Almost 24 hours after he was supposed to play his first-round match at the 2016 French Open, and a bit sooner than he actually thought he would finally get onto the court, Milos Raonic won his opener 6-3, 6-2, 7-6(5) over Janko Tipsarevic on Monday.
The rain that reduced Sunday’s opening-day order-of-play to 10 matches completed out of 32 planned, persisted into Monday until early afternoon.
“It was the first time I’ve ever played without warming up before,” Raonic said about going out cold onto 1,445-seat Court 2. “There was a lot of speculation about when we were going to go on court and then our court was the first one called. There was a bit of a rush and I didn’t warm up as much (physically) as I normally would for a match. I was a bit nervous about that and it took me a while to shake it off.”
In actual fact it didn’t take that long. He broke Tipsarevic in the fourth game of the opening set. That game began with a huge long rally that Tipsarevic ended with a big forehand that forced a Raonic backhand error. It looked like the 31-year-old Serb might be gaining a foothold in the match but he proceeded to make three unforced errors in the next four points to drop serve.
Later he would admit that game was symbolic of the problems he is having after being out of the game for most of the past two years. “I was missing this match focus that I’m obviously trying to get back,” he said. “But, you know, being injured for two years has taken its toll in terms of match concentration. Winning a huge rally, a big point, doesn’t mean anything if you make three or four unforced errors after that.”
Tipsarevic had a benign cancer in the tissue on the bottom of his foot and underwent surgery in the fall of 2014. More surgeries followed but last November he was able to announce to the Serbian media that he was fit again and would play the Australian Open in January. Then he suffered a setback with his knee and was forced to have surgery.
He has only played three events this year (two Challengers and the ATP event in Geneva last week) and won only one match.
“I think I did things generally well,” Raonic said about his performance. Regarding facing an opponent who was obviously short of match play, he added, “I knew that I didn’t want him to get into a rhythm because that’s the thing he’s missing the most. I knew that when it did get difficult I needed to make sure I was really there mentally like in the tiebreak situation. I needed to make sure that my presence was felt and I took sort of comfort that I’ve been playing a bunch of tiebreakers as opposed to him.”
Tipsarevic aptly summed up, “I didn’t think the match was too exciting until the very end of the third set.”
With early breaks of serve – 4th game in the first, 3rd in the second and 5th in the third – Raonic was always in control and had a match point to wrap matters up with Tipsarevic serving down 5-3 in the final set.
The match then got complicated when the Serb converted on his lone break point of the match in the following game with Raonic serving at 5-4.
In the tiebreak that eventually decided the set and the match, Tipsarevic missed an eminently make-able overhead to take a 3-0 (two mini-breaks) lead before Raonic rallied to finally finish off the encounter in two hours and eight minutes.
It was the fourth meeting between Raonic and Tipsarevic and the Serb was generous in his praise of the 25-year-old Canadian’s progress. “He has improved tremendously in defense,” he said about Raonic. “The last time (2013 Davis Cup in Belgrade) I played him – every time except this time we played close matches – but his defense was his main problem. But now, really, if he’s on the ball he’s not giving away too many points.”
As usual, the Raonic serve was a major factor and there was an amusing moment coming out of the changeover after the fifth game of the second set. Tipsarevic looked over at his coach, Dirk Hordoff, seated courtside and asked, “am I returning that bad or is he serving that good?”
Hordoff, as any good coach would, reassured his charge, “he’s serving good.”
The numbers backed that up as Raonic won an impressive 93 per cent of his first serve points to go with 65 per cent on his second serve.
He was 19 of 25 net points won but hopes to do even better in his second round against No. 58-ranked Adrian Mannarino on Wednesday. By then the damp, cold weather system (see above) will have passed with clear skies and moderate temperatures expected.
“That’s definitely better for me,” Raonic said about the friendly forecast. “A few moments I was a little bit passive today. So I think tomorrow in practice it’s going to be definitely focused on trying to find more ways to move forward and to be more efficient up there.”
