Soulless. Dank. Conditions on Day 1 of the French Open were cold, windy and damp, slowing down the clay courts to almost pedestrian level, and with no fans to speak of around to lift Johanna Konta past Coco Gauff on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
I don’t see the point of sitting on the court when it’s 8 degrees. We are sitting like ducks. It’s too cold, it’s 8 degrees, I live in Florida. This is getting a little ridiculous. I’m not waiting, Victoria Azarenka
The British No 1 made it onto court in the late afternoon just as compatriot Sir Andy Murray made his appearance and subsequent exit on Court Philippe Chatrier with an open roof despite it having been closed all day until then.
Both produced lacklustre performances and both are now free to leave the Paris bubble for home.
Top seed Simona Halep celebrated her 29th birthday in style with a 6-4 6-0 victory over Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo under the new Chatrier retractable roof, escaping the worst of the weather and becoming the first woman to win a match on the revamped show-court.
Others were frustrated at having to play in such wet, windy and cold conditions.
Former World No 1 Victoria Azarenka complained on court about the chill and damp, then walking off the court saying it was too cold to play.
The French Open, which was pushed back from its traditional May-June slot due to the coronavirus, began in steady drizzle and temperatures struggling to reach 10 degrees (50F).
It was all too much for Azarenka, 31, who left the almost deserted Lenglen after just 3 games.
“I don’t see the point of sitting on the court when it’s eight degrees,” the 2-time major winner said.“We are sitting like ducks. It’s too cold, it’s 8 degrees, I live in Florida. This is getting a little ridiculous. I’m not waiting,” she said before storming off to seek shelter.
She returned to complete a 6-1 6-2 win over Montenegro’s qualifier Danka Kovinic, playing in black leggings and a tracksuit top.
“Does it increase the risk of players getting injured? Absolutely, I think that it does,” she added ahead of a week in which the cold, wet conditions are forecast to continue.
“I’m glad that I’m able to finish and now I can watch everybody struggle with this weather,” Azarenka noted.
Konta falls to Gauff
The weather had marginally improved by the time Konta got onto the court, sporting its new lights as dusk fell in Paris, but she faced a real threat in American teen sensation Coco Gauff, who notched the biggest upset of opening-day of play at Roland Garros by knocking out the No 9 seed and 2019 semi-finalist, 6-3 6-3.
The 16-year-old American is making her Paris main-draw debut and she claimed her 4th Top 20 win of her short career as she eased past the World No 13 after an hour and 41 minutes of play.
“I don’t really take anything for granted, because I’m just happy to be playing,” Gauff said, in her post-match press conference. “I don’t think maybe winning matches at slams is something I’m used to, especially this is my first main draw at Roland Garros.
“When I’m on the court, I can act like I’m used to it. When I’m off the court, I’m just happy to be here.”
The youngest of the 11 teenagers in the draw, Gauff was sturdier on break points, converting 5 of 12, while Konta could only get 2 of 7 over the line and although the Brit outhit Gauff by 22 winners to 14, she was undone by 41 unforced errors on the day.
The match was far from a good one, as Gauff continued to have serving issues, tossing in 12 double faults.
“I know that [Konta] likes to play really hard and play the ball into her,” said Gauff. “So coming into the match I already knew I was going to change the pace and everything.
“To be honest, I was surprised how good the slice was today. I mean, the backhand slice I work on a lot. It’s not the best, but I try to work on it.
“The forehand slice, I think it was just natural. I knew I had to change up the pace of the ball, especially in the conditions.”
Gauff got off to a flying start, breezing through the opening set before dropping serve early in the second, allowing Konta to move 2-0 up, but the American broke straight back and, again, in a 9-minute 5th game to move 3-2 up, followed it up on serve to lead 4-2.
She served for the match at 5-2 but Konta broke back for 5-3, only for the Briton to collapse in the following game, bowing out on the second match point when she netted a routine shot.
Konta has now lost in the first round at the French for a 5th time in 6 years.
