French Open 2019: Kyle Edmund makes quick kill after marathon match, but Cameron Norrie beaten
Jamie Murray loses in first round in last match with Bruno Soares
There should have been just two Britons playing in the singles draw come Tuesday, except that the marvellous ‘bullring’ stadium decided to put on a show in his last year at Roland Garros.
The popular Court 1, a circular arena that concentrates the cheers of the crowd to create one of the best atmospheres at the French Open, will be demolished after 2019, but when home player Jeremy Chardy took on Briton Kyle Edmund in the late afternoon of opening Monday, it decided to make its presence felt.
The two men went hammer and tong for almost four hours before light forced the contest’s suspension at close to 9.30pm, 5-5 in the fifth set. They would resume in the early afternoon on Tuesday, but by then, Edmund’s compatriot Cameron Norrie, one of a trio of British men into the main draw by right this year, would be approaching the end of his first match.
Norrie faced 20-year-old Frenchman Elliot Benchetrit, ranked 232, who entered his second Paris main draw via a qualifying wild card. Then Daniel Evans would take on the No23 seed Fernando Verdasco
Norrie, at the age of 23, made a later-than-usual entry into the senior tennis tour after opting to follow the American college route to professional status. He put it thus in a recent BBC interview:
“Learn about yourself, just grow up. If you still want to play your tennis, you have so many more years to play and you are going to save a lot of mental scarring from taking a lot of losses in the Futures.”
So he turned pro in 2017, reached the second round in his debut appearance at Roland Garros last year, made his first tour final this January in Auckland, followed by the semis at the Acapulco 500.
Yet Benchetrit, a tall powerhouse of a player, who had played entirely on the Challenger circuit this season, very quickly got the measure of Norrie, who was slow to start in the damp and cool conditions. The Frenchman served big, and finished with a big forehand, and he was not afraid to come to the net, either. He broke in the fourth game, and served out the set, 6-3, at one stage with a run of 13 points out of 16.
As the sun emerged to warm up the court and the packed crowd, Benchetrit went from strength to strength, and Norrie could not contain his opponent. The Frenchman served out the set in 18 minutes, with three breaks, 6-0, while the Briton managed just eight points.
The tactics from Benchetrit were clear—power and attack: he had made 14 points from 15 net charges, notched up serves of 220kph, and looked ready for more in the third. He broke immediately, and broke again for 5-2.
Indeed, he wavered only once, offering up his first break chances of the match, three of them, in the last game. However, the Frenchman sealed his win with an ace, sending Norrie on his way in just an hour and 24 minutes.
The Briton offered up no excuses for his performance, and was clearly disappointed not to do himself justice.
“I want to say all credit to him. He played great from the start. I started a little bit nervous, and honestly, I never really got into the match at all. When he was aggressive, he was executing. When I was aggressive, I really didn’t execute anything.
“The biggest disappointment for me is that I didn’t really bring my level and I didn’t enjoy it out there. I was kind of in my own world and didn’t show my level. I didn’t execute… When I’m really enjoying it, I’m kind of competing well. I don’t think I competed well. That’s the main disappointment for me.
Edmund was back on court to finish his first match at the same time as Norrie concluded. The highest-ranked Briton was, unsurprisingly, the fresher—Chardy at the age of 32, needed a little longer to warm up the body after his late-night efforts—and Edmund quickly held his opening serve and then worked two break points.
A forced error from Chardy’s backhand wing, and Edmund lifted his hands aloft, 7-5. It had taken another seven minutes, and marked his first win after a run of five losses.
There are worse places to turn around your fortunes, and he was happy with his form:
“To come through that was great for me. Very happy with it. You know, great fight, good character, good composure, especially in an environment like that. And physically, just was lots of positives for me. That was great to take forward. So very pleased.
He next plays Pablo Cuevas, another veteran ranked only a little lower than Chardy, at 47, whose six titles and three more finals have all come on clay, most recently in Estoril this year.
The single-hander from Uruguay beat Maxime Janvier, 6-4, 6-4 6-2, in a scant hour and a half. Rather different, then, from the long-drawn-out match that Edmund and Chardy had endured. It will be a new test, and a tough one given the surface, in a first ever meeting. He was optimistic of his chances, however:
“He’s a good player… I’m in a good place. I’ve shown I can play tough. I’ve proved that now. So just got to go out there and not really overthink it. My game is certainly good enough now to do damage.”
There was more disappointment for British hopes when Jamie Murray and partner Bruno Soares lost their opener to an Italian duo in a final-set tie-break. However, the Skupski brothers Neal and Ken, won their opener 6-1, 6-2, in under an hour against fellow Brits Luke Bambridge and Jonny O’Mara.
Prior to these matches, it had been announced that Neal would be replacing Soares as Murray’s doubles partner after the French Open. Murray said afterwards:
“I didn’t find it weird [playing the last time here with Bruno]. We had a great chance to do well in the tournament, we’re still a great team, there’s no disputing that. I’m sure both of us wanted to go out with a great result and finish on a high… Whether it will be the right decision, time will tell.”
On the singles side, Evans would enter the fray later in the afternoon, to see if he could join Edmund in the second round here. He would have to win his first ever match at Roland Garros to do so.