Paris | Stephens and Muguruza through
Last year’s runner-up, Sloane Stephens, is defending 1,300 WTA ranking points at the French Open in Paris, and remains on track by defeating Sara Sorribes Tormo in Day 4’s first match on Court Philippe-Chatrier.
Right now in the women's game, if you don't play well you go home very fast. You've got to be competitive and play your A-game all the time. Garbine Muguruza
The 2016 winner, Garbiñe Muguruza, is looking ever more a champion as she finds her groove again on the clay of Roland Garros.
The Spaniard dropped a set in her opener and found herself up against an opponent she had never played before in World No 172 Johanna Larsson.
While she confessed to ‘a difficult day when I couldn’t find my rhythm’ in her three-setter against Taylor Townsend on Sunday, she had little difficulty winning through, a 6-4 6-1 victor in a match switched from Court 1 to Court Suzanne-Lenglen just an hour before the start of play.
The change of venue came after Elina Svitolina’s scheduled opponent, compatriot Kateryna Kozlova, withdrew with a virus leaving the Ukrainian 9th seed, a childhood friend, in the last 32.
As it happens, Muguruza’s next opponent is Svitolina in an intriguing third-round clash.
Larsson has had a rough old time of it of late, losing 8 straight opening rounds before reaching the second stage in defence of her Nurnberg title last week.
The Swede saw off the highly useful Magdalena Rybarikova in the opening round, but being broken for 3-2, she could barely get a point on the Muguruza serve.
The Spaniard stonewalled any misplaced idea of a revival by plundering 14 of the first 16 points in the second set, winning most of the good rallies, and by the time Muguruza put away match point, she was winning 83 per cent of her points on her first serve.
“It was a better match than my first one,” Muguruza agreed. “I felt more calm.
“I really wanted to continue the adventure. I tried to build points a bit more instead of hitting very hard and trying to get a winner. I also used more topspin, and I tried to be more patient.
“Right now in the women’s game, if you don’t play well you go home very fast. You’ve got to be competitive and play your A-game all the time.”
The prospect of Svitolina is intriguing, who leads their completed WTA Tour-level main draw encounters 4-1, with Muguruza retiring from their only clay meeting two years ago in Rome.
“It’s a great third round for both of us,” said Muguruza. “Personally, it’s the type of match I want to play.
Maybe it’s a bit too early, but too bad. It will be very interesting. It’s going to be a good one.”
Last year’s finalist, Sloane Stephens of the United States, slid into the third round with a second consecutive straight-set win, earning a 6-1 7-6(3) victory over another Spaniard, World No 75 Sara Sorribes Tormo.
“Obviously played well both matches, so just happy to be back in a good position in a slam,” Stephens said in her post-match press conference.
In their only previous match, Stephens eked out a victory over the Spaniard in two gruelling tiebreak sets earlier this year in Charleston.
On Wednesday in Paris, however, the No 7 seed clinched a quick first set but had to come back three times from a break down in the second set before claiming another tiebreak victory over the solid Spaniard, wrapping up the match after 86 minutes.
The American converted all seven of her break points in the match, and had 24 winners to the Spaniard’s 9.
“I have had obviously, like, my best consistent results here,” Stephens stated. “I like playing here. It suits my game well.
“Once I get into a good rhythm in the tournament, I have better results,” the World No 7 added. “I just try to do that. I just try to play the best I can from the very beginning, and just see how it goes.”
Stephens dominated the opening frame with rocketing groundstrokes, claiming a service break in the first game by cracking open a rally on break point with a stirring backhand.
The American rolled through the third game with ferocious forehands, earning another break, this time at love, to take a 3-0 lead.
The forehand side served Stephens well as the set progressed, as she used that wing to force an error on game point to extend her lead to 4-0.
Sorribes Tormo finally got on the board in the following game, but the damage had been done in the first set by then.
After holding for 5-1 with a down-the-line backhand winner, Stephens raced to triple set point in the next game, helped along by a double fault by the Spaniard at 0-30.
The American converted her first chance after Sorribes Tormo fired a backhand miscue into the net.
