French Open 2024: Takeaways from the wild Osaka-Swiatek match

Iga Swiatek has been all but unbeatable on clay this season so far, but looked vulnerable against Naomi Osaka on Wednesday. Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu via Getty Images

PARIS -- Facing match point and the earliest exit of her career at the French Open, world No. 1 and two-time defending champion Iga Swiatek proved why she remains the best in the world on clay with an incredible comeback performance over a resurgent Naomi Osaka.

In front of a packed crowd under the roof at Court Philippe Chatrier, and in a heavily hyped showdown between two of the sport's greatest champions in recent years, Swiatek fought back after trailing 4-1 in the deciding set for the 7-6 (1), 1-6, 7-5 victory. She advanced to the third round in just under three hours.

Swiatek remained calm and composed during the crucial moments down the stretch -- as rain poured on the roof above -- and said she tried to focus merely on the next point.

"When I was really under the biggest pressure, I was able to focus more and play better, and not think about what the score is or that I was really close to losing," Swiatek said on court after the match. "I just kept going forward, and I hope my game is going to get better because of that."

For much of the second and third sets, it looked as if Osaka, currently ranked No. 134 after coming back from maternity leave in January, would become the lowest-ranked player since 2008 to defeat the world No. 1 -- and the second-lowest-ranked player to do so since the rankings began in 1975. But Swiatek refused to be on that side of history, and she remains very much on track to win her fourth title at Roland Garros.

Here are some takeaways from Wednesday's memorable match:

Maybe Swiatek isn't invincible on clay after all

Swiatek arrived in Paris after winning the titles in Madrid and Rome, and as the overwhelming favorite to hoist the trophy at Roland Garros. Entering the clash with Osaka, she had a 15-match win streak at the tournament and had dropped just two sets throughout her streak. Few have been as dominant at a singular event -- save for, you know, Rafael Nadal -- in recent years.

But Swiatek has shown some signs of vulnerability during this clay season. She lost in the semifinals in Stuttgart to Elena Rybakina in April and had to dig deep in a deciding-set tiebreak in the Madrid final against Aryna Sabalenka. It seemed as if she learned from the close call, and two weeks later, she easily got past Sabalenka 6-2, 6-3 in the final in Rome.

On Wednesday, Osaka showed that Swiatek was far from untouchable. Swiatek struggled at times with her forehand, second serve and -- as she later complained -- with the crowd noise. In the second set, and during the early games of the decider, Swiatek was unable to find any rhythm, momentum or answers for Osaka's relentless power. Swiatek did raise her level, which resulted in Osaka making a number of crucial mistakes. But against a more experienced player on the surface, or one not just returning to form, that might not be enough.

Swiatek will next face the winner of Wednesday's suspended match between Jana Fett and Marie Bouzkova.

Osaka is back

Osaka has never recorded a win over a top-10 player away from the hard court, and has lost all five of such matchups on clay throughout her career. She was one point away from winning -- against the world's top-ranked player -- less than five months after returning to the sport.

"She played amazing today," Swiatek later said.

While she didn't get it done against Swiatek, she still had one of her strongest clay seasons to date. She dedicated herself to the surface, playing in three tournaments ahead of the French Open and spending time training at Rafael Nadal's academy in Mallorca. In Rome, her final lead-in tournament, she recorded impressive wins over Daria Kasatkina and Marta Kostyuk -- both top-20 seeds -- in straight sets.

Osaka told reporters she was unaware she had a match point on Wednesday. "I did? That sucks," she said after.

While she admitted she was disappointed about the loss to Swiatek, she said she was overall happy with her performance and the state of her game.

"I cried when I got off the court, but then, I kind of realized I was watching Iga win this tournament last year, and I was pregnant," Osaka said. "It was just my dream to be able to play her. When I kind of think of it like that, I think I'm doing pretty well."

She added she would "love" to play Swiatek on hard court, Osaka's preferred surface and where she has won all four of her major titles, and see how they would fare.

Ahead of the season, Osaka's coach Wim Fissette was optimistic when asked whether Osaka could return to the top of the game and be able to compete against the best players in the world.

"It's a good question, but it's also a difficult question," Fissette told ESPN. "I think all the top players have had their better moments and their more difficult moments. ... I think a good Naomi, definitely there's room for her at the top, that's clear, and I just want to see her keep going. At that level, it really comes down to winning the most important points. That's what separates the best from the rest."

Based on Fissette's previous assessment, it seems she is nearly there.

This should have been the featured night match

The French Open has come under scrutiny for rarely scheduling a women's match in the featured prime-time slot on Philippe Chatrier. So far in 2024, there has yet to be a women's match in the slot in Paris, but many believed the clash between Swiatek and Osaka -- who have combined for eight Grand Slam titles -- would have gotten the honor. Instead, that distinction went to the match between Jannik Sinner and Richard Gasquet, who have combined for one major trophy.

Following her win earlier Wednesday, Ons Jabeur called out the tournament for not putting the match in the time slot.

"I wish I saw Osaka and Iga's match today as a night session," Jabeur told reporters. "But it's a choice. I understand that. ... Again, I will keep pushing for that."

Swiatek later said she prefers to play during the day and doesn't "really think about things like that." She added it was the tournament's choice as to who plays where and when.

Still, the decision raises the question: If not this match between two superstars that turned into an epic thriller, what women's match will ever be deemed worthy?