Japan’s Naomi Osaka battled back from a set and a break down to reach the Roland Garros second round on Tuesday while Grand Slam under-achiever Alexander Zverev needed four hours to get through his opener.
Top seed Osaka, bidding to add the French Open to her US and Australian Open titles, defeated Slovakia’s Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 0-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-1.
However, she came within a whisker of becoming only the second top seed to lose in the first round in Paris in the modern era after Angelique Kerber in 2017.
“I was really close, so it hurts I lost so many chances,” said Schmiedlova.
“Maybe I felt like it was against the world number one. It was not easy in my head.”
World number 90 Schmiedlova, who hadn’t won a match at the tournament since 2014, twice served for victory in the 10th and 12th games of the second set.
At one stage, she was just two points away from a famous victory.
But Osaka, who had arrived in Paris still feeling the effects of a hand injury suffered in Rome, battled back to set-up a second round duel with former world number one and two-time major winner Victoria Azarenka.
Osaka was broken three times in the opening set, losing it in just 20 minutes.
The 21-year-old hit 13 unforced errors while the Slovakian didn’t need to hit a single winner.
Former top 30 player Schmiedlova failed to serve out the tie at 5-4 and 6-5 in the second set.
That was the cue for Osaka to illustrate the gap of 89 places between her and the slender blonde in the world rankings.
She broke three times in the 25-minute final set to extend her streak at the Slams to 15 successive wins.
Osaka ended the match with 10 aces, 36 winners and 38 unforced errors with just four of those coming in the decider.
Azarenka, a semi-finalist in 2013, reached the second round for the first time since 2015 with a 6-4, 7-6 (7/4) win over 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko.
World number 43 Azarenka triumphed in a match punctuated by 13 breaks of serve and 60 unforced errors by Ostapenko who hasn’t won a match at the tournament in her last two visits.
German fifth seed Zverev, a quarter-finalist in 2018, battled past Australia’s John Millman 7-6 (7/4), 6-3, 2-6, 6-7 (5/7), 6-3 in a shade over four hours.
The champion in Geneva last weekend fired 57 winners past world number 56 Millman who stunned Roger Federer at the US Open last year.
– Karlovic wins at 40 –
However, he also committed 73 unforced errors on a blustery day in the French capital.
“John is a tough player so I knew it would be difficult today,” said Zverev, bidding to become the first German man to win the Roland Garros title since Henner Henkel in 1937.
Next up for Zverev is Swedish qualifier Mikael Ymer, the world number 148 of Ethiopian origin, who marked his Grand Slam debut with a 6-0, 6-3, 7-6 (7/5) win over Slovenia’s Blaz Rola.
Argentine eighth seed Juan Martin del Potro, a semi-finalist in 2009 and 2018, made the second round with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 win over Chilean world number 58 Nicolas Jarry.
“I think I’m playing well at the moment, but my main goal is still the knee, my health,” said Del Potro who is still feeling his way back after knee surgery.
Next up for the giant Argentine is a clash against Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka.
Canada’s Bianca Andreescu, the surprise champion at Indian Wells, marked her Roland Garros debut by beating Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.
The 18-year-old, playing for the first time since Miami after suffering a shoulder injury, hit 58 winners and 60 unforced errors.
Ivo Karlovic made a mockery of his 40 years to beat relative spring chicken, 37-year-old Feliciano Lopez, in the oldest ever men’s match-up at Roland Garros.
Croatian Karlovic, the tallest player on the tour at 6ft 11in (2.11m), defeated Lopez 7-6 (7/4), 7-5, 6-7 (7/9), 7-5.
He is the oldest man to win a Grand Slam match since Ken Rosewall in 1978.
Later Tuesday, defending champion Simona Halep faces Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic, the world number 47, who reached the fourth round in 2014.
© Agence France-Presse