It was a match that went on for three hours and two minutes – with a final-set resumption on Tuesday that took 57 minutes. For almost all of it Bianca Andreescu played at a level well below her finest, one that was not up to the standard of her current status as the WTA’s No. 23-ranked player.
But for the last five minutes she suddenly became herself – winning eight of the final 11 points and clearly outclassing her opponent, No. 118-ranked Marie Bouzkova, a lucky loser.
By the ultimate match point, the 20-year-old Czech was pretty well in concession mode and missed a forehand into the net.
“My main objective was to just construct the point and get the right opportunities to go for my shots,” Andreescu said about her thoughts before she played the last two games at four-all in the third set. Out of those last eight points she won – five were outright winners and two more were the result of her heavy-hitting forcing errors.
The final score was 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 – and with the victory Andreescu won her first main-draw match at the French Open and just her second overall at a Grand Slam event, adding it to her first-round win over American Whitney Osuigwe at this year’s Aussie Open.
There were probably two moments when Bouzkova, playing in her first Grand Slam event main draw, had a real opening in Tuesday’s third set. After losing the first game, she rallied to lead 2-1 and had 15-30 on the Andreescu serve with some negativity percolating in the 18-year-old Canadian’s head. But Bouzkova missed a backhand into the net. Then, with Bouzkova ahead 3-2, Andreescu double-faulted twice in a row to make the score deuce in the sixth game. She looked vulnerable but Bouzkova hit a backhand service return long on a break point and the opportunity had vanished.
The players traded service breaks to four-all and then Andreescu got steely-eyed and steely-nerved and finished things off with conviction.
“She showed her qualities as a fighter,” said Tennis Canada’s vice-president elite athlete development Louis Borfiga. “It’s been a month and a half since she’s played and it was a difficult match because her opponent doesn’t make any mistakes. So it was the worst kind of match when you’re coming back because you don’t get any free points.
“Not having any matches as a reference is the worst thing for a player – and worse it’s in a Grand Slam and not some small tournament she’s playing to get back into it. The only thing missing for her was one tournament before Roland-Garros. If she could have played (last week) in Strasbourg (France), it would have been perfect.”
About the way Andreescu turned it on in the final two games, Borfiga added: “At four-four she got angry and showed she was mad. That was a good kind of getting angry.”
An example of how much the match was on Andreescu’s racquet were the winners to unforced errors ratios – Andreescu was 58/60 while Bouzkova was 24/32.
Arguably as versatile a player as there is on the tour, Andreescu was nearly flawless at the net – winning 25 of 28 points played there.
“It was my first tournament back after an injury so I tried to stay as calm as possible,” she said about dealing with a sub par performance. “I’m just really proud of how I fought through the match with the tennis I had.”
Maybe the most important thing is that the troublesome shoulder that kept her out since she retired against Anett Kontaveit, in the round of 16 at the Miami Open on March 25, appears to be in good shape. “Shoulder – it’s really good and I’m really pleased,” she said. “Just got to keep getting treatment and I’ll be good.”
Andreescu was asked about her Nike top which features a human-skeleton motif. “Good question,” she smiled. “Nike has really done something different this year. Maybe they’re running out of ideas. (But) I can’t complain. I actually really like it.”
Tuesday’s victory was special for Andreescu, who turns 19 a week after the French Open ends. “It’s my first main draw Grand Slam (win) here at Roland-Garros – so it’s definitely something to celebrate,” she said. “I’ve dreamt of this moment for a long time – hopefully I can keep winning here.”
Next she will face No. 35-ranked Sofia Kenin. The 20-year-old American, of Russian descent, is an old rival of Andreescu’s. They have split two matches this year – Kenin winning 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 in the semi-finals of the Acapulco WTA International Series event in early March and then Andreescu coming out on top 6-3, 6-3 in the second round of the Miami Open later in March.
While Andreescu survived to play another day, that wasn’t the case with Genie Bouchard. Not having played for 72 days since a first-round qualifying loss to Japan’s Nao Hibino at the Miami Open, it was no surprise she was beaten 6-2, 6-2 on Tuesday by No. 27-seed Lesia Tsurenko in a 65-minute Court One match.
Having said last week that she has been working to overcome a recurring abdominal strain issue, it was unlikely Bouchard would display top form facing an opponent she has had two very close matches against in the past – in 2015 in Indian Wells (Tsurenko wins) and in Fed Cup in 2018 in Montreal (Bouchard wins).
Bouchard started poorly, quickly falling behind 3-0 on her way to losing the first set in 25 minutes – and finished poorly, dropping the final four games after leveling the second set at two-all. In between, she held her own in the baseline rallies with the 29-year-old Ukrainian.
As with Andreescu, Bouchard was short on tournament competition and the match stats bear that out – she was 7/23 in winners to unforced errors while Tsurenko was 16/20 and ‘out-pointed’ Bouchard 63-41.
“I feel like for not having played a match in a couple months, it was actually not bad,” the No. 77-ranked Bouchard said. “I know a couple things (mainly her serve) I want to work on. But it was just so good to be back out there again and play in front of a crowd. I feel good.”
She admitted there’s still a bit of soreness (affecting her serve) but it’s something she has dealt with before coming back from her previous abdominal injuries.
The match against Tsurenko was played in quaint 3,800-seat Court One in a lively atmosphere with Bouchard getting the majority of the crowd support. One bright moment for her in the match was a point (see picture below) when a Tsurenko lob sailed over her head and landed beyond the baseline.
Bouchard will now move onto the grass, but said she only plans to play Eastbourne, the week before Wimbledon. Then it will be The Championships on the fifth anniversary of her reaching the final in 2014.
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Bicycles are a popular mode of transportation in the French capital, along with cars, motorcycles – and if you look carefully in the picture above – buses.
(Feature Photo: Mauricio Paiz)