French Open: Osaka's clay game 'a work in progress' as Kerber suffers another first-round loss

By Sports Desk May 30, 2021

Naomi Osaka fended off Patricia Maria Tig at the French Open on Sunday, but the world number two admits she has plenty of room for improvement on clay.

Osaka has been at the centre of attention in the build-up to the tournament, with the 23-year-old refusing to attend mandatory news conferences and suggesting they were not beneficial to her mental health.

The second seed stood by her decision following a straight-sets win over Romanian Tig and was subsequently handed a $15,000 fine and warned repeat offences could see her thrown out of the competition.

However, Osaka did speak in an on-court interview after her 6-4 7-6 (7-4) victory on Court Philippe-Chatrier– just her second win of the season on clay.

"I'd say it’s a work on progress," four-time grand slam winner Osaka said when asked about her clay-court game.

"Hopefully, the more I play the better it'll get. I'm really glad that I won, it's a very beautiful court. I've only played two matches here – one before the roof [was installed] and one right now. Hopefully I'll keep it going."

Next up for reigning US and Australian Open champion Osaka is Ana Bogdan, who defeated Elisabetta Cocciaretto 6-1 6-3.

ANOTHER FRENCH OPEN DUCK FOR KERBER

While Osaka took a place in round two, former world number one Angelique Kerber had no such luck as she came unstuck in the first round at Roland Garros for a third year running.

Now ranked at 27th in the world by the WTA, Kerber lost 6-2 6-4 to qualifier Anhelina Kalinina.

The French Open title has so far eluded Kerber, who has won every other grand slam, and the 33-year-old German has not won a match in Paris since 2018, when she reached the quarter-finals, having also made the last eight in 2012.

Indeed, the 33-year-old's run to the quarters in 2018 was the only time in her last six appearances at Roland Garros that she has progressed beyond the first round.

"She started well and had nothing to lose, while it took me too long to get into the contest," Kerber said. "I will try to learn from the match now because I played good the last few weeks and I had good matches."

SABALENKA AND KVITOVA BATTLE THROUGH

Aryna Sabalenka was the other top seed in action on Sunday, though she was made to work for a 6-4 6-3 defeat of Ana Konjuh.

The third seed, who is in the hunt for a first grand slam title having already won the Madrid Open this month, made a sluggish start and two breaks of serve had her 4-2 down to world number 144 Konjuh.

But Sabalenka rallied herself and a streak of four straight games handed her the set, and a further three successive breaks to start the second put her in command.

Konjuh managed to save the first match point, only for the Croatian qualifier to hit the net as Sabalenka progressed at the second time of asking.

Petra Kvitova, the 11th seed, needed three sets to overcome Greet Minnen 6-7 (3-7) 7-6 (7-5) 6-1, and had to save a match point in the process.

Two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova was on the edge of a shock exit at 6-5 and a break down in the second set, but a backhand winner rescued her from the brink and forced another tie-break, which the Czech won before carrying the momentum into the decider.

"I would say that from my side it wasn't really good from the beginning," said Kvitova, a semi-finalist at Roland Garros last year.

"I was struggling, I was missing a lot, I was double-faulting a lot.

"I didn't really feel myself that well. I was pretty tight, it was really tough. I mean, I was fighting not only with her but with myself as well. I'm glad that in the end I beat myself as well and beat her, so that counts."

Kvitova will next face Elena Vesnina, who beat lucky loser Olga Govortsova 6-1 6-0 to seal a first singles win since she became a mother in 2018 and took a two-year break from tennis.

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    The three-time grand slam champion has been forced to fend off retirement talk following a string of first-round defeats and looked set for another early exit when Shapovalov, a former top 10 player, took the opening set.

    Murray had struggled to breach the serve of his 24-year-old Canadian opponent, but produced a trademark gutsy display to edge a second-set tie-breaker before keeping his composure to break twice in the decider and secure a 4-6 7-6 (5) 6-3 win after two hours and 33 minutes.

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    However, rather than his match-up against one of the two Frenchman, it was the 36-year-old Scot’s longer-term future which was again a hot topic following his win, with Murray admitting he probably does not have “too long left” in the sport.

    “People read a lot into what I say on the court sometimes and it’s not always rational,” Murray said.

    “I obviously still love competing and still love the game, but it gets harder and harder the older you get to compete with the young guys and keep your body fit and fresh.

    “Not easy, I probably don’t have too long left, but I’ll do as best as I can these last few months.”

    Murray won his most recent meeting against Shapovalov, but that was in 2022 and he entered this match in torrid form with only one win this year.

    Shapovalov signalled his intent with three aces in his opening service game before the duo traded a number of early holds.

    The first break point opportunity did not occur until the ninth game and, while Murray saved it at 15-40 down, Shapovalov outlasted the Scot in a lengthy rally on the next point to move 5-4 up.

    Murray let his frustration show after his wayward backhand gifted Shapovalov the initiative and chucked his racket at the court before the Canadian closed out the opener with two more aces.

    Former world number one Murray produced a strong response at the start of the second set and remarkably produced three successful challenges on his serve.

    Murray followed that up with a first break point opportunity and, while it came and went, the 36-year-old did break Shapovalov at the next time of asking to move 3-1 up.

    Shapovalov had sent down two double-faults to aid Murray’s cause, but hit back immediately with a break of his own before he consolidated it after a 10-minute service game which included a 137mph ace.

    Murray had to display his battling skills to keep the second set on serve at 4-4 and a tie-breaker was ultimately required, which the Scot edged to win a marathon 75-minute set.

    Shapovalov’s serve had let him down towards the end of the second set and his struggles continued with two double-faults to begin the third.

    It handed Murray the ascendancy and he took full advantage to claim a confidence-boosting 500th hard-court win of his career.

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    An emotional-sounding Murray finished his on-court interview by trying to point out his father in the crowd, saying: “My dad’s come to support me this week which means a lot.”

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    The three-time grand-slam champion has been forced to fend off retirement talk following a string of first-round defeats and looked set for another when Shapovalov, a former top-10 player, claimed the opening set.

    Murray had struggled to breach the serve of his 24-year-old opponent, but produced a trademark gutsy display to edge a second-set tie-breaker and kept his composure to break twice in the decider to secure a much-needed win after two hours and 33 minutes.

    The most recent meeting between the duo went to Murray, but that was in 2022 and he entered this match in torrid form with only one win this year.

    Shapovalov signalled his intent with three aces in his opening service game before the duo traded a number of early holds.

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    Former world number one Murray produced a strong response at the start of the second set and remarkably produced three successful challenges on his serve.

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    Buoyed by his eagle-eyes, Murray followed this up with a first break point opportunity and, while it came and went, the 36-year-old did break Shapovalov at the next time of asking to move 3-1 up.

    Shapovalov had sent down two double-faults to aid Murray’s cause, but hit back immediately with a break of his own before he consolidated it after a 10-minute service game which included a 137mph ace.

    Murray had to display his trademark battling skills to keep the second set on serve at 4-4 and a tie-breaker was ultimately required.

    Several mini-breaks followed, but it was Murray who made sure the match went the distance after he edged a marathon 75-minute set with an excellent trade-off with Shapovalov after he came into the net.

    Shapovalov’s serve had let him down towards the end of the second set and his struggles continued with two double-faults to begin the third.

    It handed Murray the ascendancy and he was able to consolidate with a succession of quick holds to move within sight of a precious victory.

    Murray had to work hard to hold in the eighth game of the decider and it broke Shapovalov’s resistance with the Canadian broken again to hand the Briton a confidence-boosting 500th hard-court win of his career.

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    “How do you walk away from the courts you’ve trained on since you were a little girl, the game that you love – one which brought you untold tears and unspeakable joys – a sport where you found a family, along with fans who rallied behind you for more than 28 years?

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    She returned to action in April 2017 but was unable to reach her previous heights, peaking at a high of 21 in the rankings and reaching just one more grand slam quarter-final.

    In July 2022, Sharapova became a mother with the birth of her son Theodore and has taken up pickleball in her post-retirement life.

    Earlier this month, she partnered up with John McEnroe to take on Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf – in Pickleball Slam 2 – losing out on the one million USD (£789,000) prize.

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