Milos Raonic needed only an hour and 32 minutes to defeat Steve Darcis of Belgium 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in his first-round match at the French Open on Monday.
The No. 5 seed made things easy for himself by breaking the No. 38-ranked Darcis early and often – to lead 3-1 in the first set, to go ahead 4-3 in the second set and in the first and third games of the final set – on his way to a 4-0 start. He only faced two break points, both when he led 4-0 in the third set – saving one with a forcing forehand and the other with a service winner.
All in all it was a clean match for Raonic who hit 44 winners (including 15 aces) and had just 16 unforced errors.
Belgian reporters had mentioned before the match the 33-year-old Darcis, at a career-high ranking of No. 38, didn’t like facing big servers. Raonic certainly made his intentions known in that regard right from the get-go – hitting a 219 km/hr service winner on the third point of the match immediately followed by a double fault second serve that clocked in at fearless 226 km/hr.
“He’s the sort of guy that gives me some kind of looks,” Raonic said about Darcis. “I can always get my racquet on his serve. It was just in general a good match-up for me, and I’m happy with how I played to add to that.”
With names like nine-time champion Rafael Nadal and defending champion Novak Djokovic atop the list of Roland Garros favourites – along with younger generation players Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev – Raonic was asked if he should be considered a contender. “If I can find a way to win a lot of matches,” he answered, “if I can get myself to those important stages of this tournament, I’ll always be able to give myself chances.
“Will I get to that stage, and will I make the most of them? That’s another thing. But I believe a lot in my tennis.”
The 26-year-old power hitter from Thornhill, Ont., doesn’t think the clay has to be too big an obstacle, compared to hard courts and grass, for him. “It’s really about where you position yourself and you can’t let yourself get caught up in corners,” he said about playing on clay. “It’s just a feel of instinct – not too much really changes. If you hit a big shot it’s just as effective on clay. Maybe you have to hit one more (shot) but it’s important to keep moving forward to take time away. Not only is it a thing about having more time, but guys also believe they can get to more.”
There have been changes to the Raonic support group lately, but main coach Riccardo Piatti (white cap front row) remains as does physio Claudio Zimaglia, who’s not in Paris but will be back for some weeks in the future. Also not in Paris is consulting coach Richard Krajicek – but that was always the plan and he’s expected to be with Raonic during his grass-court preparation for Wimbledon.
Next on Wednesday for Raonic will be Brazil’s Rogerio Dutra Silva, 33, who beat 34-year-old Mikhail Youzhny 4-6, 7-6(5), 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-2 in four hours and 11 minutes. The No. 79-ranked Dutra Silva is best remembered by many Canadians for his 4-6, 3-6, 7-6(6), 6-2, 7-6(10) victory over Vasek Pospisil at the 2013 US Open after saving seven match points – one of them a highly-dubious line call. It will be a first meeting between Raonic and Dutra Silva, whose career-high ranking is No. 69, achieved just last month.
ABANDA’S FIRST SLAM WIN
Françoise Abanda defeated French wild card Tessah Andrianjafitrimo 6-3, 6-4 on Monday at the French Open, earning the first Grand Slam main-draw victory of her career.
The 20-year-old from Montreal fell behind 3-1 in both sets but then upped her level and was able to dominate her 18-year-old opponent.
Andrianjafitrimo (that’s 16 letters and her family ancestry is from Madagascar) is a speedy, nimble player but she couldn’t match Abanda’s weight of shot. “I think I did my very best with the weapons, so to speak, I had,” said Andrianjafitrimo, ranked No. 269.
“The girl today really got a lot of balls back,” said Abanda (with Andrianjafitrimo after the handshake above) about her French opponent following the match. “She was a real fighter and she had an interesting game-plan against me – she hit high balls and did a lot of things to get me out of my comfort zone. I really had to push myself and go for it. I’d never played her so I didn’t know her game so I had to fight for every point.”
Abanda had 29 winners to go with 21 unforced errors during the match played on extreme end-of-the grounds Court 17 – seating capacity 754.
Next for Abanda will be Caroline Wozniacki, the 11th seed who had a 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 win on Monday over No. 337-ranked Jaimee Fourlis, 17, from Australia.
In terms of experience facing a big-name player like Wozniacki, Abanda played Venus Williams at the WTA event in Quebec City in 2014 and lost 7-5, 6-3.
With Wozniacki in Paris is her current boyfriend, David Lee, the 34-year-old forward with the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA. Lee, 34, according to a Danish source, will be with Wozniacki in Paris as well as during the time leading up to Wimbledon.
