French Open 2018: Debutant seeds Edmund and Shapovalov turn up the heat on damp Parisian clay
Kyle Edmund reaches the French Open second round for the fourth successive year with victory over Australian Alex de Minaur
Rafael Nadal, naturally for a 10-time champion in Paris, garnered plenty of attention when he took to court on opening Monday, but perhaps created rather more of a frisson than anticipated when Lucky Loser Simone Bolelli proved a more resistant opponent than their previous record suggested.
The mighty Spaniard fended off deuce on his serve at 4-4 in the first set, and swept on to the set, 6-4, only to concede a break at the start of the second set to the creative single-handed Italian, ranked 129 and clearly keen to repeat his Round 2 run last year.
Of course Nadal broke back, and broke again as the rain threatened to dampen the Italian’s spirits: 6-3 to Nadal. Not a bit of it. Bolelli broke in the second game of the third set, ranked up the winners to 26—considerably more than Nadal—and held for a 3-0 lead.
But now the rain fell with a vengeance to dampen the Italian’s momentum—he would have to hit the terre battue running come Tuesday. And he did—but not before Nadal went on a run of three games. Then they would edge to a tie-break, and a thriller it was.
Bolelli pulled off drop shots, down-the-line passes and went out to a 6-3 lead—but this was Rafa: He of course rose to the challenge, then saved another set point, while the Italian saved two match points. But the end finally came, victory for Nadal, 7-6(9), after three hours of play.
By then, No3 seed Marin Cilic had opened his own campaign after one of his best 12 months on the tour. Right here last year, he reached the quarters for the first time on a surface that the tall Croat has found less conducive than hard and grass courts. Then less than a fortnight ago, he reached his first Masters semi on clay in Rome. In the interim, he reached the final at both Wimbledon and the Australian Open. He would take two hours plus to beat James Duckworth, 6-3, 7-5, 7-6(4).
But these men were the old hands, along with fellow over-30s seeds Kevin Anderson, John Isner and Tomas Berdych. The last day of Round-1 play also brought an opportunity to size up debutant seeds.
Teenage wunderkind Denis Shapovalov had been notching up career-highs with almost every tournament since he fell in the first round of qualifying at Roland Garros a year ago. Then he was ranked 193, now he was seeded at a Major for the first time at No24.
In the interim, his exciting brand of uninhibited attacking tennis had taken him past Nadal to reach the semis of his home Masters in Montreal, into the fourth round of the US Open via qualifying, into the semis of the Madrid Masters a month ago, and into the consciousness of all tennis fans.
Kyle Edmund, no longer one of the #NextGen at the age of 23, had nevertheless continued to make strong progress since reaching the third round of a Major for the first time in Paris last May.
2018 began, ranked No50, with his first Major semi-final at the Australian Open, beating Kevin Anderson and Grigor Dimitrov along the way.
After a spate of illness before the clay season got into full swing, Edmund reached his first ATP final—in Marrakech—and won his first doubles title—Estoril—with fellow Brit Cameron Norrie.
Through the spring, he then overtook Andy Murray to become British No1, and arrived in Madrid at a career-high No22, where he made it past the third round of a Masters tournament for the first time. What’s more, he had to do it via Novak Djokovic and then David Goffin.
Edmund went on to beat Lucas Pouille in Rome, and arrived in Paris at an all-time high, No16, and with the growing respect of everyone in the locker-room—particularly for one of the most feared forehands on the tour.
First on was Shapovalov, against a man a decade his elder, Australian John Millman, The conditions were heavy and humid, with rain beginning to fall, and certainly not ideal for the all-court attack of the Canadian. Sure enough, he suffered an early break.
A brief debate about the weather held things up briefly, with Shapovalov down 4-1, but in line with the rest of Roland Garros, play continued. Gradually the youngster adapted, and upped his winner count to 11 with a break back in the ninth.
He was now pumped, broke again, and would serve for the set. He did just that after 50 minutes, 7-5, with 14 winners to just two by Millman. Hard to believe, then, that Shapovalov had not won a main-tour clay match until this year.
The second set began as the first had, with an early break from Millman, 3-1, but again Shapovalov broke back—and both men appealed to the umpire. Yes, they would halt play—as had every other court after just over an hour’s play.
Back on court an hour later, Shapovalov quickly levelled, went for his shots, attacked the net, and broke: He would serve for the second set. Millman made it difficult, pummelled from the baseline, earned a break-back chance, but the determined young Canadian held his ground, and took it, 6-4.
Shapovalov was almost impenetrable: Millman had managed just six winners by the time they headed into the sixth game, and was already a break down. No wonder the Aussie grinned, and raised his arms to the crowd when he pulled off a seventh, a cross-court pass. And he really did battle, through almost 10 minutes in the seventh game, but was broken by a 30th Canadian winner. Four big serves, and a final backhand volley winner, and Shapovalov had his first Roland Garros win, to love, 6-2.
He next plays the No70 ranked Maximilian Marterer.
Edmund took on another 19-year-old in Aussie Alex de Minaur who was also after his first Roland Garros win.
While Edmund began his match in drizzle, the weather regained its heat as the sun reappeared, and Edmund’s shots became more potent. He began with very solid tennis, a high first-serve percentage, and broke in the first game. He broke again in the fifth and held to love with his favoured tactic, his big forehand cross-court to the smaller man’s backhand, 6-2.
That set the pattern. De Minaur, a slight figure with fast feet and plenty of variety, defended for all he was worth, stepped into the baseline, but was forced into errors time and again. Once Edmund had fended off break points in the fourth game, he again asserted his power to break in the fifth.
Both men wavered briefly, exchanged double faults and breaks, but Edmund remained in control, and served it out, 6-4. The third set followed the same pattern, an early break from Edmund, with de Minaur chasing hard to little real effect. Another Edmund break, helped not a little by his hugely improved backhand, and the No16 seed was into Round 2, 6-3, in under two hours.
Edmund next plays No45 Marton Fucsovics, who won the Geneva title two days ago—and another man yet to win a match at Roland Garros. Edmund should be very optimistic about his chances of making the third round, and beyond.
Those other veterans? Anderson beat Paolo Lorenzi, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, while Isner beat Noah Rubin, 6-3, 7-6(7), 7-6(7).