PARIS -- For nearly three hours, nothing separated two four-time Grand Slam singles champions under the roof on Court Philippe Chatrier. Iga Swiatek and Naomi Osaka, a former World No.1, were even at 5-all in the third set.

Swiatek, who earlier saved a match point, ultimately prevailed 7-6 (1), 1-6, 7-5 on Wednesday night.

Given that Osaka has always had a tenuous relationship with clay -- and the fact Swiatek is a three-time Roland Garros champion and the best active player on clay -- this was something few saw coming.

“It’s hard to have any logical thoughts,” Swiatek told reporters, “because for sure it was really intense and on a really high level. I was in huge trouble in the third set. I honestly didn’t believe that I could win -- that would be pretty naïve.

“But I managed somehow to win this match. I’m glad I didn’t give up.”

Only five months into her comeback following the birth of daughter Skai, Osaka pushed Swiatek to the absolute limit.

In a tense and thrilling match that had the look and feel of a championship final, Osaka was -- as hard as it was to believe -- suddenly vintage Osaka. Ranked No.134 in the world, she played like it was 2019.

Osaka said she cried when she got off the court, but 30 minutes later was decidedly upbeat and quite thoughtful in her responses to the media.

“Probably the most fun match that I have played [since her comeback] so far,” Osaka said. “It just felt really incredible, the atmosphere, and how fun I guess everyone in the crowd was having, too. It was definitely very memorable for me.

“I kind of realize I was watching Iga win this tournament last year, and I was pregnant. It was just my dream to be able to play her. When I kind of think of it like that, I think I’m doing pretty well.”

This was Swiatek’s 16th consecutive match-win at Roland Garros, the most since Justine Henin won 24 straight between 2005-10. This was also Swiatek’s 14th straight win this year.

Osaka actually won more points, had 17 more winners and more service breaks -- but Swiatek was better when it mattered. Match time: 2 hours, 57 minutes.

“That was much more intense for a second-round match than I expected,” Swiatek said in her on-court interview. “She played really, really great tennis. For sure, I’m happy that she’s back.”

Coming in, Swiatek was understandably deferential to Osaka.

“Nowadays in women's draw you can play Grand Slam champions early in the tournament,” Swiatek said. “It is pretty tricky because you know these players are really experienced. They also achieved many great things. So they have bigger kind of belief.”

She wasn’t kidding.

After splitting the first two sets, Osaka faced three break points in her opening service game -- and saved them all. She then broke Swiatek with a backhand crosscourt winner, which induced a primal scream. In Osaka’s second service game, she saved five more break points, before Swiatek’s forehand return found the net.

Now Osaka led 3-0 and served for the match at 5-3.

But at 30-all, she smashed a forehand into the net followed by a backhand that flew long. On Swiatek’s second break point, Osaka hit what looked like a makeable backhand just long.

And so the match was back on serve. 

In the end, Osaka just couldn't close the deal. There were some tired-looking forehands and, with Osaka serving at 5-all, a double fault that gave Swiatek a pivotal 6-5 advantage.

Leading 30-15, Swiatek hit a screaming backhand crosscourt winner to go up 40-15. One more errant backhand from Osaka gave her the match.

“I’m also just trying not to be too hard on myself,” Osaka said. “I feel like I played her on her better surface. I’m a hard-court kid, so I would love to play her on my surface and see what happens.

“I also said in Australia that I’m kind of setting myself up for September anyway.”

That would be the US Open where she’s a two-time champion.

“Honestly, I just think about the journey that she had,” Swiatek said. “She’s a mother, and I guess, I have never been in that situation. It must be hard to combine these two things and come back after maternity leave.

“She played amazing today. I have big respect for her coming back. Her shots were really clean and really heavy. For sure, I think she improved her game. I’m happy that she’s back – but maybe we can play not three sets next time.”

Swiatek is tracking like Henin, which is a (very) good thing. Henin, who may have had the most breathtaking one-handed backhand in women’s tennis history, won three straight titles here from 2005-07 and four out of five.

With five more victories here, Swiatek can equal that feat. The only other player in the Open Era to three-peat was Monica Seles, in 1990-92, twice beating Steffi Graf in the final.