Tennis: Defending champ Iga Swiatek prevails in titanic duel with Naomi Osaka at French Open

Iga Swiatek.
Iga Swiatek. Photo credit: Getty Images

Defending champion Iga Swiatek was pushed to the brink by fellow four-times Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka but secured a 7-6(1) 1-6 7-5 victory after saving a match point in a high-voltage second-round match at Roland Garros on Thursday (NZ time).

In a clash worthy of a final between the current and former world No. 1, Swiatek showed the steely grit she possesses in abundance but has rarely needed at her favourite major, to extend her streak to 16 wins after triumphs in 2022 and 2023.

"It's hard to have any logical thoughts... it was really intense and on a really high level. I was in huge trouble in the third set but I managed somehow to win this match. I'm glad that I didn't give up," Swiatek told reporters.

"I honestly didn't believe I could win, because I would be pretty naive. But it didn't change the fact that I just tried to do work to play better. I actually managed to be more focused at the end of the match, which went pretty badly. 

Iga Swiatek and Naomi Osaka.
Iga Swiatek and Naomi Osaka. Photo credit: Getty Images

"In first and second set I felt like I wasn't completely in the zone. When I was under the biggest pressure I was able to switch that and maybe that made the difference."

Swiatek's clay prowess makes her a firm favourite against anyone but the 22-year-old top seed, who entered the contest on the back of 13 wins and titles in Madrid and Rome, faced huge pressure and was a point away from dropping the first set.

In testing conditions under the roof on Philippe Chatrier, the powerful Osaka posed a litany of problems in one of her best matches since coming back this year from a maternity break but did not capitalise while up 40-30 at 5-4, hitting a shot long.

Three-times champion Swiatek raised her level and ran away with the opening set in the tiebreak but the Pole found herself trailing 4-0 in the next set as the 26-year-old Osaka shrugged off any disappointment to comfortably level the contest. 

Osaka saved two break points to hold at the start of the decider and fired a sublime backhand crosscourt winner in the next game to pounce for a 2-0 lead, which the Japanese player extended on serve after another almighty battle.

A rattled Swiatek clawed her way back from 5-2 down and saved a match point before taking full advantage of late errors from a nervy Osaka's racket to complete a famous victory and avoid her earliest exit from the Grand Slam.

Defeat was a bitter blow for Osaka, who produced one of her most memorable performances on her least favourite surface after fully dedicating herself to it in the build-up to the major and left the main showcourt to a standing ovation from the crowd.

"The journey that she had. I'm happy she's back, because her tennis deserves to be on the biggest stages. She deserves to be there," Swiatek added. 

"It wasn't easy on her, but if she's going to play better and better, it means that she did some work to improve... She played amazing today. I have big respect for her coming back."