Uniquely, the first round of singles at the French Open is played across the first three days of the tournament, at the only Major that commences on a Sunday.
For the first time since 2004, 14-time champion Rafael Nadal is not present in Paris due to his ongoing injury issues. The men’s singles draw only features two previous Roland Garros champions: Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka. And they are both in a stacked top half of the draw alongside top seed Carlos Alcaraz and 2021 finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas. Recent Rome champ and No.2 seed Daniil Medvedev leads the bottom half of the draw, along with last year’s runner-up Casper Ruud.
The WTA singles draw is headlined by two-time and defending champion Iga Swiatek, with Australian Open champ Aryna Sabalenka atop the bottom half of the draw. The top two seeds split two big clay tournament finals this season. Are they headed for a rubber match in Paris? Overall the women’s draw includes nine Major singles champions, like reigning Wimbledon champ Elena Rybakina, who has defeated both Swiatek and Sabalenka this year. Elena is in Iga’s half of the draw, as is 2021 champ Barbora Krejcikova, who also beat Swiatek this year.
Tsitsipas and Sabalenka are both featured in Sunday’s Order of Play, as are a few blockbuster WTA first round matchups.
Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s four most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule. Sunday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.
Marta Kostyuk vs. Aryna Sabalenka (2) – 11:00am on Court Philippe-Chatrier
This is Sabalenka’s first match at a Major since winning her first Slam title at the last Major in Australia. And it will also be an awkward matchup, if not contentious, between a Ukrainian player and a Belarusian player, as Russia’s unprovoked attack of Ukraine continues.
Aryna is an excellent 29-5 on the year, and 9-2 on clay. The Australian Open is just one of three titles she’s collected this year, along with Adelaide and Madrid. But Sabalenka is just 7-5 lifetime at this event, and has never advanced into the second week.
Kostyuk has been expected to become a top player since impressing at the age of 14, when she won the 14-and-under annual competition at the Orange Bowl. Marta also reached the fourth round of this event just two years ago, after she upset Garbine Muguruza in the first round. But in her other two appearances at this tournament, she’s been eliminated in her opening match.
Sabalenka claimed their only previous meeting in straight sets, which occurred last year on a hard court in Dubai. And while this is a complicated matchup, Aryna is the favorite to again prevail on Sunday. Her aggressive game and confident form have made her the WTA’s most formidable player of 2023, leading the year-to-date rankings.
Maria Sakkari (8) vs. Karolina Muchova – Second on Court Suzanne-Lenglen
This is a an extremely challenging draw for the 2021 semifinalist. Of course it was two years ago at this event when Sakkari was just one point from achieving her first final at a Major, when eventual champion Barbora Krejcikova came back to claim victory. And a year ago, Maria was upset in the second round by the same opponent she faces on Sunday.
Muchova outlasted Sakkari in that 2022 matchup after two tiebreak sets. Muchova is a former top 20 player and has three times reached the quarterfinals or better at a Major, but has struggled to regain her ranking after injuries interrupted her career. Yet Karolina is a strong 19-7 this season, which is similar to Maria’s record of 20-10
At tour level, Muchova is 2-0 against Sakkari, with her other win coming two years ago in Madrid, and obviously also on clay. That match went all the way to 7-5 in the third. I fully expect another tight contest between these two on Sunday, but I must give the slight edge to Muchova to make it 3-0 against Sakkari.
Laslo Djere vs. Andrey Rublev (7) – Third on Court Suzanne-Lenglen
Can this become the Major where Rublev finally breaks through to a semifinal? The 25-year-old is now 0-7 in Slam quarterfinals, after being dominated by Novak Djokovic this past January in Melbourne. But Andrey broke through in another way last month, winning his first Masters 1000 title in Monte Carlo, after coming from behind to defeat Holger Rune.
Djere is far from an easy first round draw, especially on this surface. Both of Laslo’s ATP titles have come on clay, and his five main draw victories at Roland Garros are more than he’s accumulated at the other three Majors combined. Djere is 15-12 this year at tour-level, compared to 25-10 for Rublev, though Djere reached a Challenger final on clay earlier this month.
Rublev leads their tour-level head-to-head 3-0, and 4-1 including Challenger events from years ago. Those three ATP victories all came during 2022, and include a five-set struggle in the first round of the US Open. Andrey should be favored to win again on this day, and likely in less than five sets this time around.
