Roland Garros: Could This Be The Year Kerber Finally Wins It?

Angelique Kerber (photo: Jürgen Hasenkopf)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, May 25, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Two nights ago, former World No. 1 Angelique Kerber of Germany survived a thrilling three-set drama with Poland’s Magdalena Frech, saving two match points to win and advance to the second round. For nearly two-and-a-half hours, the three-time major champion captivated a small but vocal Court 6 audience that cheered wildly for her.

Energized and coming off last week’s Strasbourg championship run – her fourth career title on clay – Kerber’s 2-6, 6-3, 7-5 win over the 89th-ranked Frech earned her the lead-off match in Court Philippe-Chatrier Wednesday against 19-year-old French wild card Elsa Jacquemot, the second-youngest player left in the draw, and winner of the French Open junior girls’ title two years ago.

The World No. 17 Kerber, one of seven active players to register over 100 Grand Slam match wins, arrived for her second-round match against the 215th-ranked Jacquemot carrying a six-match winning streak. On Sunday, she beat No. 68 Kaja Juvan of Slovenia in three hours and 16 minutes to win the WTA 250 Strasbourg title, her first of the year and 14thof her career.

In just over two hours today, the 34-year-old Bremen native won 6-1, 7-6 (2) in back of hitting 36 winners and breaking Jacquemot’s serve four times. The French teen countered with 44 winners but also committed 40 unforced errors. The victory improved Kerber’s 2022 win-loss record to 9-6 (7-2 on clay) and advanced her to the third round as she continues her quest for her first Roland Garros crown. It’s the only major that Kerber has never won despite reaching the quarterfinals in Paris twice. Is this her year to break through and achieve a career slam? Anything’s possible.

After Kerber beat Frech Monday night for her first Roland Garros win since her 2018 quarterfinal run, she admitted: “I think there is no secret. I just put everything I had today on court. I left my heart on court.

“To have the crowd like this here, it’s unbelievable. Especially in the third set, they pushed me through. To have all the support as all the fans with you, celebrating every single ball. … I was just trying as well to enjoy this, because it was such a great moment on court with the fans.”

After Kerber secured the win over Frech and shook hands, she broke into a big smile and did a little dance to celebrate the moment. “I was just trying to believe in myself, taking the I confidence that I got from Strasbourg,” she said. “I know that I can turn around matches with match point down, and I was just dying to play point by point and run for every ball.”

Zverev saves match point, beats Baez in five sets

World No. 3 and third seed Alexander Zverev of Germany fought off elimination in the final set against Argentina’s Sebastian Baez. He trailed 4-5, 30-40 but found the reserve to win, 2-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 7-5,  in three hours and 36 minutes on Court Philippe-Chatrier. Zverev improved to 8-1 in five-set matches at Roland Garros.

Afterward, Zverev praised the 36th-ranked Baez, who recently won his first tour-level title at Estoril in the run up to Paris. “This is the worst he [Baez] will probably ever feel on a tennis court right now, this moment,” he said. “It was such an incredible match, and I know it just too well because I lost the US Open final from being two sets to love up.

“You always get better from it and I wish him nothing but the best. He’s an unbelievably great kid, and he’s going to do a lot of great things in this sport I think.”

Zverev, who came back from a 0-2 set deficit, mustered 12 aces and hit 42 winners to 46 unforced errors. He converted seven of 11 break points against Baez, who countered with 37 winners and 47 unforced errors of his own. Zverev outpointed Baez 151-136. Next, he will face 75th-ranked American Brandon Nakashima, a 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-2 winner over No. 58 Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands.

“You just have to find a way,” Zverev added. “You talk about mental strength, you talk about some players, the greats, Roger [Federer], Rafa [Nadal], Novak [Djokovic], they always find a way in the most difficult moments. That’s why they are who they are. I’m never going to be on their level, but I’m trying to get closer to them and it’s definitely something that you need to do.”

“It was a tough match today,” said Baez, who went 9-5 in the European clay season. “I think I had many chances in the five sets, but Alexander is a good player and in the difficult moments he played maybe better than me. So I have to learn a lot of things [for] the future [from] this match.

“This is the best part, and I try to say to my coach. Maybe it’s hard, but sometimes this is for learning and to be better in the future.”

Alcaraz’s legend grows as he escapes marathon match with victory

After saving a match point in the fourth set while down two-sets-to-one against fellow Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas, then winning the fourth set in a tie-break, World No. 6 and sixth seed Carlos Alcaraz saved his best Houdini magic trick for the end.

Alcaraz escaped an 0-3 deficit in the deciding set – never gave up and stayed focused – and went on to beat the 44th-ranked Ramos-Vinolas, 6-1, 6-7 (7), 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-4, in four hours and 34 minutes on Court Simonne-Mathieu. The victory, which was his third in three meetings against Ramos-Violas, advanced Alcaraz into the third round.

