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Naomi Osaka, at her most nervous, avoids historic French Open first-round upset

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Naomi Osaka‘s bid for a third straight Grand Slam title nearly vanished in an error-filled French Open first-round escape.

Osaka overcame 90th-ranked Slovakian Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 0-6, 7-6 (4), 6-1, avoiding becoming the second top women’s seed to lose her opening match at Roland Garros in three years.

“The most nervous I have ever been my entire life during a match,” Osaka said, noting it being her first time playing a Grand Slam as the world No. 1 and her first time playing on Court Philippe Chatrier. “I think you could see that in the first set. I was literally not hitting any balls in the court.”

She had more unforced errors (13) than points won (nine) in a 20-minute first set. Schmiedlova served for the match twice in the second set. But Osaka weathered the storm — including a 12-minute, second-set rain delay — to advance to a second-round match with two-time Australian Open champ Victoria Azarenka.

“Usually the nerves go away, but it kind of stayed the entire match,” she said. “Then I just felt like it was a fight of willpower.”

Osaka committed 38 unforced errors to 14 for Schmiedlova, who has lost her last 10 first-round matches at Grand Slams.

Osaka, 21, broke through at last year’s U.S. Open, beating Serena Williams in a memorable final. She backed that up by winning the Australian Open in January to become the first Japanese player to be ranked No. 1. She’s now trying to join Williams as the only women to win three straight majors in the last 21 years.

Osaka carried her best clay-court results to date into Roland Garros — a semifinal and two quarterfinals — though she withdrew from one event with an ab strain and the most recent with a thumb injury. Confidence defined Friday’s pre-tournament press conference, when she said it would be cool to win all four Slams in one year.

“You have to say it for it to come true, and you have to believe it with all of your heart, because if even one percent of you doesn’t believe it, then there is a chance that it won’t come true,” Osaka said.

At the 2017 French Open, Angelique Kerber became the first No. 1 woman to lose in the first round of any Grand Slam since Martina Hingis at 2001 Wimbledon. Then last year, Simona Halep was upset in the U.S. Open first round as the top seed.

FRENCH OPEN: TV Schedule | Scores | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

Also Tuesday, Azarenka swept Jelena Ostapenko 6-4, 7-6 (4) in a rare first-round matchup of major champions. The Latvian Ostapenko is 0-3 at the French Open outside of her stunning 2017 run to the title. The No. 3 seed Halep began her title defense with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 win over Croatian-born Australian Ajla Tomljanovic.

In men’s singles action, No. 5 Alexander Zverev and No. 8 Juan Martin del Potro rallied for first-round wins.

Zverev, an 11-time ATP tournament winner who has reached just one Grand Slam quarterfinal, needed four hours to overcome Australian John Millman 7-6 (4), 6-3, 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-3. A year ago in Paris, Zverev needed to win three consecutive matches that went the full five sets to get to his first Grand Slam quarterfinal.

In his first Grand Slam match since fracturing his right kneecap, the Argentine del Potro beat 75th-ranked Nicolas Jarry 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 through wind and bits of rain.

Del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion and the runner-up there last year, started poorly in chilly conditions on Court Suzanne Lenglen. The frequently-injured del Potro was a semifinalist at Roland Garros last year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Johnny Gregorek runs fastest blue jeans mile in history

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Johnny Gregorek, a U.S. Olympic hopeful runner, clocked what is believed to be the fastest mile in history for somebody wearing jeans.

Gregorek recorded a reported 4 minutes, 6.25 seconds, on Saturday to break the record by more than five seconds (with a pacer for the first two-plus laps). Gregorek, after the record run streamed live on his Instagram, said he wore a pair of 100 percent cotton Levi’s.

Gregorek, the 28-year-old son of a 1980 and 1984 U.S. Olympic steeplechaser, finished 10th in the 2017 World Championships 1500m. He was sixth at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials.

He ranked No. 1 in the country for the indoor mile in 2019, clocking 3:49.98. His outdoor mile personal best is 3:52.94, ranking him 30th in American history.

Before the attempt, a fundraiser was started for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, garnering more than $29,000. Gregorek ran in memory of younger brother Patrick, who died suddenly in March 2019.

“Paddy was a fan of anything silly,” Gregorek posted. “I think an all out mile in jeans would tickle him sufficiently!”

MORE: Seb Coe: Track and field needs more U.S. meets

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U.S. Open mulls no fans, group flights, coronavirus tests as decision looms

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Charter flights to ferry U.S. Open tennis players and limited entourages from Europe, South America and the Middle East to New York. Negative COVID-19 tests before traveling. Centralized housing. Daily temperature checks.

No spectators. Fewer on-court officials. No locker-room access on practice days.

All are among the scenarios being considered for the 2020 U.S. Open — if it is held at all amid the coronavirus pandemic — and described to The Associated Press by a high-ranking official at the Grand Slam tournament.

“All of this is still fluid,” Stacey Allaster, the U.S. Tennis Association’s chief executive for professional tennis, said in a telephone interview Saturday. “We have made no decisions at all.”

With that caveat, Allaster added that if the USTA board does decide to go forward with the Open, she expects it to be held at its usual site and in its usual spot on the calendar. The main draw is scheduled to start Aug. 31.

“We continue to be, I would say, 150% focused on staging a safe environment for conducting a U.S. Open at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on our dates. It’s all I wake up — our team wakes up — thinking about,” Allaster said. “The idea of an alternative venue, an alternative date … we’ve got a responsibility to explore it, but it doesn’t have a lot of momentum.”

An announcement should come from “mid-June to end of June,” Allaster said.

All sanctioned competition has been suspended by the ATP, WTA and International Tennis Federation since March and is on hold until late July.

The French Open was postponed from May to September; Wimbledon was canceled for the first time since 1945.

There is no established COVID-19 protocol for tennis, a global sport with several governing bodies.

“Everybody would agree to the fundamental principles, I’m sure: protecting the health of participants, following the local laws and minimizing the risk of the transmission of the virus,” said Stuart Miller, who is overseeing the ITF’s return-to-tennis policy. “But then you have to get down into the specific details.”

One such detail: The USTA wants to add locker rooms — including at indoor courts that housed hundreds of temporary hospital beds at the height of New York’s coronavirus outbreak — and improve air filtration in existing spaces. Also being considered: no locker-room access until just before a match. So if anyone goes to Flushing Meadows just to train, Allaster said, “You come, you practice, and return to the hotel.”

The USTA presented its operational plan to a medical advisory group Friday; now that will be discussed with city, state and federal government officials.

MORE: Olympic tennis: Key questions for Tokyo Games in 2021

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