Rafael Nadal and Simona Halep made grand entrances as they took part in the draw ceremony for the 2019 French Open on Thursday evening at the Orangerie next to the expanded grounds of Roland-Garros.
The old restored building is on the way to the new 5,000-seat Court Simone Mathieu which will be inaugurated this year. It’s part of the botanical gardens located next to the French Open site and, to blend in, there’s a greenhouse motif to the structure.
As usual there were a few surprises at the draw – including former World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka playing 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko (above) in the first round – and for Canadians one came before the formalities had even begun. Referee Remy Azémar announced that Tomas Berdych, Camila Giorgi and… Milos Raonic had withdrawn. In a sense it was no surprise that Raonic won’t play because he has missed the entire clay-court season – but the fact that he had come to Paris had led many to believe he would be in the field for this years’ event.
That meant the only two Canadian men in the draw are No. 20 seed Denis Shapovalov and No. 25 Félix Auger-Aliassime – both moving up a spot with Raonic’s withdrawal.
The 20-year-old Shapovalov will face No. 44-ranked Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany in the first round. The two have split two previous meetings – Shapovalov winning 4-6, 7-6(7), 6-4 against the 29-year-old German in Tokyo last fall while Struff prevailed 5-7, 6-3, 6-1 in the opening round in Monte Carlo on clay last month.
On Thursday at the ATP 250 event in Lyon, Shapovalov lost a tough one in the quarter-finals – 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(4) to No. 51-ranked Benoit Paire after leading 3-0 in the final-set tiebreak.
If the French draw went to form, Shapovalov could play 13th-seeded Borna Coric in the third round and top-seed Novak Djokovic in the round-of-16.
(NOTE: In the draw picture here of Shapovalov, that’s famous French Olympic judo double gold-medalist Teddy Riner with referee Azemar.)
Auger-Aliassime appears to have a more favorable draw than Shapovalov as he starts out against No. 69-ranked Jordan Thompson of Australia. It will be a first meeting for Auger-Aliassime and the 25-year-old Aussie. In the second round Auger-Aliassime could face the winner of veterans Ivo Karlovic and Feliciano Lopez and then possibly No. 8 seed Juan Martin del Potro in the third round.
In the meantime, Auger-Aliassime will play top seed and No. 18-ranked Nikoloz Basilashvili in Friday’s semi-finals at the ATP 250 in Lyon. On Thursday, Auger-Aliassime beat another American, No. 59 Steve Johnson, winning 6-2, 2-6, 6-4.
In the up-to-date ATP ‘live’ rankings, Auger-Aliassime is up to No. 24, one spot behind Shapovalov. If he beats Fritz on Friday he will move ahead of Shapovalov and could make it to No. 22 if he is able to win his first career title in Saturday’s final.
Nadal, pictured here walking into Thursday’s draw ceremony, has a pretty good draw as the 11-time champion and second seed. He plays a qualifier in the first round and then the winner of two qualifiers in the second. Probably the third best clay-courter on recent results behind Nadal and top-seed Novak Djokovic, is Dominic Thiem. The 25-year-old Austrian, seeded fourth, is on Djokovic’s side of the draw while Roger Federer, No. 3 seed, is on Nadal’s side. Maybe the fact that the draw is top heavy is why Nadal – see picture at top – was so intently examining that side during Thursday’s festivities.
Simona Halep made a nice entrance in a bright red dress after the women’s draw was concluded and spoke about losing two French Open finals (2014 and 2017) before finally winning last year. Seeded third, she is slated to meet No. 6 seed Petra Kvitova in the quarter-finals and top seed Naomi Osaka in the semi-finals.
Bianca Andreescu, at No. 22, is the only seeded Canadian woman and she will start out against a qualifier. She is making her first main-draw appearance at Roland-Garros and playing for the first time since a shoulder injury forced her to retire against Anett Kontaveit of Estonia on March 25 in the fourth round of the Miami Open. Andreescu could play improving No. 34-ranked Sofia Kenin of the U.S. in the second round and then, if things go according to form, the 18-year-old Andreescu would face none other than No. 10 seed and three-time champion Serena Williams.
