One, not done: Naomi Osaka avoids French Open upset; Simona Halep wins, too

PARIS — Naomi Osaka’s body language made her plight plain. For all she has accomplished, the internal pressure stemming from aiming to do even more was ruining her debut as the No. 1 seed at a Grand Slam tournament.

Fed up with her poor play in a first-round match at the French Open — errors off Osaka’s racket gave her opponent her first 30 points Tuesday — she missed yet another shot. She was a game shy of losing. Osaka wheeled around to look at her box and display what seemed to be a sarcastic thumbs-up.

“Definitely sarcastic. I was kind of thinking: ‘Do you guys see this amazing tennis I’m playing right here? Thumbs-up.’ I don’t even know what I wanted them to do. I felt kind of bad after I did it. It was more like I had to put my emotions somewhere,” Osaka said. “It’s one of those matches where you’re not playing well, but you have to find a way to win. For me, I’ve just begun learning how to do that.”

Five times only two points from defeat in a swirling wind, Osaka held it together enough to overcome all of those miscues and stretch her winning streak at majors to 15 matches by beating 90th-ranked Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia 0-6, 7-6 (4), 6-1.

As she got going, Osaka delivered a pinpoint cross-court forehand that was too hard to handle, then looked at her box again, this time with a pumping left fist. Afterward, she acknowledged having jitters as she pursues a third consecutive major title while topping the seedings.

“I feel like I’m thinking too much about the number next to my name right now, instead of feeling free and having fun like I normally do in Grand Slams,” Osaka said. “The reason that I wasn’t moving my feet is because I was super nervous, super stressed.”

Defending champion Simona Halep could relate.

Starting her first defense of a Slam title, she also turned in an uneven performance and needed three sets to advance, topping 47th-ranked Ajla Tomljanovic 6-2, 3-6, 6-1.

“I need to be calm. Just focused on my game. Not thinking about my opponents and not thinking about the result,” said Halep, who was a runner-up twice in Paris before earning the trophy in 2018.

Clay has not been Osaka’s best surface; her power-based style is more suited to hard courts, such as those at the U.S. Open, which she won in September, or the Australian Open, which she won in January to become the first tennis player from Japan to be ranked No. 1.

Schmiedlova served for the match twice. At 6-5, 30-15, and again later, she was two points from pulling off what would have been only the second first-round upset of the women’s No. 1 seed in French Open history.

This is what Osaka said was running through her mind: “Can I sleep at night, knowing that I maybe could have done something more?”

Schmiedlova couldn’t close out the match. Osaka wouldn’t let her.

“You could see,” Schmiedlova said, “that she’s No. 1 there.”

Osaka probably needs to play better in her next match, against two-time Australian Open champion and former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka.

“It’s going to be exciting for me,” said Azarenka, who eliminated 2017 French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko 6-4, 7-6 (4). “I love to challenge myself against the best players.”

Howard Fendrich is an Associated Press writer.

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/One-not-done-Naomi-Osaka-avoids-French-Open-13902382.php.

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