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Osaka on Facing Swiatek: Big Honor and Challenge

Written by Richard Pagliaro | @Itenisi_Manje | Sunday, May 26, 2024

A proud mother Naomi Osaka celebrating baby daughter Shai’s first steps.

Osaka is excited about the next big jump: the prospect of playing the world No.1 Iga Swiatek in the second round Roland Garros.

Roland Garros Men’s Draw: Top 5 Takeaways

World No. 134 Osaka controlled the wind and the biting wind, recovered from losing five games in a row, to be beaten. Lucia Bronzetti 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 in the opening match of the French Open today and earned his biggest match victory since the 2022 Australian Open.

This is the first time Osaka has won a major since becoming a mother—she gave birth to baby Shai on July 7—
and set up a potential clash of the four-time Grand Slam champions in the second round.

If reigning champion Swiatek beats the 148th-ranked Frenchman Leolia Jeanjean in his opener, then we see current and former world No. 1s square off in the round today.

Osaka said it would be “an honor and a great challenge” to face clay queen Swiatek in her prime.

“I’m really excited,” Osaka said when asked about the prospect of playing Swiatek. “I watched him a lot when I was pregnant. “And honestly, I think it’s an honor to play him at the French Open, because he won more than once here, for sure. I will be, it’s like a great honor and a challenge for me.”

Top-seeded Swiatek holds an impressive 77-10 clay-court record in defense of her Roland Garros title, including a career-best 14-1 clay-court mark this season that spans back-to-back WTA 1000 tournaments in Madrid and Rome.

If the championship match goes as expected, it will be their third lifetime meeting.

In their last tournament, Swiatek swept Osaka 6-4, 6-0 in the 2022 Miami Open final.

Although Osaka has never competed in a clay court final, he said he would not be surprised by Swiatek’s superior clay skills when they face each other.

“Eh, in a weird way, I feel like it’s a test to see where I’m at, but I wouldn’t say I expect less from myself,” Osaka said of the Swiatek match. “I’m someone who thinks I can win every game I play. That’s what got me this far.”

Osaka, 26, is a student of this sport who once prevented Swiatek from continuing his higher education.

After the second-seeded Swiatek went on a seven-game winning streak to crush Osaka 6-4, 6-0 in the 2022 Miami Open final, the four-time major champion recalled breaking bread with the young Swiatek and encouraging him to pursue the tournament instead of going to college.

“A few years ago, I had dinner with him in Australia, and he was telling me that he might go to college. I told him, Don’t do that,” Osaka told reporters in Miami. “It’s been really fun to watch him grow. For me, I think the most impressive thing is being able to put these two carts together in a row.

“Even winning back to back but to come from Indian Wells and even to reach the final stage of this tournament for me would be a great thing, because I know for myself how exhausting it was. I had to play. Serena right after I won Indian Wells, I was completely dead. after that, but it looks like he continues to play.

Although Swiatek is the heavy favorite if they meet in the second round, it would be a special sport and a big step forward for Osaka in just over eight months after giving birth.

Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty

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