It surely seemed as though it would be a quick day at the office for Stephens, as she continued her momentum in the early stages of the second set, opening up another 3-0 lead.
Sorribes Tormo finally earned her first break of the match to get back on serve at 3-2, as the Spaniard found verve on her groundstrokes and deployed delightful drop shots with ease.
The Spaniard ended a four-game winning streak up a break at 4-3 before Stephens rebounded to break back for 4-4, finishing that game with a forehand winner.
Stephens could not close out another quick set for the win, dropping serve twice more to hand Sorribes Tormo leads at 5-4 and 6-5.
The Spaniard, however, was unable to serve out the set at either of those junctures, ending the 6-5 game with two straight double faults and sending the match into a tiebreak.
Stephens, 10-2 in 2019 tiebreaks coming into this match, used incredible foot speed to keep her nose in front throughout the breaker, chasing down everything the Spaniard threw at her.
A screaming forehand winner put Stephens up 5-3, and a subsequent long forehand error by the Spaniard gave Stephens triple match point.
Finally, the aggression that served Stephens so well in the opener was unleashed for the final point, as the American shot a blistering backhand winner down the line to take the tiebreak 7-3 and seal her spot in the third round of Roland Garros for the seventh time in her career.
There Stephens will face Polona Hercog of Slovenia, who took 2 and a quarter hours to defeat another the American Jennifer Brady, 6-3,5-7(8) 6-4 in a tough second-round match.
Hercog won her third WTA singles title on the clay courts of Lugano earlier this year, but Stephens leads their head-to-head 3-0, including a second-round win at Roland Garros in 2014.
In the bottom quarter of the draw, the World No 2, Karolina Pliskova, took less than an hour to put a 6-2, 6-2 score on the Slovakian qualifier Kristina Kucova, who had eliminated the former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the first round.
The Czech next plays the 31st seed, Pera Martic, whose 6-1 6-1 win against Kristina Mladenovic looked almost as easy.
Martic was targeting a tour-leading 13th match-win on clay this season, joining Bertens and Maria Sakkari at the top of the 2019 match-wins on clay leaderboard.
Also through to the third round are Kaia Kanepi to play Veronica Kudermetova; the 12th seed, Anastasija Sevastova, to meet the World No 20, Elise Mertens; and Carla Suáez‑Navarro (28) against Marketa Vondrousova, who beat Angelique Kerber’s conqueror, Anastasia Potapova, in two quick sets.
Out of the tournament is Kiki Bertens who, after just 21 minutes of play on Philippe-Chatrier, tearfully left the court in distress, retiring from her second-round match against Viktoria Kuzmova with viral gastroenteritis.
Trailing 4-1 in the opening set, the No 4 seed called for the trainer and complained of symptoms of illness, before deciding she could not continue.
Bertens was one of the favourites in the women’s field, and many people’s tip to claim her maiden Grand Slam title after a fabulous clay-court season in which she won the Madrid title.
“Yesterday I felt good. No problems at all. I was practicing, resting, and I felt really well. Ready for today. And then this morning I woke up at 3:00, and then I felt really sick,” Bertens later told the press.
“Vomiting, diarrhoea all night long, all day long. I felt a little bit better before the match. I had some sleep, and I just wanted to give it a try, but then as soon as I start warming up right before the match, it started again. Yeah, there was not any energy left.
“Yeah, I’m always trying. You never know what happens on court. I just wanted to give myself, give the chance to play and see what’s happening. But it was, no, it was better maybe not to step on the court today.”
Her withdrawal means that Kuzmova breaks new Grand Slam ground by going through to a third round for the first time.
The 21-year-old Slovakian will play Johanna Konta, the No 26 seed.
Meanwhile, Canadian No 22 seed Bianca Andreescu withdrew ahead of her second round against Sofia Kenin that was scheduled for Thursday due to an ongoing right shoulder injury that had kept her out of action since March, prior to Paris.
The match between Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic (15) and Laura Siegemund from Germany was held over with the score at 4-4 in the third due to fading light.