No.2 seed Naomi Osaka got her 2021 Roland Garros campaign off to a strong start with a 6-4, 7-6(4) victory over Patricia Maria Tig in the opening match on Court Philippe Chatrier on Sunday.
The four-time Grand Slam champion, who is seeking her first second-week showing at the clay-court major, fended off a spirited challenge by the World No.63 from Romania in one hour and 47 minutes.
Osaka, the reigning US Open and Australian Open champion, is now up to 15 straight match-wins in Grand Slam events. The former World No.1 is playing in Paris for the first time since 2019, after withdrawing from last year's event with a hamstring injury prior to the tournament.
Osaka was superb on serve during her encounter with Tig, winning 89 percent of points behind her first delivery. 39 winners came off the racquet of the World No.2, compared to 19 from Tig, as Osaka improved to 2-0 against the Romanian.
Tig has posted strong results on the clay courts in her career, particularly last season, when she earned her first-ever WTA singles title in Istanbul and reached the third round of Roland Garros. Tig kept both sets competitive but was overcome down the stretch each time by Osaka.
In the first set, Osaka notched an early 2-0 lead after breaking in a protracted game, and she held onto that advantage up to 5-2, where she garnered three set points. Aggressive play by Tig helped the Romanian fend those off and hold for 5-3, and the unseeded player got back on serve in the very next game after miscues by Osaka.
But Osaka quickly recovered in the following game, with thunderous returning drawing her to triple break point and three more set points. A backhand winner off of a Tig dropshot sealed another break and the set for Osaka.
There were no breaks of service in the second set, although Osaka had a match point at 6-5 which was boldly whisked away by Tig with a forehand winner down the line.
After the hard-fought battle, Osaka took charge early in the tiebreak, zooming ahead to 5-2, although once again, Tig made a late charge, winning the next two points on Osaka’s serve to reach 5-4. But a powerful forehand on the baseline gave Osaka a 6-4 lead and two more match points, and the World No.2 converted the first with a backhand winner.
At the end of the day on Court Philippe Chatrier, No.15 seed Victoria Azarenka emerged the victor in a battle between two-time Grand Slam champions. Azarenka eliminated Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 to book a spot in the second round in Paris.
The two veterans have now faced off 11 times, with 2009 Roland Garros champion Kuznetsova prevailing in straight sets when they met here in their only previous French Open meeting 13 years ago.
However, Azarenka had not dropped a set to Kuznetsova in any of their last five meetings, dating back to 2009. Despite being pushed to three sets this time, the Belarusian defeated former World No.2 Kuznetsova again, and now holds a 7-4 lead in their head-to-head.
After being beset with injuries in a stop-and-start season, Azarenka told the press that she "practiced for two, two-and-a-half weeks pain-free, which was really encouraging. Today playing, I don't know how long, two-plus hours, we played with a lot of movement, a lot of tenacity, so I'm happy about that."
It took former World No.1 Azarenka two hours on the dot to clinch the win, as the 2013 semifinalist seeks her first trip to the Roland Garros final. Each player broke serve seven times, and Kuznetsova out-winnered Azarenka by 26 to 19. Kuznetsova, though, had 41 unforced errors, seven more than Azarenka.
Strong returning was in evidence in the first set, as seven of the ten games in the opener went to the receiver. Azarenka was sturdier at the end of the set, winning eight of the last nine points to seal the one-set lead.
Kuznetsova struck back in the second set, using sterling groundstrokes to zip to a 5-0 lead. The Russian held on to take the set 6-3, which was the first set she had won off of Azarenka in their last six meetings.
Azarenka, though, had the upper hand in the decider, as the Belarusian charged through her service games to open up a 5-1 lead in the final set. Kuznetsova found stunning winners down the line to break for 5-2, and saved a match point in that game, but Azarenka would not be stopped, fending off a break point in the final game before notching the win.
Belgrade champion Paula Badosa is now a tour-leading 14-2 on the clay this season, defeating Lauren Davis 62 76 in 1R.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) May 30, 2021
Badosa faces either Clara Burel or Danka Kovinic in 2R. pic.twitter.com/AmrRxQIlLq
In other matches on Day 1, No.33 seed Paula Badosa of Spain continued her stellar clay-court season with a 6-2, 7-6(3) win over Lauren Davis of the United States.
Badosa has reached the semifinals or better in her last three events, all on clay courts, at Charleston, Madrid, and Belgrade. At the last of those three, she won her first career WTA singles title.
The Spaniard is now up to six consecutive wins following her one-hour and 40-minute victory over Davis. Badosa had 27 winners in the affair, whereas Davis fired 18 winners and had 32 unforced errors.
Seeded for the first time at a major, Badosa said that milestone "of course, is important, but as well you have really tough matches since the beginning of the tournament in a Grand Slam. So I always say that maybe you're playing a girl that maybe on paper you're the favorite, but then she plays an amazing level, and it can happen the other way.
"You never know. Every opponent is tough, so I think the level is getting very hard every time, every match. I'm happy that I'm seeded, because I'm at a good ranking, but as well, I expect every [match to be a] hard match."
After a routine opening frame, Badosa faced a stern challenge from World No.86 Davis in the second set. The American broke Badosa at love to lead 5-4, but Badosa stopped her from serving out the set with a love break of her own. Badosa ultimately reeled off the last six points of the tiebreak to obtain victory.
"It was tight all the second set, and then I think I played a pretty good tiebreak," Badosa said. "So I'm quite happy the way that I finished the match."
Former World No.1 Angelique Kerber, though, was upset in her opening-round clash. Qualifier Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine ousted the No.26 seed, 6-2, 6-4, in an hour and a half, immediately stopping Kerber in her quest to complete the Career Grand Slam in Paris this season.
139th-ranked Kalinina came into Roland Garros qualifying in exceptional form, having won back-to-back ITF Challenger events in Portugal and Croatia prior to Paris.
After three straight-set wins in qualifying, the Ukrainian notched another with her 86-minute victory over the three-time Grand Slam champion. Kalinina broke Kerber six times en route to her first-ever win over a player ranked inside the Top 30.