There has been a tradition at Roland Garros of the previous year’s champions taking part in the next year’s draw ceremony, with the male winner picking out the token with the female players’ numbers on them and the female winner doing the same for the males.
But after a brief interview and photo op on Friday, there was no staying this time for the 2016 winners as defending women’s champion Garbiñe Muguruza explained on Friday. “Of course I had fun in the draw ceremony,” said the 23-year-old Spaniard. “I was with Novak. We make few jokes and stuff. No, we didn’t want to see the draw at all, so we’re like ‘we’re doing this and we’re leaving. We’re not staying to see.”
It’s hard to say how pleased or disappointed the defending champions would have been with the outcome of the draws that they missed. Muguruza, who said she’s not completely over a neck problem that forced her out of the Rome semifinals last week, will meet 2010 Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone in the first round. The 36-year-old Italian is in her final year on tour and was viewed as a spent force before winning a tournament in Bogota, Colombia, last month and then reaching the final of another in Rabat, Morocco, earlier this month. Her current ranking is No. 76 while Muguruza is No. 5 and seeded fourth.
Top seed Angelique Kerber, ineffectual most of 2017, will be in tough in the opening round as she plays No. 40-ranked Ekaterina Makarova of Russia.
Djokovic is seeded second in the men’s event and will, like Muguruza, face the No. 76 player – Marcel Granollers – in the first round of the men’s tournament.
The most noteworthy aspect of the men’s draw is that No. 4 seed Rafael Nadal came out in Djokovic’s lower half, so they could meet in the semifinals. Top seed Andy Murray, similar to women’s top seed Kerber, has not been outstanding of late. The 30-year-old Scot will face No. 85-ranked Andrey Kuznetsov in the first round with No. 3 seed Stan Wawrinka eventually a potential semifinal opponent.
The picture here is of Milos Raonic when he was drawn into the bottom half of the draw during the ceremony – accompanied by a jazz trio – at the ‘Club des Loges’ under Court Suzanne Lenglen.
Raonic’s opening-round opponent will be No. 38-ranked Steve Darcis. It will be a first meeting for Raonic with the 33-year-old Belgian who famously defeated Nadal at Wimbledon in 2013. The 5-foot-10 Darcis is known as a good battler but word has it that he can get discouraged playing against big servers like Raonic. Further down the road, Raonic could play No. 11 seed Grigor Dimitrov in the round-of-16 and Nadal in the quarter-finals. That round is the best he has done at the French Open – in 2014 when he was beaten by Djokovic.
Genie Bouchard has to have what would be viewed as a favourable draw. She’s matched against No. 72-ranked Risa Ozaki of Japan in the first round – that is if Bouchard’s right ankle is sturdy enough to face the rigours of tournament play.
Bouchard beat the 23-year-old Ozaki 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 at Indian Wells in 2016 and has two straight-sets wins over the Japanese when they were juniors – in 2010 and 2012.
In the second round Bouchard, currently ranked No. 56, would played the winner of No. 17 seed Anastasia Sevastova of Latvia and Annika Beck of Germany.
Part way through her practice session on Friday at the courts across the road from Roland Garros in the Bois de Boulogne, Bouchard changed to a new pair of shoes. It remains to be seen whether the ankle will be fit enough for her to play Roland Garros in those shoes, with a decision believed to be coming on Saturday and the odds looking no better than 50-50.
ABANDA MAKES IT TO MAIN DRAW
Francoise Abanda advanced to the second Grand Slam main draw of her career on Friday, defeating Jang Su Jeong 6-3, 6-2 in the final round of Roland Garros qualifying.
There was a startling reversal in the match after the No. 125-ranked Korean led 3-1 in the opening set only to drop seven successive games and trail 2-0 in the second set. Opportunities were few and far between the rest of the way for the 22-year-old Jang as Abanda used her superior uptempo game to dominate most of the rallies.
It was probably a good thing that Abanda could finish the match reasonably quickly because she’s feeling the effects of a bit of flu and Friday’s 32 degree temperatures could not have helped.
“I’m still a little bit sick and it was tough for me physically the last two matches,” said the 20-year-old Montrealer. “It was probably tougher today because you’ve got the nerves and stress of wanting to win the match to make the main draw.”
Regarding her ability to turn the match around after Jang got off to a fast start, Abanda noted, “I just tried to be more concentrated because I really didn’t know what to expect from my opponent. I didn’t really know her. I was a bit mixed up at the beginning but at the end I understand that I had to go for it. Once I did that I won most of the points. I’m really happy because the qualies are tough, especially at Roland Garros on clay.”
When it was suggested to her that the heat on Friday may have helped create faster conditions which suit her game, she responded, “I probably would have liked it a little less hot – that was definitely different compared to the other matches. But I think I managed the heat and the pressure pretty well.”
Her satisfaction about winning relates to difficult days not so long ago. “I had a hard start to the season, I think I lost five first rounds in a row January, February and March,” she said. “So it’s great to get a few wins.”