Danielle Collins vs. Jessica Pegula (3) – Last on Court Suzanne-Lenglen
While Pegula is the third seed, Collins is the player who has achieved bigger success at a Major. A year ago in Australia, Danillie went all the way to the final, before losing to Ash Barty in what ended up becoming the Australian’s retirement match. Injuries and illness have plagued Collins’ career across the last few seasons, and this will be her first match in nearly two months, when she lost to another American, Shelby Rogers, in Charleston.
Pegula is 27-9 in 2023, and has advanced to the quarterfinals at four of the last five Majors, including here a year ago. But she is coming off an opening round loss in Rome to yet another American, Taylor Townsend.
However, this rivalry has been completed one-sided to date, with Jess leading 4-0 at all levels, and having taken eight of nine sets. That includes a straight-set win just two months ago in Miami. Pegula is a strong favorite to remain undefeated against Collins on Sunday.
Other Notable Matches on Sunday:
David Goffin vs. Hubert Hurkacz – Goffin made his big breakthrough at this event 11 years ago, but is now ranked outside the top 100, and has a losing record this season at tour level. Hurkacz is 17-11, yet just 3-3 on clay. They split two meetings last year on clay, with Hubi winning in straights in the third round of this same tournament.
Jiri Vesely vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (5) – Tsitsipas is 25-8 on the year, though he’s now 0-5 in his last five finals, which includes the final of the last Major. Vesely has only played four matches this season, all at Challenger level, and is just 5-10 lifetime at the French Open.
Magda Linette (21) vs. Leylah Fernandez – Linette was a surprise semifinalist at the last Major, but is only 8-9 since. Fernandez suffered a bad foot injury in the round of 16 of this tournament a year ago, and has failed to regain her momentum since returning to action. They have split two prior encounters, both on clay.
Lucas Pouille (Q) vs. Jurij Rodionov (LL) – Pouille was the story of the qualifying week, as the 29-year-old former top 10 player from France qualified for his home Major in an emotional scene, celebrating with his baby daughter after years of battling injury, depression, and alcohol issues. The man he beat to qualify? That’s also his opponent on Sunday, as this is the third time in Major history that a lucky loser will meet the man he lost to in qualifying in a main-draw rematch, according to the ATP.
Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.
Tennis Player Disqualified From Shanghai Qualifying Match Two Points Away From Victory
It will be a match that Australia’s Marc Polmans will never forget but for all the wrong reasons.
The World No.140 looked to be on the verge of victory against Italy’s Stefano Napolitano when leading their match 7-6(3), 6-6(6-5), in the final round of qualifying at the Shanghai Masters. However, disaster struck at the next point when Polmans temper got the better of him and subsequently cost him.
With match point, he approached the net to hit a backhand shot but it ended up in the net. Prompting the frustrated 26-year-old to hit a tennis ball that unfortunately hit the umpire. As a result of that action, he was automatically disqualified from the match which handed Napolitano the victory and a place in the main draw.
It is not the first time a tennis player has been disqualified for such an incident. During a 2017 Davis Cup tie between Canada and Great Britain, Denis Shapovalov was disqualified for firing a tennis ball that hit the umpire’s eye. Novak Djokovic was also disqualified from the 2020 US Open after hitting a ball that accidentally struck a lines judge.
“Players shall not violently, dangerously or with anger hit, kick or throw
a tennis ball while on the grounds of the tournament site except in the reasonable pursuit of a point during a match (including warm-up),” the 2023 ATP rulebook outlines.
“For purposes of this rule, abuse of balls is defined as intentionally or reckless- ly hitting a ball out of the enclosure of the court, hitting a ball dangerously or recklessly within the court or hitting a ball with disregard of the conse- quences.’
“Violation of this section shall subject a player to a fine of up to $350 for each violation. In addition, if such violation occurs during a match, the player shall be penalized in accordance with the Point Penalty Schedule.”
It is a tough lesson for Polmans to learn. He was on the verge of playing in the main draw of a Masters 1000 event for the first time in his career. He is currently the 10th highest-ranked Australian player on the ATP Tour and reached the final of a Challenger event in Guangzhou, China last month.
Team World One Win Away From Victory in Laver Cup
Team World take a huge 10-2 lead over Team Europe heading into the final day
After losing the first four editions of the Laver Cup, Team World look set to win the event for a second time as the event reaches its conclusion tomorrow.
Team World Captain John McEnroe was thrilled with the day’s results but warned against complacency: “We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing. The job’s not done but we’re pretty close.”
American duo Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe both earned straight sets wins over Andrey Rublev and Hubert Hurkacz, while Felix Auger-Aliassime and Ben Shelton beat Hurkacz and Gael Monfils.
