Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Rainy Paris - with a few tennis interruptions

We have seen the completion of two days of play at Roland Garros, or more correctly 2 days of rain interrupted periodically with some tennis.

Out of the racquet exchanges, it has become clear that defence of his title is not just going to be difficult for Stan Wawrinka come the second week - it's monumental from the very first ball toss !  Czech big hitter Lukas Rosol challenged the Swiss third seed big time in the first round encounter, leading two sets to one, before the escape was made by a relieved Stan.  So the expected semi final against Murray is still pencilled in our calendars.

Andy, however, lost his opening two sets of the tournament to enigmatic Radak Stepanek, another Czech representative whose mission in round one was to cause mayhem.  The second seeded Murray has yet to finish his comeback which sees him trailing two sets to one but leading 4-2 and serving next in the fourth set at close of play.  Odds are with the Scot winning in five but if he and Wawrinka are symptomatic of what may be dished up over the next fortnight, then this could throw out a number of pre tournament forecasts.

I thought one of my selected semi finalists was ready to exit the women's draw when Garbine Muguruza dropped her first set.  The fourth seed steadied though and won in three against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

Seeds not so adept in executing round one survival skills, and now looking for something to occupy their time while in Paris - there are plenty of museums and great places to eat that I can recommend - are Italian number 16 and former runner-up Sara Errani, losing to Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova, and Czech number 17 Karolina Pliskova, dumped by American Shelby Rogers after winning the first set.

To the growing bonfire of losing seeds we can add number 32 Latvian Jelena Ostapenko, whose conqueror was Japan's Naomi Osaka.  Also gone is the highest seed to fall so far - Roberta Vinci.  The question was not if the 7th seed would lose, but how soon, because her season has been wretched to say the least.  To see her bow out first up to Kateryna Bondarenko was another sad page in the Vinci story for 2016, which starkly contrasts where she was travelling after her semi final win over Serena Williams in the US Open last year.

USA's Steve Johnson was seeded 33 after the 28th seed Alexandr Dolgopolov withdrew following the release of the draw.  However, the unusual seed number lasted but a day, as the American dream was dashed in straight sets by Fernando Verdasco, whose love for the clay is more advanced than Steves.

2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic, 10th seed, and Geneva runner-up a few days ago, was the other men's seed to fall in the first two days in Paris, and the biggest tournament shock so far.  His exit was facilitated by Argentine qualifier Marco Trungelliti, ranked 166 with a win/loss record on the ATP Tour this year of 1-2 and on the Challenger Tour of 5-4.  The upset occurred in four sets, convincingly.

Those top male players to have impressed in their first round matches include Japanese fifth seed Kei Nishikori, French pair Richard Gasquet and Gilles Simon, and Canadian Milos Raonic, all sweeping their matches in straight sets.  Doing it the hard way, via the whole five sets were lower seeds Jack Sock and Victor Troicki, the latter outlasting the always promising but not often delivering Grigor Dimitrov.

The women who wasted no time making their mark on the clay were headed by sixth seed Simona Halep and second seed Aga Radwanska, the pair now one step closer to meeting in an exciting quarter final.  Halep won 6-2 6-0 over Japan's Nao Hibino, Radwanska 6-0 6-2 over Serbian Bojana Jovanovski.
Joining Aga on the 6-0 6-2 scoreline was last year's runner-up Lucie Safarova whose Russian victim was Vitalia Diatchenko.

Sloane Stephens and Barbora Strycova made straight sets statements at the expense of Russian Margarita Gasparyan and the Czech Republic's Lucie Hradecka respectively, which suggested that their form of 2016 could very well continue far in this event.

One of my outside chances, 25th seed Irina-Camelia Begu, dropped her opening set but sorted her game out promptly to stay alive in the tournament.  American Bethanie Mattek-Sands proved a tough opponent, as she does more often than not at the Grand Slam tournaments, no matter what the ranking comparisons may be.

So after two rainy days, although we still haven't seen Novak, Serena, Rafa, Angie or Vika, there has been lots to relish and plenty to talk about, with Andy Murray's fate still to be determined.

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