And yet, somehow, Osaka held it together enough to work her way back into things, overcome all of those many mistakes and stretch her winning streak at majors to 15 matches by eventually emerging to beat Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia 0-6, 7-6 (4), 6-1.
Clay has never been Osaka's best surface; her power-based style is more suited to hard courts, such as those at the U.S. Open, which she won last September, or the Australian Open, which she won in January to become the first tennis player from Japan to be ranked No. 1.
Her only first-round exit in 13 appearances at majors came at the French Open two years ago. The only 6-0 Grand Slam set she has lost came Tuesday. Yet after having a career record of 9-11 on clay entering this season, she had been 7-1 on the slow stuff in 2019. She talked about feeling more and more comfortable on the surface and assured everyone that the abdominal and thumb injuries she'd dealt with in recent weeks were no longer any issue.
But nothing seemed right for most of this match against the 90th-ranked Schmiedlova, who has never been past the third round at a major and is now 6-15 in openers. Schmiedlova's first 30 points came via 18 unforced errors and 12 forced errors by Osaka.
It took 25 minutes for Osaka to claim a solitary game. Still, she seemed to be in better shape, up 3-0 in the second set and finding her groove. That's when the day's off-and-on rain returned briefly in the form of sprinkles. Spectators popped open umbrellas and the players took a bit of a break, first draping orange tournament towels over themselves while waiting on their sideline seats, then heading off court for about five minutes.
In all, the delay was less than 10 minutes — the drops were so scarce, play continued elsewhere — so there was no warmup when they returned. The respite served Schmiedlova better: She suddenly produced her very first winner of the entire match with a 96 mph (155 kph) serve to hold and get within 3-1, then took the next two games, too, to make it 3-all.
When Osaka got broken to trail 6-5 in the second set because of yet another mistake, she wheeled around to look at her box and display a sarcastic thumbs-up. That allowed Schmiedlova to serve for the match again — she already had failed to close it out at 5-4. At 30-15, she was two points from pulling off what would have been only the second first-round upset of the women's No. 1 seed in French Open history. But she couldn't close it out. Osaka wouldn't let her. There were four other moments in that game when Osaka was two points from defeat. Never happened.
In the ensuing tiebreaker, Osaka was dominant, and when her cross-court forehand was too much too handle, giving her that set, she looked at her box again, this time with a pumping clenched left fist.
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