Roland Garros: Djokovic Cruises Through Opening Match

Novak Djokovic (photo: Brigitte Urban)

STARNBERG/PARIS, September 29, 2020 (by Alessandro Boroch)

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic started his Roland Garros title bid on Tuesday with a hazard-free 6-0, 6-2, 6-3 win over Swedish prospect Mikael Ymer.

In front of a small crowd on Court Philippe-Chatrier, the 2016 Roland Garros champion hit 32 winners and managed to save nine of 11 break points to secure hist 16th consecutive first-round victory in Paris.

“I thought I started off extremely well, winning 6-Love first set is the best possible way to start a Grand Slam. This is exactly what my intentions will be, trying to get off the blocks very strong with a good intensity,” Djokovic said following his win.

Prior to the proceedings at the French Open, the 33-year-old Serb just lifted the trophy at the Rome Masters and thereby extended his win-loss record in 2020 to 31-1, which now improved to 32-1 with his win against Ymer.

Djokovic will next play Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania in the second round, who eased past clay-court specialist Hugo Dellien 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 on Court 11.

Rublev’s phenomenal comeback win over Querrey

Andrey Rublev just came from a brilliant week in Hamburg where he managed to win his first ATP 500 career title after a dramatic three-set final against Top 10 player Stefanos Tsitsipas. With a lot of match practice, but little familiarity with the conditions and new balls in Paris, Rublev started his first-round match against American veteran Sam Querrey shakily.

The 22-year-old Russian found a way to fight back from 2-5 and 1-5 down in the first two sets, but ultimately was not awarded with a set-win in either sets since he ended up losing in back-to-back tie-breaks.

Rublev had little time for self-discovery in the third set, as rain occurred, and play was shortly suspended due to a rain-delay. However, even after the short break, the match went on exactly as it left off, and it was again Querrey who ran away with the first break-lead, eventually serving for the match at 5-3. Despite the looming upset, Rublev stayed composed, did not play rash balls and was able to get back into the match, as he broke Querrey’s match-serving service game to 15.

From here on, the momentum completely switched. The World No. 12 from Russia won five consecutive games from 2-5 down and remained almost flawless in the following two sets, hitting 22 winners compared to just 4 unforced errors in total.

After three hours and 17 minutes, Rublev turned out victorious and became very emotional on Court Simonne-Mathieu following his greatest comeback-win in his career. He won by the score of 6-7(5), 6-7(4), 7-5, 6-4, 6-3.

Just as his fellow Hamburg final opponent Rublev, World No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas needed to complete a comeback from two sets down, prevailing 4-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 over Spanish clay-court grinder Jaume Munar to subsequently reach the second round in Paris.

After losing the first two sets, Tsitsipas only allowed his opponent one more break opportunity in the following three sets en route to his triumph. Furthermore, the reigning ATP Finals champion drastically improved his performance on serve, winning 46 of 61 first-service points.

“Playing a best-of-five [match] can be very challenging and I am really happy that I will walk away from [Court] Suzanne-Lenglen today with a win,” said Tsitsipas on court.

“I don’t think I’ve ever played a match like this before. The emotions and the nerves at the very beginning were not there, but [I made] slight adjustments and tried to find a way to win, a different way.”

It is the first time that Tsitsipas managed to secure a victory from two sets down.

Second seed Pliskova narrowly avoids an early exit

On the women’s side, No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova from Czech Republic avoided an early first-round exit in Paris, as she rallied back from a set down against qualifier Mayar Sherif to eventually secure a 6-7(9), 6-2, 6-4 victory after two hours and 15 minutes.

“I was just able to find a little bit better level than in the first set,” Pliskova told reporters in her post-match press conference. “Like never giving up, that’s the only thing which I can do no matter how it goes, because there is always a chance.”

Pliskova, who was forced to retire during her final against Simona Halep in Rome just eight days ago due to a lower back and leg injury, particularly struggled with Sherif’s brilliant drop shots today. It was the optimal tool to punish Pliskova’s sluggish movement on clay.

Despite her close loss, Sherif, known as “Egypt’s Golden Star”, made Egyptian tennis history by becoming the first from her country to qualify for the main draw at the French Open.

The upcoming task could barely be any tougher for 29-year-old Czech Pliskova, as she is facing unseeded 2017 Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko in the second round, who eased past Madison Brengle 6-2, 6-1 earlier the day.

Following her win over American player Brengle, Ostapenko spoke about her upcoming match against Pliskova in her press conference. “I mean, I played her many times. I kind of know how she plays. I’m just gonna try to enjoy the match and play my game,” she said.

“I know she serves very big, but in these conditions, I think everything is totally different, it’s just very different from normal conditions.

More seeds in action

This year’s Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, who received a double bagel against Victoria Azarenka in Rome just two weeks ago, had to go the distance against 21-year-old Russian prospect Liudmila Samsonova, but finally prevailed 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 after a little more than two hours. Next up for the fourth seed will be Romanian Ana Bogdan, who overcame last year’s Roland Garros doubles champion Timea Babos by the score of 6-4, 6-2.

World No. 30 Donna Vekic had to admit a straight-set loss against 25-year-old Irina Maria Bara, who did not drop a single set at this event yet after already fighting through the qualifying process. Vekic is still looking for some consistency in her game after splitting with her long-time coach Torben Beltz, having now lost seven of her last ten matches in 2020.

As for the men’s draw, seventh seed Matteo Berrettini eased past Canadian Vasek Pospisil 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 in just less than two hours. Pospisil has been dealing anything but good with the slow conditions in Paris, producing 45 unforced errors and only winning 52 per-cent of points with his strong serve.

World No. 10 Roberto Bautista Agut turned out victorious in the battle of Veterans against Frenchman Richard Gasquet, winning 7-6(5), 6-2, 6-1 after two hours. Down the road, Bautista Agut struck down 32 winners and hit just 6 unforced errors per set in average.

The last match on Court Philippe-Chatrier was played between rising-star and No. 9 seed Denis Shapovalov from Canada and experienced French player Gilles Simon, who turned pro in 2002, just three years after his Canadian opponent was born.

However, being the more experienced player did not lead to success today, as Shapovalov hit twice as many winners as Simon and proved a great performance at the net, which he likes to visit quite often with his aggressive style of play (won 34/48 points). Shapovalov knocked out Simon 6-2, 7-5, 5-7, 6-3 and will be eyeing with his first third-round appearance in Paris in his next match against Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena.