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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Sunday, May 26, 2024


Naomi Osaka squandered a 4-0 lead in the decider, then rallied by Lucia Bronzetti 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 scoring her first major match win since the 2022 AO.

Photo credit: Frey/TPN/Getty

Movement on red clay reminds Naomi Osaka of an athletic dance.

Staggered after squandering a 4-0 lead in the decider, Osaka spun away from stress to score her first Roland Garros win since 2021.

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Dropping five straight games in the final set, Osaka subdued her nerve, a biting breeze and Lucia Bronzetti 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 to earn her first major match win 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, so thank you," Osaka said. "I think there were moments that I played pretty well.

"Then obviously, I was really nervous so I got very tight, but I'm just glad I was able to comeback from being, I want to say in my definition, down in the third, so yeah, pretty happy."

It is Osaka’s first Grand Slam win as a mother, her eighth career Roland Garros win and it sure didn’t come easy against an opponent seeking her first win in Paris.

"I think for me the match, it really was like a roller coaster," Osaka told the media in Paris. "I felt like I was extremely focused in the first set and maybe I let it go a little bit, and then I kind of came back in the third but then I let it go a little bit, and then I just got really tight from there. I'm really glad I was able to regroup and win and sit here today."

The hard-fought victory vaults Osaka into potential blockbuster second-round showdown vs. three-time Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek—if the world No. 1 defeats 148th-ranked French qualifier Leola Jeanjean in her opener.

If the clash of the current and former world No. 1 comes off as expected it will be a rematch of the 2022 Miami Open final, which saw Swiatek stomp Osaka, 6-4, 6-0, evening their head-to-head series at 1-1.

It will be a blockbuster match between four-time Grand Slam champions; Osaka said it will be "a very big honor and challenge" to face clay queen Swiatek on her best surface.

"I'm honestly really excited," Osaka said when asked about the prospect of playing Swiatek. "I watched her a lot when I was pregnant.

"And honestly, I think it's an honor to play her in the French Open, because she's won more than once here, for sure. I'm going to, it's like a very big honor and challenge for me."

The 134th-ranked Osaka, who gave birth to daughter Shai last July 7th, had lost in the first round of her last three major appearances.

Contesting her 25th career Grand Slam today, Osaka took short, precise preparation steps to set up for her ferocious power in the opening set.

The former world No. 1 overpowered the Rabat quarterfinalist in the first set and in the first half of the final set. Osaka’s average serve speed of 108 mph was 13 miles-an-hour faster than Bronzetti’s average first-set speed.

Osaka ripped 31 winners—20 more than the Italian baseliner—but also scattered 45 unforced errors, which was 23 more than Bronzetti.

Nerves, a reluctance to finish points moving forward, a feisty Bronzetti and that unruly breeze kicking up dirt in the final stages of the match all conspired to test Osaka’s composure.

Before this opener, Osaka conceded first-round jitters are a real nemesis.

“I think for me I always feel a lot more nervous during the first round of Slams, just because I want to do well so badly, and the first round is the first round,” Osaka said. “So you kind of almost feel like the tournament didn't even start and you're out if you lose.”

A free-flowing Osaka sped through five consecutive games looking comfortable and confident snatching a one-set lead.

Midway through the second set, Bronzetti was serving bigger and showing stubborn fight to turn the set around.

The 48th-ranked Italian saved a couple of break points climbing out of a 15-40 hole to hold for 4-3.

That hold energized the Italian, who was grunting louder and throwing some fist pumps toward her coach.

Serving at 4-5, Osaka faced her first break point, which was set point. Whipping the wide serve to open the court, Osaka slid a crosscourt forehand off the opposite sideline to save set point beautifully.

Undeterred, Bronzetti banged a return that rattled off the top of Osaka’s Yonex frame for a second set point. This time, Osaka scattered a forehand as Bronzetti broke for the first time to level at one set each after 66 minutes.

Through two sets Osaka hit 18 more winners—22 to 4—yet still had to confront third-set stress.

Resetting, Osaka hammered a forehand winner down the line for a break point to start the decider. Osaka immediately broke to go up 1-0.

Reaching back, Osaka banged her third ace to back up the break for 2-0.

Taking total control, Osaka overcame a breeze that kicked up some red clay into her eyes by holding firm for 4-0.

Grinding baseliner Bronzetti was not done yet. The Italian exploited a series of Osaka errors breaking back for 2-4.

Credit Bronzetti for hitting her forehand with more vigor, but Osaka was her own worst enemy at times.

Serving at 4-3, 30-all, Osaka played a bounce smash right back at Bronzetti, who took that gift and ran with it. Osaka sprayed a couple of forehands as Bronzetti broke again to even the decider after eight games.

A fired-up Bronzetti streaked through her fifth straight game going up 5-4 and leaving Osaka reeling at a set that seemed so firmly in her grip slipping away.

"Keep accelerating, Naomi," coach Wim Fissette urged his charge as matters got very tight.

Deadlocked at 5-all, the wind whipped up adding an element of unpredictability to this drama. Osaka ran down a short ball and slid a shot off the edge of the sideline. Then an Osaka backhand return crashed into the tape, popped up in the air and plopped over on Bronzetti’s side giving the four-time major winner double break point.

An unruly wind again played a part as Bronzetti could not control an Osaka shot. Osaka broke for 6-5.

Though clay is arguably her least favorite surface, Osaka did a good job stopping play to circle marks of balls that landed long. She did that serving for the second round, stopping play and correctly citing an out ball for 30-love.

When Bronzetti put a forehand into net, Osaka was through in two hours, one minute.

Now, Osaka, who says she never looks ahead in the draw, is looking ahead to the ultimate clay challenge: Iga Swiatek on Court Philippe Chatrier.

"Um, in a weird way, I definitely do feel like it's a test to see where I'm at, but I wouldn't say I have low expectations of myself," Osaka said of a Swiatek showdown. "I'm a person that kind of thinks that I can win every match that I play. That's kind of gotten me this far."


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