Defending champion Iga Swiatek got her campaign going at the French Open on her birthday on Monday with a win over her best friend Kaja Juvan but both Bianca Andreescu and Garbiñe Muguruza were first round casualties, falling to Tamara Zidansek and Marta Kostyuk respectively.
You never know what's going to happen when you're coming out on a court as a defending champion. I've never been in a situation like that. I'm really glad I could handle that pretty well and just play tennis, play a normal match without having in the back of my mind that I'm defending the title. Iga Świątek
Swiatek celebrated her 20th birthday with a practice session with her idol Rafael Nadal, and carried the inspiration onto Court Philippe Chatrier in the opening match of the day.
“It was great,” she said. “I had to prepare. Write some small (talk) topics, not to have an awkward silence. But Rafa is really, really great. He’s a really nice guy. Even though I am pretty introverted, it was really fun for me.
“Obviously I got to feel his forehand, which was great, and his topspin. That was a whole new experience for me. It gave me a lot of positive energy. It was really a huge inspiration for me.
“It’s really nice to see such a champion being normal off court, and also telling jokes and being a little bit sarcastic. He’s the guy that everybody can take something from for themselves.”
The young Pole, seeded 11, produced a stunning display to take the first set to love, her third 6-0 set in a row after a double bagel against Karolina Pliskova in the final in Rome, and won the match, 6-0 7-5 after an hour 29 minutes.
Untouchable for the first half of the match, Swiatek dropped just 9 points in the opener but had to work harder to close out the match as Juvan raised her level, and needed all of her focus to edge the second, which could have gone either way.
“You never know what’s going to happen when you’re coming out on a court as a defending champion,” said Swiatek, who struck 22 winners to 24 unforced errors. “I’ve never been in a situation like that.
“I’m really glad I could handle that pretty well and just play tennis, play a normal match without having in the back of my mind that I’m defending the title.
“It’s never easy to play against your best friend. You just try to block this friendship for two hours, just focus on the game. I think I’m doing that pretty well. It’s nice to have that skill.
“I feel like my game is better and better. My coaches were planning everything for me to have the peak of my shape right now. Hopefully it’s going to be here.”
Swiatek’s winning streak of games reached 20 before Juvan finally held in the second set and, from there, the Slovenian turned a one-sided rout into an absorbing contest, methodically working her way back into the match by adjusting her tactics and execution.
Having hit 12 unforced errors but no winners in the first set, Juvan began to find success by repeatedly deploying a well-disguised drop-shot and, sometimes, a fake drop-shot that drew Swiatek forwards before Juvan pushed the ball deep instead.
The 20-year-old’s canny play very nearly forced a third set.
Having broken back to erase a 1-3 deficit, Juvan held 2 break points at 5-5, and missed a pass by inches on the second.
Serving to stay in the match, she staved off the first 3 match points she faced with bold play but Swiatek, sensing victory, continued to pile on the pressure and a final backhand on her 4th match point was too much for Juvan to handle and sealed the Pole’s 7th win in a row.
Up next for Swiatek is Rebecca Peterson, who came from a set and 2-5 down to beat American Shelby Rogers 6-7(3) 7-6(8) 6-2 in exactly 3 hours, the Swede saving 3 match points in the second-set tiebreak.
Elsewhere, out on Court 14, the first big upset in the women’s draw saw 6th seed Bianca Andreescu lose 6-7(7) 7-6(2) 9-7 to Slovenian Tamara Zidansek in an epic contest lasting 3 hours 20 minutes.
The Canadian has been held back by repeated injury problems since winning her first Grand Slam title at the US Open in 2019, and this was only her second tournament since the beginning of April because of an ankle problem and a bout of coronavirus.
“Obviously, the first Top 10 win is a big one” Zidansek said after the match. “It shows me that I can play with players like that, and I showed today that I can beat them.
“Clay courts are my favourite surface for now, and this is a pretty big tournament for me. I’ve been trying to improve my game tactically, mentally, just the whole package. It’s a big win for me today.
“I just kept fighting, I kept telling myself that it can turn either way, because last year, I had a similar match in the first round. I did have that experience, and I know how it feels to be in a match like that, so I think that experience helped me today.”
Zidansek matched Andreescu shot-fo-shot, hitting just one more winner, 41 to 40, and 16 less errors, 46 to 62.
Nonetheless, Andreescu was 2 points away from victory deep in the third, buoyed by vocal support from the French crowd.
Following 8 holds of serve, the Canadian was the first to break at 4-4 to serve for the win and held a 30-15 lead, but 3 miscues off her forehand let Zidansek back in, who won 7 of the last 8 points in the match.
“I didn’t start really well, but the conditions out there are tough. It’s windy so you have to get used to it. I just kept getting into the match more and more,” the Slovenian continued.
“I think my serve was a great example of that. I didn’t start well, but in the second set, I was serving better.
“In the third set, I was serving really well, which helped me save those break points at 7-7. I was serving really well when I was break point down, and I remember she hit a great return crosscourt, very deep, and I managed to get it back.”
Andreescu rued her chances: “From my part, I didn’t feel like I played good tennis today. But at the same time, she played really, really well. She threw me off a lot with her heavy, spinny shots and her variety.
“But at least thinking on the positive side, I’m healthy, and I was able to fight as hard as I could.
“Physically I felt good. I started to get a little bit tired at one point, but I think it mainly came from the mental side of things, because today I didn’t feel like I could control my emotions as well as I normally do.
“I tried my best with what I had today, but Tamara just really, really played well. And, yeah, that’s all I can say really. I just have to learn for the next one.”
Next for Zidansek is American Madison Brengle, who was a 7-5 6-4 winner over Colombia’s young talent, Maria Camila Osorio Serrano, a qualifier.
Garbiñe Muguruza, the Spanish 12th seed succumbed in straight sets to 18-year-old Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk, 6-1 6-4, in her first opening-round defeat at Roland-Garros in 9 appearances.
Kostyuk had never won a match on clay in the French capital and was touted for a big future when in 2018 at age 15 when she became the youngest player since Martina Hingis to reach the Australian Open 3rd round.
The Ukrainian World No 81 has admitted to struggling with the weight of expectation since, but demonstrated nerves of steel on Court Simonne-Matthieu as she landed her maiden top 20 victory over the 2016 French Open champion.
After conceding the opening set in just 35 minutes, Muguruza called a medical time-out to have her back treated.
She looked to have turned the tables when she jumped to a 3-1 lead in the second, but was clearly trying to shorten the points as the match wore on.
The Spaniard then lost 4 straight games before she saved a match point on serve at 3-5 to stay alive, but this merely delayed the inevitable as Kostyuk made good on her 3rd chance after 83 minutes.
After reaching the final in Doha and winning Dubai, the Spaniard has failed to pass the round of 16 in her subsequent 4 events now, having struggled with a left thigh injury in the switch from hard courts to clay.