An interested and very partial spectator on Court 18 on Friday was Canadian Fed Cup captain Sylvain Bruneau. “I’m happy because she’s qualified for a Grand Slam tournament,” he said. “Today she was a little tight and didn’t play her free-flowing tennis. But she played well recently in Fed Cup (in Montreal in April against Kazakhstan), so it’s nice to see her come here and get through. Yesterday her opponent (Monserrat Gonzalez of Paraguay) was a fighter and a good clay-court player. Now the real tournament starts in the main draw and I think if she plays the tennis she can, she can do well.”
Commenting on her playing in just her second ever Grand Slam main draw since the US Open in 2014, Bruneau said, “as far as I’m concerned, I think this should have happened sooner because I believe in her tennis. It’s been a bit long to wait three years to see her play in a main draw in a Grand Slam again. Now I hope to see her regularly in Grand Slam draws. I think she can do it, win rounds and do good things.”
Bruneau, and probably Abanda herself, got some help in that regard a little later when it was learned that her first-round opponent is French wild card Tessah Andrianjafitrimo, an 18-year-old who suffered the humiliation of losing 6-0, 6-0 in the 2016 French Open first round to Wang Qiang of China. Andrianjafitrimo is currently ranked No. 264 and did win an ITF pro event in Hammamet, Tunisia, in April – though the five players she defeated were all ranked between No. 383 and No. 988.
Players can improve a lot in one year and Abanda will have to be wary, but the opportunity is certainly there for her to win her first ever main-draw Grand Slam match.
RAONIC OUT IN LYON
It isn’t the best thing to wake up with a temperature of 39 degrees (102 Fahrenheit) but that is the situation Milos Raonic faced on Friday as he looked ahead to playing Tomas Berdych in the semifinals of the ATP 250 event in Lyon.
Laced with some antibiotics, he didn’t seem too badly off in the first set as he held serve comfortably and then had three set points with Berdych serving at 4-5. Berdych saved then with a big forehand, an ace and a backhand volley winner.
In the eventual tiebreak, Raonic broke first with a terrific backhand, cross-court passing shot winner and soon led 3-1 but Berdych rallied. At 5-5, Berdych hit an ace to lead 6-5 and a sliced backhand off a short ball near the net to wrap up the set.
Raonic broke to lead 3-1 in the second set but again Berdych came back to 3-all. In the ultimate tiebreak, after he won the opening point, Berdych quickly got two mini-breaks with a passing shot winner and a forehand winner and then hit an ace to lead 4-0, basically creating insurmountable separation.
It’s a tough loss for Raonic who handled Berdych relatively easily – 6-3, 6-2 – in the third round in Rome last week.
He now heads for Paris and the French Open hoping to get over his fever. It appears he will likely have to play on Monday because Nadal is apparently on the schedule that day and Raonic is in the same half of the draw as the nine-time champion.
PETRA IS BACK
After an vicious attack in her home last December 20th by a knife-wielding intruder who inflicted cuts on all of the fingers on her left (racquet) hand, particularly the index finger, Petra Kvitova is back and will play the French Open.
One of the most popular and personable players, the 27-year-old Czech was never sure that she would be able to play tennis again.
Currently ranked No. 16, she admitted the hand is still not 100 per cent and cannot be completely closed. “Of course the hand doesn’t have that power and the strength yet, but I’m working on it,” she said. “Hopefully one day it will be everything perfect.”
About her surprise decision to play Roland Garros, the two-time Wimbledon champion (2011 and 2014) said, “when everything happened and we had a kind of plan to the future, I was, like ‘okay it will be so nice if I can play Wimbledon.’ Then when the things were even better, I was, like, ‘wow, the French Open is one month before. It will be great to play there.’ But of course, I never know what will happen and I still don’t know.”
In her first match since winning the Zhuhai, China, event in early November 2016, Kvitova will play No. 86-ranked Julia Boserup, 25, of the U.S.
It happened at the end of Gael Monfils’ practice session with Radu Albot of Moldova on Court Suzanne Lenglen on Friday. For whatever reason, Monfils and his coach Mikael Tillstrom exposed their posteriors – although Tillstrom added some extra protection – and Albot took two shots from the other side of the net at hitting the target(s). Happily, he missed with both. Highly amused and watching from the side is Nick Kyrgios.
SVETLANA IN SUNSHINE
Svetlana Kuznetsova, 31, was practising on Court Philippe Chatrier on Friday with Kristina Mladenovic. The 2009 Roland Garros champion favoured pink colours which blended kind of magically with the burnt sienna of red clay surface.
PARIS POST CARD
On the boulevard d’Auteuil not far from the back entrance to Roland Garros, this was the scene near an outdoor market on Friday morning. These kids had lots of energy and were having fun playing to the heavy beat of pop music.
NOTE: No blogs on the weekend – back on Monday. “Bon weekend” as they say here in France.