Japan’s Naomi Osaka battled back from a set and a break down to defeat Slovakia’s Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 0-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-1 on Tuesday to reach the Roland Garros second round.
Two-time Grand Slam winner and former world number one Victoria Azarenka defeated 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko 6-4, 7-6 (7/4) in a match which featured 13 breaks of serve. Ostapenko has now lost in the first round in her last two visits to Paris with her wretched performance highlighted by an ugly 60 unforced errors.
Meanwhile reigning champion Simona Halep started her title defence with an ultimately comfortable victory despite a second-set blip against Australian Ajla Tomljanovic. The Romanian was pegged back on Court Philippe Chatrier but raced through the decider to win 6-2, 3-6, 6-1.
Osaka, bidding to add the French Open to her US and Australian Open titles, was within a whisker of becoming just the second top seed to lose in the first round in Paris in the modern era after Angelique Kerber in 2017.
World number 90 Schmiedlova, who hadn’t won a match at the tournament since 2014, twice served for the tie in the 10th and 12th games of the second set.
At one stage, she was just two points away from a famous victory.
“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.”
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 No 1 Azarenka.
“Just the usual second round match,” smiled Azarenka. “But it’s going to be exciting for me. I love to challenge myself against the best players.”
The 21-year-old top seed hit 13 unforced errors while the Slovakian didn’t need to hit a single winner such was the error-strewn show coming from the other side of the net.
It was the first time since 2000, when Ruxandra Dragomir ‘bageled’ Martina Hingis, that the top seed in the Roland Garros first round had suffered such an indignity. The Japanese star had not herself been ‘bageled’ since the Wimbledon second round in 2017.
Osaka recovered her composure for a break and a 3-0 lead in the second set but a brief suspension for rain disrupted her composure and allowed the Slovakian to hit back to 3-3.
Former top 30 player Schmiedlova served for the tie at 5-4 but Osaka dug deep to save herself. The errors kept coming and the 24-year-old Slovakian was handed a second chance to serve for victory.
Still, she couldn’t convert despite being just two points from victory and Osaka stayed alive, sweeping through the tie-breaker.
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.
Halep, seeded third, will face Poland’s Magda Linette in the second round.
The 27-year-old, who won her maiden Grand Slam title in Paris last year after three previous final defeats, looked to be in total control after taking the first set in under half an hour.
Tomljanovic, who reached the last 16 in 2014, hit back though to level the match.
But Halep, like world number one Naomi Osaka in the preceding match on the show court, avoided an upset by easing through the third set despite being broken when initially serving for the match.
Halep finished an accomplished display with 19 winners and 22 unforced errors.
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 in the tie suspended due to darkness on Monday night.
There were also 17 breaks of serve in the match which stretched to over three hours.
Victoria Azarenka (BLR) bt Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) 6-4, 7-6 (7/4)
Caroline Garcia (FRA x24) bt Mona Barthel (GER) 6-2, 6-4
Anna Blinkova (RUS) bt Margarita Gasparyan (RUS) 6-3, 4-6, 8-6
Kurumi Nara (JPN) bt Dalila Jakupovic (SLO) 7-5, 5-7, 6-3
Bianca Andreescu (CAN x22) bt Marie Bouzková (CZE) 5-7, 6-4, 6-4
Magda Linette (POL) bt Chloé Paquet (FRA) 3-6, 6-1, 6-2
Daria Kasatkina (RUS x21) bt Jasmine Paolini (ITA) 6-2, 6-3
Mónica Puig (PUR) bt Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) 6-1, 7-5
Amanda Anisimova (USA) bt Harmony Tan (FRA) 6-3, 6-1
Irina-Camelia Begu (ROU) bt Zhu Lin (CHN) 6-1, 6-1
Karolína Muchová (CZE) bt Anett Kontaveit (EST x17) 3-6, 6-2, 6-2
With AFP inputs