Roland-Garros Begins With Plenty Of Excitement And Upsets, Too

Andrey Rublev (photo: Roland-Garros video)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, May 26, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

The French Open, the year’s second major and the only one played on clay, began in Paris Sunday under mostly cloudy skies and 22-degree Celsius temperatures. While light rain interrupted play for an hour during the middle of the afternoon, it was the windy conditions that sometimes made things tricky for the players. Nothing worse than clay dust blowing in one’s face at a crucial moment.

Regardless of the weather, plenty of fans flocked to Stade Roland Garros filled with the anticipation of seeing many of their favorites in action on Opening Day of the Parisian fortnight. Throughout, there was lots of excitement, a few gruelingly-long matches, the rain interruption and even a few surprising upsets, too.

World No. 6 Andrey Rublev of Russia, who was making his sixth main-draw appearance in Paris, maintained his composure long enough in the blustery conditions to avoid being bounced in the opening round on Court Simonne-Mathieu against No. 80 Taro Daniel of Japan. He recovered from a dip in his play in the second set to pull out a four-set victory, 6-2, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 7-5, in three hours and 11 minutes to advance against Spain’s Pedro Martinez.

Twice a Paris quarterfinalist, the sixth-seeded Rublev fired 17 aces, won 89 percent of his first-serve points, struck 79 winners overall and outpointed Daniel 159-128. He improved to 3-0 against Daniel and 11-5 at Roland-Garros.

“It was a tough match, and he is a tough player,” Rublev, 26, said in his on-court interview after improving his 2024 win-loss record to 23-9. “He knows how to play on clay, and we have played a lot of matches against each other, so we know each other very well.

“I’m happy I was able to play great tennis. The conditions were not easy to play, with the wind and everything, but in the end, I think we played a great match.”

One player who wasn’t able to avoid an upset on Sunday was French men’s No. 1 Ugo Humbert. The No. 17 seed brought early disappointment to the Parisian fans, who flocked to see their home favorite on Court Suzanne, and instead saw No. 49 Lorenzo Sonego of Italy fire 35 winners to beat Humbert, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, in two hours and 49 minutes. It was Sonego’s second straight win at Roland-Garros over Humbert.

“I really enjoyed having this moment on court,” Sonego said in his on-court interview. “I’m happy with the match. It was a really solid performance by [Ugo]. He’s a French guy – a good guy – and I feel sorry for him. I felt really good and I’m so proud of myself.”

Next, Sonego will face 44th-ranked Zhang Zhizhen of China, who defeated No. 89 Aleksandar Vukic of Australia, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, in two hours and 46 minutes on Court 9.

French fans gained some solace later on as French women’s No. 1 Caroline Garcia rallied to defeat 143rd-ranked qualifier Eva Lys of Germany, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2, in two hours and 12 minutes on Court Philippe-Chatrier, and 37-year-old French veteran Richard Gasquet in his 21st Roland-Garros main draw — equaling Feliciano Lopez for most appearances at the event in Open Era — beat No. 73 Borna Coric of Croatia, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (2), 6-4, in three hours and 23 minutes on Court Suzanne-Lenglen. The 124th-ranked wild card Gasquet outpointed Coric, 127-109.

By the end of Sunday night, No. 79 Corentin Moutet gave French fans something else to cheer about as he pulled off an upset of 16th seed Nicolas Jarry of Chile, 6-2, 6-1, 3-6, 6-0, in two hours and 44 minutes on Court Suzanne-Lenglen. Moutet overcame 49 winners by Jarry and hit 34 of his own and outpointed his opponent 117-89.

Meanwhile, No. 8 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland survived a first-round scare against 162nd-ranked Japanese qualifier Shintaro Mochizuki and pulled out a 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-0, 6-3 victory in two hours and 58 minutes on Court 7.

Next for the World No. 8 Hurkacz, who finished with 21 aces and hit 58 winners, is No. 84 Brandon Nakashima, who won an All-American clash over 130th-ranked wild card Nicolas Moreno De Alboran, 6-1, 6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-2, in two hours and 48 minutes on Court 13.

