French Open 2019: Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams suffer shock defeat
Naomi Osaka (left) Serena Williams (Right) Photo: PTI

French Open 2019: Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams suffer shock defeat

  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram
  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram
  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram

When women’s draw was made for the French Open top seed Naomi Osaka and 10th seed Serena Williams landed in the same quarter, there was a sense of anticipation among fans and journalists alike. Could we finally see a rematch of that controversial US Open final from 2018 where Osaka won her first Grand Slam title as Williams had an angry outburst and unravelled on court?

However, both players failed to even make the fourth round and the wait for a rematch continues.

Just as she had in her opening two matches, World No. 1 Osaka dropped the first set in her third round on Saturday. Her opponent, 23-year-old Katerina Siniakova from Czech Republic, came out swinging from the get-go and was the first to break in the ninth game. While serving for the set at 5-4, Siniakova clawed her way back from 0-40 to take the first set 6-4 in 45 minutes. She saved all seven break points that she faced with a mix of deep returns, well-timed dropshots, gutsy defence and overall playing more consistently than Osaka.

As the match went on, the Japanese’s errors kept piling (she ended the match with 38 unforced errors to Siniakova’s 13) and a wild double fault on break point while trailing 2-4 summed up her lacklustre performance. Even her usually reliant service couldn’t come to her rescue – Osaka made just 52 percent of her first serves, and won just 48 percent of points on her second serve.

Siniakova, who is the top-ranked player in doubles, drew from her experience of having won the doubles title at Roland Garros last year with compatriot Barbora Krejcikova and reeled off five straight games in the second set to seal the biggest win of her singles career, 6-4, 6-2. She is through to the last-16 in singles of a Grand Slam for the first time in her career, and has a great chance of improving on her world ranking of 42. Her next opponent is 14th seed Madison Keys, who she has never played before.

Even though after the loss, Osaka admitted in her press conference that on a scale of 1-10 of disappointment she was feeling a 100, she can look back at her 2019 clay season with some satisfaction. She made the semi-finals of Stuttgart, quarter-finals of Madrid and Rome and played in her first third round at Roland Garros. The 21-year-old will hold on to her World No. 1 ranking and can build on her lead in the upcoming grass court events.

In the final match of the day on Court Philippe-Chatrier, 20-year-old American Sofia Kenin outhit, outserved and outplayed 23-time major champion Williams to announce her arrival on one of the biggest stages in the sport.

Kenin, ranked 35 in the world, played a fearless, aggressive brand of tennis to hand Williams her earliest defeat at a Grand Slam since Wimbledon 2014. She broke Williams’ serve twice in the opening set to quickly race to a 1-0 lead in just 39 minutes.

At the start of the second set, Williams let out her loud roar just like she had in her first-round match against Vitalia Diatchenko, and spectators expected her to find a way to turn the match around, just like she had in the first round.

But Kenin refused to blink. She refused to buckle under the death stares Williams shot her way and broke at love, and followed it with a scream of her own in celebration. Williams eventually broke back for 3-3, and when she consolidated on her serve with an ace, once again there was a sense that the tide was turning.

Kenin, however, had other plans. She kept calm to stay in the second set, slammed a return winner to break Williams for a fourth time at 5-5 and earn a chance to serve for the match. Williams put up one last fight and created a break point in the next game, but Kenin’s backhand withstood the pressure and helped her to a stunning 6-2, 7-5 upset.

Kenin came in with the perfect strategy – move Williams all over the court with her powerful groundstrokes and wrong-foot her by bringing her to the net at every possibility. Her brilliant serving backed her strong performance from the baseline. Williams had 30 winners to Kenin’s 23, but the former World No.1 was undone by 34 unforced errors, exactly twice as many as Kenin fired in the match.

Most importantly, Kenin stayed positive throughout the match with constant fist pumps and words of encouragement to herself. Even when the Parisian crowd was booing against her in the second set, she held her nerve and looked undeterred.

On Monday, Kenin will play in her first fourth round of Grand Slam and will hope to cause another upset against eighth-seeded Ashleigh Barty. For Williams, her quest for a record 24th major title will have to wait till Wimbledon.

Also read: French Open 2019 preview: Rafael Nadal, Simona Halep aim to defend titles

Read More
Next Story