With the cancellation of last year’s Wimbledon, 2019’s defending gentlemen’s singles champion Novak Djokovic has waited two years for the privilege of opening play on the pristine grass of Centre Court. Djokovic is playing for a lot of history this fortnight: he is halfway to a calendar Grand Slam, and is vying for his 20th Major overall, which would tie him with both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Unfortunately, the defending ladies’ champion, Simona Halep, will miss her second straight Major due to a calf injury. She is joined on the sidelines by Nadal, Naomi Osaka, and Dominic Thiem.
The top half of the men’s singles draw plays on Monday, featuring Djokovic, fellow Roland Garros finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas, and two-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray. Monday hosts the bottom half of the women’s draw, which includes eight Major singles champions. Two of those Slam winners will meet in the opening round: two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, and 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens.
Each day of the fortnight, this preview will highlight the five most intriguing matchups, while outlining the other notable matches on the schedule. Monday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time on all outer courts, 1:00pm on No.1 Court, and 1:30pm on Centre Court
Aryna Sabalenka (2) vs. Monica Niculescu (Q) – 1:00pm on No.1 Court
Sabalenka has earned the second seeding based on her results outside the Majors, but the 23-year-old is yet to advance beyond the round of 16 at a Slam. She’s just 1-3 lifetime at SW19, and went 2-2 this month in grass court lead-up events. Niculsecu is a 33-year-old from Romania who reached the fourth round of The Championship in 2015, and has been ranked as high as No.28 in the world. Monica is now barely inside the top 200, and started this season on an eight-match losing streak at all levels. However, Niculescu won an ITF event on grass two years ago, and has won six grass court matches at all levels over the last two weeks. Her unconventional style, which includes plenty of slice forehands, will serve as a fascinating contrast to the power game of Sabalenka. Their only previous encounter occurred three years ago in Shenzhen, and went to Aryna in straight sets. Sabalenka remains a slight favorite to prevail again today, though on this surface, Niculescu is a tricky first round draw.
Petra Kvitova (10) vs. Sloane Stephens – Second on Centre Court
This is a tough draw for both these players. It’s hard to believe it was now 10 years ago when Kvitova won her first of two Wimbledon titles, while Stephens’ sole Major triumph came four years ago in New York. Both women have overcome more than their fair share of struggles in recent years. Kvitova’s comeback from an in-home invasion is one of tennis’ most inspiring stories, and just a few weeks ago at Roland Garros, she was forced to withdraw after injuring her ankle while walking down stairs on site. Meanwhile, Stephens lost multiple members of her family this past year to COVID-19. Sloane lost seven of her first eight matches in 2020, but gained some momentum this season with 11 wins on clay. And she leads the head-to-head against Kvitova 2-1. However, all three of those matches were contested on hard courts. On the lawns of The All-England Club, the two-time champion’s lefty serve and forehand should enable her to even their head-to-head at 2-2.
Stefanos Tsitsipas (3) vs. Frances Tiafoe – Second on No.1 Court
This will be Tsistipas’ first match since his emotional loss to Djokovic in the French Open final, where he couldn’t close out the match despite winning the first two sets. After the match, he revealed his grandmother had passed away just minutes before his first Major final. It would be understandable if Stefanos is not 100% emotionally or physically just two weeks later, though he’s displayed his ability to bounce back quickly from devastating losses several times in his young career. Tiafoe is a dangerous first round opponent. The 24-year-old American won a Challenger title on grass earlier this month in Nottingham. But he’s 0-2 against Tsitsipas, having yet to claim a set. And notwithstanding the recent heartbreak Stefanos has endured, he is in the midst of a stellar season, with a record of 39-9. He’ll likely secure his 40th win on Monday.
Nikoloz Basilashvilli (24) vs. Andy Murray (WC) – Third on Centre Court
Since a hobbled Andy Murray lost in the 2017 Wimbledon quarterfinals to Sam Querrey, he’s only played 40 matches. That was the last time Murray played a singles match at The Championships. Multiple hip surgeries, as well as a groin injury and a positive COVID-19 test, have largely kept him off the court. After defeating Benoit Paire in the opening round of Queen’s Club this month, Andy became quite emotional, as he described how thankful he is just to be competing again. Monday will be his first time facing 29-year-old Basilashvilli, who can be an extremely streaky player. Nikoloz has already earned two titles this season, yet has a losing record in 2021 outside of those two weeks. He can bludgeon the ball, which leads to high winner and unforced error tallies. Centre Court feels like home to Murray, and while he’s far from fully match tough, especially in the best-of-five format, he’ll be fully inspired to grit his way to victory.
