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PIX: Different French Open, same start for Nadal

Last updated on: September 29, 2020 08:08 IST
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Images from Monday's action at the French Open.

Rafael Nadal

IMAGE: Rafael Nadal looks on while wearing a face mask. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

It might be an unusual French Open but claycourt master Rafael Nadal started his quest for a record-extending 13th French Open title in the usual way with a straightforward 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 first-round win against Belarusian Egor Gerasimov on Monday.

The Spaniard, looking to equal Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam men’s singles titles, is used to slow starts at Roland Garros and this year’s debut was no different.

On the revamped court Philippe Chatrier, whose roof stayed open throughout, Nadal converted all of his five break points to set up a meeting with American Mackenzie McDonald.

The second seed, who had complained about the new balls being too heavy, did not appear too bothered in front of some 200 fans, wrapping up the match with a service winner.

“It’s a different Roland Garros. Of course we play in the same place. But the conditions are completely different than any other Roland Garros that we’ve played,” said Nadal. The French Open was moved from its usual May-June spot to Sept. 27-Oct. 11 amid the COVID-19 crisis, meaning players have to deal with rough weather conditions - colder, more humid.

Nadal arrived in Paris with no title on clay under his belt after being beaten by Argentine Diego Schwartzmann in the quarter-finals of the Italian Open, but Monday’s match gave him reasons to be optimistic.

“I played quite a solid match when I was serving, no? I was playing some good points. I did some good forehands, winners down the line, that’s a key shot for me,” he said.

“And then I had to play a little bit longer. I played sometimes too short. But in general terms, that’s a normal first match of Roland Garros, no? Coming with the situation that I am coming.”
With the Spaniard’s topspin having less of a devastating effect on the heavier clay, Nadal had to adapt and play more aggressively than usual, taking the ball earlier to unsettle his opponent -- a tactic that worked perfectly.

He broke in the fifth game as he bagged the opening set in solid fashion, and he stole his opponent’s serve again in the third game of the second.

With a mountain to climb after falling two sets behind and as blue skies ate away the dark clouds, Gerasimov broke for 2-0 in the third set.

Nadal quickly regained control, however, and levelled for 2-2, with Gerasimov twisting his ankle on the last point of the fourth game.

The physiotherapist taped the Belarusian’s ankle and play resumed after a short interruption with Nadal breaking again for 3-2.

Gerasimov’s challenge was fading as Nadal piled on the pressure to seal a routine win, moving a step closer to a potential semi-final with last year’s runner-up, Austrian third seed Dominic Thiem.

Thiem proves too good for Cilic

Austria's Dominic Thiem celebrates winning his first round match against Croatia's Marin Cilic.

IMAGE: Austria's Dominic Thiem celebrates winning his first round match against Croatia's Marin Cilic. Photograph: Christian Hartmann/Reuters

Dominic Thiem showed no sign of a hangover from his US Open triumph as he began his Roland Garros campaign with an impressive 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 win over Marin Cilic.

 

Third seed Thiem, beaten by Rafael Nadal in the last two French Open finals, was handed a tough first round against the Croatian former US Open champion, but was straight into the groove under the roof on Court Phillipe Chatrier.

Cilic, who before Thiem's Flushing Meadows win this month was the most recent first-time Grand Slam champion courtesy of his New York title in 2014, made things difficult for Thiem with some aggressive tactics but faltered at crucial moments.

Thiem broke the Cilic serve at 4-4 in the first set and then came from 0-40 down to seal the opening set.

Using his powerful single-handed backhand to damaging effect on the heavy claycourt, Thiem dominated the second set.

The 27-year-old lapsed briefly to trail 0-2 in the third but switched on the afterburners to reel off five games in a row before 40th-ranked Cilic stopped the rot.

Thiem had to save a break point when he served at 5-3 and claimed his fourth win in four meetings with Cilic as the Croat netted a return off a second serve.

Serena digs deep to find a way past Ahn

Serena Williams needed five match-points to seal the victory over fellow-American Kristie Ahn.

IMAGE: Serena Williams needed five match-points to seal the victory over fellow-American Kristie Ahn. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

Sixth seed Serena Williams battled sluggish conditions to defeat fellow-American Kristie Ahn 7-6(2), 6-0 to open her campaign at the French Open.

Playing against an opponent she defeated at the same stage at the US Open less than a month ago, Williams found herself trailing twice in the opening set at the Court Philippe Chatrier but rallied each time to force a tiebreaker.

Williams, who has won three of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles at Roland Garros, raised her level in the tiebreaker and did not look back from there, handing the 102nd-ranked Ahn a bagel in the second set.

The 39-year-old had to dig deep to find a way to win points in the cold and heavy conditions and needed five match points to seal the victory and set up a second round meeting against Tsvetana Pironkova, who earlier beat Andrea Petkovic 6-3, 6-3.

Muguruza survives three-hour battle against Zidansek

Garbine Muguruza

IMAGE: Spain's Garbine Muguruza celebrates after winning her quarter final against Belarus' Victoria Azarenka.Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Reuters

Former champion Garbine Muguruza said there was no such thing as a relaxing match these days after narrowly avoiding a first-round exit at the French Open when she battled for three hours to beat Slovenia's Tamara Zidansek 7-5, 4-6, 8-6.

The Spaniard, who reigned on the clay in 2016, looked in big trouble as she trailed 3-0 in the final set to the world number 83 but, unlike several other big names who are packing their bags, the 26-year-old survived to fight another day.

