Osaka, swept in first set, rallies past Schmiedlova

PARIS -- The wind was swirling, Naomi Osaka's shots were flying everywhere except where she wanted and her debut as the No. 1 seed at a Grand Slam tournament was not going well. Not well at all.

In the first set of her first match at the 2019 French Open, Osaka didn't even manage to grab a game. -- the first female No. 1 seed at Roland Garros ever to lose the opening set 6-0, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

How bad was it? Her opponent had zero winners of her own in that set, because every point came via an error off Osaka's racket. In the second set, Osaka was just two points from bidding adieu to Roland Garros.

And yet, somehow, Osaka held it together enough to work her way back into things, overcome all of those many mistakes and stretch her winning streak at majors to 15 matches by eventually emerging to beat Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia 0-6, 7-6 (4), 6-1.

"I can see that I can play against everyone -- and she's also just a human," the 90th-ranked Schmiedlova said, "and that I could beat her, definitely."

In keeping with the trend of the top women's players losing a set in their first-round matches, defending champion Simona Halep overcame a mid-match lapse in a 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 win over 47th-ranked Ajla Tomljanovic.

"I need to be calm," said Halep, who was a runner-up twice in Paris before earning the trophy in 2018. "Just focused on my game. Not thinking about my opponents and not thinking about the result."

Clay has never been Osaka's best surface; her power-based style is more suited to hard courts, such as those at the US Open, which she won last September, or the Australian Open, which she won in January to become the first tennis player from Japan to be ranked No. 1.

"I feel like I'm thinking too much about the number next to my name right now, instead of feeling free and having fun like I normally do in Grand Slams," Osaka said. "The reason that I wasn't moving my feet is because I was super nervous, super stressed."

Her only first-round exit in 13 appearances at majors came two years ago at the French Open, where she has never been past the third round in four appearances.

The only 6-0 Grand Slam set she has lost came Tuesday.

Yet after having a career record of 9-11 on clay entering this season, she had been 7-1 on the slow stuff in 2019. She talked about feeling more and more comfortable on the surface and assured everyone that the abdominal and thumb injuries she'd dealt with in recent weeks were no longer any issue.

But nothing seemed right for most of this match against the 90th-ranked Schmiedlova, who has never been past the third round at a major and is now 6-15 in openers.

Schmiedlova's first 30 points came via 18 unforced errors and 12 forced errors by Osaka.

It took 25 minutes for Osaka to claim a solitary game. Still, she seemed to be in better shape, up 3-0 in the second set and finding her groove.

That's when the day's off-and-on rain returned briefly in the form of sprinkles. Spectators popped open umbrellas and the players took a bit of a break, first draping orange tournament towels over themselves while waiting on their sideline seats, then heading off court for about five minutes.

In all, the delay was less than 10 minutes -- the drops were so scarce, play continued elsewhere -- so there was no warmup when they returned. The respite served Schmiedlova better: She suddenly produced her very first winner of the entire match with a 96 mph serve to hold and get within 3-1, then took the next two games, too, to make it 3-all.

When Osaka got broken to trail 6-5 in the second set because of yet another mistake, she wheeled around to look at her box and display a sarcastic thumbs-up.

"Definitely sarcastic," Osaka said. "I was kind of thinking: 'Do you guys see this amazing tennis I'm playing right here? Thumbs-up.' I don't even know what I wanted them to do. I felt kind of bad after I did it. It was more like I had to put my emotions somewhere.

"It's one of those matches where you're not playing well, but you have to find a way to win. For me, I've just begun learning how to do that."

That allowed Schmiedlova to serve for the match again -- she already had failed to close it out at 5-4. At 30-15, she was two points from pulling off what would have been only the second first-round upset of the women's No. 1 seed in French Open history. But she couldn't close it out. Osaka wouldn't let her.

"Not easy for my head," Schmiedlova said later. "You could see that she's No. 1."

There were four other moments in that game when Osaka was two points from defeat. Never happened.

In the ensuing tiebreaker, Osaka was dominant, and when her cross-court forehand was too much to handle, giving her that set, she looked at her box again, this time with a pumping clenched left fist.

She'll probably want to play better in her next match, against two-time Australian Open champion and former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, who eliminated 2017 French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko 6-4, 7-6 (4).

"It's going to be exciting for me," Azarenka said. "I love to challenge myself against the best players."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.