Iga Swiatek (7) vs. Su-Wei Hsieh – Third on No.1 Court
This should be a highly entertaining affair between two of the sport’s most fun players to watch. We have seen Swiatek excel on clay the last two seasons, but is the 20-year-old ready to succeed on grass? She’s one of many younger players whose progress on grass has been impeded by the cancellation of all grass events last year. Swiatek is only 0-1 at Wimbledon, and just 1-3 lifetime on this surface. After winning the first set last week over Daria Kasatkina, she dropped 12 of the last 13 games to lose in three. Hsieh is an unorthodox opponent who has made a name for herself by taking out top players at Majors. In 2018, she upset Garbine Muguruza in Melbourne, and just six months later, defeated top-seeded Simona Halep on this very court. At this year’s Australian Open, she achieved her first Major quarterfinal in singles. But after that feat, she didn’t play for nearly three months, and has lost her last four matches. Last October at Roland Garros, Iga beat Su-Wei in straight sets. This surface could make today’s meeting much more complicated, but the eventual outcome should be the same considering Hsieh has not won a main-draw match since February.
Other Notable Matches on Monday:
Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Jack Draper (WC) – The five-time champ will be a heavy favorite against the 19-year-old British wild card, though it’s always worth watching the first match of the fortnight on Centre Court.
Alex de Minaur (15) vs. Sebastian Korda – De Minaur won the fifth title of his career just two days ago in Eastbourne. 20-year-old Korda is a strong American prospect who reached the quarterfinals of Halle with wins over Roberto Bautista Agut and Kei Nishikori. This is the first of what will likely be many matches between these two rising stars.
Garbine Muguruza (11) vs. Fiona Ferro – The 2017 champion had a great start to this season before injuries set her back. Ferro is a 24-year-old Frenchwoman who reached the second week of Roland Garros last fall. Three years ago at the French, Muguruza defeated Ferro 6-4, 6-3.
Karolina Pliskova (8) vs. Tamara Zidansek – Pliskova is in a bit of a slump, with a 15-12 record in 2021, and an 0-2 record on grass. Zidanzek was a surprising semifinalist a few weeks ago in Paris, who is just 2-2 lifetime on this surface.
Denis Shapovalov (10) vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber – Shapovalov is 1-3 thus far at Wimbledon, while the 37-year-old German was a quarterfinalist here nine years ago. This is their first career meeting.
Sofia Kenin (4) vs. Xinyu Wang (Q) – The 2020 Australian Open champ has reached Major finals on both hard and clay courts. She’s 2-2 at Wimbledon, though notably claimed a grass court title at the 2019 Mallorca Open. Her opponent is a 19-year-old from China who has never won a match at a Slam.
Mihaela Buzarnescu vs. Venus Williams – Since the tour restart last summer, Venus is only 3-12, and is currently on a six-match losing streak. A few weeks ago in Paris, Buzarnescu pushed her sister Serena to three sets. And two years ago in Melbourne, Venus also overcame Buzarnescu in three sets.
Monday’s full Order of Play is here.
Felix Auger Aliassime Wins First Ever Roland Garros Match In Five Sets
Felix Auger-Aliassime earned his first ever victory at Roland Garros.
The Canadian found himself down two sets to none but fought back to pull off the comeback in a thrilling five set victory.
Felix Auger Aliassime is into the second round of the French Open for the first time in his career after battling back to beat the Peruvian qualifier Juan Pablo Varillas in five sets 2-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-3, 6-3 in three hours and 14 minutes.
The Montreal native finished the match serving 14 aces and hitting 52 winners in a match that featured a lot of long rallies from behind the baseline.
“It was a dream for me to play here, it was an honor and my first time on Phillipe Chatrier and my first win at Roland Garros and I had to work hard to get it and credit my opponent he played very well today.”
The Peruvian started the match by breaking the number nine seed right out of the gate and at 3-1 managed to turn that break into a double break as he served out the first set with ease.
The first two games of the second went on serve but again the world number 122 seemed to play better as the Canadian looked stunned, searching for answers.
The Lima native once again took an early lead to take a 3-1 lead and again that seemed like enough for the Peruvian as he served out the second set and was one set away from an improbable upset.
The third set is where the Canadian started to turn things around and his groundstrokes seemed to have more precision. At 2-1 it was the Montreal native who got the first break of serve.
After consolidating the break the world number nine was hungry for more and turned that break into a double break and it looked like the match was turning in his favour.
The Canadian served out the third set to send it to a fourth looking to send it to a decider.
The Montreal native rode the momentum from winning the third into the fourth set where after holding the opening service game got the early break once again taking a 2-0 lead.
At 5-3 with the Peruvian looking to stay in the set, Auger Aliassime managed to get another break to win the set and send the match to a fifth set.
The fifth set stayed on serve until 4-3 when the Canadian had four chances to break and at the fourth time of asking he was able to break and serve out the match to complete the comeback.
After the match in his on court interview he was asked about the adjustments he made in the third set to turn the match around and pull off the win.
“I tried to give myself some more space and a little more time, my opponent at the beginning was playing very quick, aggressive, and flat so I tried a couple things and I also served better and after that it was easier.”
The Canadian will next face either Aslan Karatsev or Camilo Ugo Carabelli in the next round.
