the second before dropping four games in a row and getting broken twice while serving for the match.

Neither Osaka nor Halep managed to put on the sort of solid performance seen from Serena Williams — barely bothered during a 6-3, 6-2 victory over qualifier Kurumi Nara — or top-seeded man Novak Djokovic, also a straight-set winners.

WATCH | Williams moves on to third round:

Serena Williams needed just one hour and seven minutes to defeat Kurumi Nara in straight sets on Thursday. 1:02

WATCH | Djokovic beats Henri Laaksonen in straight sets:

Top ranked Novak Djokovic beat Henri Laaksonen in straight sets on Thursday at the French Open. 1:19

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.