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Sport

Osaka ‘really excited to face’ Swiatek at French Open

todayMay 29, 2024 4

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Naomi Osaka says she is “really excited” to face red-hot tournament favourite Iga Swiatek in the French Open second round on Wednesday, when men’s title contenders Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz are also in action.

Former world number one Osaka won a match at a Grand Slam event for the first time since the 2022 Australian Open with her opening victory over Lucia Bronzetti.

The Japanese star returned earlier this year after a 16-month hiatus from tennis to start a family.

Osaka has never got past the third round at Roland Garros, with all four of her Grand Slam titles having come on hard courts in Australia and the United States.

She said she avoided looking at the draw, but realised she could face Swiatek during her pre-tournament press conference.

“I was, like, ‘Why does everyone keep asking me about this draw?’,” Osaka said.

“Then I knew that I was in the top half, so I was, like, jokingly, ‘Well, it’s not like I’m playing Iga’. Then everyone got quiet. So I was like, ‘Oh’.”

Osaka will be a big underdog against Swiatek in the pair’s first ever meeting on clay and only third match on any surface.

Swiatek is bidding to become only the fourth woman in the Open era to lift four Roland Garros titles and just the second — after Serena Williams — to complete the clay-court treble of Madrid, Rome and French Opens in the same season.

“I’m honestly really excited. I watched her a lot when I was pregnant,” said Osaka of her opponent.

“And honestly, I think it’s an honour to play her in the French Open, because she’s won more than once here, for sure. It’s a very big honour and challenge for me.”

Osaka won her first meeting with a then-teenage Swiatek in Toronto in 2019, while the Pole came out on top in their other clash in the 2022 Miami Open final.

The 22-year-old Swiatek is not going to take anything for granted against Osaka, who showed flashes of her best form in Rome earlier this month, knocking out seeds Marta Kostyuk and Daria Kasatkina en route to the last 16.

“The matches that we played on hard court were always really intense and tough,” said the current world number one.

“So I’m just glad that she came back and she’s playing more tournaments even than before the break.

“Nowadays in the women’s draw you can play Grand Slam champions early in the tournament.

“It is pretty tricky because you know these players are really experienced. They also achieved many great things. So they have a bigger kind of belief…

“So for sure it’s not gonna be easy.”

Men’s second seed Sinner will have to quieten the French crowd when he faces home favourite Richard Gasquet in the night session match.

The Australian Open champion arrived at the tournament under an injury cloud after withdrawing from Madrid and skipping Rome with a hip problem.

Sinner cruised to a first-round win over Christopher Eubanks, though, and insisted he was feeling close to full fitness.

“The hip is good, I’m very happy,” he said. “The general shape isn’t at 100 percent yet so we’re trying to build every day.”

Wimbledon champion Alcaraz also missed out on Rome with a right arm injury, but was in fine form in his Roland Garros opener, dropping just four games against American lucky loser J.J. Wolf.

He will be expected to have few problems against Dutch qualifier Jesper de Jong on Court Suzanne Lenglen.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, men’s sixth seed Andrey Rublev, former French Open runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas and women’s Wimbledon winner Marketa Vondrousova also target places in the last 32.

jc/dj

AFP

(NAMPA / AFP)

Written by: Staff Writer

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