Alcaraz makes a statement in beating Wolf in opener

World No. 3 Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, who skipped the Rome Masters earlier this month due to a right forearm injury, breezed to a 6-1, 6-2, 6-1 victory over American lucky loser J.J. Wolf in an hour and 51 minutes on Court Philippe-Chatrier with the roof closed. Alcaraz maintained his spotless first-round record at the majors by winning his 13th consecutive opening-round match.

Alcaraz won 18 of the last 21 games of the first-round match – his first competition in three weeks – to wrap up his 19th victory of the season in his 24th match. No doubt, it was a confidence booster for the 21-year-old Spaniard from Murcia.

“I’m really happy to be back,” Alcaraz said in his on-court interview. “To be back here in Paris, to be back competing again. It’s been a really difficult month for me. I love competing, I love playing tennis, and to stay away from that was hurtful for me. I tried everything I could do to be at my 100 percent here in Paris, to show my best tennis, and I think I did it today.”

Alcaraz went full speed with his groundstrokes and used his heavy forehand effectively to beat Wolf. He won four service games at love, hit 27 winners to 16 unforced errors and outpointed Wolf 87-46.

I would have loved to have played more matches [this month], but I don’t think I need too many matches to get to 100 percent,” Alcaraz said. “I think I did really good preparations these past two weeks before coming to Paris. I practiced this week with top players and I felt really good moving, hitting the ball. My forearm is getting better and better, and it is something good for me.”

Next, Alcaraz, who was a semifinalist in Paris last year and is aiming to win a major in three consecutive years after capturing the US Open in 2022 and Wimbledon last year, will face 176th-ranked Dutch qualifier Jesper De Jong in the second round. De Jong held off No. 39 Jack Draper of Great Britain, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (3), 3-6, 6-3, in four hours and six minutes on Court 12. It was De Jong’s first career win in a Grand Slam main draw match.

De Jong hit 11 aces and totaled 58 winners. He converted nine of 10 break points and outpointed Draper 157-146.

Wawrinka powers his way past Murray

In their 23rd meeting, 2015 Roland-Garros champion Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland powered his way past 2016 runner-up Andy Murray of Great Britain, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2, in two hours and 19 minutes on Court Philippe-Chatrier to highlight the night session. The 39-year-old Swiss No. 1, who hit 35 winners, became the oldest man to win a match at Roland Garros since Roger Federer in 2021.

It was Wawrinka’s third consecutive win against Murray at Roland-Garros and his 10th victory in their rivalry overall. Murray leads 13-10.

Osaka earns first Roland-Garros win since 2021

Four-time major champion and former World No.1 Naomi Osaka of Japan, playing in her first Roland-Garros tournament as a mother, earned her first Grand Slam win since returning from maternity leave. She fought off a third-set charge by Italy’s Lucia Bronzetti to win 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 in two hours and one minute in the first match of the day on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

At a set each, Osaka jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the third set before the 67th-ranked Bronzetti strung together five straight games to lead 5-4. However, Osaka, now ranked No. 134, recovered and won the final three games of the first-round match to earn her first Paris win since 2021. It was also her first three-set victory this season.

During her on-court interview, Osaka said she had been “really nervous, so I got pretty tight.” In a later interview with Tennis Channel, she was asked about her emotions going through her mind. “The emotions? Just a little nervous, a little panicky. Overall, I think, I was trying to be as stable as I can. It kind of clicked for me at the end of the third set. I think that’s why I won.”

Next, Osaka will face either World No. 1 and defending champion Iga Swiatek of Poland or 148th-ranked French qualifier Leolia Jeanjean, who play Monday afternoon.

“I’m honestly really excited,” Osaka said in her pre-tournament news conference. “I watched her a lot when I was pregnant. And honestly, I think it’s an honor to play her in the French Open, because she’s won more than once here. It’s a very big honor and challenge for me.”

Around Roland-Garros

Opening Day began with 20 men’s and 20 women’s singles matches. With the first round of the French Open spread over three days, last year’s men’s champion, top seed Novak Djokovic, won’t see his first action until Tuesday. Meanwhile, 14-time Roland-Garros champion Rafael Nadal and women’s defending champion and current No. 1 Iga Swiatek, who brings a 12-match winning streak into this year’s event, play on Court Philippe-Chatrier Monday afternoon.

