PARIS (AP) Naomi Osaka is grinding her way through the French Open the hard way.
To cling onto her quest for a third consecutive Grand Slam title, the top-ranked Osaka has twice had to rally from first-set woes.
The latest opponent was former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, beaten 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 in the second round Thursday in a match with superb shot-making.
The U.S Open and Australian Open champion from Japan, who surprisingly lost a set 6-0 in the first round, again started poorly.
Azarenka, now ranked No. 43 and without a major title since winning the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013, raced to a 4-0 lead on Court Suzanne Lenglen and kept Osaka under constant pressure.
Osaka considered herself unfortunate to be drawn against Azarenka and the powerful, accurate tennis produced by the 29-year-old Belarusian playing in her 12th French Open showed why.
Broken by a backhand volley at the net from Azarenka in the fifth game of the second set, Osaka seemed to be in deep trouble. But, as she did in beating first-round opponent Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, Osaka again proved her resilience.
The eighth game of the second set was pivotal. After saving two break points, Azarenka doubled-faulted. Osaka leveled at 4-4 and the momentum started to shift. It was the seventh break point Azarenka had faced in the set, and the first she had failed to save.
But Azarenka still saved three set points before Osaka finally leveled the match with a backhand cross-court winner.
The third set was packed with drama, too, with Osaka finally taming Azarenka with her third match point, when her combative opponent hit long.
Osaka will next play Katerina Siniakova, ranked No. 42, in the third round.
Also Thursday, Serena Williams will be back on Court Philippe Chatrier against Japanese qualifier Kurumi Nara.
In men’s action, top-ranked Novak Djokovic faces 104th-ranked Henri Laaksonen, a “lucky loser” who only entered the draw when another player pulled out.
Earlier, Dominic Thiem overcame some trickery from Kazakh opponent Alexander Bublik to advance to the third round with a 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-3, 7-5 victory.
Bublik surprised Thiem with an underhand serve in the first set and frustrated the Austrian with a series of drop shots, spins and volleys. But last year’s finalist at Roland Garros recovered from a break of serve in the fourth set and then gave Bublik a taste of his own medicine on his first match point, producing a well-disguised – and successful – drop shot.
Thiem will next face Pablo Cuevas, another master of trick shots. Cuevas was leading 7-6 (3), 6-3, 2-1 when Kyle Edmund retired from their match because of a left knee injury.
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