Osaka, Alcaraz off to winning starts at French Open

Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz Garfia plays a forehand return to US Jeffrey John Wolf during their men’s singles match on day one of the French Open tennis tournament on Court Philippe-Chatrier at the Roland Garros Complex in Paris on May 26, 2024. AFP

Naomi Osaka swept to her first victory at the French Open in three years on Sunday, setting up a potential showdown with Iga Swiatek, as Carlos Alcaraz maintained his record of never losing in the first round of a Grand Slam.

Osaka, a four-time major winner who has yet to get past the third round in Paris, needed three sets to defeat Italy’s 48th-ranked Lucia Bronzetti on the showpiece Court Philippe Chatrier, 6-1, 4-6, 7-5.

The 26-year-old fired 31 winners, including six aces, and 45 unforced errors in a match where she gave up a 4-0 lead in the decider before finding herself 5-4 down.

However, she rallied strongly to register her first win at a Grand Slam since the 2022 Australian Open.

“It feels really nice to be back and I’m just really grateful to be here in front of everybody,” said Osaka.

“I think there were moments when I played really well.”

The Japanese star, a former world number one now at 134 in the rankings, has endured a bittersweet relationship with the French capital.

In 2021, she was fined for opting out of mandatory media commitments before withdrawing from the tournament in order to protect her mental health.

A year later, she fell in the first round before leaving the sport in September 2022 for 16 months to give birth to her daughter.

Top seed and defending champion Swiatek, chasing a fourth French Open, will face Osaka if the Pole gets past qualifier Leolia Jeanjean on Monday.

World number three and reigning Wimbledon champion Alcaraz eased to a 6-1, 6-2, 6-1 win over America’s J.J. Wolf, the 107th-ranked player who entered the main draw as a ‘lucky loser’ from qualifying.

Alcaraz, 21, who made the semi-finals in 2023 where he was defeated by Novak Djokovic, took his first-round record at the majors to 13-0.

Alcaraz showed no sign of suffering from the right arm injury which sidelined him from the Rome Open as he coasted to victory on the back of 27 winners and nine breaks of serve.

‘Don’t need many matches’

“I don’t need too many matches to be at my best,” said Alcaraz.

“I have practised with a lot of top players in Paris this week and the forearm is feeling better and better.”

Defending champion Novak Djokovic begins his bid for a fourth French Open title and 25th major on Tuesday.

“Low expectations and high hopes,” said the Serb on Sunday after arriving in Paris without a title in the season for the first time since 2018.

Later Sunday, Stan Wawrinka, the 39-year-old 2015 champion, and 2016 runner-up Andy Murray meet for the 23rd time, a rivalry which has included two semi-final clashes in Paris.

Murray is playing his final season on tour but whether or not 14-time champion Rafael Nadal joins him in retirement later this year remains to be seen.

Nadal, who will be 38 on June 3, revealed Saturday that he hasn’t committed himself to retiring and wanted to “100% keep the door open”.

He missed the tournament in 2023 with injury while his 2024 appearance may be brief after he was drawn to face fourth-ranked Alexander Zverev on Monday.

“It’s a big, big chance that this is going to be my last Roland Garros, but if I have to tell you it’s 100% my last Roland Garros, sorry, but I will not,” Nadal said.

The Spanish legend has racked up 112 wins in 115 matches at the tournament since his title-winning 2005 debut when he was just 19.

He has 22 Grand Slam titles — second only to Djokovic’s 24 on the all-time men’s list — but his career has been plagued by injuries.

‘Uncomfortable position’

Nadal has played just four tournaments since January last year after suffering a hip injury and then a muscle tear.

As a result, his ranking has slumped to 275 in the world and he comes into the French Open unseeded.

French Open organisers were even ready to stage a tribute ceremony for Nadal before he revealed that he could play on.

“We were ready to press the button on it,” admitted tournament director Amelie Mauresmo.

“But it’s Rafa who manages his timing, we follow what he wants. We wouldn’t want to put him in an uncomfortable position.”

Elsewhere on Sunday, two-time quarter-finalist Andrey Rublev, the sixth seed, defeated Japan’s Taro Daniel in four sets.

Eighth-seeded Hubert Hurkacz needed five sets to see off Japanese qualifier Shintaro Mochizuki while Grigor Dimitrov, the 10th seed, defeated Aleksandar Kovacevic in straight sets.

Jelena Ostapenko, the 2017 champion, swept past Jaqueline Cristian while former Australian Open winner and 2020 Roland Garros runner-up Sofia Kenin came back from a set down to defeat Laura Siegemund of Germany.

Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz Garfia plays a forehand return to US Jeffrey John Wolf during their men’s singles match on day one of the French Open tennis tournament on Court Philippe-Chatrier at the Roland Garros Complex in Paris on May 26, 2024. (Photo by Alain JOCARD / AFP)

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