Paris | Cornet says farewell as Sabalenka and Rybakina get off the mark

This year’s French Open is steeped with emotion as farewells seem to be on the cards for Andy Murray, Rafa Nadal and then, on Tuesday, to home favourite Alizé Cornet, who lost her 1st-round match and bid goodbye to her beloved Roland Garros.

It’s been a difficult day with a lot of emotion. It’s a 20-year page that I’m turning and I’m going to a new chapter in my life. I wish I could have played better, but I gave everything I could to this sport. Alizé Cornet

It is fitting that the feisty 34-year old Frenchwoman chose Paris for her final Grand Slam appearance, and there were, of course, tears.

Always eager to cause an upset, Cornet orchestrated 25 Top 10 wins in her career, spanning multiple generations of players and nearly two decades, but Zheng Qinwen, her opponent on Court Philippe-Chatrier, was determined not to be added to her formidable list.

The Australian Open finalist from China dealt with the occasion coolly to end Cornet’s career, 6-2 6-1, in an hour and 23 minutes.

“I’d like to be remembered as a genuine player who shared all her emotions with everyone all throughout her career with a fighting spirit,” Cornet told the press later. “Someone who is a passionate tennis player, who likes to fight and who could die for it.

“I think I showed it several times, that it was actually my type of character. People may love me or not for that type of personality, actually, but this is what brought me until here.”

She was greeted by huge cheers from the stands before even the first point had been played, but it was Zheng who controlled the tempo of the match throughout.

The 21-year-old tallied 25 winners to 19 unforced errors, successfully using her raw power to keep Cornet at bay.

The Frenchwoman roused local hopes briefly in the first set as she pulled back from 4-0 down to 4-2, and showed of her array of defensive spins and angles as she dragged Zheng into some excellent exchanges.

The Chinese 7th seed, though, came out on top of them, winning 10 of the 15 rallies of 9 shots or more, and frequently ending the lung-busting points with delicate drop-shots.

Cornet boldly fended off the first 3 match points she faced, and, appropriately, it took something special from Zheng to finally put the indefatigable 34-year-old away – a beautifully angled forehand volley that cut off the Frenchwoman’s attempted pass.

The curtain came down on Cornet’s career, which ended with her record 69th consecutive Grand Slam main draw appearance.

Cornet started her WTA Tour career as a 15-year-old wild-card at Roland Garros in 2005, where she reached the 2nd-round before falling to the No 3 seed that year, Amélie Mauresmo.

Now the Roland Garros tournament director, Mauresmo was there again, and as a montage of her finest career moments played out on the Chatrier screen, Cornet was moved to tears, and was embraced by the former World No 1.

“It’s been a difficult day with a lot of emotion,” Cornet said. “It’s a 20-year page that I’m turning and I’m going to a new chapter in my life. I wish I could have played better, but I gave everything I could to this sport.”

World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka got off the mark with a convincing win over Erika Andreeva on Court Philippe-Chatrier on Tuesday at the French Open

© Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images

Aryna Sabalenka, the World No 2, followed on Chatrier, the roof closed on a cold, rainy day in Paris that saw no play on the outside courts until late afternoon.

The Belarusian took on Erica Andreeva, the elder of the Russian sisters, for the first time, having twice beaten younger sister Mirra, and breezed through the opening set before ultimately advancing in 68 minutes, 6-1 6-2.

“It was great match, great start for me,” Sabalenka said after the match. “I think I was focusing on myself the whole game. I think that’s why I was able to bring such good tennis.

“In these conditions I just prepare myself for long rallies, and I’m not trying to hit bigger, because if you hit bigger it brings more unforced errors, which is not really something I’m looking to. I’m just preparing myself mentally that it’s going to be longer points and it’s going to take more shots to finish the point.”

Sabalenka enjoyed her best result at Roland Garros last year, coming to within a point of the final before bowing out to Czech Karolina Muchova, the eventual runner-up, in the semi-finals.

She arrived in Paris this spring fresh off a consistent clay-court season, reaching back-to-back finals at the Mutua Madrid Open and the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, losing only to World No 1 Iga Swiatek.

With the Pole safely tucked on the opposite half of the draw, Sabalenka will probably have to contend with rival Elena Rybakina, her projected semi-final opponent and 4th seed, who defeated Belgian Greet Minnen, 6-2 6-2, under the new roof on Court Suzanne-Lenglen.

Rybakina had to overcome an early wobble to glide past Minnen, showing no signs of the illness that had hampered her preparations for the year’s second major.

