French Open | Expectations – the double-edged sword

The fur was flying on the opening day of Roland Garros as expectations plummeted into defeat for the defending champion, Jelena Ostapenko, and Britain’s No 1 Jo Konta, both of whom let their ire show in no uncertain terms.

Ostapenko, seeded fifth for the title, became only the sixth woman in the Open era to lose in the first round of a Grand Slam tournament as defending champion, after Steffi Graf at Wimbledon in 1994, Jennifer Capriati (2003 Australian Open), Anastasia Myskina (2005 French Open), Svetlana Kuznetsova (2005 US Open) and Angelique Kerber (2017 US Open).

Any player who could hit like five shots back I think probably could beat me today because I didn’t really play well and didn’t really matter who was on the other side, because she was just waiting for me to miss Jelena Ostapenko

She is used to setting records, especially after winning the French Open in 2017, the first Latvian, man or woman, to win a Grand Slam and the first unseeded woman to win the tournament since Peggy Scriven of Great Britain won the title way back in 1933.

It was also the 20-year-old’s first ever senior level title.

Expectations are harsh and Ostapeno learned a big lesson that left her fuming.

The Latvian served 13 double faults and made 48 unforced errors in an error-strewn display as she slumped to a shock 7-5 6-3 loss to little-known Ukrainian Kateryna Kozlova on Philippe Chatrier Court.

The 20-year-old’s performance was the total opposite of the scintillating attacking tennis that took her to the title 12 months ago.

“I think it was a terrible day at the office today for me,” Ostapenko said.

“I mean, in general I played maybe like 20 percent of what I can play. Made like 50 unforced errors and so many double faults. Like couldn’t serve today. Everything together just brought me a really bad result.”

Hampered by a leg injury suffered during her quarter-final defeat by Maria Sharapova in Rome last week, Ostapenko also alluded to a personal matter affecting her performance.

“It’s more personal, but, just in general… Just woke up, you’re like, your mood was not amazing, you just woke up and kind of some things went wrong, and then you are kind of pissed off, in the practice you’re pissed off.

“And then you go to the match and try to be positive, but everything goes not your way, and you still try to be positive, but then you lose the match and of course you cannot be positive anymore.”

The French Open is the only Grand Slam event that begins on a Sunday, and Ostapenko felt that a later start would have helped her regain full fitness in time.

“I think if I was scheduled on Tuesday, I think Monday or Tuesday, at least one extra day would help me a lot, but unfortunately yesterday I didn’t feel that I was in a great form.”

It was a third defeat in as many meetings to World No 66 Kozlova for Ostapenko, but the Latvian insisted that her form was so poor that she would have lost to whomever she played.

“Any player who could hit like five shots back I think probably could beat me today because I didn’t really play well and didn’t really matter who was on the other side, because she was just waiting for me to miss,” Ostapenko admitted.

For Kozlova, this was the biggest win of her career, coming over two months since she feared she might need knee surgery after suffering an injury in Indian Wells qualifying in March.

She only returned to the court earlier this week in Nuremberg, and also needed medical attention after struggling with blisters on Sunday.

She now faces either former World No 1 Victoria Azarenka or Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic.

Jo Konta plays a backhand against Yulia Putintseva

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Elsewhere, Jo Konta was describing British reporters as ‘b*****ds’ after her French open defeat at the hands of World No 93 Yulia Putintseva, 6-4 6-3, her fourth first round loss in a row in Paris,.

Konta’s wretched Roland Garros run of never winning a main draw match continued as she lost 6-4 6-3 and it got on her nerves, having to answer repeated questions about her record in Paris that were hampering her attempts to break her duck.

Asked if she felt external pressure, Konta said: “Well, you guys can answer this for me, then.

“Let’s say for a few years your pieces of writing have just been cr*p every time when you come into Roland Garros. Right? Just cr*p.

“And then your colleagues start to say, ‘You know, you really suck around that time’. And that happens, you know, for a few years.

“How would you guys digest that, and would you feel any sort of…lingering kind of, ‘Oh, you know what? I want to prove these b*****ds wrong’, but, you know, it’s just kind of lingering there?

“So it’s not something I would like to buy into, and I don’t think I do.

“However, you guys don’t make it easy.”

Konta sprayed 32 unforced errors around Court 1 in a lack-lustre display against Putintseva, later admitting: “I don’t think helps anyone’s preparation if the linger around it is like, ‘Oh, she hasn’t done well there before’.

