Naomi Osaka rallies again at French Open, this time against Azarenka

CNN/ Newswire | 5/30/2019, 11:40 a.m.
Naomi Osaka and Victoria Azarenka are both two-time grand slam winners but when they crossed paths at the French Open, ...
Naomi Osaka

Originally Published: 30 MAY 19 08:19 ET

Updated: 30 MAY 19 12:10 ET

By Ravi Ubha, CNN

(CNN) -- Naomi Osaka and Victoria Azarenka are both two-time grand slam winners but when they crossed paths at the French Open, one was surging while the other sought a return to her finest days.

It was Osaka who held all the momentum having won the last two grand slams and the Japanese world No. 1 indeed ousted the Belarusian.

Yet she needed to rally for the second straight outing in Paris to oust Azarenka 4-6 7-5 6-3 in a two-hour, 50 minute contest Thursday that lived up to the understandable pre-match billing.

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Osaka recovered from an even more ominous scenario in the first round against 90th-ranked Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, her Slovak foe unable to serve out the encounter twice in the second set against an admittedly nervous 21-year-old.

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"I actually played well today," Osaka told reporters. "Against Vika, she has the ability to hit winners. I don't think the other girl hit that many winners.

"I was more making the mistakes."

Azarenka is capable of stringing together lengthy purple patches like Osaka -- she once amassed a mammoth 26-match winning streak in 2012.

But injuries and a child custody battle that limited travel after son Leo was born in 2016 dropped Azarenka's ranking, pitting her against high seeds early in tournaments.

Azarenka still believes

"No matter how hard it is, it's my path that I'm going to walk with my head held high, and I'm going to do everything I can until the moment where I decide, 'You know what? I'm not interested in that anymore,'" said 43rd ranked Azarenka. "But until then, I'm going to keep fighting and keep improving.

"I believe that finally my progress is showing from week to week. And as long as it keeps going that way, I have no doubt that I'm going to achieve things that I want to."

Azarenka -- who toppled 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the first round -- led by a set and 4-2 on Suzanne Lenglen court.

The 29-year-old was close to snapping an eight-match losing streak against top-10 opposition at grand slams, before Osaka dug deep. The Japanese sensation exhibited the grit, not to mention shotmaking, onlookers witnessed at the US Open and Australian Open.

Putting Osaka away, especially at majors, has become increasingly difficult.

"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," said Osaka, who next plays another unseeded but dangerous challenger, Katerina Siniakova.

As the match slipped from Azarenka's grasp in the third set, she flung her racket in disgust.

Trailing 5-1 and swinging freely, a momentum shift arose. Azarenka seemed to relax and all of a sudden clawed back to 5-3, saving a match point in the process. She felt a bad call deprived her of getting to 5-4.