Iga Swiatek, beats Naomi Osaka in French Open classic

With her biggest triumph in years, Naomi Osaka lost to world No. 1 and and two-time defending champion Iga Swiatek at the French Open on Wednesday.

That might sound like a mistake.

It’s not.

Days ago, beating Swiatek on the red clay of Roland Garros seemed like a task too tall for anyone. Few even considered that Osaka, less than a year after giving birth, with little success on clay, would stand a chance. 

A four-time Grand Slam champion in her own right, Osaka has had shown promise during the first five months of her comeback from maternity leave, but she had yet to beat a player even close to Swiatek’s caliber. After taking the world No 1 to a tiebreak, she had no answer to Swiatek’s precision, honed with over 100 weeks at the top of the rankings, and lost it 7-1.

But showing all the fight, power, and skill that had brought her to the top of the game three years ago, Osaka mounted a stirring comeback, pelting balls to onto the lines and into the corners to beat Swiatek, 6-7(1), 6-1, 5-2 under the roof on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

This was the Osaka that for a three year stretch from 2018-21 bullied opponents, sending them sprinting fruitlessly across the baseline and pointlessly giving chase to her blasting groundstrokes, or leaving them standing motionless and helpless to watch them fire into the tarp at the back of the court.



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This was the Osaka who stood in the middle of the court with the presence of an all-time great, who competed on every point, who smacked her thigh as she waited for serves to come, letting her opponents know that they were coming right back at them.

Since 2020, for all but one day, Swiatek had basically done that at Roland Garros, and on most other clay courts, but for the thigh smacking. She tried on Wednesday, to no avail, because the woman on the other side of the net was doing it better than she could. This wasn’t a simple blow-out: Osaka showed the kind of resilience that made her such a tough champion, relying on her serve to get out of the incredible pressure that Swiatek places on her opponents. Osaka saved break point after break point, often with the help of a serve and a fearless, whipping, wristy forehand  that were lethal once more. When Iga Swiatek gets over 10 break points in two sets against just about anyone on tour, the result is a 6-0 6-1 pasting.

Osaka started loosely, spraying balls long and wide and fell behind midway through the first set. But she soon she found her groove and drew even. She was a point away from stealing the first set but just missed a backhand. Then Swiatek found her on groove in the tiebreaker, winning seven of eight points. This is the moment when most of Swiatek’s opponents go away, wilting as she embarks on a kind of tennis that looks like she is playing downhill.

Osaka refused. She trusted her game. She started playing downhill, and it was Swiatek who went away, almost.


Osaka was on the verge of sealing the match on her serve at 5-3 in the third set, before missing a series in the front of the court or darn near close to it. Swiatek save a match point, then let Osaka’s errors bring her back on serve. A game later, it was 5-5.

For five months Osaka’s tennis has been getting closer and closer to where it was. The only thing missing was her ability to execute in tight spots. She barely played tennis in from the fall of 2022 until she got pregnant in the fall of 2023, as she struggled with her mental health. There is no way to replicate the intensity of a battle in a Grand Slam against the world No. 1 on a practice court in California. The only way to learn how to do it – or in Osaka’s case, to relearn it – is to do it, over and over.

For nearly two hours, hse had come up with the all darting serves and lashing forehands and backhands she needed. But when she needed them most, she couldn’t find them. And Swiatek, who has been doing this month after month for the last two years, or at least getting chances to, found nearly all of them. 

A killer crosscourt backhand winner brought her to match point, and then she watched Osaka send one more backhand long.

The match stretched well past the scheduled 8:15 start of the night session match between Jannik Sinner and Richard Gasquet. Thousands of fans stood in the pelting rain, unable to get into the stadium because of the rules that prohibited them from taking the empty seats vacated by people who left early.

They missed a classic, for little reason at all.

(Mateo Villalba/Getty Images)

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