Swiatek survives French Open blitz by sensational Osaka

Ian Chadband |

Japan’s Naomi Osaka roars in delight but her comeback against Iga Swiatek fell agonisingly short.
Japan’s Naomi Osaka roars in delight but her comeback against Iga Swiatek fell agonisingly short.

Champion Iga Swiatek has held her nerve with a champion’s resolve, saving a match point en route to salvaging her French Open crown and leaving Naomi Osaka  in tears despite a sensational throwback display from the resurgent Japanese.

In the match of the championships with two world No.1s, present and past, providing a thrilling spectacle under the roof of Court Philippe Chatrier as the rain beat down outside, Swiatek was on the verge of bowing out on Wednesday at the hands of the brilliant Osaka before prevailing 7-6 (7-1) 1-6 7-5.

Leading 5-2 and 30-0 in the last stanza and then later holding match point at 5-3, Osaka was a point away from writing an extraordinary comeback tale three years since was at the centre of an international storm when she pulled out of Roland Garros amid mental health concerns.

France tennis
Ultimately, there was frustration for Osaka in her narrowest of defeats.

But turning back the clock to 2019 when she not just on top of the game but the world’s most feted woman athlete, the 26-year-old Japanese just couldn’t find the final line to her latest comeback chapter as a new mum, plopping a weak backhand into the net after serving on her match point.

Swiatek, who admitted she thought she was beaten, gained the initiative, playing some of her toughest tennis in the final exchanges as she watched Osaka falter, eventually coughing up a double fault that gave the Pole the key break for 6-5.

It meant heartbreak for Osaka, but she quickly rationalised her loss. “I cried when I got off the court, but realised I watched Iga in this tournament when I was pregnant (with daughter Shai) last year and remembered it was my dream just to play her.”

It was a contest that left both players emotional, with Swiatek, seeking a Roland Garros hat-trick, even offering the most polite rebuke to the excitable crowd who, overwhelmingly in support of Osaka, had been shouting out during points and were admonished by chair umpire Aurelie Tourte.

“When you scream something during the rally, it’s really hard to be focused. This is serious for us, we’re fighting our whole lives to be better,” she scolded them.

Swiatek
Swiatek acknowledging the crowd before offering them a gentle admonishment.

“Naomi played amazing tennis with loose hands. Sometimes risking a lot but playing really great. I’m happy she’s back and playing well.”

The 22-year-old Swiatek, now the dominant force in the game, extended her Paris winning streak to 16 matches.

Yet it was the sight of Osaka back to vintage best in a two-and-a-half hour classic, striking the ball with such crisp venom that she hit 54 winners and moving so well that it prompted thoughts the current world No.134 really could return as a genuine force.

And she loved every minute of her return to the big-time just five months since she resumed playing in January following her maternity break. Unlike Swiatek, she found the noisy crowd “really cool” and enjoyed sliding on the clay after having three ballet classes to help her movement on the surface.

Next up, she can’t wait to tackle Swiatek again on her surface. “I’m a hardcourt girl,” she smiled.

But who, realistically, can stop Swiatek, after she made it 13 wins in a row? 

Ons Jabeur, who beat Colombia’s Camila Osorio 6-3 1-6 6-3, perhaps? Or US Open champion Coco Gauff after her straightforward 6-3 6-4 eclipse of Tamara Zidansek.

But the hosts were left disappointed on a day of few matches as their No.1 Caroline Garcia, the 21st seed, went down 6-3 6-3 to former finalist and 2020 Australian Open champ Sofia Kenin.

AAP