PARIS, May 26, 2019 (by Sharada Rajagopalan)
Stefanos Tsitsipas, Matteo Berrettini, Marin Cilic and Grigor Dimitrov among others set the ball rolling on the first day of the 2019 French Open. The baton of action was carried onward later in the day by the stalwarts. Two 37-year-olds – one, well-known and the other, a wild-card entrant – set the stage for the trickling down of the day’s play.
Roger Federer and Nicolas Mahut: The tale of 37
Returning to the Roland Garros for the first time since 2015, Roger Federer was unperturbed in his opening-round match against Italian Lorenzo Sonego in their first career meeting. Federer won 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 in an hour and 41 minutes to set up a second-round clash against lucky loser Oscar Otte.
The 2009 French Open champion raced away to a one-set lead after 24 minutes of play in the first set and in no time, was up 4-0 in the second set. However, Sonego began his fightback and broke Federer’s serve while he was trying to serve for a 5-1 lead in the set. The Italian won his third game on the trot in the seventh game of the set, with Federer stemming the flow of games towards his opponent right after. The third set saw a few break point opportunities for the 20-time Slam champion, who finally converted one in the ninth game of the set. He served out the match in the following game to finally tick off a successful return to Roland Garros, in the most literal manner.
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) 26. Mai 2019
Talking to the media after the match, Federer spoke about his return to playing on clay in general, and at the French Open. “I think just the question was, No. 1, do I want to play on clay and do I want to go through that process and what does it create for the rest of the season?” Federer posed.
He added, “So I saw more positives than negatives, you know. The team supported me with that decision. My family, too. So that always needs to be all aligned. Honestly, I think also it helped by not ever having a plan not to play the French Open for three, four years. The goal was always to play every year. And then it just happened what happened with the knee and the back in ’16. ’17, ’18. I just felt for my health maybe it was better not to do it. And all of a sudden, these years go by, and, you know, you haven’t played. Now I’m very happy I took that decision… I’m happy to be here. The reception I got today was crazy, was really nice to see a full stadium for a first round like this. It was a beauty. So, I’m very, very happy.”
Another player – and Federer’s peer in age – Nicolas Mahut had reasons of his own to be just as happy, as well. The Frenchman, who had received a wild card to play the event this year, made the most of it as he overturned a two-set deficit to upset the 16th seed – and 2018 semi-finalist – Marco Cecchinato in their first-round match. The World No. 253 lost the opening two sets but retaliated with intensity to claim a 2-6, 6-7(6), 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 win in three hours and 18 minutes.
What made the victory sweeter? For one, his son Natanel Mahut came out on the court to congratulate him à la his on-court appearance on the same court after Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert’s men’s doubles title run at the 2018 tournament edition. Secondly, from a purely professional perspective, this was Mahut’s only second event on the ATP Tour in 2019, as it was the second event, he was playing on clay this year – after the ATP Bordeaux Challenger, in April.
In his interaction with the press, Mahut opened up and said that up unto last Friday, his health was so precarious that he had contemplated returning the wild card granted to him. It was, therefore, understandable that he said for the moment he only wanted to savour the result.
“For the moment, I’m just enjoying the pleasure of this victory,” Mahut shared. “It is by far my best victory in Roland Garros, in a French tournament, I hadn’t had many. And playing on this extraordinary court, I felt that if there was a possibility of playing on this court, it would be incredible and there would be an incredible atmosphere… This victory will rank very high in my memories.”
What is the reward for Mahut’s win? A second-round meeting against another veteran in the German Philipp Kohlschreiber. The 35-year-old defeated Robin Haase fromt the Netherlands in their first round match 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-1 in three hours and six minutes.
David Goffin and Diego Schwartzman’s differing routes into R64
The 27th seeded David Goffin saw off Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania in straight sets 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 in an hour and 24 minutes. On the other hand, the 17th seeded Argentinian Diego Schwartzman engaged in a lengthy tussle against Hungarian Marton Fucsovics, needing three hours and 41 minutes to eke out a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(7), 2-6, 6-2 victory.
The other results of the day included the 31st-seeded Serbian Laslo Djere, winning against Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain, 6-3, 6-2, 7-6(2) in two hours and 13 minutes. To tie it off, Leonardo Mayer made it two for two for Argentina, staking a 7-6(3), 6-3, 6-0 finish in his opener against Jiri Vesely from the Czech Republic in two hours and nine minutes.