“I’m playing against another professional who is doing very well and who is obviously playing very good tennis,” Konta said. “It doesn’t really matter how old she is.
“I think the age and those things, I think that’s a factor for you guys, and for public interest, and for sponsors, and for things like that. But as a fellow competitor, that’s got nothing to do with us competing out on court.”
In her sophomore year, Coco Gauff has had her share of troubles and she reported a poignant exchange she’d had with her dad just before she went out to face Konta: “My dad told me something in the warmup: ‘You’re living your dream, so just enjoy and have fun.’
“His goal was to become an NBA player, and he didn’t make it. He told me, ‘You’re living your dream. Not everybody gets to do that. Just have fun on the court.’
“That really changed my perspective. I was really nervous going into the match. That just calmed me down. I realised it’s just a match.
“I’m doing some things that people wish they could do. Just go out there and enjoy it.”
Gauff’s next test is Italy’s Martina Trevisan, who came through 3 rounds of qualifying and benefitted from the withdrawal of compatriot Camila Giorgi, 7-5 3-0 retired, to reach the second round.
Halep wins opener
Tournament favourite Simona Halep celebrated her 29th birthday by upping her win streak to a career-best 15 after thumping Sara Sorribes Tormo, 6-4 6-0.
The Romanian was down 4-2 early before running away with the match in the cool conditions under the Chatrier roof.
“The perfect present was that I won today, of course,” Halep said. “It was a really special day playing on Roland Garros on my birthday. So it’s going to be pretty unique, maybe forever.”
Halep became the first-ever women’s winner under Court Philippe Chatrier’s new roof on a cold and damp opening day.
“I was very honoured to open actually this roof, to be the first women’s match,” said Halep. “It was much better, because we could play and the rain didn’t stop us at all.
“Even if it was a little bit heavy, because of the weather, it was good conditions to play in this rainy day,” the top seed added.
All of these new developments combined with inspired play by Sorribes Tormo to make the first set quite tense, as Halep had to fight back from a break down twice in the opening frame.
Nevertheless, from 2-4 down, Halep reeled off 10 games in a row en route to the comprehensive win.
“Still, I felt the cold,” said Halep. “I’m not very happy with the cold in general. So it was a little bit tough. I struggled.
“But, you know, I just have in my mind it is for both of us the same, so I have just to keep calm. The fact that I could change a little bit the tactic during the match, it makes me very pleased with the victory.”
Halep’s 23 winners were matched by her 23 unforced errors, but Sorribes Tormo only mustered up 10 winners against her 16 miscues, while the top seed claimed over 60 percent of points off of the Spaniard’s first service, leading to her 6 breaks of serve from 9 break points.
“At the beginning I just wanted to be aggressive and to hit the balls everywhere,” said Halep. “But [Sorribes Tormo] was so strong on the legs, and she didn’t miss at all.
“And also, her ball is coming a little bit higher and with a lot of topspin, so it’s not easy to play from up to the shoulder. And then I just started to open the court better, to go slower, and to work for every ball, which I did very well.
“And drop-shots,” Halep added with a smile.
Halep will face another tough test in the second round against fellow Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu, who ground out a tough win over Jil Teichmann of Switzerland, 6-4 4-6 6-3.
Other Sunday results
Venus Williams lost her third straight first round at the French Open, falling to Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, 6-4 6-4, while Caroline Garcia thrilled the locals by upending 17th seed Anett Kontaveit, 6-4 3-6 6-4, and Eugenie Bouchard, Daria Gavrilova and Yulia Putintseva were also winners.
Belgium’s 16th seed Elise Mertens saw off Russia’s Margarita Gasparyan 6-2, 6-3, while Greece’s 20th seed Maria Sakkari made quick work of Australia’s Ajla Tomljanović in a 6-0 7-5 victory and Czech 32nd seed Barbora Strýcová won in straight sets against American player Varvara Lepchenko.
On Monday, 3-time champion Serena Williams opens play against countrywoman Kristie Ahn, and former semi-finalists Petra Kvitova, Elina Svitolina and Kiki Bertens are also in action.