Paris | Muguruza rises as Kerber and Venus make early exits

Former champion Garbiñe Muguruza was forced to work hard to survive her opening match on the first day of Roland Garros, but lived to fight on another day.

It’s cool to be the first player on this court,” says Muguruza. “It has a different feeling, like in a garden. It’s a very cute court – not small, but cosy. Garbine Muguruza

Playing the first match on the new show court, Court Simonne-Mathieu, the World No 19, who won full honours in Paris in 2016, may be considered a relative outsider for the title this year, but the Spaniard is regaining her form on the clay with her 25th win at Roland Garros.

The beauty of the new 5,000-capacity Court Simonne-Mathieu was fully evident on Sunday when this enchanted garden could be seen in glorious full bloom, with a quartet of contemporary glasshouses fringing the four sides of the arena, each a botanical hothouse of subtropical plants from Australia, Africa, South America or Asia.

Spectators were presented with a chic commemorative linen tote to mark the occasion and the opening match provided perfect drama for them, as Muguruza repelled a stern challenge from Taylor Townsend, 5-7 6-2 6-2, taking an hour and 59 minutes to overcome the American.

She got broken twice and delivered 6 breaks of serve from 9 opportunities, closing the match with 37 winners and 29 unforced errors.

The American also had more direct points than mistakes but grabbed only 2 breaks, good enough to keep her in contention only in the opener.

They traded breaks in games 6 and 7, pushing each other to the limits until game 12 when Taylor broke at love for a 7-5.

Muguruza was forced to raise her level in the second set, serving with better accuracy and finding her range to take 2 breaks in both sets two and three to advance into the second round.

The first-ever win on Court Simonne-Mathieu belonged to Muguruza, who delivered a delicious drop shot on her 4th match point to seal the deal.

“It’s cool to be the first player on this court,” says Muguruza. “It has a different feeling, like in a garden. It’s a very cute court – not small, but cosy.”

Bernard Giudicelli, President of the French Tennis Federation, led the official inauguration of the new court following the match, paying tribute to Simonne Mathieu’s triumphs in the singles, doubles and mixed doubles of Roland-Garros in 1938, along with her repeat singles win the following year, and also to her courageous service during World War II.

The ceremony concluded with a live performance by 15 musicians of a specially-commissioned piece by Thomas Roussel.

Not so fortunate were Angelique Kerber and Venus Williams, who both lost their opening matches.

Kerber’s chance to complete a career Grand Slam this year was thwarted by Anastasia Potapova on Court Philippe Chatrier, 6-4 6-2.

The three-time Grand Slam winner’s preparations for Roland Garros, where she has never advanced beyond the quarter-finals, were hampered by a right-ankle injury she suffered at the Madrid Open.

Playing her first-ever Roland-Garros main draw, 18-year-old Potapova did not blink during her straight-sets rout of No 5 seed Kerber, holding her nerve against the reigning Wimbledon champion and speaking volumes about her potential.

She fired 28 winners against 21 unforced errors during her 73-minute victory, sealing the opening set with a cross-court backhand winner and breaking twice at the start of the second.

Contesting just her third-ever Grand Slam main draw, this was the 81st-ranked Potapova’s first triumph over a top-10 opponent.

Kerber saved 2 match points before shanking a forehand wide, sealing her fate.

The 5th-seeded German has won the Australian Open and US Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2018 but must now wait another year to test her skills in Paris.

“I mean, a lot of things in my head, but for sure, I was just speechless. I didn’t know what to say and what to do, but, yes, I was so happy at the moment, and I’m still so happy,” the young Russian said of how she felt after converting her match point.

“I was live for this win, for these emotions, for these moments. I’m going to do everything to live it through again and again and again.”

She added: “I was really looking forward for this match, because Kerber, I like her very much.

“She’s actually one of my idols, and when I was young I was looking for her game, how she’s playing.

“When you step in on the court and you know you play your, I would say idol, you just gotta show your best. That helped me.”

Venus Williams was making her 22nd appearance at the French Open, and it was to be a brief showing.

The 2002 runner-up lost her opener for the second year in a row, beaten by 9th-seeded Elina Svitolina, 6-3 6-3, in an hour, 13 minutes after being broken in 7 of her 9 service games.

The 38-year-old American lost in the first round for the fourth time in the last seven years at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament.

Svitolina snapped her four-match losing streak with her dominant win over Venus, the Ukrainian having been troubled by a knee injury and not won a match since Indian Wells in March, but she handled her tricky opener with the perfect mindset.

“I didn’t really focus on this, I didn’t really think about my losing streak because I think all the matches that I played, except Madrid maybe, was close and I felt not too bad,” she Svitolina after her win.

“And I didn’t lose any confidence, I would say. And I think this mindset really helped me today to play good match under pressure because it was quite tough match.”

On how she got through the tough times these past couple of months, the World No 9 said: “I think I watched lots of documentaries about the athletes, how they bounce back, and it’s just the progress of overcoming challenges, and it’s important to react the right way and find the things what is going to help you.”

The No 31 seed Petra Martic played in the fourth round here twice, and is ready to repeat that this week too, kicking off her campaign with a 6-1 6-2 triumph over Ons Jabeur in 63 minutes, celebrating her 9th win at Roland Garros.

Jabeur broke the Croat twice but she needed much more than that to make an impact, dropping 66% of the points in her games and giving serve away 6 times from 10 chances offered to Martic.

Johanna Larsson ousted Magdalena Rybarikova 6-3 6-4 in an hour and 21 minutes, losing serve only once and forging the advantage with three breaks from eight opportunities.

The Swede clinched the first set with a break in game 6 and had to dig deep in set number two, overcoming a 4-1 deficit to rattle off five straight games and score straight sets triumph.

The 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova claimed her 7th Grand Slam victory, beating Yafan Wang 6-4 6-3 in an hour and 21 minutes, firing 22 winners and 18 unforced errors and stealing the Chinese’s serve 5 times from 11 opportunities.

Vondrousova launched the encounter with 3 straight breaks and delivered 2 more in the second to book her place in round two, looking good to do a lot of damage in the draw this year in Paris.

Kristina Kucova, who defeated Britain’s Katie Swan in the last round of qualifying, continued her run in Paris by dismissing the 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-4 6-2 in just 67 minutes, fending off all 4 break points and moving in front with 3 breaks from 6 chances, playing better and better as the match progressed.



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