Djokovic, Sabalenka Escape Roland-Garros Rain, Advance To Third Round

Novak Djokovic (photo: Roland-Garros video)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, May 30, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

With 55 singles matches (27 men’s and 28 women’s) on Thursday’s Roland-Garros order of play, thanks to a rain-soaked Wednesday, in which the only completed matches – nine in all – were ones played under the covered roofs of the two biggest show courts, it was terribly ambitious that the year’s clay-court major would get back on schedule right away.

That’s because there were more rain delays. The few lucky ones like No. 10 seed Grigor Dimitrov, No. 27 seed Sebastian Korda, Matteo Arnaldi, Paula Badosa and Donna Vekic, who were first on court outside when play began at 11 a.m. Paris Time, made quick work of their opponents before the Parisian rains returned and blanketed Stade Roland-Garros.

By the time the second rain delay came at about 2:10 p.m. Paris Time, which lasted nearly three hours, only 10 matches (four men’s and six women’s) had been completed and three of those, which featured wins by No. 5 seed Daniil Medvedev, No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka and No. 4 seed Elena Rybakina, were played on Court Philippe-Chatrier and Court Suzanne-Lenglen with the roofs closed.

Another stoppage of play happened about 7:20 p.m. and the clay-colored tarps came back on across all outer courts, further interrupting the 11 matches that were in progress. By 8:15 p.m., play resumed and at 10:15 p.m. there were matches spread across 14 courts at Stade Roland-Garros.

Plenty of fans stayed late to cheer on their favorites, like out on the energetic Court 14. There, No. 13 seed Holger Rune of Denmark was pushed to five sets by No. 53 Flavio Cobolli of Italy for three hours and 50 and it took a 10-point match tie-break to decide the outcome. Rune, a French quarterfinalist each of the last two years, overcame a 5-0 deficit in the match tie-break to post a 6-4, 6-3, 3-6, 3-6, 7-6, (10-7) victory.  His next opponent will be 145th-ranked lucky loser Jozef Kovalik of Slovakia, who went the distance to upset No. 18 seed Karen Khachanov of Russia, 4-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.

By midnight, the only remaining match in progress was on Court 12 between No. 19 seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus and No. 38 Mirra Andreeva of Russia, into a third set — and, finally, won by Andreeva, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 at 1 a.m.

It took more than 13 hours after play first began but the singles draws were finally back on schedule.

Looking back, though, thank goodness for the covered show courts. Just ask men’s defending champion Novak Djokovic.

Djokovic moves step closer to fourth Roland-Garros title, remaining No. 1

World No. 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic continued his quest of winning a fourth Roland Garros title and 25th major crown on Thursday afternoon. The 37-year-old from Serbia defeated No. 63 Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2, in two hours and four minutes on Court Philippe-Chatrier to successfully advance to the third round for the 19th consecutive year.

Djokovic, who improved to 51-1 versus players ranked outside the Top 50 at Roland Garros, produced some of his best tennis against Carballes Baena. He hit 43 winners, made just 15 unforced errors, won 55 percent of his return points, converted seven of 12 break points and outpointed his opponent 92-59.

“I’m glad that I came through in both of the opening rounds in straight sets,” Djokovic said in a post-match interview with Tennis Channel’s Jon Wertheim. “Again, at the beginning, in the first set, I was challenged. He was playing very well, aggressive from the start. It took me a little bit of time to start swinging through the ball a bit looser. Crucial break to clinch the first set. After that, the second and third sets really went my way, dictating the play and doing things my way.”

Djokovic, who must reach at least the final at Roland-Garros to remain No. 1 in the PIF ATP Rankings, will play his third-round match against No. 30 seed Lorenzo Musetti of Italy, who defeated 37th-ranked French favorite Gaël Monfils, 7-5, 6-1, 6-4, in the Thursday evening featured match on Court Philippe-Chatrier that lasted two hours and 10 minutes.

“I haven’t had too many wins coming into Roland-Garros, so I have to lower my expectations but of course I always believe in myself and my capabilities,” Djokovic admitted. “I know what I am capable of doing. I’ve done it many times in my career. Going far in a Grand Slam has always been the goal, the last five years more-so than in the first 15 years of my career. I look forward to what’s coming up and hopefully I can deliver the goods.”

