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Swiatek looks for French Open birthday boost, Gauff into last 16

Poland's Iga Swiatek. Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP

Reigning champion Iga Swiatek will hope for an easier third round at the French Open as she turns 23 on Friday after saving a match point against Naomi Osaka while Coco Gauff eased into the second week for a fourth straight year.

In the men’s draw, Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner both target a place in the last 16, which would edge them closer to a possible semi-final meeting.

Third seed Gauff held off a late fightback from Australian Open semi-finalist Dayana Yastremska to win 6-2, 6-4 in the first match of the day on Court Philippe Chatrier.

The reigning US Open champion has an excellent record at Roland Garros, having previously reached two quarter-finals and the 2022 final which she lost to Swiatek.

Gauff will play Elisabetta Cocciaretto for a last-eight berth, after the unseeded Italian beat Russian 17th seed Liudmila Samsonova in straight sets.

World number one Swiatek has emerged as the dominant women’s force at the tournament, where she holds a 30-2 record and is a three-time winner following her breakthrough Grand Slam triumph at the Covid-delayed 2020 tournament.

However the Pole found herself on the brink of a shock second round exit against fellow four-time Grand Slam champion Osaka before rallying to take the final five games and keep her bid for a third successive French Open crown intact.

“I just kept going forward and I hope that my game is going to get better because of that,” said Swiatek, whose third-round exit at this year’s Australian Open came after a tough three-set duel the previous round.

“I’m not comparing it because I don’t want to find any patterns that are not really necessary,” said Swiatek, reluctant to dwell on the past. 

“But I think my game can get better here. In Australia it’s harder for me to improve during the tournament because of the surface, actually. So I’m not expecting anything. 

“From now on I’m just going to try to focus on my tennis and whatever. Even if I’m gonna lose — I mean, I almost lost (to Osaka), so I’m happy that I’m here anyway.”

Swiatek, looking to become just the second woman after Serena Williams to complete the clay-court treble of Madrid, Rome and French Opens in the same season, will be heavily favoured against 42nd-ranked Czech player Marie Bouzkova.

“With Iga it’s kind of almost like playing a boy on the other side of the court. She plays very heavy balls and moves super well,” said Bouzkova.

Alcaraz facing Korda test

On the men’s side in Paris, Alcaraz experienced a fright of his own in a four-set win over Dutch qualifier Jesper de Jong in round two.

The Spaniard, who arrived at the tournament under an injury cloud after sitting out the Rome Open with a right arm problem, will take on American 27th seed Sebastian Korda for the second time in three years in Paris.

Korda won the pair’s first meeting on clay at the 2022 Monte Carlo Masters, but Alcaraz quickly avenged that loss with a straight-sets victory in the third round in Paris. 

Australian Open champion Sinner has looked untroubled in Paris so far despite questions over his health.

Sinner skipped Rome with a hip injury that led him to withdraw from the Madrid Open at the start of the month.

Seeded second, he will play Pavel Kotov, the 25-year-old Russian who put out three-time Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka in the last round.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, the 2021 Roland Garros runner-up, is also in action while sixth seed Andrey Rublev faces Italy’s Matteo Arnaldi.

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