» Sports » French Open: Sense of normality returns; Thiem ousted

French Open: Sense of normality returns; Thiem ousted

Last updated on: May 23, 2022 00:39 IST
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Sloane Stephens

IMAGE: Sloane Stephens of the United States plays a backhand volley against Jule Niemeier. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The first Grand Slam tournament without any COVID-19 restrictions since the pandemic started in early 2020 kicked off under menacing skies at Roland Garros on Sunday.

The French Open was the first major to be hit by the pandemic when it was postponed two years ago but all safety measures were lifted for this tournament, giving the fortnight a welcome sense of normality again.

Thousands of mask-free spectators flocked into the stadium before play started at 1100 local time (0900GMT) as Roland Garros opened its gates for the start of the main tournament.


The highlight of the day will be teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz starting his campaign against Argentine Juan Ignacio Londero in the last match on Chatrier.

The French Open is the only of the four majors to start on a Sunday.

World number one and defending champion Novak Djokovic is due to make his return to Grand Slam action on Monday after he was not allowed to take part in the Australian Open because of his refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Serbian is bidding to match 13-times French Open champion Rafael Nadal's men's record of 21 Grand Slam titles and the two are on a quarter-final collision course.

Iga Swiatek, the hot favourite in the women's draw, is scheduled to play her first match on Monday or Tuesday.

Jabeur exits French Open after shock defeat by Linette

Ons Jabeur

IMAGE: Tunisia's Ons Jabeur in action during her first round match against Poland's Magda Linette. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

Tunisian Ons Jabeur became the first major casualty on the opening day of the French Open when the in-form sixth seed crashed out with a 3-6, 7-6(4), 7-5 loss to Poland's Magda Linette.

Jabeur, seen as one of the big threats to world number one Iga Swiatek at the claycourt Grand Slam, came to Paris at a career-high ranking and with a tour-leading 17 wins on the surface.

With her win in Madrid and runner-up finishes in Rome and Charleston, it seemed like Jabeur would have an easy outing against Linette when she made a strong start on Court Philippe Chatrier under overcast skies.

The 27-year-old suffered an early break of serve before breezing through the opening set in 37 minutes before Linette, who was ranked 56th before the start of the second major of the year, raised her game.

Linette, 30, had only defeated Jabeur in the first of their four meetings back in 2013 but she staged an inspired fightback in the second set, saving four breakpoints to level the match in the tiebreak.

As drops of rain fell on the main showcourt, Jabeur's level also dipped and her unforced errors climbed and she made her frustration evident by kicking balls away after losing points.

Linette, who lost to Jabeur in the third round last year, went up 4-2 in the third set but saw her advantage slip away when Jabeur broke her serve back to stay alive.

But the Pole sealed the match when the Tunisian wasted a 40-0 lead in the 12th game and found the net on match point to be broken for the second time in the set.

"I had so many tough matches with Ons and last year here I lost to her in the third round so I knew how difficult it's going to be," Linette said on court.

"She was playing so well all this time. I knew I have to be focused and play every single point and try to make her uncomfortable. I am happy that I just managed to fight for every single point."

Linette will next play Martina Trevisan of Italy or Briton Harriet Dart.

Twice runner-up Thiem crashes out at first hurdle in Paris

Dominic Thiem

IMAGE: Austria's Dominic Thiem reacts during his first round match against Bolivia's Hugo Dellien. Photograph: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

Twice French Open finalist Dominic Thiem crashed out of the tournament in the first round, losing in straight sets to Bolivian world number 87 Hugo Dellien.

Austrian Thiem, who has failed to win a match at any of the tournaments he has played since his wrist injury comeback in March, made 42 unforced errors as his once dominant claycourt game deserted him.

Dellien, comfortable on the surface after battling through the qualifiers to reach the main draw in all five claycourt tournaments preceding Paris, did not have to wait long for his chance.

He earned his first break point in Thiem's opening service game and broke him on his second to race through the first set.

Two quick breaks in the second wrapped it up for Dellien, with Thiem, who injured his wrist in Mallorca in 2021 and required surgery, struggling with for consistency throughout.

He capitulated 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in just over two hours.

Clinical Zverev eases into second round

Alexander Zverev

IMAGE: Germany's Alexander Zverev in action during his first round match against Austria's Sebastian Ofner. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

German third seed Alexander Zverev produced a clinical performance to kick off his French Open campaign with a 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 win against Austrian qualifier Sebastian Ofner.

The 25-year-old Zverev, who reached the semi-finals last year at Roland Garros, came to Paris with strong clay-court form behind him, having reached the final in Madrid and making semi-final runs at Monte-Carlo and Rome.

On a balmy evening he dominated proceedings from the start on Court Suzanne Lenglen against his opponent, ranked 218th in the world.

Zverev did not face a single breakpoint on his own serve while breaking Ofner twice in the opening set and once in each of the next two, and he closed out the contest in an hour and 49 minutes with his 13th ace.

He will next face the winner of the match between Serbian Dusan Lajovic and Sebastian Baez of Argentina.

Fourth seed Sakkari admits to stress in opening win over Burel

Maria Sakkari

IMAGE: Greece's Maria Sakkari in action during her first round match against France's Clara Burel. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

Fourth seed Maria Sakkari admitted she suffered a small bout of nerves in her first round 6-2, 6-3 win over Clara Burel at the French Open but promised to improve so her parents will get to see her in the later stages of the tournament.

Last year's semi-finalist was never troubled by the 21-year-old French player but said she would need to cut down on her mistakes after making 29 unforced errors.

"I want to do well here. People want to come see me play," Sakkari told a news conference. "My parents want to come here later in the tournament so I want to be here for as long as possible."

"It's always tough to play against a local. I think I handled my stress, handled the stress of the first round, extremely well. My tennis was not 10 out of 10 but I am happy."

The 26-year-old's power was too much for Burel, who struggled with her serve and made five double faults in the first set alone, including one on set point.

"You cannot expect to play a perfect match when it's a first round of a Grand Slam. A lot of things won't go as you have planned or practised," she said.

"Obviously my baseline game has to just improve and maybe reduce the unforced errors," Sakkari said.

Burel improved in the second, breaking early and forcing Sakkari, who will move up to third in the world when the rankings are published on Monday, into a string of errors.

Sakkari, however, remained composed to go 4-3 up and break Burel again when the world number 94 double-faulted.

She then held serve to set up a second-round match against Czech Karolina Muchova when Burel sent a forehand long on Sakkari's first match point.

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