It was anything but a smooth Monday for Bianca Andreescu and Denis Shapovalov at the 2019 French Open.
A clearly rusty Andreescu, playing for the first time since March 25, was basically played to a standstill by No. 118-ranked, lucky-loser Marie Bouzkova. The 20-year-old Czech won the first set 7-5 before Andreescu took the second 6-4 as the clock showed 9:22 in the evening.
The players could have played a few more games but it made more sense to call it a day and begin with a new set on Tuesday – back on the same Court 14 but not before noon (6 a.m. in Canada).
As for Shapovalov, he ended a frustrating 2019 clay-court season with a 7-6(1), 6-3, 6-4 loss to No. 45-ranked Jan Lennard Struff of Germany.
He finishes 2-5 on clay in April and May and Monday’s match was like many he has played in recent weeks. He was competitive but just couldn’t find that little extra needed to pull off the victory.
He started gangbusters in the Court 7 match, with the crowd overflowing and largely cheering for the flashy 20-year-old guy from Richmond Hill, Ont. He led 3-0 and had a break point for 4-0 before the 29-year-old German began to turn things around, holding serve and then breaking back when Shapovalov double-faulted.
Shapovalov had a set point at 5-4 on the Struff serve but misfired long with a forehand service return. The set wound up being decided in a tiebreak when Shapovalov made forehand unforced errors into the net on his first two service points, leading to a Struff a double mini-break 4-0 lead. That was all he needed to wrap up the set.
The second set was even until 4-3 for Struff when he pushed Shapovalov to four deuces and finally got the break when the Canadian lefty hit a forehand wide. The German served out the set to love in the final game and was firmly in control the rest of the way.
A late bloomer, Struff has always been known as a big hitting but erratic player who often fell victim to nerves. But lately he has found a strong vein of form and his ground game is solid and his volleying – especially serving-and-volleying – was almost astoundingly good against Shapovalov. In recent weeks the 6-foot-5 Struff has beaten Shapovalov (Monte Carlo), David Goffin and Stefanos Tsitsipas (Barcelona) and Grigor Dimitrov and Marin Cilic (Rome). Ranked No. 63, No. 53 and No. 57 at the end of the past three years, Struff has actually improved with age as he closes in on 30.
“He played a great match today,” Shapovalov said about his opponent. “He’s one of these guys who’s kind of like a dark horse and he comes out of nowhere sometimes. When he’s feeling good and playing well, he’s a guy you don’t want to see in the draw.”
Shapovalov obviously regretted he didn’t take the chance to have a double-break 4-0 lead in the first set – and talked about how it fit a pattern of late. “You look at last week,” he said about his quarter-final at the ATP 250 event in Lyon. “I’m up 3-0 (final set tiebreak) against Benoit Paire and the guy turns it on – playing unbelievable in the tiebreak, wins the match. This time I’m up a break and he (Struff) played some phenomenal tennis.”
Referencing his 5-7, 6-3, 6-1 loss to Struff in Monte Carlo at his first clay-court event of the season, Shapovalov said, “today the level from both of us was way better. We had some insane points – it was good rallies from both of us.”
Summing up his 2-5 clay-court season, he said: “I feel that I could and should be winning these matches. But I’m a guy that can bounce back really quick – so I’m going to stay positive. It’s over now, the clay-court season, so I can put it behind me and try to learn from it and keep going forward.”
Next for him will be the ATP 250 Stuttgart grass-court event in two weeks where he’s entered along with fellow-Canadians Milos Raonic and Félix Auger-Aliassime.
In the meantime, he’s in the doubles at Roland-Garros with Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco. They will play Spanish pair Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez in the first round.
The big question about Andreescu’s return to competition, after a nine-week absence to heal her shoulder injury, was where would her game be?
Well it was probably exactly where it was logical for it to be – she didn’t have confidence in her shots. While there where flashes of the brilliance that saw her achieve that historic victory at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells in March, there were more patches of uncharacteristic errors that could only be explained by her competitive inactivity. The prime example was on Bouzkova’s second set point with her leading 6-5 in the first set. The Czech’s return of serve was short and set up for a routine forehand put-away for Andreescu. But she somehow mangled it into the net.
