PARIS, May 29, 2017 (by Michael Dickens)
Whether or not Sloane Stephens and Garbiñe Muguruza had 1 o’clock lunch dates to keep remains uncertain. However, both Top 20 players made quick work of their respective second-round opponents as Day 4 unfolded at Roland Garros on Wednesday.
First up on Court Philippe Chatrier, as the crowd began to file into their seats in anticipation of the second match on court between French hero Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and No. 6 seed Kei Nishikori, No. 7 seed Stephens from the United States advanced to the third round with her second consecutive straight-set win. Last year’s finalist, Stephens needed just one hour and 26 minutes to beat No. 75 Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain, 6-1, 7-6 (3). She won on her first match-point opportunity, hitting a sizzling backhand winner down the line.
Playing in her eighth French Open, Stephens hit 24 winners to nine for Sorribes Tormo and she converted all seven of her break-point opportunities.
“Obviously played well both matches, so just happy to be back in a good position in a slam,” said Stephens during a post-match press conference. “I have had obviously, like, my best consistent results here. I like playing here. It suits my game well.”
Moving on, Stephens’ next opponent will be No. 71 Polona Hercog of Slovenia, who went the distance to beat American Jennifer Brady, ranked 80th, 6-3, 6-7 (8), 6-4. Hercog has won three clay-court titles, including Lugano this year. But Stephens will carry a 3-0 head-to-head record into their match. She beat Hercog in the second round at Roland Garros in 2014.
Muguruza moves to Lenglen, wins easily
Meanwhile, No. 19 seed Muguruza from Spain, who lifted the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in 2016, needed just 64 minutes to advance past overmatched No. 172 Johanna Larsson of Sweden in a match that was moved to Court Suzanne Lenglen from Court 1. She won with both power and by hitting soft but effective drop shots. It marks the sixth straight year that the Spaniard has reached at least the third round at Roland Garros.
Muguruza won 84 percent of her first-serve points, hit 16 winners and did not face any break points. She converted four of six break-point chances and out pointed Larsson 56-35. It was their first meeting.
“I’m happy I played well today. If you don’t play well you go home very fast,” said Muguruza in her post-match press conference. “I think that you’ve got to be competing and on top of that play your ‘A’ game all the time. Every day, I’m trying to do that.”
Next, Muguruza will face No. 9 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, who advanced to the third round via walkover when her compatriot Kateryna Kozlova withdrew with a viral illness. Svitolina leads the head-to-head 5-3 and won their most recent match in straight sets last February in Dubai on a hard court.
“I think it’s a great third round for both of us,” said Muguruza. “Personally, it’s the type of match that I want to play.
“Maybe, it’s a bit too early (in the draw), but too bad. It will be a very interesting match to play.”
No worries for No. 2 Pliskova
No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic had defeated No. 203 qualifier Kristina Kucova of Slovakia in each of the three previous times they met, all in three sets. The last time was nearly four year ago in Tianjin, which Pliskova won. This time, at Roland Garros, the World No. 2 needed just 56 minutes to win 6-2, 6-2. It was Pliskova’s second straight win this week in less than an hour.
Pliskova, 27, dominated Kucova as she fired eight service aces, with her fasted serve speed clocking at 181 Km/hour, and won 81 percent (27 of 33) of her first-serve points. She saved the only break point she faced. The former World No. 1 hit 29 winners, committed just 11 unforced errors and outpointed her opponent 57-32.
Around Roland Garros
• No. 20 seed Elise Mertens advanced to the third round over French wild card Diane Parry, 6-1, 6-3 in one hour and 25 minutes. The loss ended the run for the 16-year-old Parry, ranked No. 457, who after beating Vera Lapko in the first round became the youngest player to win a round at Roland Garros since Michelle Larcher de Brito in 2009.
Mertens won 80 percent (32 of 40) of her service points and did not face any break points. She hit 18 winners and committed just 12 unforced errors.
“It was not my best level, but I still won. My level was comfortable. How shall I put it? It was just enough to win today,” said Mertens, who will face No. 12 Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia in the next round. Sevastova beat 100th-ranked Mandy Minella of Luxembourg, 6-2, 6-4 in 73 minutes.
Parry was impressed by Mertens. “We can see that she’s one of the best players,” she said. “She was very strong. I saw the experience that she has while playing on court.”
Despite the loss, the French teen Parry remained upbeat about her Roland Garros experience. “I’m very happy of my tournament. It’s a positive result and this will help me for the future.
“I managed to find a benchmark and to see how I stand with regards to the other players and how much I have to learn for the future of my career. This gives me the will to play as much as possible against that type of players.”
• No. 28 seed Carla Suárez Navarro of Spain needed three sets to beat Shelby Rogers of the United States, but did it. In a match-up of former Roland Garros quarterfinalists, Suárez Navarro won their third career head-to-head, 6-1, 6-7 (4), 6-3.
• No. 88 Kaia Kanepi of Estonia moved into the third round with a 6-7 (4), 6-9, 7-5 win over No. 50 Zhang Shuai of China. Kanepi hit 47 winners and Zhang committed 35 unforced errors during the two hour and 30 minute match. Next, Kanepi will face No. 68 Veronika Kudermetova of Russia, who defeated No. 99 Zaria Diyas of Kazakhstan, 7-5, 6-1.
By the numbers
Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia, who for one set had the tennis world on the edge of their seats on Tuesday before she eventually lost in three sets to World No. 1 Naomi Osaka, has lost her last nine consecutive Grand Slam first rounds. So, for better or worse, there’s some consistency. Her last Slam match-win? It came all the way back in the 2015 U.S. Open., a 6-3, 6-4 win over Julia Goerges.
What they’re saying
• World No. 1 Naomi Osaka, on breaking down why she was so nervous for her first-round match against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia on Tuesday: “I can give you logical reasons, but I’m not really a logical person. So it might be something else (smiling).
“Logical reasons, first time playing a Grand Slam as No. 1. Won the last two, so I kind of want to win this one really bad. … I have never played Chatrier before. This was my first time. … And, yeah, I kind of feel like I’m having the thought of wanting to prove myself again.”
• Defending champion Simona Halep on learning to play with joy and freedom – and a smile: “Yeah, I need to be calm. I need to be really focused on my game just not think about the opponents and not thinking about the result. I feel like I have improved a lot in this year since I won here. I’m a different person. I’m a better person. And now what comes, it comes as a bonus. So, I’m trying to just to give my best every time I step on the court.”
What they’re writing
World No. 16 Wang Qiang of China is penning a guest column for Metro.co.uk during the French Open. On Monday, she wrote: “I think every player wants to be No. 1. Everyone wants to win Grand Slams. For me, it’s the same but I don’t feel any pressure. I just want to do my best and focus on being myself. As long as I keep improving then that’s all that matters.
“I don’t know what the pressure would be like if I became No. 1. I’m obviously not there yet and I may never be. Either way, it would take time.
“Maybe I will do it. Maybe I won’t. Who knows?”
What they’re tweeting
• No. 14 seed Madison Keys (@Madison_Keys), who won her first-round match on Tuesday: “Was told to learn some French words before my 2nd round. #helpplz #RG19
• Caroline Garcia, French women’s No. 1, after her first-round win: “Olé! Très contentedly de de 1er tour, merci pour Centre belle ambiance @rolandgarros! #RG19 #FlyWithCaro (Olé! Very happy with this first round, thank you for this beautiful atmosphere @rolandgarros! #RG19 #FlyWithCaro”