Nadal, Serena Start Roland Garros Title Bids

STARNBERG, September 28, 2020 (by Alessandro Boroch)

The start into Monday’s action at Roland Garros was delayed on the outside courts for two hours due to heavy rain. While most players were waiting for the official go of the organizers to start their respective first-round matches, two-time major champion Petra Kvitova, who has not participated in a clay-court event prior to Paris, opened proceedings in the sheltered Court Philippe-Chatrier against Frenchwoman Oceane Dodin.

The opening set was dominated by consecutive hold of serves, until Kvitova managed to secure the first break at 4-3 on her second break point, and eventually held her following service game to grab the first set. The following set would also remain similarly tight, both continued to show brutally aggressive hitting from every position on the court.

In the end, as is often the case, the more experienced player, namely Kvitova, prevailed 6-3, 7-5 in one hour and 17 minutes. The 30-year-old Czech, who sometimes becomes prone to errors on slower courts due to her aggressive style of play, convinced with a well-balanced winner/unforced error record today, as she hit staggering 29 winners to just 14 unforced errors. Next up for the former world No. 2, who is eyeing with her maiden final appearance in Paris, will be 24-year-old Italian Jasmine Paolini, who had little struggle in her seasoned 6-4, 6-3 win over Aliona Bolsova Zadoinov.

Rafael Nadal & Serena Williams start their respective title bid

12-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal started his title bid in Paris with a serene 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 win over Belarusian Egor Gerasimov. Throughout the whole match, Nadal only allowed his opponent one break of serve at the start of the third set.

“It is a different Roland Garros. Totally different than we are used to… But for me this year is as special as every one at Roland Garros,” Nadal said on court. “I am going to keep trying my best. I am happy to be in the second round [after] a good start and now is the moment to go back to the hotel, have a good practice tomorrow and try to be ready for the second round.”

“The only thing that I can guarantee is I’m going to be here [and] try my best every single day fighting, and trying to give to the people my best every single day,” Nadal mentioned. “In some ways sport helps the people.”

The 34-year-old Spaniard and No. 2 seed hit 32 winners compared to 20 unforced errors en route to the second round, in which he will encounter protected-ranking holder Mackenzie McDonald next, who came back from a set down to beat Canadian Steven Diez 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 in three hours.

Shortly after her semi-final loss at the US Open a couple of weeks ago, 23-time major singles champion Serena Williams had announced that she would be participating at this year’s French Open despite the health risks and ban on private housing, which she made use of in New York. Serena canceled her trip to the WTA Premier 5 event in Rome prior to Paris due to an Achilles injury, therefore she went into her first-round match against fellow American Kristie Ahn, who she already faced in New York, without any match practice on clay.

The lack of match practice has been very evident in the first hour of the match, in which Williams’ timing and movement was anything but good. Although 28-year-old Ahn was serving for a potential set-lead at 5-4 in the opening set, Serena was able to force a tie-break, ultimately gained the upper hand, and won the first set by the score of 7-6(2) despite producing 28 unforced errors in total.

This was the beginning of a momentum shift. Williams, who turned 39 just two days ago, had taken complete control of the match after the gritty opener. Down the road, Williams rushed through the second set, serving a bagel to compatriot Ahn, hitting just eight unforced errors to complete her 7-6(2), 6-0 first-round victory.

With her win, Williams set up a US Open rematch against Tsvetana Pironkova. The 33-year-old Bulgarian managed to beat German veteran Andrea Petkovic 6-3, 6-3 in the battle of comebacker earlier the day.

Serena commented on her upcoming second-round clash with Pironkova in her following press conference. “I’m okay with it. She’s playing well, but I am too. I’m ready to play her. She’ll be ready to play me. It will be a long match, she weill get a lot of balls back, but so am I. I’ll be ready.”

Early exits from seeded players

As usual for first-round matches in a Grand Slam tournament, there were a couple of upsets during Monday’s action.

