A surprisingly eventful first day at Roland Garros where the second Grand Slam of the season, the French Open, finally kicked off having been postponed by the FFT for a second consecutive year, this time though, just by a week.
I was not struggling at all with my motivation, but the game was just not there today. Like all the shots are missing power. They are not accurate enough. I’m moving not well enough, so everything in my game there are some percentages missing DominicThiem
And the schedule was a strong one from both halves of the draw, featuring the likes of the two-time runner up, Dominic Thiem, the US Open champion and fourth seed from Austria, a title contender and Stefanos Tsitispas, the Greek world No.5 who won the Monte Carlo Masters a month or so ago and Alexander Zverev, the German Madrid Masters champion ranked one place below him, both of whom are now expected to go deep and challenge in the latter stages.
Thiem has struggled since he won his first major so there were question marks as to how he would fare this year in Paris and those fears materialised very quickly as, for the second time in in his career, the Austrian lost his way having established a winning position, as his game fell part against the Spanish veteran Pablo Andujar who progressed in his place, into the second round following a 4-6 5-7 6-3 6-4 6-4 surprise victory.
Thiem had been in control and looked set to progress as expected but the loss of his serve in the third set proved pivotal to him losing his focus and despite all his attempts at recovery, couldn’t slow down the 35-year-old Andujar’s charge who late in his career, can now add Thiem to his list of wins following his defeat of Roger Federer a fortnight ago.
“It is very special to win here at Roland Garros,” a beaming and exhilarated Andujar said. “Such an emotional win for me, being two-sets-to-love down against an amazing player.”
For Thiem the loss was the earliest he had suffered at Roland Garros though he believes that he doesn’t lack motivation.
“I was not struggling at all with my motivation, but the game was just not there today,” a disappointed Thiem explained. “Like all the shots are missing power.
They are not accurate enough. I’m moving not well enough, so everything in my game there are some percentages missing.
“Losing after being two sets to zero up, it’s very strange to me, and, I mean, I have to analyze it and think about it what’s wrong at the moment. And then of course try to hit back as soon as possible.”
He did admit however, that he was struggling to get over his US Open success last year.
“It’s amazing to reach such a big goal, but at the same time, something is different after,” Thiem added. “It’s a big learning process, and despite the loss, which hurts so much, I still hope I can bounce back stronger than before. But, well, right now I don’t know when the moment is coming.”
For some time it looked as if Alexander Zverev would be joining his friend Thiem in the queue for first round loser cheques, but the big lanky German managed to recover to quell what was a surprisingly strong challenge from his equally lanky compatriot, qualifier Oscar Otte who had swept into a two-sets to love lead before being ousted 3-6 3-6 6-2 6-2 6-0 after two-hours and 49-minutes.
“To be very honest, I think Dominic Thiem’s loss did have a little impact on me at the beginning of the match, because yes, you try to focus on yourself, you try to not pay too much attention, but you do know the draw and who is where,” Zverev said on explaining his poor start.
“You know that Dominic is one of the best clay-court players, especially here in Paris, and one of the most formidable opponents you can have. Suddenly, he is out, and it does affect me a bit. Maybe that was part of why I was a bit nervous initially and why I made a slow start.
“Thiem and I were on the practice court yesterday, and the level was incredibly high. Strangely, he lost today, but matches and practices are different. You still need the matches to get into the tournament. Oscar already had three encounters, and I think that’s a big difference.”
As egards himself, he continued: “I feel pretty confident in my physical shape. From that side, maybe I know I can go the distance. I don’t always need to, but when I need to, I feel comfortable doing that. All in all, I’m happy to be through. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters for me right now.”
Them’s exit has certainly opened up the bottom half of the draw leaving Stefanos Tsitsipas as favourite to reach the final but again, the Greek’s first round opponent didn’t just roll over.
Unlike the earlier matches, Tsitsipas played his without any fans as they had to be ejected to keep within the Covid rules being imposed -including a 9pm curfew.
That meant that Jeremy Chardy was unable to draw on the energy of a partisan crowd, however small, but he managed to put pressure on the Greek, holding a set point in the first then leading 4-1 in the breaker.
Tsitsipas, though, proved too strong and pulled away to secure a 7-6(6) 6-3 6-1 win, his 17th of the clay season and 34th of 2021.
“I felt like the game was not really there in the very beginning, and things were not at their highest,” said Tsitsipas. “I think the first tiebreak was a game changer, in a way. I did a lot of psychology, a lot of positivity and kind of loosened me up a little bit. Starting the second set a bit more aggressive, starting a bit more free-spirited and those things kind of contributed in breaking and raising my level.
“Third set it was, yeah, I felt like in total control. I felt my return was working much better. I got into the game even more, and I felt like things were working out for me, could find the depth of the court, I could execute and be in control.”
In other action, Japan’s former Top 5 Kei Nishikori also avoided joining that exit queue by holding off Italian qualifier Alessandro Giannessi 6-4 6-7(4) 6-3 4-6 6-4. Nishikori was down a break in the fifth before recovering.
Two other seeds, though, did fall as Hungary’s Grigor Dimitrov retired with back problems again (like Australia). He led American Marcos Giron 6-2 6-4 5-1 with three match points before Giron took advantage of the ailment to run off nine straight games to lead 3-0 in the fourth before Dimitrov retired.
Miami champion, Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz was upset by Dutchman Botic Van de Zandschulp who came from two sets down to oust him 6-7(5) 6-7(4) 6-2 6-2 6-4.
Roberto Bautista Agut, Pablo Carreno Busta, Karen Khachanov, Cristian Garin and Fabio Fognini all also progressed.
Roger Federer features in Monday’s schedule and will be facing Estonian Denis Istomin who he has beaten in their seven previous meetings.
Daniil Medvedev will also be in action as he attempts to bring to n end his run of four first round defeats at Roland Garros but will find his Russian compatriot Alexander Bublik a handful.
Also in action will be the popular Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and the former US Open champion Marin Cilic with a list of youngsters making their French debuts.