Kenin and Serena get off the mark, but Brits stall

Last year’s French Open finalist Sofia Kenin avoided becoming the second Top 10 seed to fall on Monday, getting past 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko in three sets, while Johanna Konta and Heather Watson fell to Sorana Cirstea and Zarina Diyas respectively, and Serena Williams became the first player to win a night session match in Paris against Irina-Camelia Begu behind closed doors.

I have to say it was pretty cool to be able to play the first night session ever here at Roland Garros. That was something I thoroughly enjoyed... Ironically enough night sessions are not my favourite matches, but I do have a good record at it. Clearly something about it gets me hyped. Serena Williams

Kenin, the No 4 seed from the USA, arrived in Paris winless on clay this spring, but found her stride well enough to overcome the Latvian, 6-4 4-6 6-3, in a hotly-anticipated encounter that lasted just over 2 hours on Court Suzanne-Lenglen.

“I’m really happy with the way I played,” Kenin said later. “I fought out there.

“She’s such a tough player to play. I know her game quite well since I practiced with her during quarantine in Australia. I kind of knew what to expect from her.

“She’s a tough player, a great player. I had to really play some really good tennis and really fight out there if I wanted to win.”

The first two sets unfolded differently, with Kenin rallying from 2-0 and 3-1 down in the opener to ultimately win it, but dropping the second after levelling from 4-1 behind.

The decider was dominated by the returner, with both Kenin and Ostapenko combining to break each other’s serve 8 times.

Kenin’s hold to 15 for a 2-0 lead was ultimately the decisive game, as she book-ended the set with breaks to love.

Having faced another Grand Slam champion, Kenin will now face a fellow American in qualifier Hailey Baptiste after the 19-year-old, who is ranked 202, scored her first win in a major main draw over Russia’s Anna Blinkova, 6-1 6-4.

“I have no idea how she plays. I’ve never watched her. It will be an interesting match,” Kenin added. “I’m taking it one match at a time.

“I’m not looking into what’s going to happen later. For me it was baby steps to get through round one since, obviously, it’s never easy getting through to the first round during a Grand Slam.”

Sorana Cîrstea upset Johanna Konta, the No 19 seed, in the first round at Roland Garros on Monday

© Adam Pretty/Getty Images

British hopes were dashed as both Jo Konta and Heather Watson failed to make it past the first round on Monday, as the British No 1 was outplayed 7-6(5) 6-2 by the World No 54 from Romania, Cirstea and, earlier in the day, Heather Watson fell 6-4 7-5 to Diyas, the No 93 from Kazakstan.

Konta, the 19th seed, has had a disappointing season and the defeat came as no surprise, especially since . Cirstea came into Paris in great form, reaching the final of the Internationaux de Strasbourg on Saturday.

“I think I did a lot of good things out there but obviously not enough,” said Konta. “I think she found her footing quite well, and I couldn’t quite adapt well enough to how she was doing.

“She was hitting through the court really well and playing fast and playing big, which is how she looks to play.”

Perhaps Konta can be forgiven as she arrived in Paris with a ring on her finger after becoming engaged to long-term boyfriend Jackson Wade, who popped the question on 17 May, her 30th birthday.

“It was a semi-surprise,” said Konta. “I wouldn’t say I was completely shocked.

“I kind of expected it once the present came into my hand, I was like, ‘OK, I think this could be a ring’. It was all done with lots of love and it’s something that I’ll always think back on. It was really lovely.”

The pair have not yet set a date for their wedding and Konta brushed aside any suggestion that her motivation may have diminished on a tennis court as a result.

“Obviously you do evolve and you do change, so even the way I was playing my tennis two years ago was different to two years before that to two years before that,” she said. “It keeps evolving as I grow up, as I turn from a teenager to young adult to now a 30-year-old woman.

“So, life changes. But I’m here because I’m training to be here, to compete. So I will be playing until I [no longer] want to do that.”

Watson, shoulder strapped, admitted to not being hundred percent after a recent cold and other ailments affecting her fitness on the court and, although she felt she was striking the ball cleanly, she could not match Diyas’s physicality throughout the match.