Alexander Bublik continues to shine with his latest form from Hamburg last week, as he managed to overcome eighth seed and home favorite Gael Monfils 6-4, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 to reach the second round at the French Open for only the second time in his career. It is also the first top 10 win for the 23-year-old Russian, who is representing Kazakhstan on the tennis circuit.

World No. 52 Yoshihito Nishioka, who entered the French Open main draw with a 1-3 win/lose record on clay in 2020, proved strong nerves in his surprising 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 straight-set win over No. 19 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime from Canada, saving 11 of his 13 break points.

2011 French Open quarterfinalist Fabio Fognini, the number 14 seed, had another tough day at the office, falling 7-5, 3-6, 6-7(1), 0-6 to Kazakh Mikhail Kukushkin. Fognini lost 7 of 32 points from 5-3 up in the fourth set, as he was once again struggling with his recurring foot injury. It was Kukushkin’s first top 15 win of the ongoing season.

During the evening session, 25-year-old Nikola Milojevic produced the biggest upset of the day, overcoming in-form compatriot Filip Krajinovic 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 in three hours and 15 minutes to secure his maiden win in the main draw of a Grand Slam. It was one of those days when almost everything worked out for one player and nothing at all for the other. Krajinovic just hit 15 direct winners during the whole match, while he created 60 unforced errors on the other side.

Juvan defeats Kerber

There were also a few upsets on the WTA Tour, although the day was generally quieter than for the men in terms of upsets.

19-year-old Slovenian teen Kaja Juvan took out three-time major champion Angelique Kerber 6-3, 6-3 in just about an hour. It was her debut win in the main draw of Roland Garros.

Former world number one Kerber struck down just 15 winners and only won 43 per-cent of her points on serve. Even on clay, those numbers are obviously far too little. Kerber has now fallen in the first round in Paris four times in the last five years.

In addition to Kerber, no. 12 seed Madison Keys, who reached the semi-finals in Paris just two years ago, had to admit loss to 31-year-old Chinese player Zhang Shuai, falling 3-6, 6-7(2). It is just the second time in her career, that Keys lost in the first round at the French Open. 

Longest match of the tournament so far

The match between Frenchman Corentin Moutet and qualifier Lorenzo Giustino from Italy started on Sunday but was suspended due to heavy rain and was therefore continued during today’s action in Paris. The World No. 157 from Italy went on to win the third set in a deciding tie-break but could not keep his momentum going in the subsequent fourth set, in which Moutet remained almost flawless on return to force a decisive fifth set. Contrary to the other major tournaments, the French Open remain the only tournament with the traditional fifth-set rules.

After a couple of breaks at the opening stage of the deciding set, Giustino earned his first match point at 8-7 (40-30) on return. Anyone, who now thinks the match ended here, is plainly wrong. 21-year-old Moutet took all his courage in both hands and went for the forehand winner down the line to potentially prevent his loss. Giustino was able to touch the winner attempt but could not afford enough power to put the ball back into Moutet’s half of the court. Deuce. The Frenchman from Neuilly-sur-Seine was eventually able to hold his service game and put the pressure back on Giustino. Meanwhile, the match already lasted for four hours and 40 minutes.

One hour later, Moutet was serving for the match for the second time, leading 14-13. During the course of this particular game, the NextGen prospect was just two points away from gaining the win. Nevertheless, his match-serving should not go well, as Giustino blasted off one winner and Moutet sent another forehand long on break point to equalize the score again. In the following games, Moutet was again serving for the match at 15-14, but once more could not finish the match two points away from the potential victory. Down the road, after six hours and five minutes, it was not Moutet but Giustino who turned out victorious.

The 29-year-old Italian fought off two crucial break points serving at 17-16 and was able to set up two match points for himself in the following game. He finally secured his first win in a main draw of a major on his second match point. The fifth set lasted three hours in total.  Lorenzo Giustino won by the score of 0-6, 7-6(7), 7-6(3), 2-6, 18-16.