Day 3 dawned with perfect playing conditions at Roland Garros, the calm after the storm of Naomi Osaka’s premature departure from Paris, leaving World No 1 Ash Barty and 5th-seeded Elina Svitolina to toil through their first rounds as Venus Williams suffered her fourth first-round loss at the French Open and Petra Kvitova withdraws.
I’m not going to hide behind the fact I’m not quite 100 per cent, but I can guarantee that I will go out there with the right attitude every day, and be really accepting of that, and give it a crack no matter what. We’re confident in that we can get my body to a point where I’m able to compete. We’re here, we’re fighting, we’re in with a chance, and that’s all we can do. Ash Barty
Barty had to fight through injury to avoid an upset loss, after Svitolina had endured a brief scare in the opening match of Court Philippe Chatrier.
With the temperature hovering around 20 degrees Celsius (68°F), Svitolina found herself trailing 5-2 in the second set but recovered to beat French teenager Oceane Babel, 6-2 7-5.
The Ukrainian arrived at Roland Garros with inconsistent clay court results after having lost in the opening round in Madrid but reached the last 8 in Rome, where she lost to Iga Swiatek.
It seemed as if she had a comfortable opening round to settle into her campaign against the wild-carded Babel, and she showed her class in the opening set in which she broke twice to seal it in just 30 minutes.
The second set, however, was to prove much more complicated as some unnecessary unforced errors and passive play crept into her game, a clear lapse in concentration that allowed Babel to grab the early break.
Leaking 15 unforced errors, frequently from commanding positions in rallies, Svitolina dropped serve to fall behind 0-3, as the 17-year-old, who had never played a WTA-level match or faced an opponent ranked higher than World No 198 before, swiftly warmed to her task and saved a total of 10 break-back points to extend her lead to 5-2.
On the brink of being taken to a decider, Svitolina asserted her authority, losing just 4 more points as she reeled off the last 5 games, threading some superb passing shots along the way, and finishing with a fine backhand volley.
“For sure it was challenging in some ways, because I don’t know much about her going into the match,” Svitolina said. “I just knew she was left-handed and I have to be ready for anything.
“In the end, I think, I started quite good, and then she was playing a little bit differently and then really raised her level.”
Next for Svitolina will be Ann Li from the USA, who trounced Russia’s Margarita Gasparyan, 6-0 6-1.
Things proved much harder for Barty, who followed Svitolina onto Chatrier. where the top seed was pushed to 3 sets by unseeded but dangerous American Bernarda Pera, before prevailing 6-4 3-6 6-2.
“I just keep fighting. I tried to stay in the match as long as possible because you never know,” Barty said.
Barty battled through a pain barrier as well as past her on-song opponent on Tuesday, admitting later that she is struggling with a left hip problem.
The world No 1 is back at Roland Garros for the first time since winning the title in 2019 and has been in excellent form this season, collecting 3 titles and cementing her place at the top of the rankings.
She withdrew from her last tournament in Rome, however, because of concerns over an arm problem, and took to the court against Pera with strapping at the top of her left thigh.
Barty took a medical time-out to have treatment after Pera won the second set but withstood pressure early on in the decider before finding her way through.
“It’s going to be a little bit tough this week,” The 25-year-old said. “I think, over the weekend, we had a bit of a flare-up through my left hip, which obviously just needed a bit of help today, needed some assistance to try and release it off as best I could.
“I’m not going to hide behind the fact I’m not quite 100 per cent, but I can guarantee that I will go out there with the right attitude every day, and be really accepting of that, and give it a crack no matter what.
“We’re confident in that we can get my body to a point where I’m able to compete. We’re here, we’re fighting, we’re in with a chance, and that’s all we can do.”
Barty’s next test is against Poland’s Magda Linette, who was a 6-3 6-3 winner over French wild-card Chloé Paquet.
Meanwhile, Ons Jabeur, the 24th seed from Tunisia, also got past a dangerous unseeded floater in 2-time Roland Garros quarter-finalist Yulia Putintseva, coming through in straight sets after being made to battle hard.
A fluctuating first set saw both players throw all of their wide repertoires at each other, with Putintseva coming back from 1-3 to serve for it at 5-4, but the Kazakh’s drop-shot let her down and she failed to close it out and, two games later, she also missed a simple volley to finish a thrilling cat-and-mouse point.
With the first set under her belt, Jabeur ran away with the match, building a 5-0 lead and ultimately finding a brilliant pass to seal victory.
“I know she’s a tough player,” Jabeur said. “She plays really well, and she fights. She tries to hit a lot of drops-hots at the beginning, but I knew she was going to do that.
“I was counting a lot on my serve but it wasn’t there the beginning of the set.
“It’s a tough first round, a lot of stress obviously, but I’m glad that I got to break her at the right time when she was serving for the set.”
Jabeur takes on Astra Sharma next, after the Aussie wild-card got past Irina Bara from Romania, 7-6(5) 6-3.
Elsewhere, Greece’s Maria Sakkari also suffered a mini scare after entering the second Grand Slam of the year having suffered a disappointing defeat in Rome to Coco Gauff.
She showed similar signs of similar form as she lost her opening 2 service games against Katarina Zavatska, a qualifier from the Ukraine, who caused the Greek all sorts of problems by playing aggressively and well on the big points.
Nevertheless, Sakkari ground out games while not playing at her best, breaking in the 10th game to edge out the first set, which resulted in a massive roar from the 17th seed, who then ran away with the second to advance, 6-4 6-1.
Japan’s Naomi Osaka left Paris for home on Monday after refusing to attend the mandatory post-match press conferences and revealing she had been suffering from bouts of depression for three years.
In an ironic twist to the Osaka saga, Czech Petra Kvitová had to withdrawn from the French Open after injuring herself while attending her mandatory press conference on Sunday.
“It is with great disappointment that I announce my withdrawal from Roland Garros,” said the 31-year-old Kvitová, the world’s No 12-ranked player and a two-time Wimbledon champion. “During my post-match press requirements on Sunday I fell and hurt my ankle.
“Unfortunately, after an MRI and much discussion with my team, I have made the tough decision that it would be unwise to play on it.
“It’s incredibly bad luck, but I will stay strong and do my best to recover in time for grass-court season.”
The Czech was due to face Elina Vesnina in the second round, but the Russian receives a walkover into round three where she will face either 21st seed Elina Rybakina.
Meanwhile, the leaders of the four Grand Slam events issued a joint statement on Tuesday expressing concern for Osaka, but it stopped short of an apology.
“Together as a community, we will continue to improve the player experience at our tournaments, including as it relates to media,” the statement said in part.