Sabalenka makes quick work of Uchijima, time for steak dinner

Women’s No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus got through to the third round quickly. The World No. 2 breezed past 83rd-ranked Japanese qualifier Moyuka Uchijima, 6-2, 6-2, in just 62 minutes to start the day on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

The 22-year-old Uchijima came into the second-round match with a 19-match winning streak in all competitions after winning six ITF titles on hard courts and clay over the past six months. Uchijima had not lost a set through three rounds of qualifying last week, which guaranteed her of a Roland-Garros debut, and she gave up just two games in her 6-1, 6-1 opening-round against win over 302nd-ranked qualifier Irene Burillo Escorihuela of Spain.

Sabalenka hit 27 winners and saved all four break points she faced. Afterward, in her on-court interview, Sabalenka said she was pleased with her level of play in which she outpointed her opponent 62-38. She was already planning her evening. “I’m super happy with the performance today,” she said. “I feel like going for a good steak.”

Up next for Sabalenka will be 139th-ranked Spaniard Paula Badosa, who eliminated No. 39 Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5, in two hours and a minute.

In her news conference, Sabalenka spoke fondly of Badosa. “She’s my favorite, I love her so much. I love to see her play, and she’s really a great fighter, so it’s always great matches,” she said.

“It’s always tough to play your friend, your really best friend on tour, I would say. “It’s always tough, but we know how to manage that. We know how to separate court and life. So, it’s always [a] great battle, great fight against her. I always enjoy playing against her. We’re good to separate things.”

After love-hate relationship, Medvedev becoming more comfortable on clay

Men’s fifth seed Daniil Medvedev advanced into the third round after his opponent, No. 57 Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia was forced to retire in the second set on Court Suzanne-Lenglen. The World No. 5 from Russia led 6-1, 5-0 after 55 minutes when play was stopped.

Medvedev hit 26 winners, made just 10 unforced errors and faced no break points. He outpointed Kecmanovic 50-25.

In an interview with Tennis Channel, the 28-year-old Medvedev said he’s becoming more comfortable with playing on clay, a surface he’s had a love-hate relationship with in the past.

“It’s getting better,” Medvedev said, smiling. “I don’t think I’ll ever really like it a lot, but I don’t hate it anymore. It’s my job to play tennis – I love to win – so, now, I feel like I know more and more I know how to play on it and how to win.”

While Medvedev reached a quarterfinal in Paris in 2021, he’s also suffered through five first-round exits, too. One thing’s certain, though, it doesn’t alter his mentality.

“I don’t think I fear anyone, to be honest,” he said. “What you fear is that the guy is going to play everything on the line, and that’s when they can beat you.

“Every time I advance to the second round at Roland-Garros, I play well after that. That’s what I’m going to try and do this year.”

Next, Medvedev, who is 9-7 lifetime at Roland-Garros and 8-3 on clay this season, will play either No. 31 seed Mariano Navone of Argentina or No. 34 Tomas Machac of the Czech Republic.

After emotional win against Nadal, Zverev resets against Goffin

World No. 4 Alexander Zverev is on an eight-match winning streak after winning the Rome Masters title earlier this month and advancing to the third round of Roland-Garros after defeating 14-time champion Rafael Nadal on Monday and former quarterfinalist of David Goffin on Thursday.

Zverev, who is the only player to reach the Paris semifinals in each of the last three years, beat the 115th-ranked Goffin, 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-2, in two hours and 23 minutes on Court Susanne-Lenglen under a closed roof in their sixth meeting. It was his 12th triumph this year on clay.

“Since the draw came out, the only thing the tennis world was talking about was that match [against Nadal],” Zverev said in his on-court interview with Mats Wilander, when he was asked how he’s handled his emotions this week. “He won the tournament 14 times, so he deserves all the credit and respect and all the acknowledgments he gets. So after I beat him I felt that I had already won the tournament, but in the end it is only a first round.

“You have to focus for another two weeks entirely and I am happy I had another two days off as I had to compose myself emotionally. I had to ground myself and get back to work and playing good tennis. I am extremely happy with the level today.”

