French Open | Jittery Halep survives shaky start

World No 1 Simona Halep had a long time to wait for her opening match at Roland-Garros after the rains delayed her planned Tuesday debut, and it seemed to take her almost as long to scrape off the rust.

She shook off a slow start in the postponed first-round match to defeat Alison Riske on Day 4 of the French Open, while second-round winners included reigning major champions Caroline Wozniacki and Sloane Stephens, along with fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina, eighth seed Petra Kvitova and thirteenth Madison Keys.

I had a slow start, because it's always tough to start this tournament, It's a pleasure to come here and to play, so always I feel nervous at the beginning. But it was good that I came back so strong. I felt really well in the end of the match and that's the most important for now. But what I expect from myself is to go there and to play as I play in practice. Simona Halep

Halep, a two-time runner-up at Roland Garros, found herself 5-0 down to Riske in Wednesday’s opening match on Court Philippe Chatrier.

The American went on to take the first set but the Romanian finally woke up and dropped just two more games in registering a 2-6 6-1 6-1 victory in just over an hour and a half.

Halep, still hunting for a maiden Grand Slam title, will now face another American, Taylor Townsend, in round two.

She refused to blame the rain delay for her sluggish start against the American, who is ranked at 83 in the world.

A poor opening service game contributed to her awful start as she scored just nine points on her first serve, but Halep roared back in the second set, as the 26-year-old restored parity in 24 minutes.

Released from her early shackles, she piled on the pressure in the third set to banish any fears of an early exit.

“I had a slow start, because it’s always tough to start this tournament,” Halep said. “It’s a pleasure to come here and to play, so always I feel nervous at the beginning.

“But it was good that I came back so strong. I felt really well in the end of the match and that’s the most important for now.

“But what I expect from myself is to go there and to play as I play in practice.

“So, this is the only one thing that I’m following and I want to have on court. The result, it’s going to come if I play well. If not, I just have to fight and to try to not give up, even one point.”

On the WTA Tour, Halep would have been able to turn to coach Darren Cahill for advice during her early slump, but such discussions are not permitted at Grand Slams and her impressive comeback gave the top seed even more satisfaction.

“We have had many on-court coaching moments, and now I can say I have learned how to come out from a bad feeling on court,” she said.

“So today it was a good moment, I could come back alone, by myself. And this makes me a little bit more confident. And also stronger mentally, because I was able to do it alone.”

Halep has little time to rest as she takes on Townsend on Thursday.

Svitolina, who beat Halep to retain her Italian Open title in the lead-up to Roland Garros, made tough work of Slovakia’s Viktoria Kuzmova, but advanced to the third round with a 6-3 6-4 win.

“I’m very happy to win in two sets,” said Svitolina. “It’s a tough transition from the hard courts to the clay, but I try to work on my game and do well here – It’s one of my favourite tournaments.”

The World No 4 swept up the first set on serve, but she had to hold off a gritty fightback in the second and although a blistering backhand helped Svitolina move 3-1 ahead, Kuzmova broke back to equal proceedings.

A determined forehand down the line, however, saw the 23-year-old move clear and book a match-up with Romania’s Mihaela Buzarnescu.

Eighth seeded Kvitova is also through to the third round with a 6-0 6-4 result over Spain’s Lara Arruabarrena and will next face Anett Kontaveit, who beat Romanian Alexandra Dulgheru, 7-5 6-2.

Naomi Osaka likes the big events

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Japan’s Naomi Osaka moved on with a 6-4 7-5 win over Kazakh Zarina Diyas.

At her press conference she explained that she does not think about the French Open as a clay court tournament because she feels very comfortable at tennis’s biggest events.

“I tend to be better in Grand Slams,” the Japanese said. “And I think I just focus more on the tennis part rather than making up excuses of what the surface is and how my play style isn’t suited for it.

“My main priority is always to do really well and play great matches, and I think that that sort of gets rid of the fact that it’s [on a] clay court.”

Osaka, 20, was tipped as a future star from an early age and fulfilled some of that promise when she stunned a host of top names on her way to winning the title in Indian Wells in March.

Consequently, there is now more attention on the Japanese wherever she goes, and that has led to a change in routine.

“I’m only here if I have to be, to be honest, if I have a match or something and just to eat lunch,” said Osaka.

“Before, when I was younger, I used to love walking around and just experiencing the atmosphere.

“But now I think of this as my job, so it’s like clocking in and clocking out, but hoping to spend as little time as possible.”

If Osaka is going to progress at Roland Garros, she will have to beat Madison Keys in her next match.

“The last time I played her was last year in Indian Wells. And, of course, I know how great of a player she is. And I have never beaten her, so there’s that.”

This year has been one of firsts for Osaka, with her first Grand Slam fourth round appearance at the Australian Open, first WTA title, first entry into the World’s Top 30 and her first appearance at a major as a seeded player in Paris.

Caroline Woznacki eases through to the next round

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Caroline Wozniacki, the current Australian Open champion, was done with hanging around on Wednesday, as she walloped Georgina Garcia Perez 6-1 6-0 in double-quick time to reach the third round.

With the first three matches scheduled on Court Philippe Chatrier on Day Four all going the distance and lasting a combined 8 hours 46 minutes, Wozniacki made it into the arena shortly before 7pm local time, but 51 minutes later, the Danish second seed was offering Spain’s Garcia Perez a consolation handshake.

She was all smiles after extending her winning streak at the majors to nine matches.

“It was definitely a good match. I neutralised her serve, which was the main thing,” said the 27-year-old, whose best showing in Paris is two quarter-final appearances from 10 previous visits.

She secured her round three meeting with Pauline Parmentier, the winner of an all-French tussle with Alize Cornet, 6-7(2) 6-2 6-4.

American Sloane Stephens has dropped only six games in her first two matches at the French Open.

Those victories have impressed former US Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe, who now believes the reigning U.S. Open champion can claim a second Grand Slam title at Roland Garros.

“Just FYI. Sloane Stephens is winning this tournament,” McEnroe tweeted after Stephens dispatched qualifier Magdalena Frech 6-2 6-2 in just over an hour on Wednesday.

The No 10 seed, who never got past the fourth round in her six previous appearances at the tournament, is more cautious after missing Paris last year and going through a stretch of poor results following her win at Flushing Meadows.

“That’s so sweet, that was nice of him,” Stephens said about McEnroe’s tweet. “I mean, I can’t predict the future, I don’t know. I would love to. We’ll see next Saturday.”

There is a very long way to go for Stephens, who has yet to meet top contenders at Roland Garros.

She will face a more serious test in the third round against Camila Giorgi of Italy, who has lost only eight games in her first two matches.

Giorgi has beaten Stephens twice in their three meetings, including a 6-3 6-0 rout in Sidney this year on hard court.

Stephens does not give too much importance to that result, though, as it came during her post-US Open struggles following a knee injury.

“I was coming out of an injury and tried to get my season started,” she said.

After winning in New York, Stephens did not win a match for the rest of the season, beaten in the first round at the Australian Open in January and struggling with her form until March, when she won the title in Miami.

Elsewhere, two more Americans, Serena and Venus Williams, won their first Grand Slam doubles match in nearly two years.

The sisters, who last competed at a major tournament together when they won Wimbledon in 2016, moved into the second round by fighting back for a 4-6 6-4 6-1 victory over the 14th-seeded Japanese pairing of Shuko Aoyama and Miyu Kato.




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