Svitolina Beats Venus Williams In First-Day Marquee Match At Roland Garros

Elina Svitolina

PARIS, May 26, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

No one can deny that 38-year-old future Hall of Famer Venus Williams had a very tough draw as she walked out on Court Simonne Mathieu to face World No. 9 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine in a first-round battle of marquee attractions at Roland Garros late Sunday afternoon.

Over the course of one hour and 13 minutes, Svitolina, a two-time French Open quarterfinalist who had played just two matches on clay this season because of a leg injury, looked solid and composed against the No. 52 Williams. The ninth-seeded Svitolina completed her 6-3, 6-3 first-round victory by hitting 16 winners – one more than Williams – and kept her unforced errors to a minimum, just 15 compared to 34 for the American.

Svitolina rebounded from 1-3 down in the final set and won on her third match-point opportunity when Williams hit a service return wide of the mark. The win snapped a four-match losing streak for Svitolina, who hadn’t won since beating Marketa Vondrousova in the quarterfinal round at Indian Wells in March.

“I didn’t really think about my losing streak because I think all the matches that I played, except Madrid maybe, was close and I felt not too bad,” said Svitolina after her victory against Williams.

“And I didn’t lose any confidence, I would say. … I think this mindset really helped me today to play a good match under pressure, because, you know, it was quite a tough match.”

Williams agreed with Svitolina’s assessment of the match. “I thought she played really well and took her opportunities,” she said. “I wish her luck in the tournament.”

Now, Williams has bowed in the first round of the French Open four times in her last seven appearances and her best finish in Paris remains being a finalist all the way back in 2002. This was her 82nd Grand Slam appearance (compared to 76 for Roger Federer and 71 for Serena Williams).

No. 2 Pliskova easily into second round

No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova needed exactly an hour to move into the second round against Kristina Kucova of Slovakia. In the last match of Day One on Court Philippe Chartrier, Pliskova defeated No. 91 Madison Brengle of the United States, 6-2, 6-3. The Czech won efficiently – both on her service and returns – and, after recovering from an 0-2 deficit in the opening set, finished with 36 winners. She took advantage of seven service breaks in eight opportunities and outpointed Brengle 67-41. Pliskova has won six consecutive matches on clay. Since losing the Miami Open final on a hard court, she made early clay-court exits in Stuttgart and Madrid thanks to a viral illness.

Last week, a healthy and rejuvenated Pliskova won the biggest clay-court trophy of her career in Rome and came to Paris seeking to equal or improve upon her 2017 Roland Garros semifinal finish. Her attitude toward clay has improved since working full time with former Spanish great Conchita Martinez, who reached the French Open semifinals or better four times.

“I didn’t have that many matches on clay before, which is always the key for me to feel better, to feel more confident,” Pliskova told before her match against Brengle. “When I’m winning, everything’s just going easy, I’m playing without thinking, which is the best.

“I feel confident after I made the title in Rome, so there is no reason why I should not be feeling great.”

After beating Brengle, Pliskova added: “It feels good, obviously. First round is always tough, tricky. You don’t know how you’re going to feel, how you’re going to play.

“But I had good couple days of practice, so I felt fine. Not perfect, but fine. And it was solid today.”

Meanwhile, No. 203 Kucova enjoyed a mild upset with her win over 2009 Roland Garros champion Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia, 6-4, 6-2, in one hour and seven minutes. It was the second straight year that the oft-injured Kuznetsova, whose ranking has dipped to No. 101, has lost in the first round in Paris.

Around Roland Garros

• Last year’s finalist, No. 7 seed Sloane Stephens of the United States, beat No. 108 Misaki Doi of Japan, 6-3, 7-6 (4) in 91 minutes by hitting 22 winners and causing her opponent to hit 28 unforced errors. Stephens improved to 10-2 in tie-breaks this year and is now 9-1 in her last 10 matches against lefties. Next, Stephens, who improved to 7-3 on clay this season and was a recent semifinalist in Madrid, will face No. 75 Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain, who defeated No. 54 Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2.

Stephens has been in Paris for a week and enjoying off-court activities such as staying busy with shopping. With 72 hours until her next match on Wednesday, Stephens was asked by Tennis Channel’s Jon Wertheim if she planned to do more shopping. The American’s reply was: “Find a new restaurant, probably.” She said she’s fond of Indian food.

