PARIS – Top seed Naomi Osaka staged a second successive Roland Garros great escape on Thursday when she battled back from a set and a break down to defeat Victoria Azarenka 4-6 7-5 6-3.
World number one Osaka, bidding to add the French Open to her US and Australian Open titles, had been two points from defeat in her opener against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.
Against former number one and two-time major winner Azarenka, she was staring down the barrel yet again at 2-4 down in the second set.
However, the 21-year-old held her nerve, despite squandering two match points, to secure her place in the third round and a clash against either Greek 29th seed Maria Sakkari or Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic.
“I was lucky to have played her twice before. I knew she had been playing well coming into the tournament,” said Osaka.
“It was an unfortunate second round for me, so I am happy to win.”
Osaka finished the two-hour 50-minute encounter on Court Suzanne Lenglen with 52 winners and 43 unforced errors.
She becomes the first top seed to win her two opening matches at Roland Garros after losing the first set since Lindsay Davenport in 2005.
Azarenka, now at 43 in the world, claimed the 40-minute first set, having stretched out to a 5-1 lead on the back of two breaks of serve.
Osaka was undone by 15 unforced errors.
The Japanese star appeared doomed when she slipped 4-2 down in the second set, having failed to convert three break points in the fourth game.
But she rallied to level at 4-4 after a 10-minute eighth game, secured on an Azarenka double fault.
The Belarusian, who had knocked out 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko in the first round, then saved three set points in the 12th game before Osaka levelled the contest with a pinpoint, down the line winner.
After an 85-minute set, Azarenka stretched a toilet break to 10 minutes, before squandering three break points in the first game of the decider.
Osaka made her pay, breaking twice for a 5-1 lead.
However, in a rollercoaster of a match, Azarenka cut the deficit to 5-3, saving two match points in the process.
“I choked on this side and almost choked there too. I am a very emotional person,” said the Japanese, as she explained how she almost allowed Azarenka back into the tie.AFP