Kvitova Survives, Thiem Falls On Opening Day At Roland Garros

Petra Kvitova (photo: Roland Garros/Twitter)

PARIS, May 30, 2021 (by Alessandro Boroch)

No. 11 seed Petra Kvitova overcame a huge scare in her opening round at Roland Garros on Sunday against qualifier Greet Minnen, having saved one match point down 6-7(3), 5-6 to eventually complete a 6-7(3), 7-6(5), 6-1 first-round win in two hours and 16 minutes on Court Suzanne-Lenglen.

During the first two sets, Kvitova’s game had been quite patchy with lots of unforced errors from her forehand side and pre-eminently huge issues on her serve, having produced three double faults in the first tie-break. Yet, when it mattered the most, Kvitova upped her game, ultimately firing a cross-court backhand winner on set point in the second set, to flatten her way to an impressive comeback.

“First of all, definitely, she played very well. I didn’t think that she played something different compared those two matches before, but I think just she likes clay. I think she has a good game for clay,” Kvitova said after the match.

“I would say that from my side it wasn’t really good from the beginning. I was very [much] struggling, I was missing a lot, I was double faulting a lot. I didn’t really feel myself that well. I was pretty tight. It was really tough.”

The two-time major champion from the Czech Republic ended her match with 43 winners to 44 unforced errors. In the second round, Kvitova will face Russian veteran Elena Vesnina, who secured her first major-level singles victory since January 2018, beating lucky loser Olga Govortsova of Belarus 6-1, 6-0, after coming back from maternity leave.

On Court 14, former World No. 1 Angelique Kerber was defeated 2-6, 4-6 in her first-round match against strong qualifier Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine, who came to Paris with two consecutive ITF titles in her luggage.

Kerber, who was down 0-5 twice in both sets, having shown some belated resistance, has now lost three consecutive times in the opening round in Paris. Overall, the three-time major champion has also lost her opener at Roland Garros in five of her last six appearances.

“I think I had a late start, especially I started to play better in the second set, but yeah, I don’t know. I think she played good. I was not able to play my best tennis or like how I practiced in the last few days,” said the 33-year-old Kerber. “I think I have to accept that and looking forward to the next challenge.”

Twenty-four-year-old Kalinina extended her winning-streak to 14 matches, having completed all four matches (including qualifying) at Roland Garros so far without dropping a single set.

Andujar upsets two-time finalist Thiem

In the afternnon session, 35-year-old Spaniard Pablo Andujar caused the biggest upset of the day in the men’s field, battling past two-time Roland Garros runner-up Dominic Thiem from two sets down, 4-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in four hours and 28 minutes. For the first time in his career, the 2020 US Open champion was eliminated in the first round of the clay-court major.

While the Spanish veteran arrived in Paris with a lot of confidence after defeating Roger Federer at his home tournament in Geneva, Thiem has been struggling to regain his form during the clay season after a two-month break from the sport.

“It’s very special for me, to achieve this at 35 years old, I don’t know how much longer I’m going to play,” Andujar told the French crowd on court after claiming his biggest career-win. “This win is a real gift.”

Thiem, who has now lost twice in his career from two sets up (the first time came against Juan Martin Del Potro at US Open 2017), was seemingly unhappy about his current level.

“I was really practising well, super intense as well,” said Thiem. “[My] shots were there and [they] also got better in Madrid and Rome. But Lyon and here, [my] shots, how I moved and everything was just not the real me. It’s just not good enough at the moment [and] it’s a very tough situation.” 

“It’s kind of the first situation that I’m facing [this], because basically all my career, the past five, six, seven years, [I] was [on the] way up all the time,” Thiem continued. “I was sometimes dropped from [No.] 5 to 8 in the Rankings, but never had losses like that, especially here [at] Roland Garros.

“Losing after being up two sets to [love] is very strange to me and I have to analyse it and think about what’s wrong. And then of course try to hit back as soon as possible… It does feel very tough, as since 2016 I was used to playing very deep in this tournament.”

Other seeds in action

This year’s Mutua Madrid Open champion and World No. 6 Alexander Zverev had to work really hard to justify his role as the favourite against Oscar Otte. He fought back from a two-set deficit for the second time in his career and finally overcame hisGerman compatriot 3-6, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-0 in almost three hours. With today’s win, Zverev has extended his record in five-set matches at Roland Garros to 7-0.

Four-time major champion Naomi Osaka caused a huge headline ahead of the start of this year’s Roland Garros, when she announced that she would not give any press conferences during this year’s tournament. The No. 2 seed from Japan was first up on Court Philippe-Chatrier on Sunday, where she eventually extended her winning-streak at majors to 15 matches in a row after earning a hard-fought 6-4, 7-6(4) victory over world No. 63 Patricia Maria Tig.

Despite coming out victorious in two of the last three major tournaments, the four-time Grand Slam champion is not among the top favourites in Paris, particularly due to not having reached the second week before and lacking a pro-title on clay.

The 23-year-old Japanese star will next face World No. 102 Ana Bogdan for a place in the third round. Bogdan eased past lucky loser Elisabetta Cocciaretto 6-1, 6-3 in just about an hour.

Drawing former World No. 20 Ana Konjuh as a qualifier was certainly never an easy task, but No. 3 seed Aryna Sabalenka managed to overcome the tricky opening match-up by prevailing 6-4, 6-3 after recovering from a break deficit at 2-4 in the first set. During the match, Sabalenka secured six breaks of serve and produced 24 winners.

“I would say it wasn’t a great level today from me, but I kept trying, kept fighting, kept trying to find my game,” Sabalenka said. “It was a little bit [of a] nervous game, especially in the beginning, because I felt like everything is not going well, and I don’t really feel my game.