Francoise Abanda advanced to the final round of the French Open qualifying on Thursday with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Monserrat Gonzalez of Paraguay.
It was an even contest right into the third set and things didn’t look promising for Abanda when she dropped the first six points of the final set, the last one a double fault. She soon fell behind 2-0.
But gradually she picked up her level and the No. 150-ranked Gonzalez began to show some nerves against an opponent who generally was able to outhit her from the baseline.
Abanda got back to 2-2 and the next point ultimately played what probably was a major role in the outcome. Abanda hit a shot that landed near the baseline and Gonzalez stopped play believing it to be out. The umpire came down from his chair (above) and found a mark on the line – calling the shot good. Gonzalez, and some spectators sitting beside that baseline, believed he made an error and that the ball had indeed been out. The 22-year-old from Asuncion was never the same and a confident and inspired Abanda took control – belting several bold winners from the backcourt in the final few games.
“I’m happy I was able to turn the match around,” she said later. “It was a physically tough match for me because I’ve been feeling sick since yesterday (Wednesday). I’ve got the start of the flu (and a sore throat) so it was really hard for me to physically perform. It required a lot of energy from me but I’m really happy I was able to do it on clay.”
About the final set when things finally swung around her way, the 20-year-old Montrealer said, “I just tried to stay more focused and put more balls in play. Clay is a game where the rallies are long and you have to build the point – it’s not like on hard courts. It’s a challenge for me to compete on clay because I didn’t really grow up on it. I just tried to play more the clay way – and not be impatient and rush my points.”
Right after the match, she believed she would probably play Elitsa Kostova in the third round on Friday, but the No. 18 seed in qualifying, No. 125-ranked Jang Su Jeong of Korea, later pulled out 2-6, 6-4, 7-5 victory over the Bulgarian in three hours and four minutes.
Assuming, incorrectly as it turned out, that she would be facing Kostova in the final round for a spot in the main draw, the No. 191-ranked Abanda said, “it’s a great third round. I feel that there’s a lot of players here and she’s not one of the highest, highest ranked. Especially with my Fed Cup victories and I’ve been playing way better recently, I’m definitely coming in confident to get through.”
Hopefully, for her sake, Jang will not be more difficult than she believes Kostova would have been.
In Friday’s match, Abanda will attempt to reach a Grand Slam main draw for the first (and only other) time since she was beaten 6-3, 7-5 in the opening round of the 2014 US Open by Sabine Lisicki of Germany.
MILOS LIVING LARGE IN LYON
Milos Raonic (being interviewed post-match above) reached the final four of the ATP 250 event in Lyon, France, on Thursday with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over No. 125-ranked Gastao Elias.
The win over the 26-year-old Portuguese qualifier sets up a semifinal against the winner of a match later on Thursday between Tomas Berdych and Gilles Simon.
Raonic has never won an ATP title on clay but he had a chance three weeks ago when he was beaten 7-6(3), 6-3 in the Istanbul final by Marin Cilic. The current world No. 6 had an elbow issue towards the end of the first set in that match against Cilic and didn’t seem to serve or play up to par the rest of the way.
Lyon, known as the gastronomical capital of France, is a new event on the ATP calendar this year.
ROLAND GARROS’ VERDANT SPLENDOUR
There’s nothing quite like the site at a Grand Slam tournament in the days leading up to the start of the big event. While there are lots of people busy putting finishing touches on everything, it’s still much more peaceful than once the tournament starts and there’s action all around with spectators everywhere on the grounds.
Roland Garros is surprisingly green – maybe not as much as Wimbledon – but there is an abundance of trees, shrubs and flowers decorating the grounds, as is visible in the picture here of the area beside Court 2 and behind the main stadium Court Philippe Chatrier on Thursday.
Genie Bouchard didn’t have a chance to hit on the main grounds on Thursday but she did practice at the greatly-enhanced Jean Bouin facility about a five-minute walk away. She had a court at 10 a.m. and, while she wasn’t bounding about on her tender right ankle, an observer reported that she had made a little bit of progress from Wednesday. The hope apparently is that Bouchard will not have to play on Sunday’s opening day and possibly not start until Tuesday, the final day of scheduled opening-round matches.
The most highly-awaited practice session on Thursday took place on Court 5 at 1 p.m. as Novak Djokovic debuted his new coach Andre Agassi.
Though there’s a picture here of the two talking at one point, Agassi doesn’t appear to be an ‘Uncle Toni’ who keeps up a constant chatter with his player – nephew Rafael Nadal. The 47-year-old from Las Vegas is more closed mouthed with his words.
Djokovic was hitting with the left-handed Franco Livi from Italy.
There was one amusing moment when Djokovic chased a ball with Agassi standing behind him – and they both tried to go for it.
Always a glutton for punishment, Rafael Nadal had two practice sessions on Thursday – the first for an hour at 11 a.m. on Court Philippe Chatrier before returning for a second two-hour session at 3:30 p.m. when he hit with Jack Sock. Uncle Toni and Carlos Moya were present, hovering around the edges of the court.
Nadal was sporting a muscle shirt, a throwback to his earlier days at Roland Garros.
On Court 1, the famous ‘bullring court,’ defending champion Garbiñe Muguruza had a two-hour booking at noon under the watchful eye of her coach Sam Sumyk.
This overall picture of Court Philippe Chatrier during these days leading up to the start of Roland Garros gives a good idea of what it is like – with just a scattering of people watching – in the event’s 15,000-seat main stadium.
Above that’s Fernando Verdasco about to hit a forehand in one of the few points he looked in control of during a practice session with Andy Murray. The 2016 runner-up is at the right end and that’s his coach Ivan Lendl in white seated on the near side.
On Court Suzanne Lenglen in the late morning, recent Rome champion Alexander Zverev was hitting with Victor Estrella Burgos. Zverev, like all the other men and women players, will be very attentive to what happens at noon on Friday at the ‘Club de Loges’ under Lenglen stadium. That’s where the official draw ceremony will take place – and we’ll be back tomorrow with a report on all the ramifications.
PARIS POST CARD
The ‘Auteuil’ district is in the 16th arrondissement in Paris, the closest area on the main city side to Roland Garros. The cafe above, a frequent stop for visitors and locals located near the Michel-Ange Auteuil metro stop, has been very popular this week, especially with the fine weather in the City of Light.