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Iga Swiatek criticises French Open crowd after scare against brilliant Osaka

ROLAND GARROS – Iga Swiatek saved a match point and survived an almighty scare, but she chastised the Roland Garros crowd for their behaviour after she beat Naomi Osaka in a three-set thriller.

Swiatek, who reached the French Open third round with a 7-6 1-6 7-5 victory, has now won 16 matches in a row at Roland Garros, a run stretching back to 2021 and encompassing back-to-back titles.

The Pole had to weather a storm in the middle of the match, as former world No 1 Osaka won 11 of 14 games and served for the match at 5-3 in the third, but found a huge return to save match point and won five games in a row to seal victory.

But when serving to stay in the match at 4-5, a fan called out from the stands before Swiatek hit a drive volley, which she subsequently missed.

“Under a lot of pressure when you scream something during the rally or right before the return, it’s really, really hard to be focused,” Swiatek said afterwards.

“I usually don’t bring this up – because I want to be this kind of player that is in the zone and really focused.

“This is serious for us. We are fighting our whole lives to be better and better. Sometimes it’s hard to accept that.

“The stakes are big. There is a lot of money to win. The few points may change a lot.”

On the other side of the net, two-time US Open champion Osaka said she barely noticed what was going on outside the court.

“For me I didn’t have a problem with the crowd – but I’m also used to the New York crowd,” Osaka said.

She added: “I thought the crowd was really cool. For me, I feel like those are the moments I live for.

“It just makes me feel like the crowd is having fun, and I think at the end of the day that’s what I want the most. I want people to be, like, no matter if I won or lost they said, ‘Oh, I watched the match and I had a great time.’”

Earlier in the day, French Open organisers had been forced to apologise for the behaviour of fans on Court 14 late on Tuesday night. David Goffin had complained that one supporter had spat their gum at him and warned that “it’s becoming [like] football”.

A clash of the titans

Osaka had begged media not to tell her who she might play in the second round during pre-tournament press, but by Monday she could no longer avoid the reality that she would face the biggest test in tennis.

To give an idea of the depth of the challenge, Swiatek had not lost a match at Roland Garros since 2021, and has only been beaten twice in her life at this venue. And she had not lost a second-round grand slam match in her last 16 attempts.

Osaka, meanwhile, has only won eight of her 13 matches in the French Open and had not reached the third round of a slam since 2022, making this comfortably the biggest match of her comeback, which started in Australia at the beginning of this year. In that time she has only faced one top-10 player: Zheng Qinwen, who beat her comfortably in Rome.

But that step up in level did not seem to intimidate her, despite a discomfort on clay that has seen her never make it past the third round here. That seemed almost entirely absent as she went toe-to-toe with Swiatek, coming back from an early break to force a tie-break.

It is indicative of Swiatek’s usual dominance of matches – she is so destructive that authorities refuse to put her in the night session for fear of short-selling ticket-holders – that this was only her fourth-ever Roland Garros tie-break, although she had clearly not forgotten how to navigate them, racing out to a 5-1 lead and converting her first set point.

But Osaka was not fazed, showing that her new-found confidence in life, attributed in part to becoming a mother, was more than just skin deep. She consequently played her best set of tennis for two years: she lost one single point on serve and broke Swiatek three times.

Not since 2019 had the Pole been “breadsticked” – tennis parlance for losing a set 6-1 because of the single digit’s baguette-like appearance – but now she would have to steel herself for a deciding set off the back of it.

The crowd seemed torn between who to support. Generally Swiatek’s opponent gets the benefit of Chatrier’s good will; they cheer for Swiatek to be given the chance to play with her food.

But Osaka was striking the ball so purely that this was more than just prolonging the inevitable, and when she hit five winners in the second game of the decider to break serve and then saved two break points of her own to lead 3-0, they believed there might really be an upset on – all bar those holding up the “Poland Garros signs” and screaming “jazda” (Polish for “come on!”) whenever they could.

The finishing line is a difficult thing, in tennis maybe more than any other sport, because it can be so very close and seconds later so far away, just as it was when Osaka missed on match point, and then dropped serve courtesy of two more backhand errors. Having looked untouchable – she hit 54 winners in the match – stringing two points together became the hardest thing in the world. Swiatek rallied from 5-2 down in the third to seal victory in exactly three hours.

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