On the subject of the Wozniacki family, Caroline’s father and sometimes coach, Piotr (above), was out on Court 17 on Monday scouting the Abanda-Andrianjafitrimo first-round match.
As for Abanda’s approach to facing the 26-year-old former world No. 1 (2010), she said, “I just have to play my game and really believe. The good thing is that Wozniacki isn’t going to blow me off the court. She’s not the most powerful on tour so it’s definitely playable for me.”
At the end of her media conference, a French journalist asked Abanda about her family roots, which are in Cameroon. Abanda explained to him that her mother can still speak the local dialect (ewondo) there and that she knows a bit of it herself. The perfectly bilingual Abanda added that her family comes from the same place – Yaoundé – as Yannick Noah, the famous Frenchman who won Roland Garros in 1983. When asked if she had ever met Noah, Abanda smiled and replied somewhat wistfully, “no.”
GENIE STARTS WITH OZAKI
It appears all the time Genie Bouchard has had since withdrawing from the WTA event in Nuremberg early last week has enabled her right ankle to get back into competition shape. She has looked fairly nimble in practice the past few days and will put that to the test in the last match on Court 2 on Tuesday (roughly 11 am to 1 pm EDT in Canada) against No. 72-ranked Risa Ozaki.
Now ranked No. 57, Bouchard will face the No. 72 Ozaki for the second time as professionals – having won her previous meeting with the 5-foot-4, 23-year-old Japanese 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 at Indian Wells last year.
Bouchard’s best result at Roland Garros was a semifinal finish in 2014 when she pushed eventual champion Maria Sharapova before losing 4-6, 7-5, 6-2. A year ago she lost 6-4, 6-4 in the second round to Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland.
If Bouchard has success at Roland Garros this year it might possibly be attributed to her liking for Parisian croissants, as she has mentioned on her social media – and it doesn’t appear she is letting up as her first match in the competition approaches. “I’m always trying to eat as much as I can actually,” she said last Saturday, “because I burn so many calories during the day, everyone’s actually happy that I’m eating croissants. I’m not going to slow it down.”
ADIL GETTIN’ IT DONE
Adil Shamasdin and his Argentine partner Andres Molteni won the doubles title at the ATP 250 event in Lyon, France, on Saturday. Playing together for the first time, Shamasdin and Molteni defeated Marcus Daniell of New Zealand and Marcelo Demoliner of Brazil 6-3, 3-6 [10-5] in the final.
The win is Shamasdin’s first ATP title of the year (and third career overall) and continues a run of events in 2017 that has seen him win four Challengers, be runner-up at another and also reach the semifinals of an ATP 250 in Istanbul earlier this month – each one with a different partner.
That changes this week at the French Open where he and Molteni are playing together for the second week in a row and will face Facundo Bagnis of Argentina and Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain in the first round.
Looking ahead to the grass court season, Shamasdin will play with Antonio Sancic of Croatia, his partner in Istanbul, at the Stuttgart event the week following Roland Garros.
After that, he’s not sure who he will team up with for Queen’s Club and Wimbledon. A year ago he reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon with Jonathan Marray, but the 36-year-old Brit has been off the tour for a while, appears close to retirement and is unlikely to play Wimbledon.
At age 34, Shamasdin in the past few weeks has bettered his career-best doubles ranking of No. 55 and is No. 47 this week. Unfortunately, a Top 50 ranking is not that useful in doubles with so many singles players able to use their singles ranking to enter doubles. Somewhere around No. 30 and higher usually allows doubles players a lot more options for getting into main draws.
KIDS DAY AT ROLAND GARROS
The day before the French Open starts is always a charity day with players participating in skills contests and exhibition matches to the enjoyment of enthusiastic young spectators. In the picture here, Dominic Thiem has been trying to hit targets on the other side of the net with his highly-amused fellow players watching. Most tennis fans can probably identify everyone in the picture but maybe not retired French player Michael Llodra in the middle and Svetlana Kuznetsova doubled-over in laughter.
PARIS POST CARD
The Eiffel Tower, built between 1887 and 1889, and considered by many to be an eyesore in its early years, is a magnet for tourists in Paris.
Every hour on the hour in the evenings, the tower is enveloped top-to-bottom in shimmering lights for five minutes. There were audible gasps from the crowds gathered at the Place du Trocadéro on Saturday when the tower began its hourly light show. Needless to say camera-phones were everywhere recording the sight.