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Friday, June 21, 2024

Osaka, Alcaraz win French Open starts, Murray bids goodbye

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PARIS—Naomi Osaka swept to her first victory at the French Open in three years on Sunday, setting up a potential showdown with Iga Swiatek, as Carlos Alcaraz maintained his record of never losing in the first round of a Grand Slam.

However, Andy Murray’s French Open career was ruthlessly ended in straight sets by fellow three-time major winner and 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka.

The 39-year-old Swiss hailed his beaten rival as a “great champion” as the former world number one bid adieu to the tournament ahead of his expected retirement later in the summer.

Osaka, a four-time major winner who has yet to get past the third round in Paris, needed three sets to defeat Italy’s 48th-ranked Lucia Bronzetti on the showpiece Court Philippe Chatrier, 6-1, 4-6, 7-5.

The 26-year-old fired 31 winners, including six aces, and 45 unforced errors in a match where she gave up a 4-0 lead in the decider before finding herself 5-4 down.

However, she rallied strongly to register her first win at a Grand Slam since the 2022 Australian Open.

“It feels really nice to be back and I’m just really grateful to be here in front of everybody,” said Osaka.

The Japanese star, a former world number one now at 134 in the rankings, has endured a bittersweet relationship with the French capital.

In 2021, she was fined for opting out of mandatory media commitments before withdrawing from the tournament in order to protect her mental health.

A year later, she fell in the first round before leaving the sport in September 2022 for 16 months to give birth to her daughter.

Top seed and defending champion Swiatek, chasing a fourth French Open, will face Osaka if the Pole gets past qualifier Leolia Jeanjean on Monday.

World number three and reigning Wimbledon champion Alcaraz eased to a 6-1, 6-2, 6-1 win over America’s J.J. Wolf, the 107th-ranked player who entered the main draw as a ‘lucky loser’ from qualifying.

Alcaraz, 21, who made the semi-finals in 2023 where he was defeated by Novak Djokovic, took his first-round record at the majors to 13-0.

Alcaraz showed no sign of suffering from the right arm injury which sidelined him from the Rome Open as he coasted to victory on the back of 27 winners and nine breaks of serve.

‘Don’t need many matches’

“I don’t need too many matches to be at my best,” said Alcaraz.

Defending champion Novak Djokovic begins his bid for a fourth French Open title and 25th major on Tuesday.

“Low expectations and high hopes,” said the Serb on Sunday after arriving in Paris without a title in the season for the first time since 2018.

Murray, the runner-up at Roland Garros in 2016 and still the only British man to make the final since 1937, lost 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 to Wawrinka.

Wawrinka becomes only the third man over the age of 39 to win a match at the French Open since 1980.

“My first words are for a great champion,” Wawrinka said of Murray after their 23rd career meeting.

Murray, 37, said he’s proud of his French Open career even if “when you compare it to what Rafa or Novak achieved, it obviously is minuscule”.

“But most players would sign up for the results I’ve had. I played a final, four semis — I lost to Novak in five, Stan in five, twice to Rafa. No shame in that.”

Whether or not 14-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal will be back in 2025 is still open to question.

Nadal, will be 38 on June 3, revealed Saturday that he hasn’t committed himself to retiring and wanted to “100% keep the door open”.

He missed Roland Garros in 2023 with injury. His 2024 appearance may be brief as he faces fourth-ranked Alexander Zverev on Monday.

“It’s a big, big chance that this is going to be my last Roland Garros, but if I have to tell you it’s 100% my last Roland Garros, sorry, but I will not,” Nadal said.

Ex-champ Krejcikova out

Elsewhere on Sunday, two-time quarter-finalist Andrey Rublev, the sixth seed, defeated Japan’s Taro Daniel in four sets.

Eighth-seeded Hubert Hurkacz needed five sets to see off Japanese qualifier Shintaro Mochizuki while Grigor Dimitrov, the 10th seed, defeated Aleksandar Kovacevic in straight sets.

Jelena Ostapenko, the 2017 champion, swept past Jaqueline Cristian while former Australian Open winner and 2020 Roland Garros runner-up Sofia Kenin came back from a set down to defeat Laura Siegemund of Germany.

However, 2021 champion Barbora Krejcikova was knocked out 7-6 (7/3), 6-4 by Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland.

Krejcikova has suffered three successive first round losses in Paris since her title breakthrough.

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