• No. 15 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, moved into the second round with a 63-minute win over 185th-ranked wild card Jessika Ponchet of France, 6-1, 6-4. Next, Bencic will face No. 95 Laura Siegemund of Germany, who won for the first time at Roland Garros when she beat Sofya Zhuk of Russia, 6-3, 6-3. Benic, who had reached the second round twice before, hit 30 winners against just 10 unforced errors during her win over Ponchet.

• In an all-French affair, 2017 Roland Garros quarterfinalist Kristina Mladenovic, ranked No. 53,  advanced over No. 82 Fiona Ferro, 6-3, 7-6 (3), and will meet No. 31 seed and Istanbul champion Petra Martic of Croatia, an earlier winner over Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, in the second round.

• No. 85 Bernarda Pera of the United States, who won three matches and advanced as the No. 1 seed out of the Roland Garros qualifying draw, fell to No. 67 Kateryna Kozlova of Ukraine, 6-2, 7-6 (5). Kozlova will now meet No. 9 seed Elina Svitolina in an all-Ukraine second-round match.

What they’re saying

• World No. 2 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic on defending French Open champion Simona Halep from Romania: “There are some players who are just too intense for practice. You don’t want to be stressing in practice, because there is enough stress and nerves in the matches when the tournament starts. … So we always try to hit. I always enjoy to play Simona. It’s a guarantee that the practice is going to be a good level, because she always fights in the practice. But on the other hand, it’s relaxed. We can laugh. We can even talk about stuff, not about tennis.”

• World No. 4 Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, who is tied for the WTA lead in wins on clay this season and won the title at Madrid earlier this month: “I don’t really put any pressure on myself, I would say. For me it’s just another tournament, again, and like every tournament I go into this year, I try to play for the win, and that’s what I’m gong to do again here. Yeah, it’s just like every day is a new day. Every day I try to improve myself, so I just see it like as one of the weeks on the tour.”

Bertens, 27, reached the Roland Garros semifinals in 2016. Now, after climbing to a career-high No. 4 in the rankings after winning Madrid without dropping a set, she’s become the highest-ranked Dutch woman since Betty Stove reached No. 5 in 1977.

What they’re writing

British tennis writer Simon Briggs in The Telegraph, in celebrating the 60th anniversary of Christine Truman Janes’ 1959 title victory at the French Championships (as the French Open was known), wrote:

“Sporting anniversaries come and go, but it is rare to find a champion celebrating a 60-year flashback with as much vim and laughter as Christine Truman Janes, the 78-year-old Suffolk grandmother who prefigured Rafael Nadal and Martina Hingis by picking up her maiden French Open title while still a teenager.

“To chat to Truman (let’s stick with her playing name) is to be transported into a different world: one in which her formidable mother Aimee chaperoned her around the globe, and her closest rival – World No. 1 Maria Bueno – was also her doubles partner. The concept of coaches barely existed and medical guidance was sketchy, so Truman was increasingly affected by a niggling Achilles injury – sustained, with typical elan, when her high-heeled shoe slipped into a hole in a wooden floor during drinks at the Jamaican Embassy.”

Sunday’s results

First round singles
A. Potapova, Russia, d. No. 5 A. Kerber, Germany, 6-4, 6-2
No. 2 K.A. Pliskova, Czech Republic, d. M. Brengle, U.S., 6-2, 6-3
K. Mladenovic, France, d. F. Ferro, France, 6-3, 7-6 (3)
No. 7 S. Stephens, U.S., d. M. Doi, Japan, 6-3, 7-6 (4)
No. 9 E. Svitolina, Ukraine, d. V. Williams, U.S., 6-3, 6-3
No. 31 P. Martic, Croatia, d. O. Jabeur, Tunisia, 6-1, 6-2
No. 15 B. Bencic, Switzerland, d. WC-J. Ponchet, France, 6-1, 6-4
K. Kucova, Slovakia, d. S. Kuznetsova, Russia, 6-4, 6-2
L. Siegemund, Germany, d. S. Zhuk, Russia, 6-3, 6-3
J. Larsson, Sweden, d. M. Rybarikova, Slovakia, 6-3, 6-4
K. Kozlova, Ukraine, d. Q-B. Pera, U.S., 6-2, 7-6 (5)
M. Vondrousova, Czech Republic, d. Y. Wang, China, 6-4, 6-3
S. Sorribes Tormo, Spain, d. A. Van Uytvanck, Belgium, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2
No. 19 G. Muguruza, Spain d. T. Townsend, U.S., 5-7, 6-2, 6-2
J. Brady, U.S. vs. I. Jorovic, Serbia, suspended
P. Hercog, Slovakia, vs. No. 32 A. Sasnovich, Belarus, suspended