Does it take a No. 1 to beat a No. 1? Before you think too hard about that, let's address the topic at hand: Katerina Siniakova, the 42nd-ranked singles player and No. 1 in doubles, has eliminated top seed Naomi Osaka, champion of the last two Grand Slam tournaments, in the third round of Roland Garros. The 23-year-old Czech won 6-4, 6-2.
This was the third consecutive match in Paris where Osaka lost the first, but this time the deficit was too much to overcome. She made 38 unforced errors, and as you might expect, they came at crucial junctures. The most crucial might not have been on a break point, but at deuce while trailing by a set and 2-3. After serving, Siniakova was pushed around the court by a sequence of strong, well-placed Osaka groundstrokes. With only a short, open-court backhand needed to win the point, Osaka dumped the ball into the net. It was her 15th backhand error of the match, and a point later, she hit her 16th to allow Siniakova to escape with a hold.
After 16 consecutive wins at the majors, Osaka has cultivated a presence that her opponents have cowed to. But she never imposed that type of pressure on Siniakova in the second set, where just one timely break could have changed the course of the match, like it did in the first round against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, and in the second round against Victoria Azarenka. Instead, Osaka continued to dig her own grave. She was broken at 4-2 after a series of errors and a deflating double fault, and Siniakova wasn't pushed in her final service game that sealed the victory.
"I don't want to say I feel depressed, but I do," said Osaka. "I think it's a natural part of life, especially if, like, you train super hard for moments like these, and then you don't perform how you want to. I feel like saying that "I'm depressed" is a very strong statement. Because I felt that way before, and it's not as extreme as that."
"So I would just say I'm very disappointed in how I played, and I wish I could have done better. But I can't turn time, so..."
Siniakova, who has won doubles Grand Slam titles before, found the discipline to be a reason for her success in singles:
Despite the exit, Osaka will remain atop the rankings in singles.
Earliest losses for a player contested their first major as No. 1 (women):
3rd Rd: Ana Ivanovic at 2008 Wimbledon (l. to Zheng Jie)
3rd Rd: Naomi Osaka at 2019 French Open (l. to Katerina Siniakova)
4th Rd: Amelie Mauresmo at 2006 French Open (l. to Nicole Vaidisova)
4th Rd: Maria Sharapova at 2008 French Open (l. to Dinara Safina)
4th Rd: Jelena Jankovic at 2009 Australian Open (l. to Marion Bartoli)
4th Rd: Victoria Azarenka at 2012 French Open (l. to Dominika Cibulkova)
4th Rd: Angelique Kerber at 2017 Australian Open (l. to CoCo Vandeweghe)