“I haven’t been able to train as much as I wanted to, so I need to just get back on the court straight away,” she said. “I just feel absolutely knackered now after a two-set singles match, which I shouldn’t be feeling.

“So, yeah, I just want to get back out there as soon as possible and just be healthy, be training healthy and feel good on the match court.”

Two of the more vulnerable seeded players in the draw, No 20 Marketa Vondrousova and No 16 Kiki Bertens, suffered 3-set tussles but with different outcomes.

Vondrousova, the 2019 runner-up, faced notorious upset artist Kaia Kanepi, who owns 20 wins over seeded players on the Grand Slam stage and, after a slow start, the Estonian held the upper hand after winning the first set 6-4 from 0-3 down.

The Czech raised her intensity levels as Kanepi’s play grew careless and, from 3-3 in the second, Vondrousova reeled off the last 9 games of the match, committing just 1 unforced error in the deciding set compared to Kanepi’s 10, to win 4-6 6-3 6-0.

She now faces wild-card Harmony Tan, who triumphed in an all-French derby on Court Simonne-Mathieu 6-4 6-4 over Alizé Cornet.

Polona Hercog scored her second Top 20 win at a Grand Slam over Kiki Bertens but, unlike Kanepi, does not have a reputation as a danger to top players.

Nevertheless, the 30-year-old Slovenian added Bertens to her list of wins, 6-1 3-6 6-4, and the Dutchwoman follows Bianca Andreescu and Garbiñe Muguruza through the exit door.

Bertens’ return from Achilles tendon surgery this year has not been rewarding and the Dutchwoman, who reached her sole major semi-final at Roland Garros 2016, has compiled a 2-5 record since coming back in March.

Hercog exploited Bertens’ movement with a series of drop-shots and heavy forehands as she raced out to a 5-0 lead, which was sufficient to close out the first set, but a touch of shakiness opened the door for the World No 17, who found some form to gradually turn momentum in her favour.

She advanced to a 4-2 lead in the third, but Hercog hustled superbly to win several key athletic all-court points, and took the last 4 games in a row.

Elsewhere for seeded players and crowd favourites, No 14 Elise Mertens rallied from 1-4 down in the first set to beat Aussie qualifier Storm Sanders, 6-4 6-1, while France’s Caroline Garcia eased to a 6-3 6-1 win over Laura Siegemund from Germany, a quarter-finalist at last year’s tournament.

Serena Williams made history by winning the first night session match at Roland Garros, beating Irina-Camelia Begu in front of an empty stadium

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Serena Williams started her French Open bid with a win in historic first night session as she battled past Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu into the second round.

“I have to say it was pretty cool to be able to play the first night session ever here at Roland Garros. That was something I thoroughly enjoyed.”

The tournament is holding a separate evening session for the first time, emulating the US Open and Australian Open, although for the moment it is behind closed doors because of Paris’ 9pm curfew.

Williams arrived in the French capital with only one victory on clay this season and had some dicey moments, particularly when she faced 2 set points in a first-set tiebreak.

The 7th seed, who had led 5-2, saved both and improved throughout the second set to a 7-6(6) 6-2 victory.

“I’m happy that I was able to save those moments,” Williams said. “Did not want to lose that first set.

“I wasn’t thinking at that moment. I was just thinking to get that ball out the air, because I’ve been hitting some good swing volleys in practice.”

Begu will rue missing those set points but during her long and illustrious career, the 23-time Grand Slam singles winner has made a habit of fighting back from difficult situations, and when she trailed 6-4 in the breaker she broke free of trouble.

Her victory over Begu, in the first-ever official night session at Roland-Garros, extends her stellar record in night matches on the sport’s biggest stages.

According to the US Tennis Association, Williams has won 44 out of 53 night matches at the US Open, while at the Australian Open, the American has won 14 of 15 matches played at night, across all courts, dating back to 2008, the WTA reports.

“Ironically enough night sessions are not my favourite matches, but I do have a good record at it,” said Williams. “Clearly something about it gets me hyped.”

Williams, who won her last major title at the 2017 Australian Open and has lost 4 Grand Slam singles finals since coming back from maternity leave in 2018, continues her quest for a record-equalling 24th major singles championship against another skilful Romanian, Mihaela Buzarnescu.



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