“I want to play well for the guys,” said Tiafoe after his singles victory. “I played really well tonight. Just being in a team environment is so foreign to us as tennis players, it’s such an individual sport.”
After winning his third singles match in three appearances at the Laver Cup, Fritz was also motivated to do well:
“Yesterday, all the guys played really well. I felt that and wanted to come out on court and show what I can do. That definitely motivated me. Any type of team environment, I feel like it always elevates my game. I feel like my record in team events is really strong because I have a team cheering for me. I get pumped up. I’m excited to play for them. It just adds more pressure and fire to it. I think I play better in those situations.”
The doubles was a typically dynamic and feisty affair, and after the match Shelton was full of praise for his partner:
“It’s amazing, when you play with a guy who serves and returns like Felix, is as athletic as him, and goes back for the overhead as strong as him, it’s a fun time,” said Shelton. “We call him ‘Laver Cup Felix’ because he turns into something special this week, just glad I got to share the court with him at least once.”
Auger-Aliassime returned the compliments: “The best comes out of me when I’m playing not only for myself but for team-mates. Ben carried me through the end of that match, it was tough for me to get it done.”
Casper Ruud, meanwhile, beat Tommy Paul for Europe’s only points so far.
Matches on the final day are worth three points each – meaning that Team Europe would have to win all four remaining matches to prevent Team World from winning the trophy.
T. Fritz def A. Rublev 6-2, 7-6
F. Tiafoe def H. Hurkacz 7-5, 6-3
F. Auger-Aliassime & B. Shelton def H.Hurkacz & G. Monfils 7-5, 6-4
C. Ruud def T. Paul 7-6, 6-2
ATP RANKINGS UPDATE: Novak Djokovic, No.1 once more
After the US Open the Serbian champion reclaims top spot. Alexander Zverev is back in the Top 10
By Roberto Ferri
“Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion”
Rudy Tomjanovich coined this maxim just after his Houston Rockets won the NBA championship in 1995. He was paying homage to Akeem Holajuwon. It perfectly suits the heart of Daniil Medvedev, who proved 99% of tennis fans in the world to be wrong, convinced as they were that he would lose the semifinal to former No 1 Carlos Alcaraz.
But his dream to win a second US Open, after his triumph in 2021, was shattered by another champion, whose heart and class is even greater: that’s Novak Djokovic, who affixes his seal on his return to No.1, equalling Margaret Court Smith’s record of 24 majors.
Djokovic dethroning Alcaraz is not the only change in the top 20: Sascha Zverev is back in the top 10 after almost one year and Ben Shelton, great protagonist of the Us Open, debuts in the top 20 best players in the world.
A few comments:
Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrei Rublev and Alexander Zverev gain 2 positions.
Ben Shelton devours 28 positions.
Sinner, Tiafoe, Norrie and Dimitrov lose one.
Casper Ruud and Karen Khachanov, runner up and semi-finalist respectively at the 2022 US Open, drop 4 positions.
One step forward for Fritz, de Minaur, Paul, Auger-Aliassime and Hurkacz.
ATP NITTO FINALS
From 12 to 19 November the 8 best players of the ranking based on the points earned in the ongoing solar season will be playing the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin.
Will Novak Djokovic succeed in winning a second straight title? He appears to be heading in the right direction.
Thanks to his triumph at the US Open the Serbian overtakes Alcaraz also in the Race to Turin.
Jannik Sinner holds fourth spot while Andrei Rublev overtakes Stefanos Tsitsipas and is now fifth.
The eighth position is occupied by Alexander Zverev.
Last year runner up, Casper Ruud is currently 10th. This means he would feature in Turin as a reserve.
ATP NEXT GENERATION FINALS
The Next Gen Finals, dedicated to the best under 21s, (8 effectives and 2 reserves) of the season will take place this year in Gedda, Saudi Arabia.
The 2022 winner, Brandon Nakashima, will not be defending his title, since he was born in 2001.
Taking for granted that Alcaraz and, most likely Rune, will be playing the ATP Finals, we have included in the chart the 12 current top under 21s.
Besides Ben Shelton, other 11 players have achieved their career highest this week.
We tribute a double applause to the four players who are making their debut in the top 100.
The 25-year-old Croatian Borna Gojo, 22-year-old Australian Rinky Hijkata and the Swiss next gen Dominic Stricker all reap the reward for their brilliant runs at the US Open. Seyboth Wild, the Brazilian who stunned Medvedev in the first round of Roland Garros leaps to No.76 after winning the Challenger in Como last week.
Translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye
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