About facing the 28-year-old, left-handed Frenchman for the first time, Raonic said, “it’s a difficult match-up. He plays very crafty, I’d say in a way unorthodox tennis. I didn’t really get to watch his match. I believe my coaches did towards the end of it. He’s able to do a lot of different things, so I think it’s really making sure I don’t give him the chance to get comfortable doing a lot of different things and that we sort of play more on my terms.”
As for the mild-mannered Mannarino, he already sounded a bit intimidated having to take on the No. 9-ranked Raonic.
“It will be our first time,” Mannarino said. “He’s a great player. Honestly, I would have preferred not to play a Top 10 player in the second round. But when you’re not seeded, that’s how it is.
“When you’re an outsider like me, you just take things as they come. I know the crowd will be supporting me and I hope it’s a good match.”
Questioned about his approach to playing a big server like Raonic, Mannarino replied, “It’s a pain in the butt, it’s always a pain in the butt. You know that there really won’t be any play, that you won’t really be able to get adjusted. I imagine the rare rallies we’ll have will probably be on my serve and on big points. It will be complicated. It’ll be the kind of match where you have to maintain a very high level of concentration. And it’s up to me if I want to dig in and play a good match. On the other hand, I realize that if I don’t have a good match I risk getting une bonne fessée (a good spanking). It’s up to me to do my best.”
Raonic was told what Mannarino had said. Despite his French having improved significantly, he was not aware what a bonne fessée meant. But that likely won’t prevent him from giving Mannarino a good spanking on Wednesday.
Three for Tuesday
For Genie Bouchard’s sake, you have to hope this street sign – St. Cloud is not far from the Roland Garros tennis grounds – will bring her good luck in 2016.
On Tuesday, first off at 11 a.m. (5 a.m. EDT in Canada) on Court 16, she will face No. 37-ranked Laura Siegemund.
It’s a comedown for Bouchard to be out in the sticks (in the first row of courts on the far side of Court Suzanne Lenglen) and playing on a court with only 594 seats. Good luck to her fans trying to get anywhere near it.
It’s the first meeting between Bouchard, now ranked No. 47, and the 28-year-old German late-bloomer. According to a German source, Siegemund is a hyper-student of the game who watches lots of video and consults with psychologists in an effort to maximize her game. Bouchard, while thorough, is not quite as nerdy about her tennis.
The Canadian playing in the biggest amphitheatre on Tuesday will be Vasek Pospisil. Ranked No. 46, he is matched against No. 8 Tomas Berdych in 10,056-capacity Court Suzanne Lenglen. That will also be a first-on-court start at 11 a.m.
Aleksandra Wozniak, using an injury-protected ranking to compete at the French Open, is playing fourth-match-on Court 10, which seats 310.
Her opponent is the temperamental Russian, now representing Kazakhstan, Yulia Putintseva, a 21-year-old who ranks No. 60. After a shoulder issue (including surgery in September 2014), the 28-year-old Wozniak currently ranks No. 514.
Inside the Porte d’Auteuil metro station, the closest stop to Roland Garros, there’s the above picture and written tribute to the eponymous Frenchman.
Here’s a précis of what is written below it in French:
Roland Garros was the first man to fly across the Mediterranean, from Fréjus, France, to Bizerte, Tunisia, on September 23, 1913.
He was a fighter pilot during World War I but had engine problems and wound up landing in enemy territory, resulting in three years in a German prison camp. He escaped on February, 15, 1918, helped by friends who were able to get him two tennis racquets with handles stuffed with clothing to disguise himself.
He then flew many more missions before his plane crashed and he was killed at age 30 on October, 5, 1918, just days before the armistice that ended the war.
His friend Emile Lesieur, president of the Stade Francais which donated the land used to build the tennis stadium to host the 1928 Davis Cup final versus Bill Tilden and the U.S. team, insisted that the stadium be named after Roland Garros. Thus was a legend born.