Naomi Osaka had to dig deep to defeat Romania’s Patricia Maria Tig 6-4 7-6 (7-4) as the four-time Grand Slam winner began her French Open campaign on Sunday.
The world No 2 has not made it past the third round in her previous appearances at Roland Garros, and arrived in Paris with only three matches under her belt on clay this season after early defeats in Madrid and Rome.
Taking on world No 63 Tig on a sunny Philippe Chatrier court, Osaka showed no signs of being distracted by the lively debate after her announcement that she would not hold press conferences at the French Open for mental health reasons.
Her media boycott does not include the post-match courtside interview. Asked after her win about adapting her game to the surface, Osaka said: “It’s a work in progress. Hopefully the more I play the better I play.”
“I’m really glad that I won,” the Japanese player added. “It’s a beautiful court. I’ve only played two matches here (on Chatrier), one before the roof and one now, so hopefully I’ll keep it going.”
The 23-year-old, who missed last year’s tournament due to a hamstring problem between victories at the US Open and Australian Open, was not keen on engaging in long rallies and proved too powerful for her opponent. She stamped her authority on the match early by racing to a 5-2 lead with winners flowing from both her forehand and backhand.
Tig staged a fightback late on to get the set back on serve at 4-5 after saving three set points, but that only fired up Osaka as she broke back to love to win the opening set, advancing to the net to hit a backhand off her opponent’s attempted drop shot.
The second set went on serve all the way to a tie-breaker, although Tig saved a match point to get there. Osaka sealed victory in the breaker with a backhand winner – her 39th of the match – to set up a second-round meeting with another Romanian in Ana Bogdan, who beat Italy’s Elisabetta Cocciaretto 6-1 6-3.
Elsewhere, Angelique Kerber became the first women’s seed to fall, losing her first-round match to qualifier Anhelina Kalinina. The Ukrainian, ranked 139th in the world, prevailed 6-2 6-4 to send Kerber out in the first round for the third year in a row.