Anisimova v Osaka: Things we learned

Former semi-finalist overcomes four-time major champ in opening round

Amanda Anisimova Roland-Garros 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

Amanda Anisimova is proving to be Naomi Osaka’s first-week Grand Slam hoodoo in 2022 after stunning the former world No.1 for the second time in as many majors at Roland-Garros.

Match-hardened and without the injury concern surrounding the four-time major champion across the net, the 27th seed backed up her thrilling third-round Australian Open upset, with a 7-5, 6-4 success on Monday in Paris.

Here’s what we learned from Anisimova’s opening-round victory.

No match-point saving repeat required

In one of the matches of this year’s Australian Open in January, Anisimova saved match points to see off the defending champion Osaka in the third round.

She had come into that match on the heels of a first title since 2019 in the Melbourne Summer Set and again her match conditioning proved telling in Paris.

The 20-year-old had claimed 10 of 13 matches on clay leading in, including a semi-final run in Charleston and back-to-back quarter-finals in Madrid and Rome.

Osaka, by contrast, had split her only two matches in Madrid.

After capitalising on a shaky service game from Osaka at 5-all in the opening set, in which her opponent threw in two double faults, Anisimova was the far steadier of the two.

While Osaka saved two match points on the brink of defeat, the American sealed it with a statement backhand winner down the line.

"It was very difficult, especially a lot of anticipation over the last couple of days," Anisimova said. "I was trying not to think about it too much, but going into the match, I did feel the stress and the nerves a bit, because it is a very tough first round.

"I'm just happy with how I was able to manage it and get through it."

It sets a second-round showdown with Croatian qualifier and former world No.19 Donna Vekic. Anisimova owns a win on clay over the 25-year-old, in Rome two years ago.

Return pressure proves telling

Osaka had noted Anisimova’s strength of return was critical to the outcome of the pair’s Australian Open encounter.

It proved so again in Paris. Early in the second set the Japanese star admonished herself for missing too many first deliveries and rightly so.

She landed just 46 per cent in the opening set to Anisimova’s 71 per cent.

Her second serve was being punished as a result, winning just seven of 22 points in that set.

While she improved slightly on her second serve to claim half her 22 deliveries in the second set, Osaka’s first-serve percentage plummeted further to 44 per cent.

Naomi Osaka Roland-Garros 2022 ©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Injury concerns cloud former No.1

Osaka arrived in Paris for her sixth Roland-Garros campaign with an Achilles complaint and for the first set, in damp heavier conditions on Court Suzanne-Lenglen, moved unimpeded.

The Japanese 24-year-old had cited a niggle that first began in Madrid before her second-round exit to Sara Sorribes Tormo and consequently skipped the rematch in Rome as a precaution.

She said it was not enough to deny her place in the starting line-up for a major and if anything allowed her a nothing-to-lose mentality, having charged through the field to claim the 2019 Australian Open with a back ailment.

In the seventh game of the second set, however, she conceded serve and briefly grabbed at the strapping around her ankle at the changeover.

“Honestly I didn't feel my Achilles until the second set, I would say,” Osaka said. “So in the first set I was totally fine. I think the serve issue was just down to playing a really good returner and kind of being a bit shaken by what she could possibly do. So I was trying to maybe go for too much, more than usual.

“I also haven't practised as much as I wanted to. But, yeah, I was really grateful for the crowd, like I could feel a lot of energy. It was really fun to play there, even though I didn't win.”

Grand Slam coming of age drives Anisimova

All eyes were on Osaka at Roland-Garros in 2019 when she arrived bidding for her third straight major title, following US Open and Australian Open triumphs. That campaign ended in the third round – her equal best showing in Paris.

A teenage Anisimova enjoyed her Grand Slam breakout run that fortnight. Unseeded, she defeated defending champion Simona Halep in the quarter-finals before eventual champion Ashleigh Barty surged back from a set and a break down to deny her a first major final.

“It's good going into this tournament knowing that I was so close back then and just having a very good run, so I know it's in me,” Anisimova said.

“Yeah, I just have a lot of confidence right now with all the tournaments that I have played so far.”

Osaka Anisimova Roland-Garros premier tour©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT