Sinner Survives Match Point, Federer And Serena Into Round Two At Roland Garros

Jannik Sinner (photo: Roland Garros/Twitter)

PARIS, May 31, 2021 (by Alessandro Boroch)

First up on Court Suzanne-Lenglen during Monday’s day session at Roland Garros was 19-year-old Jannik Sinner, who overcame a huge scare by saving one match point against his French opponent, Pierre-Hugues Herbert, in a spectacular five-set-match. Sinner eventually earned a hard-fought 6-1, 4-6, 6-7(4), 7-5, 6-4 first-round victory after three hours and 32 minutes. It was the first time that Sinner had managed to win a best-of-five match.

“When I saw the draw and his name, I knew it would be tough,” Sinner said during an on-court interview. “I knew the crowd was for him, but thank you for coming out to support us. It’s a crazy sport and today I am happy it went my way. I have survived and happy to be in the next round. It was tough.”

The young Italian, who won his second tour-level-title at the Great Ocean Road Open in February, has great memories from Roland Garros, having reached the quarterfinal of the clay-court major last year. He fell to eventual champion Rafael Nadal, whom he could potentially face for a rematch in the fourth round.

During the course of Monday’s match, the No. 18 seed hit 43 winners compared to 36 unforced errors.

“I just tried to play my game,” said Sinner. I think today I [finished strongly], when I was serving for the match. He gave me a little help, because I think he was still thinking about the fourth set. I tried to start strong [in] the fifth set, which [saw me] break immediately. I think that was the key to today’s fifth set… I’m happy that I won for the first time [in a] fifth set.”

Swiatek starts title defence

Not only did last year’s Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek celebrate her twentieth birthday today, she also successfully started her title defence in Paris by edging past her close friend, Kaja Juvan of Slovenia, another promising youngster, 6-0, 7-5, on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

The No. 8 seed from Poland entered the 114th edition of the French Open with an impressive form, having secured the singles title at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia after relentlessly beating top 10 player Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 6-0 in the final.

Facing a close friend was never an easy task for Swiatek, but as she told reporters afterwards, she put friendship aside the moment she went on court.

“I have some experience because I played with Kaja for a few times. I played with my other friends on junior level. You just try to block this friendship for two hours, just focus on the game. 

“I think I’m doing that pretty well. It’s nice to have that skill,” added Swiatek.

Swiatek, who will face World No. 60 Rebecca Peterson of Sweden in the second round, is trying to become the first woman since Justine Henin in 2007 to retain her title in Paris.

“I feel like my game is better and better,” said Swiatek.  “My coaches were planning everything for me to have the peak of my shape right now. Hopefully it’s going to be here. But still even though I have big confidence and I’m feeling really good, we still have to remember that every match has a different story and many things can happen on court.” 

Zidansek shocks Andreescu

In a dramatic match on Court 14, World No. 85 Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia ousted 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu of Canada, 6-7(1), 7-6(2), 9-7 in three hours and 20 minutes.

Zidansek was only two points away from losing in straight sets at 4-5 (40-40) in the second set but could eventually hold serve by forcing two forehand errors off Andreescu’s racket.

In the final set, Zidansek was able to secure an immediate re-break when Andreescu was serving for the match at 5-4, again just two points away from the victory.

After missing a match point at 6-5, Zidansek impressively held her serve at 7-7 by saving two break points with the help of two well-placed serves. Eventually, this crucial hold led her to her first Top 10 win after being unsuccessful in four previous tries.

“I think my serve was a great example of that,” Zidansek said. “I didn’t start well, but in the second set, I was serving better. In the third set, I was serving really well, which helped me save those break points at 7-7. I was serving really well when I was break point down, and I remember she hit a great return crosscourt, very deep, and I managed to get it back.”

Roger & Serena both shine in opening-round wins

Playing in just his fourth match of the year, 39-year-old Roger Federer, who won his only title in Paris 12 years ago in 2009, showed a serene first-round performance. He blasted 48 winners to only 20 unforced errors and gained a 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 victory over qualifier Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan. During the course of the entire match, the 20-time major champion from Switzerland did not face a single break point, extending his head-to-head against his Uzbek opponent to 8-0.

I just felt overall much clearer, much better,” Federer said. “Clearly also maybe the type of opponent allowed me to have many different ways to win the point. I knew if I came to the net, that was an option, hitting a drop shot was always an option, taking the ball early was an option.”

“I felt today I really made a bigger effort of going more in swings and not going through it like in the practice, where you just go point for point for point,” he added. “I sometimes have to tell myself, Take a little bit of time, walk to the towel, do something different… That’s where I think I felt much more comfortable today because I made an effort to think about it.”

In the second round, Federer will face Croatian veteran and 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic, who eased past French wild card Arthur Rinderknech 7-6(6), 6-1, 6-2 after a slow start. With Wednesday’s meeting, Federer and the 32-year-old Cilic will have met at least once across all four majors. Federer leads their head-to-head series 9-1, including a pair of wins in two Grand Slam finals. 

Twenty-three-time Grand Slam singles champion Serena Williams was the first top player to compete in the inaugural night session at Roland Garros, which is scheduled for 9 p.m. nightly without fans during the first week due to Paris curfew rules.

After a shaky start, with three breaks of her serve in the first set, the three-time Roland Garros champion ultimately earned a hard-fought 7-6(6), 6-2 first-round victory over world No. 74 Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania, saving two set points in the opening set with impressive forehand winners. Overall, Williams ended the final match of the day with 27 winners to 30 unforced errors.

Other seeds in action

No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev finally managed to secure his maiden career-win in the main draw of Roland Garros, beating world No. 37 Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan, 6-3, 6-3, 7-5, in two hours.

The Russian came into the tournament with just one victory on clay this season, having beaten Alejandro Davidovich Fokina at the Mutua Madrid Open. Overall, Medvedev holds a 12-20 on red clay, not being among the top favourites in Paris. Next, Medvedev will face American Tommy Paul, who battled past Aussie Christopher O’Connell 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 4-6, 10-8 in a thrilling first-round match.

Nineteen-year-old Italian high-flyer Lorenzo Musetti secured an impressive maiden win in the main draw of a major tournament with his straight victory against 13th seed David Goffin 6-0, 7-6, 7-6(3) to reach the second round.

“I think this is the proof that I have the level. Sometimes when I am not focussed and not playing really good, of course my level is not like today. For sure I am playing better when I’m without pressure because today, I was playing really relaxed,” Musetti said. “Of course, it was not easy to win even if I was relaxed. When you play against the [No.]13 in the world, it’s not the same thing [like] playing [someone] worse than you [in] the rankings that you must [beat].”

On the women’s side, last year’s Roland Garros runner-up, No. 4 seed Sofia Kenin, awaited a tough opening-round challenge against 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko. Despite arriving in Paris with four consecutive losses, Kenin managed to get the edge on the 23-year-old Latvian, prevailing 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 in about two hours.

Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk, 18, caused the biggest upset of the day in the women’s field by ousting 2016 Roland Garros champion and current World No. 13 Garbine Muguruza of Spain, 6-1, 6-4, in one hour and 29 minutes. Before today’s match, Kostyuk had a 0-4 losing record against Top 20 players and had never won a match in Paris.