French Open 2020: Battling Karolina Pliskova to face former champion Ostapenko in Round 2

Watson completes British exodus: first time since 2013 there will be no British singles players in Round 2 of a Major

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis
Heather Watson
Heather Watson (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

Karolina Pliskova, the No2 seed at this year’s unseasonably late French Open, was certainly expected to follow her fellow former No1s Simona Halep, Serena Williams, Garbine Muguruza and Victoria Azarenka into the second round.

The question was, would she do it as easily as top seed Halep and unseeded Azarenka—who dropped only four and three games respectively—or would she follow the lead of Muguruza who needed an 8-6 third set and over three hours to get past the 83-ranked Tamara Zidansek?

Even the mighty Serena Williams took time to warm to the cool, damp conditions in Paris before dismissing Kristie Ahn, but Pliskova came to Roland Garros in good form after reaching the final of the Italian Open in Rome last week.

Her problem was, the Parisian conditions were no match for Rome: the balls, already heavy, have grown heavier and slower as they soaked up the drizzle that has plagued the tournament so far. And then there was the question of the thigh injury that had forced her retirement during the Rome final.

What Pliskova did have was experience—she was a semi-finalist at Roland Garros in 2017—and years more experience than her debutant opponent in what proved to be a fascinating battle.

The story for Mayar Sherif was very different. She came through qualifying to become the first woman from Egypt to feature in a Major main draw. Ranked 172, this was just her second tour-level main draw appearance after the International-level Prague in August where, again as a qualifier, she lost in the first round.

But that lack of experience did not show here. Her powerful and confident tennis ensured that she pushed Pliskova hard, exchanging breaks in the first set and then saving multiple set points on her way to an impressive first set, 7-6(9).

Pliskova, apparently calm but showing occasional flashes of emotion, again had to exchange breaks at the start of the second set, but then surged through to level, 6-2.

The Czech began to make more moves forward, but still had to work hard to get the final breakthrough. The Egyptian saved five break points, but Pliskova finally had the break she needed, 4-3, and went on to serve it out, 6-4, after two and a quarter hours.

She was complimentary of her opponent, and rightly so:

“I think she was playing very smart today. Of course she had a lot of confidence just winning three matches from qualies. She had nothing to lose. I think she was playing good tennis, using the dropshot and using the forehand quite well. And the second-serve kick I think was working because the court was kind of slow together with the balls. Definitely I could do better there on the return. Yeah, just happy that I’m through.”

As for Sherif, the passion that had characterised her tennis throughout this unique experience shone from her press conference:

“It’s been very good, such a good feeling to be here, to compete here, to compete out in the stadium of Philippe Chatrier today. It was amazing feeling. I cannot describe it. It just gave me so much energy. I loved playing in the stadium. I loved having attention. I loved people being there, supporting. I enjoyed so much. I enjoyed the pressure moments. I enjoyed all of it. I hope, I really hope, to come back next year.”

Many others will hope so, too.

Pliskova’s journey does not get any easier. She next faces the unseeded former champion Jelena Ostapenko, who claimed her first win at the French Open since her title run in 2017. She needed only an hour to power past Madison Brengle, 6-2, 6-1.

Later, after another rain delay on the other courts around Roland Garros, the last Briton in the singles draw, the 56-ranked Heather Watson, took on one of the form players since the tour’s resumption in August.

Fiona Ferro broke into the top 50 for the first time after winning on the clay of Palermo last month, and although the conditions were rather different from southern Italy, the French/Italian woman edged the first set, 7-6(4). Watson got an early break in the second, but Ferro soon levelled things 2-2, and broke again. She served out the match, 6-4, and will next play the No14 seed Elena Rybakina.

On a more sobering note, Watson’s defeat makes this the first time since 2013 that there will be no British singles players in the second round of a Major. However, for some nations, this is proving to be an upbeat season for their young women players.

Of course, the year started with a brand-new Major champion in the shape of 21-year-old American Sofia Kenin, but what could Roland Garros expect of her after she lost 6-0, 6-0 to Azarenka at the Italian Open last week?

In a rain-punctuated match against Liudmila Samsonova, it began to look as though Kenin would continue her 2020 clay drought, but after two and a quarter hours, she finally advanced, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

However, there has been a good number of still younger women also making the move to Round 2. The tournament began with 11 teenagers in the draw, and the youngest of them, 16-year-old Cori Gauff, accounted for No9 seed Johanna Konta on Sunday.

The 18-year old Canadian Leylah Fernandez beat No31 seed Magda Linette, while 19-year-old Kaja Juvan put out the No18 seed, former No1 and three-time Major champion Angelique Kerber.

Juvan will next play fellow 19-year-old Clara Burel, a wild card who needed almost three hours and three gruelling sets to beat Arantxa Rus in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

One of the best matches of Tuesday’s schedule was between the impressive 17-year-old Dane, Clara Tauson, and No21 seed Jennifer Brady, one of the in-form players of the summer. Brady won her first WTA title in Lexington and backed it up with a run to the US Open semi-finals.

Tauson, in contrast, had come through qualifying to play her first Major main draw match. But she looked every inch a former Junior No1 and Major champion—she won in Australia in 2019. Now with seven ITF Pro Circuit trophies, and three wins last week in her first ever Major qualifying event, she broke the top 200 this month.

The cool, calm and collected Dane would save two match points when serving at 5-6 in the decider, to finally put out Brady, 6-4, 3-6, 9-7, after two and three-quarter hours.

She next plays Danielle Collins.

Topping out eight teenagers in the second round are also 19-year-olds Kamilla Rakhimova, Iga Swiatek, and the No25 seed, Amanda Anisimova.

Men’s Round 1 results:

No1 seed Novak Djokovic beat Mikael Ymer, 6-0, 6-2, 6-3

No7 seed Matteo Berrettini beat Vasek Pospisil, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3

No13 seed Andrey Rublev beat Sam Querrey, 6-7(5), 6-7(4), 7-5, 6-4, 6-3

No 20 seed Cristian Garin beat Philipp Kohlschreiber, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4

No22 seed Dusan Lajovic beat Gianluca Mager, 6-4, 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-1

Kevin Anderson beat Laslo Djere, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4

Alan Shearer (Photo: BBC Sport / Screengrab)
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