On The Brink Of Defeat With Nothing To Lose, Halep Turns Match Around

Simona Halep (photo: Roland Garros)

WASHINGTON, May 30, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)

After being down 0-5 in the first set, World No. 1 Simona Halep turned her French Open fortunes around and won 14 of the last 17 games en route to a 2-6, 6-1, 6-1 first-round win over American Alison Riske as Day 4 began on Court Philippe Chatrier Wednesday.

A French Open finalist last year, Halep’s opening match was put off an extra day due to a scheduling backlog caused by Tuesday’s one-hour rain delay, which forced several matches to be postponed. Although it didn’t seem to bother Halep as her match evolved, the thought that we were one set away from seeing both 2017 Roland Garros women’s finalists bow in the opening round was on many people’s minds. On Sunday, defending champion Jelena Ostapenko was upset in her first round match by No. 66 Kateryna Kozlova of Ukraine, 7-5, 6-3

After Riske dominated the first set, Halep rebounded nicely once she started playing more relaxed. She hit 20 winners and caused Riske to commit 33 unforced errors. Halep also converted seven of her 11 break-point chances during the 1 hour and 34 minute match.

“After the first set, I had nothing to lose anymore,” said Halep during an on-court interview following her win. “At the beginning, my arms were very tight and I couldn’t control the ball very much.”

Asked by the interviewer to describe her mind set coming into this year’s French Open, the top-seeded Romanian said, “I don’t feel the pressure. I feel it’s nice opportunity, a nice challenge to take. It’s great to be in this position. I just have to relax my mind. If I’m relaxed, I can play my best tennis.”

After getting three days off at the start of the tournament, Halep will be back on court to face 72nd-ranked wild card Taylor Townsend, another American, on Thursday.

Meanwhile, No. 4 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine advanced with a 6-3, 6-3 win over 87th-ranked Viktoria Kuzmova of Slovakia in the opening match on Court Suzanne Lenglen. Svitolina, who lifted the trophy at Rome earlier this month, has now won her last seven matches. Against Kuzmova, she won 71 percent (30 of 42) of her first-serve points, hit 14 winners and broke her opponent four times in 10 tries to advance against No. 31 seed Mihaela Buzarnescu, a 6-1, 6-2 winner against 97th-ranked Rebecca Peterson of Sweden.

Other winners:

• No. 8 seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic needed just 68 minutes to advance to the third round after beating 91st-ranked Laura Arruabarrena of Spain, 6-0, 6-4, in the opening match on Court 1. Kvitova is starting to look like a title contender at Roland Garros after extending her clay-court winning streak to 13 matches. Her next match will be against No. 25 seed Anna Kontaveit of Estonia, who defeated 159th-ranked Alexandra Dulgheru of Romania, 7-5, 6-2.

• No. 21 seed Naomi Osaka of Japan advanced with a 6-4, 7-5 win over 51st-ranked Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan. She’s reached at least the third round in seven of her first nine Grand Slam main draws.

• No. 26 seed Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic earned a berth in the third round with a 6-4, 6-2 win over 36th-ranked Ekaterina Makarova of Russia.

• No. 10 seed Pablo Carreño Busta needed four sets to advance to the third round. He beat Federico Delbonis of Argentina, ranked 69th, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-4.


• The end of the road for affable Marco Trungelliti of Argentina came when he lost in the second round to 72nd-ranked Marco Cecchinato of Italy, 6-1, 7-6 (1), 6-1. Trungelliti, ranked 190th, became the eighth lucky loser in the men’s draw – and his story became a notable one after driving 10 hours by car Sunday, from Barcelona to Paris, with his brother, mother and soon-to-be 89-year-old abuelita along for the ride, in order to play Australian qualifier Bernard Tomic on Monday. Trungelliti beat Tomic, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 to advance to the second round.

• After playing 76 consecutive Grand Slam doubles events together  – and lifting 16 trophies – Mike Bryan went it alone without his twin brother Bob on Tuesday in the first round at Roland Garros. It just wasn’t the same. A recent hip injury suffered during the Madrid final sidelined Bob for this year’s French Open. It meant that for Mike to play, for the first time at a Grand Slam without Bob, he would have to find a substitute partner. Mike Bryan played with his longtime friend and fellow American Sam Querrey. They lost to another brothers pair, Ken and Neal Skupski of Great Britain, 7-5, 6-4.

“Outside of him, I probably would have said no to everyone,” Querrey told The New York Times. 

The Bryan brothers plan to reunite in time for the summer grass-court circuit.

What they are saying:

Maria Sharapova was asked what she thought of the black “superhero” body suit, inspired by the mega-hit film Black Panther, that Serena Williams wore for her match against Kristyna Pliskova on Tuesday. “I did get a little glimpse … Nike does a really good job of making statements,” she said. “That’s the great thing about tennis. You can, like, express your individuality and be different. I love that about tennis.”