“But, again, I have felt success here before through qualifying and coming through that.

“And, actually, out of my four main draw matches that I’ve played here, this is probably the one I’m most disappointed in terms of the level that I played. So…this one is a bit harder to take in that way.

“But I would like to think that I’m still more in control of kind of my tennis and my career than any sort of superstition coming into any tournament.”

China's Wang Qiang puts Venus Williams to the sword

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Seven-time Grand Slam winner Venus Williams was also sent crashing out of the French Open in her opening round on Sunday.

Ninth seed Williams, runner-up in Paris in 2002, was beaten 6-4 7-5 by Wang Qiang of China on Court Suzanne Lenglen.

Wang, ranked 85 in the world, had lost to Williams in the first round in Paris last year, and also at Wimbledon a few weeks later, but she gained revenge in spectacular style with a first victory over the 37-year-old for the biggest win of her career.

“I think she just played well,” said Williams. “I mean, all the times we’ve played, she’s played great. I think her game just got better and better during the match.”

Venus, who struck a whopping 35 unforced errors in the match, has struggled on the clay this season but for Wang, it was just her second victory over a top-10 player in her career.

Williams has now lost both her openers at majors this year, having reached the Australian Open and Wimbledon finals in 2017.

Wang has never made the third round of a Grand Slam, and will face Petra Martic of Croatia for a place in the last 32 after the biggest win of her career.

Martic brushed aside Wang’s compatriot Wang Yafan 6-2 6-3.

While her singles run is over, Venus and Serena Williams are still slated to compete in doubles as a wild-card entrant.

Fellow American Sloane Stephens, seeded 10th, had no problems in her opener, breezing to a 6-2 6-0 win over lucky loser Arantxa Rus of Netherlands.

Stephens has been struggling under the weight of expectation since winning the US Open in September last year.

“I tried to do way more than I should have after the US Open, and I should have just shut it down,” Stephens said when asked about her poor recent results.

“My heart was there but my body wasn’t. So when the two things aren’t connected, it’s never a good thing.”

The American, who lost in the first round at the Australian Open in January, hit 17 winners and spent just 49 minutes on court on Day 1 in Paris.

On a sunny and warm day, Stephens was joined in the second round by fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina, who defeated Ajla Tomljanovic, 7-5 6-3 after recovering from a 1-5 deficit in the opening set.

The Ukrainian won eight games in a row on her way to victory and has now won six matches in a row – five in Rome ahead of the opening round in Paris.

She admits she doesn’t want to put a lot of expectations on herself: “Tennis is not only about one match. There is lots of matches,” she said.

“Even if I finish the tournament early here, it’s not the end of the world. We’re gonna have next tournament next week on grass, and, you know, there is lots of tournaments.

“You know, I’m 23 years old, so there is lots of tournaments ahead of me.

“I have a big future. I don’t only focus on, you know, that it’s the last match of my life.”

Expectations can motivate or detract from performances and, from Konta’s point of view, it will be a relief to get back on the grass where they are more positive. The other losers in Paris probably agree.

Meanwhile, spare a thought for Serena on whom the weight of expectation could not be greater.

Williams arrived at Roland Garros a week ago and has been making preparations for facing Kristyna Pliskova, the twin sister of sixth-ranked Karolina, in her opening match.

Although Serena normally trains with a private hitting partner, on Saturday she practiced with Varvara Lepchenko, who, like Pliskova, is left-handed.

The American spent time away from the tour following the birth of her child and she is controversially unseeded as she seeks to capture her first Grand Slam as a mother at her first attempt.

She is competing in her first Grand Slam for 16 months, having won the Australian Open when eight weeks pregnant, but has only played four matches this year.

Her opponent, ‘KrisPlis’ as her fans call her, comes into the contest currently ranked at 70 in the world and never having faced Serena before, but fresh from a good run in Nuremberg last week.

“I’m pretty excited to play against her,” she said. “It’s so good to play her at least once in your life. I don’t know if she’s going to be playing for long, so I’m really happy I can play against her.”

Pliskova, who is from the Czech Republic, expects little stress when she gets on the court with Williams.

“It’s going to be really, really tough, but I think the pressure is on her,” Pliskova added.

“Everybody’s so excited that she’s back, and everybody’s expecting that she will play good, like she was before.”

Not much expectation then.




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