The 27-year-old German No. 1, who is in search of his first major title, improved to 30-9 this season with his latest win. Next, he will play No. 26 seed Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands, who defeated No. 40 Luciano Darderi of Italy, 7-6 (2), 6-3, 6-3, in two hours and four minutes.

Around Roland-Garros

Men’s No. 7 seed Casper Ruud of Norway went the distance to beat No. 32 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain, 7-6 (5), 1-6, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, in four hours and eight minutes that captivated a late-night audience inside Court Suzanne-Lenglen. A Paris finalist in each of the past two years, Ruud garnered his season-leading 37th match win. It was his third career win over Davidovich Fokina. Next for the reigning Barcelona and Geneva champion is 28th seed Tomas Martin Etcheverry of Argentina, who advanced by retirement Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech, after they had split four sets over three hours and 12 minutes — ending at midnight.

• No. 10 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria advanced to the third round in Paris for the eighth time in an hour and 40 minutes over No. 42 Fabian Marozsan of Hungary, 6-0, 6-3, 6-4. Dimitrov won 89 percent of his first-serve points and hit 34 winners. He will face 104th-ranked Belgian qualifier Zizou Bergs, who rallied for a 3-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 win over No. 101 Maximilian Marterer of Germany, in the next round.

• No. 27 seed Sebastian Korda of the United States fired 13 aces in his 6-4, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 win over Soonwoo Kwon of South Korea to advance against No. 3 seed Carlos Alcaraz of Spain.

• No. 35 Matteo Arnaldi of Italy reached the third round of Roland-Garros for the first time after defeating 90th-ranked Frenchman Alexandre Muller, 6-4, 6-1, 6-3, and will be the next opponent for sixth seed Andrey Rublev of Russia.

• Other men’s seeds winning and advancing: No. 8  Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, No. 11 Alex de Minaur of Australia, No. 12 Taylor Fritz of the United States, No. 14 Tommy Paul of the United States, No. 15 Ben Shelton of the United States, No. 21 Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, and No. 23 Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina.

• Men’s seeds who lost: No. 18 Karen Khachanov of Russia, No. 19 Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan, No. 20 Sebastian Baez of Argentina, and No. 25 Frances Tiafoe of the United States.

• Meanwhile, women’s No. 4 seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan rallied from 4-2 down in the second set to beat No. 50 Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands, 6-3, 6-4, in 67 minutes on Court Suzanne-Lenglen. The World No. 4 hit 28 aces, including eight aces, and outpointed Rus 61-47.

“When I’m down, no one wants to play three sets,” Rybakina explained in her on-court interview. “Today I was 2-4 down, so I was trying to focus point by point and push myself. Energy wise, I wasn’t that happy today with myself.”

Next, Rybakina will next face No. 25 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, a 6-4, 6-3 winner over former Roland-Garros quarterfinalist Petra Martic of Croatia.

• Other women’s seeds winning and advancing: No. 5 Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, No. 7 Zheng Qinwen of China, No. 12 Jasmine Paolini of Italy, No. 14 Madison Keys of the United States, No. 15 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, No. 17 Liudmila Samsonova of Russia, No. 22 Emma Navarro of the United States, No. 30 Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine and No. 31 Leylah Fernandez of Canada.

• Women’s seeds who lost: No. 9 Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, No. 10 Daria Kasatkina of Russia, No. 11 Danielle Collins of the United States, No. 18 Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine, No. 27 Linda Noskova of the Czech Republic, and No. 32 Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic.

Thursday’s Roland-Garros results

Friday’s Roland-Garros order of play

By the numbers

Aryna Sabalenka has now reached at least the third round in each of her past 14 Grand Slam appearances. Her last loss before the third round of a major was against Victoria Azarenka in the 2020 US Open second round.

“Quotable …”

“I cried when I got off the court. But then I kind of realize I was watching Iga win this tournament last year, and I was pregnant. It was just my dream to be able to play her. When I kind of think of it like it that, I think I’m doing pretty well. And I’m also just trying not to be too hard on myself. I feel like I played her on her better surface. I’m a hardcourt kid, so I would love to play her on my surface and see what happens.”

Naomi Osaka of Japan, during her post-match news conference following her second-round loss to World No. 1 and defending champion Iga Swiatek on Wednesday.