Among the highlights on Day One, World No. 10 Grigor Dimitrov enjoyed a homecoming of sorts. The 33-year-old Bulgarian, who used to live in Paris and was appearing in his 14th Roland-Garros tournament and 54th overall, defeated No. 87 Aleksandar Kovacevic of the United States, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, in an hour and 56 minutes to advance to the second round after reaching the round of 16 last year.

“It’s always tricky business,” Dimitrov, who improved to 18-13 at Roland-Garros, told Tennis Channel. “I always feel like the first round I feel a little nervous. You just try to make the most out of it as soon as you come out on. You want to pace yourself. This is what I did really well today throughout the whole time. I was trying to apply pressure and hit my spots. … I stayed very composed. That was the key and physically I felt great.”

Dimitrov (25-8), who won his first title since 2017 at Brisbane and returned to the Top 10 earlier this year for the first time since 2018, is looking for his first Roland-Garros quarterfinal to complete a set of quarterfinals at all Grand Slam and ATP Masters 1000 events in his career.

Against Kovacevic, Dimitrov hit 35 winners and outpointed his opponent 89-71. His next opponent will be No. 43 Fabian Marozsan of Hungary, who defeated 136th-ranked qualifier Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.

Also, No. 27 seed Sebastian Korda of the United States advanced with a 6-2, 7-6 (4), 6-4 victory over 122nd-ranked French wild card Harold Mayot. However, No. 24 seed Alejandro Tabilo of Chile fell 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2, 6-2 to 104th-ranked qualifier Zizou Bergs of Belgium.

Meanwhile, among the seeded women advancing were: No. 9 Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, No. 18 Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine, No. 30 Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine and No. 32 Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic.

Ostapenko, the 2017 Roland-Garros champion, became the first Top-10 seed to advance to the second round after defeating No. 69 Jaqueline Cristian of Romania, 6-4, 7-5, in an hour and 34 minutes on Court Suzanne-Lenglen.

However, No. 24 seed Barbora Krejcikova, the 2021 French Open champion, lost to No. 76 Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland, 7-6 (3), 6-4, in an hour and 41 minutes on Court Suzanne-Lenglen.

Sunday’s Roland-Garros results

Monday’s Roland-Garros order of play


• First player to advance to the second round was No. 40 Donna Vekic of Croatia, who benefited from the retirement of No. 45 Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine after 63 minutes of play, leading 6-5 in the first set.

• First upset of a seeded player goes to women’s No. 29 seed Veronika Kudermetova of Russia, who lost to No. 42 Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic, 6-2, 6-4, in an hour and 40 minutes. Bouzkova converted four of eight break-point chances and benefited from 34 unforced errors by Kudermetova.

• One of the longest matches of the day was played on Court 8 and won by Pedro Martinez. The 48th-ranked Spaniard needed three hours and 57 minutes to defeat No. 109 Thiago Agustin Tirante of Argentina, 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3. Martinez hit 51 winners and outpointed Tirante 146-138 to advance against No. 6 seed Andrey Rublev.

• Later, the first match to eclipse four hours – 4:06 – was won by Jesper De Jong of the Netherlands over Great Britain’s Jack Draper, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (3), 3-6, 6-3. The match featured 16 breaks of serve and 303 total points.

• Soon, it was topped — four hours and 22 minutes — by No. 350 Kei Nishikori of Japan, who defeated 166th-ranked Canadian qualifier Gabriel Diallo, 7-5, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 1-6, 7-5, on Court 6.

• Finally, the last match of the day to end, at nearly 1 a.m. Monday, was the longest — five hours and four minutes — and it was won by No. 83 Daniel Altmaier of Germany, who needed six match points and a fifth-set match tie-break to beat No. 52 Laslo Deere of Serbia, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (6), 5-7, 7-6 (10-6), on Court 8. They combined for 400 points with Altmaier outpointing Deere 205-195.

“Quotable …”

“Honestly, I’m with low expectations coming into this tournament, but after the practice week, after this first round, well, the confidence is higher. My expectations probably got higher after today’s match, but let’s see.

“All I can say is I’m feeling great on the court. I feel amazing in this match, so hopefully keep going.”

Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, during his post-match news conference Sunday, following his first-round win.