World number one Naomi Osaka rallied from a set and a break down for the second match in a row to reach the third round of the French Open, defeating former world number one and two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka in a high-quality second round contest.
Osaka had been forced to battle through her first round match against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, winning despite losing the first set 6-0, and was behind in this match as well, with Azarenka taking the first set and leading by a break in the second, playing the kind of tennis that has seen the two-time Australian Open champion return to the top fifty in recent weeks.
However, the world number one and reigning US and Australian Open champion saved what would have been a double break point down a set and 4-2, and raised her level to claim the second set and survive a late surge from Azarenka in the decider. After two hours and 50 minutes, it was she who prevailed 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 in one of the matches of the tournament so far.
Osaka shows real steel to down Azarenka in clash of the titans
Azarenka and Osaka had split their previous two meetings, with each match being extremely one-sided, though this proved to be something entirely different, with both women playing high quality tennis on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
Osaka had started slowly in her first round match up, losing the first set 6-0, and she was on the back foot quickly again today, with a superb Azarenka breaking twice on her way to a 4-0 lead. The world number one was able to avoid the bagel, holding for 1-4 and later getting one break back as Azarenka attempted to serve for the set at 5-2, though the Belorussian edged off her opponents late charge to convert a third set point serving at 5-4 to put herself a set away from victory.
It was a tight start to the opening set, with both women forced to save break points in their opening service game, with Azarenka saving three more break points as she held from 0-40 down to make it 2-2. Perhaps buoyed by that, the Belorussian secured the first break in the set, and two games later had a point for a double break that would have seen her lead 5-2. However, Osaka rallied, holding serve and saving three game points to level up at 4-4 thanks to an Azarenka double fault. The Japanese secured an even bigger break a few games later, converting a fourth set point a 6-5 to level up proceedings.
Following a lengthy break, it was Azarenka who applied the pressure first, though Osaka saved three break points in the opening game of the set, and put herself fully in control three games later as she broke for a 3-1 lead, consolidating to go just two games from victory. The Japanese rarely put a foot wrong throughout most the final set, breaking the Belorussian once again to lead 5-1, though Azarenka fought back resolutely, saving a match point to get back to 5-3 and forced a break point the second time Osaka served for victory. However, Osaka was able to save it, and convert a third match point to close out a thrilling match.
This match may be seen as a missed opportunity for Azarenka, who was just five points from victory in the second set, but full credit must go to Osaka, who was able to turn things around against an opponent who was playing some of her best tennis in years. The Japanese has now matched her result from last year, and will look to make the second week for the first time.