'Work in progress' Osaka into French Open second round

Into second round: Naomi Osaka returns the ball to Romania's Patricia Maria Tig
Into second round: Naomi Osaka returns the ball to Romania's Patricia Maria Tig MARTIN BUREAU AFP
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Paris (AFP)

World number two Naomi Osaka let her racquet do the talking at the French Open on Sunday, maintaining her media boycott but briefly telling a TV interviewer that her clay court game is "a work in progress".

Osaka opened the first day of action at Roland Garros with a 6-4, 7-6 (7/4) victory over Romanian world number 63 Patricia Maria Tig.

The 23-year-old Japanese star, a four-time Grand Slam title winner, has refused to carry out media obligations at the tournament, claiming news conferences are detrimental to her mental health.

She believes traditional post-match inquests are akin to "kicking people when they're down".

French Tennis Federation president Gilles Moretton, however, described Osaka's move as a "phenomenal error".

On Sunday, Osaka only agreed to take part in a cursory on-court television interview but still faces a fine of up to $20,000 for skipping mandatory news conferences.

"For me, playing on clay is a work in progress," said the reigning US and Australian Open champion on a sun-kissed Court Philippe Chatrier.

"Hopefully the more I play, the better I will become. It's a beautiful court. I've only played two matches here, one before the roof and one now so hopefully I'll keep it going."

And that was that.

Osaka, who has never got past the third round in Paris, fired 39 winners but committed 35 unforced errors against Tig to set up a second round duel against another Romanian player, Ana Bogdan.

Three-time major winner Angelique Kerber, the German 26th seed, fell at the first hurdle, losing to Ukrainian qualifier Anhelina Kalinina 6-2, 6-4.

The win was a 14th successive win for the world number 139 Kalinina across all tournaments.

While Osaka refuses to speak, Greek men's world number five Stefanos Tsitsipas had plenty to offer at his pre-tournament media conference, even quoting Britain's World War II leader Winston Churchill at one stage.

Tsitsipas, who faces home player Jeremy Chardy on Sunday, is widely tipped as a potential champion should 13-time winner Rafael Nadal or world number one Novak Djokovic falter.

The 22-year-old took Djokovic to five sets in the 2020 semi-finals.

He has already captured the Monte Carlo Masters and Lyon titles on clay this season.

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He also had a match point to defeat Nadal in the Barcelona final before the Spaniard recovered.

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Tsitsipas has the advantage of being in the opposite half of the draw to Nadal, Djokovic and Roger Federer and their combined 58 Slams.

Also in action Sunday is fourth seed Dominic Thiem, the 2018 and 2019 runner-up to Nadal.

Thiem faces Spanish veteran Pablo Andujar who defeated Federer on clay in Geneva last week.

US Open champion Thiem has won all of his three meetings with the 35-year-old Andujar and has never fallen in the first round in Paris in seven visits.

Sixth seed Alexander Zverev starts against fellow German Oscar Otte, a qualifier and ranked at 152 in the world.

Fresh from her first career clay court title in Madrid, Belarusian third seed Aryna Sabalenka faces Croatian qualifier Ana Konjuh.

The 144th-ranked Konjuh was runner-up in Belgrade last week when she was forced to retire with an injury against Spain's Paula Badosa.

Former top 20 player Konjuh has undergone four surgeries on her right elbow in recent years, even falling out of the top 1,000 in 2019.

Badosa was amongst early winners Sunday, defeating Lauren Davis of the United States 6-2, 7-6 (7/3).

In a battle of former Grand Slam title winners, Victoria Azarenka, seeded 15, faces Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 2009 champion in Paris.

This year's French Open is being played just seven months after the delayed 2020 tournament.

In total, just over 5,000 spectators a day will be admitted at the Roland Garros site until June 8.

That figure will then rise to more than 13,000 a day thanks to the government's decision to raise fan numbers to a 65 percent limit of capacity.

The main setback for organisers, however, is that nine of their scheduled 10 evening sessions -- an innovation for 2021 -- will be played behind closed doors.

A government curfew of 9pm will not be lifted until June 9.