Naomi Osaka pulls off another great escape in overcoming Azarenka
For the second match running, world No. 1 Naomi Osaka stared at an early French Open exit. But, once again, she fought like a champion, recovering from a woeful start to beat Victoria Azarenka 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 last night.
The Japanese, 21, lost the first four games against a fired-up former top-ranked player, but reacted superbly to claw herself back on Court Suzanne Lenglen and claim a 16th successive Grand Slam match win.
She is aiming to win a third successive Major, having bagged her first two at the US and Australian Opens.
But she is doing it the hard way in Paris. Azarenka seemed poised to follow up her first-round win over 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, when she moved 4-2 ahead in the second set, playing with the kind of control and aggression that took her to two Australian Open triumphs.
But Osaka flicked a switch and began pummelling heavy groundstrokes that kept the Belarusian, 29, at full stretch.
Osaka piled on the pressure when Azarenka served at 5-6 but squandered three set-points, before finally levelling the match with a screaming backhand winner.
She raced into a 5-1 lead in the decider and, although Azarenka grabbed the next two games, Osaka kept her focus to reach the third round.
She said: "I was lucky to have played Victoria twice before. I knew she had been playing well coming into the tournament.
"It was an unfortunate second-round draw for me, so I am happy to win."
Serena Williams, meanwhile, put her nervy start behind her by thrashing Japanese qualifier Kurumi Nara 6-3, 6-2 to step up her bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam.
In the men's draw, top seed and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic cruised into the third round with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 win over Swiss qualifier Henri Laaksonen.
Djokovic, bidding to become just the second man to hold all four Slams at the same time twice, next faces Italian qualifier Salvatore Caruso.
Austrian Dominic Thiem overcame a tough test to reach the third round with a 6-3, 6-7 (6/8), 6-3, 7-5 win over a defiant Kazakh Alexander Bublik. - REUTERS, AFP
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