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I'll learn from almost letting nerves get better of me: Osaka

 

Big scare: Naomi Osaka was two points away from exiting
Big scare: Naomi Osaka was two points away from exiting

By Eleanor Crooks

Naomi Osaka said she had never been more nervous during a match after surviving a huge scare against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova in the opening round of the French Open.

The 21-year-old from Japan won both the US Open and Australian Open titles to climb to the top of the world rankings and has spoken of her desire to win all four Grand Slams this year.

That looked a long way away when she lost the opening set to love in just 20 minutes, and Schmiedlova twice served for the match in the second set, but Osaka dug in to win 0-6 7-6 (4) 6-1.

The World No.1, who was two points from defeat at one stage, said: "I think this is the most nervous I have ever been during a match. I think you could see that in the first set. I was literally not hitting any balls in the court.

"For me, today was weird because usually the nerves go away, but they stayed the entire match. Then I just felt like it was a fight of willpower."

Asked why she was so nervous, Osaka said with a smile: "I can give you logical reasons, but I'm not really a logical person. So it might be something else.

"It's my first time playing a Slam as No.1. I won the last two, so I want to win this one really badly. I have never played on Chatrier before, and I feel like I'm having the thought of wanting to prove myself again."

Osaka survived a series of close matches to win the title in Melbourne in January, and she added: "It doesn't make me feel invincible, but it does make me have hope for the days that I do play well.

"I feel like I'm thinking too much about the number next to my name instead of feeling free and having fun like I normally do in Slams, which is something that I have learned from today."

The path does not get easier for Osaka, who now takes on former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka.

Azarenka won one of the pick of the first-round clashes against 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko.

"It's going to be exciting," said Azarenka. "I love to challenge the best players. I had some good wins in the last couple weeks so I feel I'm ready to play top players."

Defending champion Simona Halep followed Osaka onto Court Philippe Chatrier and was also pushed to a deciding set by Australian Ajla Tomljanovic before recovering to win 6-2 3-6 6-1.

"It was a great match," said Halep. "The level was great, and actually her level in the second set was really high. So I had to be focused more on myself."

Among the other winners was 18-year-old Canadian Bianca Andreescu, who completed a two-day 5-7 6-4 6-4 victory over Marie Bouzkova.

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