The 19-year-old Alcaraz, who finished with 10 aces and hit 74 winners to 74 unforced errors, won his 30th match of the year against an opponent 15 years his senior by being patient and never getting too down on himself. After breaking Ramos-Vinolas for just the eighth time in 31 attempts to go ahead 5-4 in the final set, Alcaraz served out the victory at love and the celebration was on. Alcaraz outpointed Ramos-Vinolas 186-166.

“Pressure is a privilege for this young man,” Hall of Famer Martina Navratilova, who was analyzing the match for Tennis Channel, said after Alcaraz secured match point. “A heartbreaker for Ramos-Vinolas, who had a match point. Couldn’t get it down, but this is what a true champion [like Alcaraz] does when he’s not playing at his best. He struggled with his consistency but just kept fighting and fighting. At the end, he won the match and won the hearts of many Parisians.”

During his on-court interview, Alcaraz was asked how he felt after such a big battle. “Well, I feel tired,” he said, which broke the tension and drew some laughter from the crowd. “I’m happy. It was a great battle. I knew it was going to be a tough match. We fought until the last point. I’m so happy with the performance today.”

Nadal notches 300th Grand Slam match victory

As Rafael Nadal chases after a record-extending 14th Roland Garros singles title this year, he achieved another milestone in his certain Hall of Fame career Wednesday evening when he earned his 300th career Grand Slam victory.

Nadal defeated Corentin Moutet of France, a 139th-ranked wild card entrant, 6-3, 6-1, 6-4, in two hours and nine minutes on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

The World No. 5 from Spain became only the third man to reach the 300-win plateau at Grand Slams. He trails Roger Federer’s 369 wins and Novak Djokovic’s 324.

“I’m happy I am through in three sets, that’s an important fact for me and that gives me the chance to keep working tomorrow and try to be ready for after tomorrow against a tough opponent,” Nadal said. That opponent would be No. 26 seed Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands. “So let’s see. I am happy about a lot of things I did tonight, so let’s try to keep going and keep improving tomorrow.”

Nadal improved to 10-0 against French opposition at Roland Garros, including 30-2 in sets. Nadal is 96-13 overall against French opposition and has won 16 straight.

Auger-Aliassime on point and into the third round

What a difference a round makes. After enduring and surviving a five-set drama in his opening round match, No. 9 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime had an easier go of it in his second-round match, easing past Argentine qualifier Camilo Ugo Carabelli, 6-0, 6-3, 6-4, in two hours and 15 minutes to advance to the third time in Paris for the first time.

After coming back from two sets down to beat 122nd-ranked Peruvian qualifier Juan Pablo Varillas on Sunday, which secured his first career win at Roland Garros, Auger-Aliassime faced little trouble against No. 155 Carabelli, who was appearing in just his second tour-level match after qualifying for a major main draw for the first time. Ugo Carabelli recently won an ATP Challenger Tour title on clay in Buenos Aires last month.

The World No. 9 Auger-Aliassime struck 41 winners to just six for Ugo Carabelli. Next, the 21-year-old Canadian will face No. 55 Filip Krajinovic of Serbia, who defeated 223rd-ranked Croatian qualifier Borna Gojo, 7-6 (5), 6-2, 5-7, y6-1, as he aims to build upon reaching at least the quarterfinals at the past three Grand Slams, including the semifinals at last year’s US Open.

“It was a better start than my first round, for sure,” Auger-Aliassime said during his post-match press conference. “I think that gave me confidence that if I kept going this way and won my service games and stayed aggressive and tried to dominate, I would give myself a good chance to win in straight sets.

“Today there were positives, and there were things that didn’t satisfy me. But in the end, I was able to win all my service games. So, that’s already a very good point. Then, I won in three straight sets. That’s what I wanted today, and that’s what was most important.”

Sakkari is fifth Top-10 women’s seed sent home

Former Czech Top 20 Karolina Muchova knocked off 2021 Roland Garros semifinals and current No. 4 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4), in two hours and 28 minutes on Court Suzanne-Lenglen.

The World No. 3 Sakkari became the fifth Top-10 seed to lose in the first three days of this year’s French Open after losing to No. 81 Muchova, who is back on the WTA Tour in just her fourth tournament since last year’s US Open after dealing with a lengthy abdominal injury, has now won back-to-back matches in Paris for just the second time. Muchova’s win was her sixth career win over a Top 10 opponent.

It took Muchova eight set points to win the opener against Sakkari, then she overcame losing a couple of early-leads in the second set. Muchova outpointed Sakkari 104-92.

Next, Muchova will face No. 27 seed Amanda Anisimova of the United States, a 2019 French Open semifinalist.

Around Roland-Garros

Second round play began for both the men and women as the original 128-player draws have been cut in half to 64 following three days of action to complete the first-round at the year’s second major.

• Men’s top seed Novak Djokovic of Serbia has made the French Open third round every year since 2005. On Wednesday, Djokovic hit 40 winners to 19 unforced errors and garnered his 83rd Roland Garros victory with a 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory over No. 38 Alex Molcan of Slovakia in two hours and 15 minutes on Court Suzanne-Lenglen.