The second set was all service breaks until Andreescu held at 5-4 following a game that she won on a Bouzkova double fault.
It was remarkable how intense the red-faced and almost hyperventilating Bouzkova was – it was as if she was playing the most important match of her life. Actually, maybe she was because it was her first in a Grand Slam event main-draw and there’s big prize money available as well many ranking points. The WTA awards 70 points for a first-round victory to just 45 for the ATP.
It was not easy to forget that Andreescu defeated Bouzkova 6-1, 6-2 in the round of 16 at the WTA $125,000 event in Newport Beach, California in January.
Andreescu is indisputably a much better player but seeing her opponent having trouble finding her form emboldened Bouzkova. As well, on the clay the 20-year-old Czech was able to chase down more shots than she would be able to on a hard court.
There was one amusing moment in the seventh game of the opening set when Bouzkova was preparing to hit a regulation forehand near the baseline when two pigeons swooped down and flew directly at her, passing not far overhead. Startled, she stopped playing and complained to the umpire that she deserved a let. It was easy to sympathize with her but the umpire correctly denied her request.
When play resumes on Tuesday, who knows what will happen? Has Andreescu found a little more form with a day’s play behind her or will Bouzkova’s dogged retrieving and occasional aggressive shot-making wear down an unusually vulnerable Andreescu?
Whatever happens, the winner will have to face No. 35-ranked Sofia Kenin of the U.S. in the second round. One good thing, a match put over to a second day generally means that the winner will not get a day off before facing her next opponent. But the top half of the draw where Andreescu, Bouzkova and Kenin are located will not play the second round until Thursday.
Genie Bouchard plays her opening-round match on Tuesday on Court One against No. 27 seed Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine.
The match is the fourth scheduled after one women’s and two men’s singles matches. With the day starting at 11 a.m. and the forecast for rain and sun, it’s hard to estimate a time for the match – but not likely much before 6 p.m. in Paris or noon ET in Canada.
Bouchard and the 29-year-old Tsurenko are 1-1 head-to-head but Tsurenko has a 9-8 record so far in 2019 to Bouchard’s 6-7.
Court One, or the circular ‘bullring’ court, has a sentimental attachment for many Roland-Garros fans – it’s intimate and there’s not a bad seat in the 3,800-capacity arena. But it disappears after this year’s event to make room for more open space in an already overcrowded tournament site.
No ‘Roland’ for Félix
The tennis world is well acquainted with Canadian prodigy Félix Auger-Aliassime so it was with some sadness it learned of his withdrawal from the 2019 French Open on Sunday.
Auger-Aliassime, 18 and already ranked No. 22, injured his left groin in the third set of his semi-final win over Nikoloz Basilashvili at the ATP 250 in Lyon last Friday. He then aggravated it in his 6-4, 6-3 loss to Benoit Paire in the final.
It’s a grade-one tear and he said it is hoped it would heal in seven to ten days, that might be in time to play the grass-court event in Stuttgart, which begins on June 10th, the day after the Roland-Garros final.
Possibly a more realistic and prudent return to action would be for be for the ATP 500 tournament at Queen’s Club in London, two weeks before Wimbledon.
When asked where the Roland-Garros withdrawal rated among the disappointments in his career, Auger-Aliassime said: “One of the top things. Obviously in US Open (opening round against Denis Shapovalov last year) not being able to finish the match was probably the toughest thing – because it happened very suddenly. This one, I didn’t expect it, as well. I was feeling great. And then during my semi-final I started feeling pain in my groin. I didn’t expect it. We had time to think about it, do the exams. It was a very thoughtful decision. I think I’m at peace just knowing that it’s something that’s gonna heal pretty fast. But I have to be careful.”
Below is a fun point during the Lyon final when Paire slipped and Auger-Aliassime saw the amusing side because it was near the end of the match and he knew his fate was pretty well sealed.
(Feature photo: Mauricio Paiz)