By Ros Satar, at Roland Garros
- Alexander Zverev starts with a five-setter
- Simona Halep is tested as she starts her title defence
- Naomi Osaka still feels like she has something to prove
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Alexander Zverev: ‘Still in the tournament and that’s all that matters’
Last year, after breezing through his first round, and everyone buzzing and reckoning that his time had come, Alexander Zverev ploughed doggedly through three five-setters leaving himself spent and injured against Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals.
After what has seemed to be a struggle of a year, he was quick to remind reporters he was still No. 5 in the world and 10th in the Race to London. However, he starts his Slam preparations with a tense five-setter which, if you want to lift the title at the end of next Sunday, you really want to avoid.
He comes in as the Geneva champion, which he credited for helping him get over the finish line today.
“In Geneva, I won a lot of tight matches that I lost this year on the clay, and I think Geneva helped me today, as well. Obviously very different conditions out there. Very difficult to play today. But, you know, I think it’s great that I came through and this is the most important.
“I’m here to play my best. I’m here to win matches. Today was a tough one. I’m excited to what’s coming ahead. Most important, I’m still in the tournament, and that’s all that matters.”
Nervy Osaka still with something to prove
If Zverev made things hard for himself, that was nothing compared to the upset that had potentially been brewing with Naomi Osaka against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova. Walking out onto Philippe Chatrier, no-one could have predicted that the World no. 1 would be bageled in the first set, and it was a real roller-coaster of emotions for Osaka to come through that match, at one stage sitting with her head in her hands.
She admitted that she had been almost crippled with nerves at the start: “For me I think this is the most nervous I have ever been my entire life during a match. I think you could see that in the first set. I was literally not hitting any balls in the court. For me, today was weird because usually the nerves go away, but it kind of stayed the entire match. Then I just felt like it was a fight of willpower. Yeah, I managed to win in the end.”
Nerves are normal – and in Osaka’s typical charming way, gave some very logical reasons for why that would be.
“First time playing a Grand Slam as No. 1. Won the last two, so I kind of want to win this one really bad. I have never played on Chatrier before. This was my first time. I kind of feel like I’m having the thought of wanting to prove myself again.”
Therein lies the issue – it has become a bit of a bugbear for Osaka that she still feels like she has something to prove – as though the US Open actually created a wound that is still a little hard to heal, despite a second Grand Slam title.
“I feel like this year is — it’s been long but short at the same time. We’re only in the clay season. Like, some people will say that I had a bad year after Australian Open. I don’t know where, but apparently I did. I think I want to do better.”
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Can Simona Halep do the double?
A Simona Halep slam run would not be a slam run unless it came with added drama and we had plenty on a murky and long day for the players on Chatrier. After Zverev’s five set nonsense and Osaka’s tribulations, it was finally the turn of the defending women’s champion to take to the court, and at first it looked like plain sailing for her as she cruised to the first set for the loss of two games.
However, things got a little trickier when Ajla Tomljanovic’s level rose, as Halep summarised:
“In my opinion, it was a great match. The level was great, and actually her level in the second set was really high. So I had to be focused more on myself to find out what I have to play better in the third set to be able to win. And then I just started to feel that if I make her move, it’s a little bit better for me, so I did that.”
After the euphoria of last year, and some of the challenges, not least of which Darren Cahill stepping away to spend more time with his family, all leads to different feelings for Halep coming into the tournament.
She continued: “Of course it was not easy because of the emotions, the pressure, but it’s always nice to go back on that court. So, I had nice emotions, and I’m really happy that I could win the match. Now I can play the second round here.”
The second round of Roland Garros begins on Wednesday, and play starts at 11am (10am BST).
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