Alcaraz Overcomes Quality Challenge From Roland-Garros Qualifier De Jong

Carlos Alcaraz (Roland-Garros video)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, May 29, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

On the facade of Court Philippe-Chatrier are the words “Victory belongs to the most tenacious.”  While the quote is originally attributed to Napoleon, it was also used by Roland Garros, the French World War I hero and aviation trailblazer – and the namesake for Stade Roland-Garros, home of the French Open.

On a rainy Wednesday in Paris, World No. 3 Carlos Alcaraz seemed to take the famous words to heart. The 21-year-old Spaniard overcame a quality challenge from Dutch qualifier Jesper De Jong, ranked 176th and a regular on the ATP Challenger Tour, who showed much valor in pushing Alcaraz to four sets in their first meeting.

In the end, it was the two-time major champion Alcaraz who won, 6-3, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, in three hours and nine minutes to reach the third round. He overcame 47 unforced errors to hit 35 winners and outpointed his opponent 128-108.

Although Alcaraz started well and was ahead two sets to none, his level dropped while the 23-year-old De Jong’s rose. However, Alcaraz, who was playing just his second match since Madrid after missing Rome with an arm injury, found his second wind and got back on track in the fourth set to capture the victory. Perhaps, De Jong showed the effects of his four-hour, five-set battle with Great Britain’s Jack Draper a round earlier — or that it was his fifth match since arriving in Paris to qualify last week.

“As I have said many times, any player can put you in trouble,” Alcaraz said during his on-court interview. “You have to be very focused every match and every point and every round. It does not matter if I am at the top of the rankings and playing someone outside the Top 100. You have to think you have to play at your best if you want to get through. The ranking doesn’t matter, it matters the level to keep going and I am sure he will break the Top 100.”

Alcaraz’s next opponent will be either No. 27 seed Sebastian Korda of the United States or Soonwoo Kwon of South Korea, ranked 494th but playing with a protected ranking.

Swiatek saves match point against Osaka in marquee victory

World No. 1 Iga Swiatek of Poland and former No. 1 Naomi Osaka of Japan brought international box office appeal to their battle of four-time Grand Slam champions Wednesday evening under the closed roof of Court Philippe-Chatrier.

The three-time French Open champion Swiatek saved a match point in the ninth game, trailing 5-4, then rallied to beat the 134th-ranked Osaka, 7-6 (1), 1-6, 7-5, in two hours and 57 minutes in an exciting second-round marquee battle at Roland-Garros. The win kept her title chances alive at Roland-Garros.

It was Swiatek’s 16th consecutive match victory at Roland-Garros, the most since Justine Henin won 24 straight from 2005-10, and also Swiatek’s 14th straight win this year.

Afterward, while the two major champions changed a warm embrace at the net at the conclusion of the exciting, high-quality second-round match, it was a muted celebration for Swiatek. Soon, Osaka received tremendous applause as she left the court.

“What an incredible performance from both players,” commented Tennis Channel’s Chanda Rubin, who handled play-by-play of the Swiatek-Osaka match for a mostly U.S. audience. Added her broadcast partner, Hall of Famer Lindsay Davenport, “This was the highest-quality performance in a second-round match at a major I’ve ever seen.”

During her on-court interview, Swiatek said: “For sure, this match was really intense. That was much more intense for a second-round match than I expected. Naomi played amazing tennis with really loose hands. Sometimes risking a lot, but he was playing in. She played really, really great tennis. … For sure, I’m happy that she’s back and playing well.”

Swiatek finished with 37 winners to 32 unforced errors and converted three of 15 break points. Osaka countered with 54 winners — including eight aces — to 38 unforced errors and outpointed Swiatek 114-109.

However, it was the Polish superstar’s mental fortitude with the match riding in the balance that pushed her across the finish line as the victor. She was tested and now moves on to the next round against either 135th-ranked lucky loser Jana Fett of Croatia or No. 45 Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic.