“I’m pleased with the way I’m feeling on the court [and] the way I’ve been striking the ball,” Djokovic said after his win. “I think today was also under challenging conditions and playing against a specialist on clay, someone that is a tricky opponent and coming off from the [Lyon] final last week. It was never going to be an easy match, but I thought I performed very well.”

Djokovic’s win advanced him to face No. 195 Aljaz Beene of Slovenia, who advanced with a 4-6, 7-4, 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory over No. 149 Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay.

• No. 10 seed Cameron Norrie of Great Britain reached the Roland Garros third round for the second straight year after beating 160th-ranked Australian qualifier Jason Kubler, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3, in two hours and 29 minutes on Court 6. Norrie struck 36 winners and won 70 percent of his net point chances to advance. Next, Norrie will play No. 21 seed Karen Khachanov of Russia, a 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (1), 6-3 winner over No. 90 Hugo Dellien of Bolivia.

Other men’s seeded winners include: No. 15 Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, who beat No. 87 Jaume Munar of Spain, 2-6, 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-2, 6-2; No. 18 Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, who defeated No. 279 Borna Coric of Croatia, 6-0, 6-4, 6-3; and No. 26 Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands, who advanced by retirement over No. 51 Fabio Fognini of Italy, ahead 6-4, 7-6 (2), 3-2.

• No. 47 Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus secured her second win over Great Britain’s 12th-seeded Emma Raducanu in the past eight months. She eliminated the World No. 12 and reigning US Open champion 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 in two hours and four minutes on Court Suzanne-Lenglen. Sasnovich broke Raducanu’s serve five times and outpointed her 96-73 to move into the third round against No. 21 seed Angelique Kerber of Germany.

Raducanu finished the clay season 6-5 and has reached the second round in her debut at all four majors going back to last year’s Wimbledon.

• In a battle of former Roland Garros semifinalists, No. 15 seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus beat Germany’s 65th-ranked Andrea Petkovic, 6-1, 7-6 (3), in an hour and 48 minutes, twice overcoming being a break down. Next, she will play No. 23 seed Jil Teichmann of Switzerland, who defeated 172nd-ranked Serbian qualifier Olga Danilovic, 6-4, 6-1, in 78 minutes. It marked the first time in 11 tries that Teichmann has advanced to the third round of a Grand Slam.

• No. 14 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland hit 17 winners and defeated Bianca Andreescu of Canada, 6-2, 6-4, in an hour and 21 minutes on Court Philippe-Chatrier. Meanwhile, No. 17 seed Leylah Fernandez of Canada advanced over No. 56 Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic, 6-3, 6-2, while No. 31 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium moved into her 17th straight major third round by walkover against No. 69 Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic, who withdrew after testing positive for COVID-19. No. 32 seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic was upset by 127th-ranked Australian wild card Daria Seville, 6-4, 6-2.

• Defending men’s doubles champions and this year’s No. 3 seeds Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert, both of France, were upset in the opening round by Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen, both of Belgium, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3, in two hours and 21 minutes on Court 9.

• Defending women’s doubles champion Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic pulled out Wednesday after disclosing on her Instagram that she had tested positive for COVID-19. She won last year’s title with Katerina Siniakova and the Czech pair were seeded first in this year’s competition. On Monday, Krejcikova lost in the opening round of singles to French teenager Diane Parry while defending her singles title won at Roland Garros last year.

Wednesday’s French Open results

Thursday’s French Open order of play

By the numbers

Seventeen Americans – 10 women and seven men – advanced to the second round of the singles main draw at the French Open. It marks the second consecutive year 17 or more U.S. players combined to advance to the second round. The last time it happened in consecutive years was 1994-95.

On Wednesday, four American seeded players – men’s 23rd seed John Isner and No. 27 Sebastian Korda and women’s No. 18 seed Coco Gauff and No. 27 seed Amanda Anisimova each won their second-round matches to advance to the third round. However, men’s 13th seed Taylor Fritz committed 30 unforced errors to just 17 winners and was upset by 131st-ranked Spanish qualifier Bernabe Zapata Miralles, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3. It’s the first time Zapata Miralles has reached the third round of a major.

Isner beat 210th-ranked French wild card Gregoire Barrere, 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (5), and Korda took out No. 70 Richard Gasquet of France, 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-3, while Gauff advanced over No. 60 Alison van Uytvanck of Belgium, 6-1, 7-6 (4), and Anisimova took care of 100th-ranked Croatian qualifier Donna Vekic, 6-4, 6-1. Additionally, 64th-ranked American Sloane Stephens, a 2018 Roland Garros semifinalist, upset No. 26 seed Sorana Cirstea of Romania, 3-6, 6-2, 6-0.

“Quotable …”

“You have to fight in tennis, you know. I think it’s part of the game, as well. Everyone can play tennis. At the end, it’s just one, two points which decides matches. You know, I have it inside of me. If it’s coming out of me, I’m playing my best tennis, because I really want it.”

– World No. 17 Angelique Kerber of Germany, following her second-round win against French teenager Elsa Jacquemot on Wednesday.