By Martyn Herman
PARIS (Reuters) – Top seed Naomi Osaka admitted being a nervous wreck as she narrowly avoided a meek first-round exit at the French Open this week but said she was at full throttle as she outslugged former world number one Victoria Azarenka on Thursday.
After going toe-to-toe for almost three hours on Court Suzanne Lenglen, 21-year-old Osaka prevailed 4-6 7-5 6-3 after losing the opening four games of the second-round clash.
In arguably the best women’s match of the tournament so far, Osaka slammed 52 winners to the Belarussian’s 35 to stay on course for a third successive Grand Slam title.
“Every point was kind of, like, pedal to the metal,” Osaka said after racking up a 16th successive win in Grand Slam matches.
“Today I kind of felt like a challenger. I know she went to the semis here before, so obviously she has a lot more experience here. She won Grand Slams and she was number one before I was. I’m still kind of new at this.”
Osaka lost the first set 6-0 against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova on Tuesday before recovering to win.
Thursday’s match followed a similar pattern, but it was several levels higher in terms of quality.
“I actually played well today,” Osaka said. “You know, against Vika, she has the ability to hit winners.
“Today it was more like who went to the line faster, because once you go back against someone as aggressive as her, you’re kind of stuck there forever.”
Osaka will hope to avoid finding herself in more bother against Czech Katerina Siniakova as she tries to reach the fourth round here for the first time.
But should she fall behind, she knows she can turn it around.
“I have this mindset that I feel like I can win if it gets down to the wire, if I have to break a person. I feel like I have the ability to do that,” she said.
“But I probably shouldn’t wait until the last minute.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by David Goodman)