Ons Jabeur Suffers Shock Exit At Roland Garros To Magda Linette
Magda Linette handed out the first upset of Roland Garros by defeating Ons Jabeur.
Ons Jabeur has become the first major casualty of this year’s Roland Garros after a 3-6 7-6(4) 7-5 defeat to Magda Linette in the opening round.
The Tunisian was one of the most in-form players of the clay court swing having won Madrid and made the final of Rome.
However Linette took the match to Jabeur and played some of the best tennis of her career to stun the sixth seed.
Linette will play Martina Trevisan or Harriet Dart in the second round.
Jabeur made a great start to the match as she broke the Pole early for a 2-1 lead with a good mix of power and variety.
However Linette seemed confident in her tactics and shot-making as she broke straight back, seemingly deflecting everything the Tunisian had to offer.
Jabeur used her experience and great angles though as she improved her level as the set went on, breaking in the fifth and ninth games to claim the opening set.
The Pole went off court to have a medical time-out after the opening set after finding some pain in the upper leg.
Despite the break Jabeur continued to cause Linette troubles with the Pole having to dig deep and save a couple of break points with bold patterns of play.
In the eighth game Linette turned up the aggression and made Jabeur cover a lot of ground as the Tunisian was forced to save three break points in the eighth game.
Jabeur was becoming frustrated and a comfortable straight sets victory turned into a second set tiebreak with the Tunisian looking tighter than usual.
Linette capitalised on this and continued her confident ball-striking and decision making to take the tiebreak 7-4 and force a deciding set.
The Madrid champion lacked a clinical edge and with the rain falling in Paris, Jabeur couldn’t find a consistent answer to Linette’s power.
A break to the Pole saw the Tunisian contingent in Philippe-Chatrier stunned but like the champion she is Jabeur fought back with an immediate break back.
Some big serving in the eighth game fended off another wave of Linette aggression as Jabeur created a half-chance in the tenth game to seal a break to claim victory.
However Linette continued to be bold and was met with the ultimate reward as from 40-15 up, Jabeur missed a smash to give the Pole hope.
That was all the world number 56 needed as Linette converted her only match point with a forehand unforced error from Jabeur as the first shock of this year’s Roland Garros occurred.
A disappointing result for Jabeur given her clay court form and she would have felt she was the best placed to challenge Iga Swiatek for the title.
However Swiatek’s compatriot Linette played the match of her life to seal a place in the second round at Roland Garros where she will play Martina Trevisan or Harriet Dart.
Naomi Osaka Speaks About Mental Health And Lack Of Preparation Ahead Of Roland Garros
Naomi Osaka has a blockbuster opening round against Amanda Anisimova at Roland Garros.
Naomi Osaka has spoken about mental health and lack of preparation ahead of this year’s Roland Garros.
It was this time last year that Osaka decided to withdraw from Roland Garros and Wimbledon due to her mental health after her announcement about not participating in press conferences.
Fast forward 12 months and the three-time grand slam champion is in a good shape mentally as she aims to be back at the top of the sport.
Speaking in her pre-tournament press conference, Osaka spoke about mental health and reflected on her experiences from last year, “I know like after last year’s French Open that the next slam I played was the US Open and they have like these little like retreats or things like that in the players lounge,” the Japanese star said.
“I found it to be a very interesting experience to go to the Olympics and to like walk through the Village and people were thanking me and stuff. So I think athletes kind of all go through the same thing. It’s just like people don’t really talk about it.
“Like when I first came here, I was very worried. I was just kind of worried if there would be people that like — of course I also didn’t like how I handled the situation, but I was worried that there were people that I offended some way and I would just kind of bump into them.
“But I think like everyone has been really positive, for the most part. Of course I’m still thinking about it, and I’m like kind of also prepping just in case like I go on the court and a fan says something like in Indian Wells. Yeah, for the most part I think I’m okay.”
It’s good to see Osaka in a good mental state as she looks to face her demons and continue to make progress up the rankings.
On the court, it’s been a frustrating clay-court swing for Osaka who faced an early exit in Madrid before withdrawing from Rome.
Speaking in her press conference Osaka said there was no way she was going to miss the event in Paris, “There is no way I’m not going to play this tournament, so like of course you kind of have to manage things, but at the same time, like, I’m going to pop a few painkillers, like it is what it is,” Osaka admitted.
“I have actually played a lot of Grand Slams with something. I actually, Australia, when I played Kvitova, like for five matches I had this really bad back thing. So I think maybe there is a possibility I could play really good when I have an injury, because I feel like I don’t have anything to lose.
“I don’t know, for me I find it a bit ironic, like this clay court season is the one that I spent the most like preparation on, and it was really unfortunate that I had to pull out from Rome and I couldn’t do that well in Madrid.”
Osaka will begin her Roland Garros campaign against the in-form Amanda Anisimova.
The duo met at the first grand slam of the season in Melbourne where Anisimova edged out the match in a last set tiebreak.
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