Sabalenka had to face Andreeva, a 19-year-old making her Roland Garros main-draw debut, having been the 2021 junior Roland Garros runner-up, and so the 2nd-seed was taking no prisoners, breaking twice to bag the opening set behind 13 winners to 7 unforced errors.

Andreeva took a lengthy off-court change between sets, before scoring her first break to level the second at 1-1, but Sabalenka remained undaunted, storming through 5 of the final 6 games to serve it out on her 3rd match point, overpowering the Russian and ending with a delicate drop-shot at the net to cheers from the crowd.

“In practice, I do it very well,” Sabalenka said on court. “But I wasn’t sure I can do it on the match court.

“Now I started using it in the matches. It didn’t work well before, but now it has started working, finally, after many years of practising my touch game.”

Awaiting her in the next round will be Moyuka Uchijima of Japan, who dispatched fellow qualifier Irene Burillo Escorihuela from Spain, 6-1 6-1, later in the day.

Madison Keys led the American charge on Tuesday with a straight sets win over Renata Zarazua at Roland Garros

© Clive Mason/Getty Images

There was success for 3 out of the 4 Americans in action on Tuesday, with wins for Madison Keys, Emma Navarro and Peyton Stearns, but former US Open Sloane Stephens bowed out late in the evening.

14th seed Keys was a 6-3 6-2 winner over Renata Zarazua from Mexico, while Navarro, seeded 22, dispatched Turkish qualifier Zeynep Sonmez, 6-2 6-0, and Stearns edged her way past Croatian qualifier Lucja Ciric Bagaric, 6-3 6-7(8) 7-6(6), after 2 hours and 27 minutes.

Keys was dominant against Zarazua, winning 33 of her opponent’s 51 service points and breaking her 7 times, dictating policy for most of the time, and hitting 27 winners along with her 27 unforced errors; while Navarro had no difficulties against Sonmez.

22-year old Peyton Stearns had to battle long and hard to get past qualifier Lucija Ciric Bagaric on Day 3

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Out on Court 11, though, when play eventually began late in the day, 22-year old Stearns looked to be in control but carelessly dropped the second set, then thought she had won the third, as she defeated Ciric Bagaricin in the final set breaker.

Having won the WTA 250 title last week in Rabat, Morocco, despite trailing 0-5 in the third set of her quarter-final with Lucia Bronzetti, Stearns won 7 games in a row and saved 2 match points en route to unlikely victory in Paris.

Leading, 6-3 5-4, 40-15, Stearns struck 4 consecutive double-faults, and not only was she broken in that game but was again, to love, at 6-5.

She earned 3 more match points in the tiebreak, but failed to convert, just as the drizzle which had disrupted the day’s schedule returned, and she dropped the second set.

“I definitely let out some negative things on the changeover to myself,” said Stearns afterwards. “I think [the rain] was definitely in the back of my mind a little bit. Didn’t help the stressy-ness and tightness at all.”

Stearns trailed by breaks at 2-1, 3-2 and 4-3 in the decider, the latter after Ciric Bagaric won a 10-plus minute game.

The Croatian, ranked 184, but who boasted a 25-5 record in 2024, mainly earned at lower-level tournaments, had her own chance to serve out the match at 5-4, but Stearns turned the tables, breaking Ciric Bagaric when she absolutely needed to.

“I competed the whole third set,” Stearns said. “I found a way, and that’s the most important thing at the end of the day.”

Stearns thought she had won the match when she reached 7 points in the breaker, she confessed, but needed another point.

“I was like, OK, guess you just gotta win again,” Stearns told the Tennis Channel about her premature celebration. “Staying calm, trusting myself in big moments. It’s paying off for me lately… I fully believe in myself.”

Stearns will need to be sharper against World No 10 Daria Kasatkina in the 2nd round, after the Russian was a 7-5 6-I 1 winner over Poland’s Magdalena Frech.

Elise Mertens, the 25th seed, edged past Argentine qualifier Maria Lourdes Carle to advance to round 2 in rainy Paris.

© Benoit Doppagne/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images

Amongst other early results on Day 3, Elise Mertens, the 25th seed from Belgium, fought past Argentine qualifier, Maria Lourdes Carle, 6-3 7-6(8), and next will play Petra Martic from Croatia, who took down French wild-card Kristina Mladenovic, 6-4 6-4; while Dutchwoman Arantxa Rus defeated former World No 1 Angelique Kerber from Germany, 6-4 6-3, and will meet Rybakina in round 2.



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