Sinner remains undefeated in majors after Gasquet victory 

World No. 2 Jannik Sinner remained undefeated in Grand Slams this season (9-0) and reached the Roland-Garros third round for the fourth time after his 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 victory over 37-year-old French wild card Richard Gasquet, ranked 124th, one of five Frenchmen who reached the second round.

The 22-year-old Italian from South Tyrol hit 38 winners — eight of them were aces — and he outpointed Gasquet 98-70 during the two-hour, 15-minute match that was featured Wednesday evening on Court Philippe-Chatier with the roof closed.

“The atmosphere has been amazing. I know you guys were cheering for Richard, but it has been a very, very fair crowd,” Sinner said in his on-court interview, giving props to Gasquet. “He gave as a player, and still gives so much for tennis. It’s so nice to have him around … he’s still playing incredible tennis.”

According to the ATP Tour website, Sinner is now four wins away from clinching his debut at the top of the PIF ATP Rankings. If he reaches the final, or if current No. 1 Novak Djokovic fails to reach the final, Sinner will become the first Italian World No. 1 following Roland-Garros.

Next, Sinner will play No. 56 Pavel Kotov of Russia, who outlasted 2015 French Open champion Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland, ranked 98th, 7-6 (5), 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (5), in three hours and 40 minutes on Court Suzanne-Lenglen with the roof closed. Wawrinka was attempting to reach the third round in Paris for the first time since 2020 and 13th time in his career.

Feisty Kenin eliminates French No. 1 Garcia

Sofia Kenin won just one of her first 11 matches to start the 2024 season, a disastrous beginning by any measure. However, the 56th-ranked American and 2020 Roland-Garros finalist hasn’t forgotten how to effectively play on clay. She doesn’t have the biggest serve but she knows how to play feisty, aggressive tennis. It’s an effective one-two punch to survive on the famed red clay.

On Wednesday afternoon under a closed roof on Court Philippe-Chatrier, the feisty Kenin pulled off an upset of No. 21 seed and French favorite Caroline Garcia, 6-3, 6-3, in an hour and 25 minutes to advance to third round in Paris for the fourth time. It was Kenin’s fifth win on clay this season and third win over Garcia in three meetings. Each win over the 21st-ranked Garcia has come in straight sets.

“She has such a tough serve and I tried to do what I could with my serve because that’s obviously important,” Kenin told Tennis Channel‘s Jon Wertheim in a court side interview following her win. “I was playing my game and I think my movement was pretty damn good. I’m happy with it, I’m happy with the level I’m playing. I’m super confident and it’s showing.

“I’m always comfortable playing here but I had no idea what to expect. I just do what I can from my end. Obviously, French fans are supporting [Caroline] but I’ve got a few fans – I heard my name here and there – but it was a great atmosphere. I really enjoyed it.”

Garcia has lost in the second round at Roland-Garros four straight years and it’s the 11th time in 14 appearances she has lost before the third round. With Garcia eliminated, only three French women remain in the singles draw: Diane Parry, Varvara Gracheva and Chloe Paquet.

Next, Kenin will play either 2017 French Open champion and current No. 9 seed Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia or No. 72 Clara Tauson of Denmark.

Around Roland-Garros

In a showdown of one-handed backhands under the roof of Court Suzanne-Lenglen, 2021 Roland-Garros finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece overcame the resilience of unseeded Daniel Altmaier of Germany, winning 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-4 in two hours and 45 minutes.

In a rematch of their Roland-Garros juniors clash eight years ago, won by Tsitsipas, the ninth-seeded Greek star reached the third round in Paris for the sixth time. He outpointed the 83rd-ranked upset-minded German 119-103 by hitting 54 winners to overcome 27 unforced errors.

“I don’t get to play against single backhand guys too often, so it is like I am getting a taste of my own tennis,” Tsitsipas said after winning his 26th match of the season, 15 of them on clay. “It is very identical and a type of ID a single backhand player brings to the court. It can be very effective on court, opening up the court, creating much more topspin. It brings a different challenge playing single backhand guys. I don’t usually play against them.

