By Ros Satar, at Roland Garros
- Reigning Wimbledon Champion Angelique Kerber crashes out of a disasterous clay court season – probably much to her relief!
- Venus Williams also out as Elina Svitolina looks to make her bid for a maiden Slam
- Roger Federer simply cruises.
PARIS, FRANCE – Sunday saw the first half day of play, new courts galore and a few thrills and spills in our Roland Garros Diary.
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Fallen Idol as Potopova downs idol, Kerber
First big casualty of the day, although no big surprise, given how her clay court season has gone, was Angelique Kerber. The German had been laid low with illness ahead of the start of her clay court season in Stuttgart, and most recently hobbled with an ankle injury.
She had tried to be upbeat in her pre-tournament press by just feeling happy to be here.
“Two weeks ago I was not sure if I can make Paris, but, yeah, it was a long way to being here now. The last few days, I can say that I’m without pain, but I had a lot of treatment every day, two, three times.
“It was maybe not the best preparation – few weeks before to have on clay and also not too many matches. Actually — I’m grateful to being here right now.”
For the 18-year-old Anastasia Potapova, her first win at Roland Garros came at the expense of her idol, not that it made her any the less excited as she explained:
“Oh, my phone is exploding right now, you know (smiling), social media, anything, WhatsApp, the messengers. Yeah, I really appreciate. That’s very nice to hear some congratulations from great peoples, from tennis players, actually, as well.
“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.”
She will face another exciting teen in Marketa Vondrousova in the second round.
The X Factor
Given Kerber’s injuries and illness, in retrospect her exit was not entirely unexpected, but also christening a new court was former champion Garbiñe Muguruza who had to battle from a set down against Taylor Townsend to book her spot in the second round.
What she did display was a champion’s grit to come back against nerves, expectation to give herself another shot at advancing.
She said: I knew it was going to be a challenge no matter who my opponent was. We always know that the first rounds are difficult. It’s the first match of a Grand Slam, it’s a little adventure.
“Also playing Taylor, she had a different style of game, a very lefty player. Super talented. So it took me a while to feel better in the court, to get the rhythm, to, yeah, to have a game plan. It was a tough match. I’m happy to go through.
“It’s actually cool to be the first player in it. I have been training this week, actually, on it for a couple of days. I liked it. It’s a very cute court. It’s not small, but it’s, you know, cozy.”
So what does it take to win a Slam? Well Muguruza should know – she does have two of them!
“I think to win a Grand Slam you don’t only have to play beautiful and, you know, have great shots. It’s a combination of having the X factor, because, you know, everybody plays well, but only few can win Grand Slams.
“I think a very complete player, having the courage, having the consistency of winning many matches, dealing with the pressure of, you know, being in a Grand Slam and advancing. It’s a puzzle that you’ve got to put together, and it’s not easy.”
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The return of Federer
What was evident in Roger Federer’s return to the clay courts of Paris for the first time since 2015 was there was a lot more pop on his shots. He made things quite difficult for his opponent Lorenzo Sonego, who came through qualifying in Monte Carlo to reach the quart-final in a breakout week for him.
What the young Italian got instead was a bit of a free lesson at the hands of Federer!
Assessing his approach to returning to Roland Garros this year, Federer said: “It starts with you’re in the mood or not to do it, because there needs to go extra preparation into the clay court season for me. I’d say even especially this year, because I’m not getting any younger, and because I haven’t played many years on the clay now.
“So, I think just the question was, No. 1, do I want to play on clay and do I want to go through that process and what does it create for the rest of the season? So I saw more positives than negatives.
“Now I’m very happy I took that decision, because I enjoyed Madrid, I enjoyed Rome. I’m happy to be here. The reception I got today was crazy, was really nice to see a full stadium for a first round like this. It was a beauty.”
Does this one match make him a favourite? We will get an answer (of sorts) to that when we see the other top seeds Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem in action on Monday, but for now Federer is relishing the prospect of not beng the favourite for once.
He continued: “It’s nice to be an outsider. That’s how I feel, anyhow. Just see how it goes, you know. I know when Wimbledon comes around, sure, I’ll be probably a higher favourite. That’s okay, too. You know, I’m happy that I’m there where I am.”
Play starts on Day 2 of Roland Garros at 11am (10am BST).
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