There is no picture of Andreescu as her name came out in the draw – as there are above with Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime. The reason is that tournament officials didn’t have break-out pictures of the women’s seeds on the big screen as they come out as they did for the men’s seeds. They also continued a long-running, and highly-questionable tradition of printing the men’s draw on blue paper and the women’s on pink paper.
Genie Bouchard, now ranked No. 77 and playing in her sixth French Open main draw – she retired in the first round of the 2018 qualifying with an abdominal issue – was one of the names on the pink paper. She will face No. 27-seeded Lesia Tsurenko. The two have met twice, and both times were distinctly eventful. The 29-year-old Ukrainian won their first meeting in Indians Wells 6-7(5), 7-5, 6-4 in a quirky 2015 match when Bouchard suffered with an abdominal problem and Tsurenko had a leg issue.
Last April in a Fed Cup Group II Playoff in Montreal, Bouchard won the third match of the tie against Tsurenko in a 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(5) thriller that helped Canada to a 3-2 victory.
When the non-seeded players were displayed first on Thursday, it was apparent Bouchard would playing a seed. Not having played since the Miami Open in March, she could have done a lot worse than Tsurenko. If the 25-year-old Montrealer does progress in the draw, she will possibly face a significant obstacle in Halep in the third round.
Rebecca Marino was beaten 5-7, 7-6(4), 6-4 in the second of the qualifying rounds by No. 135-ranked Elena Rybakina on Thursday.
Marino was in a favourable position leading 7-5, 4-2 but the 19-year-old Kazakh rallied to take the second set in a tiebreak. She led 3-1 in the breaker but Marino got back to 3-all only to give back the mini-break on the next point when Rybakina hit a nifty lob winner off a Marino volley. Three points later, the 28-year-old from Vancouver hit a broken-string ace to get back to 6-4 before Rybakina finished things off with a screaming forehand cross-court winner that appeared to hit the line.
In the final set both players held serve relatively easily until Rybakina broke to 5-4. But Marino still managed to get to 15-40 in an effort to break back in the final game – including hitting a huge running forehand down-the-line winner. But Rybakina was able to get back to deuce and finished off with a service winner on her first match point.
“It was a good match, and with very little preparation she played well,” Sylvain Bruneau of Tennis Canada said about Marino. “There were lots of positives there. It was a good level – offensive tennis moving forward.”
It was remarkable that, just four days after winning on a fast outdoor carpet surface in Kurume, Japan, Marino was able to look so comfortable hitting hard and accurately on the red-clay surface.
She and Rybakina are both tall players with powerful ground strokes and big serves. It’s not hard to imagine that a fresher or more prepared Marino would have had that little extra she needed to win the match.
Following her Asian trip and the quick turnaround dash to Paris for the Roland-Garros qualifying, she will now get a breather and will next be playing on grass, possibly as early as the second week of the French Open.
There are a lot new vistas on the western side of Roland-Garros. As can be seen in the picture here, the old middle walkway between the courts has been replaced by paths that run along either side on that end of the grounds.
L’epicerie (translated as grocery store) is located on one of those walkways and there are now four competition courts on the far side of Court Suzanne Lenglen – with Courts 12, 13 and 14 having mini-stadium, tiered seating.
On a tour of the grounds on Thursday afternoon – defending champion Simona Halep was practicing on Court Suzanne Lenglen with recent Italian Open winner Karolina Pliskova (serving below with coach Conchita Martinez behind her).
The rebuilt main Court Philippe Chatrier (above) is very much like the old stadium – with two noticeable differences being rounded corners and new sand-coloured seats replacing the more classic, old green ones.
Late Thursday afternoon in Chatrier, Gael Monfils was practicing with his coach feeding him balls. The 32-year-old Frenchman stopped several times to bend over, looking as if he was quite fatigued.
It appears the Monfils – Elina Svitolina romance is still on but that not the case with Stan Wawrinka and Donna Vekic of Croatia. That one is over.
In Court One – often referred to as the ‘bullring court’, Sloane Stephens can be seen above chatting with new coach Sven Groeneveld. Sadly this is last year for Court One. It will be demolished in an effort to create more open space on the grounds before the 2020 tournament.
Thursday was an unseasonably hot day and the people below clearly needed a mid-afternoon break – and took advantage of the deck chairs that are available for relaxing next to the Court Suzanne Lenglen.