Zidansek lost her only previous main-draw match at Roland Garros but asked all sorts of questions of Muguruza who struggled to hit through a tricky opponent boasting a rock-solid defence and a nice line in disguised drop shots .

Muguruza needed treatment for a blister on her hand at 3-4 in the final set and saved a break point in the next game.

She ended the match with 64 unforced errors but crucially played her best tennis when it mattered most, breaking the Zidansek serve at 6-6 with a crosscourt forehand winner before sealing victory on her first match point.

Former world number one Muguruza, playing in black leggings and a purple roll-neck zip-up top in the chilly conditions, had also hit back from 0-3 down to take the opening set.

But she dropped serve in the 10th game of the second to send the match to its gripping decider.

With another former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, last year's runner-up Marketa Vondrousova and three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber all losing in round one, Muguruza said she was just happy to make it through.

"Definitely the level has increased. Now everyone is more fit and prepared, and physically it's a huge difference compared to probably a decade ago," Muguruza told reporters.

"It's always like little details at the end between the great players and the good players. Especially in first rounds, you can always have surprises. There are no relaxing matches."

Eighth seed Monfils crashes out against Kazakh Bublik

Gael Monfils

IMAGE: France's Gael Monfils looks dejected after his first round match against Kazakhstan's Alexander Bublik. Photograph: Charles Platiau/Reuters

Unseeded Kazakh Alexander Bublik upset local hope and eighth seed Gael Monfils 6-4, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 in the opening round of the French Open for his first career win over a top-10 player in six attempts.

Monfils, ranked number nine in the world, started strongly to run up a 3-0 lead in the opening set but Bublik stormed back into the match by winning five straight games to take the set.

The Frenchman had a set point in the second but once again saw his advantage wither away as the 23-year-old Bublik, ranked 49th in the world, took a 2-0 lead with a third break of serve in the set.

Monfils, 34, looked out of gas in the third and somehow managed to find some energy to break the Kazakh twice to stay in the running but it was not enough as Bublik closed out the match with a double break in the fourth set.

It was the third successive opening-match loss for Monfils in as many tournaments since the resumption of the professional tour after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I don't play well, it's as simple as that," said Monfils.

"I'm going to go home, take some time for myself, train and see when I'm going to start competing again."

The 2008 French Open semi-finalist had 12 double faults in the match, many at crucial moments, and his 58th unforced error sealed a second-round spot for Bublik on his second match point.

Kvitova sails into second round

Petra Kvitova

IMAGE: Twice Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova lost only two points on serve in the opening set in her demolition of France's Oceane Dodin. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Czech seventh seed Petra Kvitova put in a power-packed show to beat Oceane Dodin 6-3, 7-5 on Monday, and breeze into the second round of the French Open.

The 30-year-old twice Wimbledon champion lost only two points on serve in the opening set in her first clash with the French player, who has not got past the first round of a Grand Slam event since 2017.

Donin found her feet under the closed roof of Court Philippe Chatrier in the second set, which saw an early trade of service breaks, but Kvitova raised her game to get the break in the 11th game and close in on victory.

The Czech, who missed last year's tournament at Roland Garros due to an arm injury, sealed victory with a forehand volley for her 30th winner and will next play either Italian Jasmine Paolini, who beat Aliona Bolsova of Spain 6-4, 6-3.

Bertens sets up second-round clash with Errani

Kiki Bertens

IMAGE: The Netherlands's Kiki Bertens in action during her first round match against Ukraine's Katarina Zavatska. Photograph: Charles Platiau/Reuters

Fifth seed Kiki Bertens recovered from a poor start against French Open debutant Katarina Zavatska to reach the second round with a 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 victory.

Dutchwoman Bertens was all at sea in the first set as the 20-year-old Zavatska took advantage of her errors.

Ukraine's Zavatska needed eight set points to seal the opener but clay-court specialist Bertens, a semi-finalist here in 2016, began to shake off the rust to take the second set.

Zavatska faded in the third set and was unfortunate as she broke racket strings three times in the space of two games midway through the second set.

Bertens, who sat out the US Open and retired with an Achilles injury on her return in Strasbourg last week, took full advantage and raced through the deciding set in 31 minutes.

She will play former runner-up Sara Errani in the next round after the Italian qualifier thrashed Olympic champion Monica Puig 6-2, 6-1 in her first Grand Slam match for two years.

Giustino feels 'too fresh' after French Open marathon win

While Frenchman Corentin Moutet was left wondering what went wrong in his marathon loss to Lorenzo Giustino in the first round of the French Open, his Italian opponent felt like going for a walk after more than six hours of play over two days.

Moutet was up a break twice in the decider before losing 0-6, 7-6(7), 7-6(3), 2-6, 18-16.

At six hours and five minutes, it was the second longest match at the French Open, after Fabrice Santoro beat Arnaud Clement in an all-French contest in six hours and 33 minutes in 2004.

Moutet lost the plot several times on court 14 where dozens of fans had gathered, forming by far the biggest crowd of the tournament which is admitting a maximum of 1,000 spectators a day amid the COVID-19 crisis.

"What's his magic potion?" the Frenchman asked during the fifth set.

"I can't manage a single drop shot while it's (usually) the only thing I can do," he also said to himself.

"It's hard to take mentally. I feel empty," he later told a news conference.

Giustino was in a much better mood, for obvious reasons.

Asked how he felt physically, the Italian qualifier said with a smile: "Perfect. I feel perfect. No. Perfect. Like tomorrow I go around a bit because I think I'm too fresh."

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IPL 2020

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