After an eventful first three days, second round play started at the 2016 French Open and going by the winners, it has been the very opposite of 2013’s infamous Wacky Wednesday at Wimbledon — with nearly all the favorites making it through to the third round thus far. When you look closer at Day 4 in Paris, it was a day full of “almosts”, particularly for a certain No. 2 seed who keeps flirting with disaster — and much to everyone’s surprise, it’s not Agnieszka Radwanska. René Denfeld recaps his impressions of the early going at Roland Garros — and some thoughts that have been lingering throughout the week.
Murray’s dance on the knife’s edge
Andy Murray has yet to really arrive at the 2016 French Open. After playing a very good clay court season, culminating in his third title on the surface in Rome, the Brit not only went in as one of the favorites but also was a perceived winner in the draw lottery. Rafael Nadal landed in Djokovic’s half, as did several floaters and his road to the quarterfinals seemed to be paved.
In his first two rounds, however, Murray was pushed — or maybe he allowed his opponents to push him around. After his see-saw match against Radek Stepanek, the World No. 2 picked up pretty much where he left off in the final set of his first round encounter against French wildcard Mathias Bourgue. Murray played solid tennis in the opening set before going on another mental walkabout, and suddenly Bourgue was in the unexpected situation of being up two sets to one — eventually, however, the World No. 2 regrouped to win in five sets, but it was a shaky effort by him for the second time in as many matches.
Murray himself said he’s hoping for a shorter encounter against Ivo Karlovic in the third round — based on the energy he spent over the course of the past three days, that wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen to him, if the “King Of Clay” (don’t mock — no, actually, do) wants to make it further into the tournament.
Begu battling to the brink
In quite probably the women’s match of the tournament so far, noted dark horse Irina-Camelia Begu fought her way past CoCo Vandeweghe in over three and a half hours of heavy ball-striking. The Romanian came into Roland Garros after a strong two weeks in Madrid and Rome, notching up wins over Garbiñe Muguruza and Victoria Azarenka.
With the third quarter of the draw opening up almost as expected following Roberta Vinci‘s early exit, opportunity loomed for both Begu and the big serving American to make a run into the second week but ultimately Begu was able to tough out the longest WTA match of the year. The 25-year-old from Bucharest struggled to serve out both the first and the second set, but forced a decider nonetheless and was able to break Vandeweghe at 4-5* in the last set to keep her chances alive.
Vandeweghe is hardly a clay court expert but particularly her backhand — usually the weakest shot in her arsenal — withstood the many direction changes of Begu well throughout the entirety of the match but at the end the 25th seed prevailed to take out the last set 10-8 much to her and her camp’s delight.
No comment is a comment as well
Varvara Lepchenko returned to competition from a long injury layoff two weeks ago in Rome — but ever since, the actual reason for the American’s time away from the tour has been one of the main topics of discussions.
I will refer to Ben Rothenberg’s story over at the NYT for the more detailed background but it has become another bizarre mosaic in the overall tennis puzzle — a sport that has been struggling with transparency for quite a while — but particularly this year with topics such as gambling and doping having become mainstream discussion points.
Lepchenko’s reluctance to open up about whatever caused her to be so tightly-lipped about any questions orbiting a certain Latvian heart medication is not only disappointing on her behalf, but it also casts a dodgy light on the ITF if Anatoly Glebov’s insinuation of Lepchenko receiving a silent ban for meldonium use is to be believed.
Almost regardless of how much truth there is to the allegations surrounding the American at the moment, it’s this sort of news that tennis does not necessarily want in year when the sport has already been battered; at the same time, the discussion needs to continue, if only to make sure that tennis doesn’t keep standing in its own way due to a continued lack of transparency.
A change in conditions
Looking at the French Open through a more meteorological lens, the next few days will see some warmer weather in Paris, after the first three days in particular saw colder temperatures, heavy rainfall and overcast skies. Not only were conditions on court heavy, they also didn’t necessarily help players just coming off of injuries such as Azarenka and Kerber.
While it’s set to be a little warmer as the weekend approaches, the likelihood of afternoon showers and thunderstorms also increases, possibly providing more headaches for those in charge of the scheduling — but rest assured, Thursday is looking good. #famouslastwords
After their solid showings over the past few weeks, did anyone expect Elena Vesnina to lose to Shelby Rogers or Lucas Pouille to go down at the hands of completely unheralded Andrey Martin?
Certainly not — admittedly, being a seed at his home slam fell into the Frenchman’s lap completely out of the blue, courtesy of being a lucky loser in Rome and reaching the semifinals by virtue of a walkover.
For Vesnina, her loss at the hands of Rogers in what was a fairly manageable draw into the second week does not only mean the end of her singles campaign at the French Open — it also complicates her chances for the Rio Olympics even further.
Most surprisingly though: nobody look now, but here comes Radwanska. The No. 2 seed has gotten through the first two rounds without dropping a set on what’s arguably her worst surface by a county mile. Nonetheless, she’ll have a tougher task on her hands in the next match against Barbora Strycova, who’s playing surprisingly good tennis this clay season and finally broke her Paris duck — having gone winless at Roland Garros from 2005-15.