“My brain operates in a different rotation, to come up with some good shots because they have the advantage of opening up the court more and hitting with extra topspin. This is something I had to deal with and find solutions. Today was great. I was down on the score and then I came back and I thought my tennis was really nice.”

Tsitsipas, who is 23-7 lifetime at Roland-Garros, will face either No. 49 Lorenzo Sonego of Italy or No. 44 Zhang Zhizhen of China in the third round.

Meanwhile, also on Court Suzanne-Lenglen, ninth seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia needed three sets to defeat No. 77 Camila Osorio of Colombia, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3, in an hour and 45 minutes. She struck 31 winners to 16 for Osorio and outpointed her opponent 85-74.

The victory improved Jabeur to 3-0 lifetime against Osorio and 15-4 in the second round of Grand Slams (including 5-0 in Paris) and advanced her to the third round of a major for the first time in 2024. Next, she will play China’s Wang Xiyu or No. 31 seed Leylah Fernandez of Canada.

“I am hanging in there. I’m trying to get back to my level or at least very close to the level I was in,” Jabeur said in her post-match news conference. “It’s not easy, you know. But nothing is sure about tennis. You can play unbelievable and lose, and you can play s–ty and win.”

As the afternoon wound down, No. 6 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia extended his perfect record versus Spaniards on clay courts to 14-0 following his 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 win over Pedro Martinez in two hours and a minute. It took Rublev three match points to put away the 48th-ranked Martinez in their first meeting, but he was successful in winning his 24th match of the season.

Rublev, a two-time Paris quarterfinalist, hit 56 winners and broke Martinez’s serve five times. Next, he will face either 90th-ranked Frenchman Alexandre Muller or No. 35 Matteo Arnaldi of Italy.

While much attention was focused on the Iga SwiatekNaomi Osaka blockbuster going on in Court Philippe-Chatrier, across the grounds in Court Suzanne-Lenglen, No. 3 seed Coco Gauff of the United States was engaged in her second-round match against 131st-ranked qualifier Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia, who was a 2021 Roland-Garros semifinalist.

Gauff won her 51st match at a major with a 6-3, 6-4 victory completed in 91 minutes, in which she outpointed her opponent 71-57. It was her second straight victory this week against a qualifier and advanced her either No. 30 seed Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine or No. 68 Wang Yafan of China. Gauff is through to the the third round in Paris for the fourth straight year.

It was really slow today, so I felt like my balls weren’t bouncing as much as normal,” said the 20-year-old Gauff, who struck 23 winners, including 17 from her forehand side. “I think it’s just with the humidity from all the rain. It was very slow, which I think maybe catered to her game a little more.”

A total of 14 matches (five men’s singles, three women’s singles, two men’s doubles and four women’s doubles) were interrupted when the rain arrived about noon Paris Time. Among those who were on court when the rain started to fall were: No. 8 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland against Brandon Nakashima of the United States on Court Simonne-Mathieu as well as 15th-seeded American Ben Shelton against Kei Nishikori of Japan on Court 7.

These matches will resume as part of Thursday’s packed order of play – but don’t be surprised if it rains, again.

Wednesday’s Roland-Garros results

Thursday’s Roland-Garros order of play

By the numbers

There are 16 Americans (six men and 10 women) through to the second round of Roland-Garros this year, which is the most since there were 17 two years ago. Last year, there were 15. By comparison, there are nine French (five men and four women) through to the second round this year.

“Quotable …”

“I was fist pumping, I was focused, I was there, I was present. So, I’m pleased with the way at least I behaved or had a mind-set on the court. That was something that I was looking for. And where are you going to feel that way if not in Grand Slams?”

— Top seed Novak Djokovic, on Tuesday during his post-match news conference, following his 6-4, 7-6 (3), 6-4 first-round win over Pierre-Hugues Herbert.