French Open 2019

French Open 2019: Alexander Zverev and Ivo Karlovic headline record-making day in Paris

Del Potro, Fognini, and Verdasco also win, but Dan Evans loses

Alexander Zverev
Alexander Zverev (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

As the first round of singles competition readied to reach its conclusion, there would already be one record broken.

Court 6 hosted the oldest singles men’s match of the Open era in the tournament’s history between 40-year-old Ivo Karlovic and 37-year-old Feliciano Lopez.

What is more, the veteran Spaniard was setting another Open era record across all Majors, his 69th in a row.

Their match would fail to set another record—it would last just four sets. But the towering Karlovic, 6ft 11ins, added 35 aces to his world-leading career tally of 13,320. He won the match, too, his first since Indian Wells, with 149 points to Lopez’s 150, with a glut of old-fashioned serve and volley. The Croat made 46 points from 76 net plays—it is the only way he knows how to play.

But for long matches, the fans had to look elsewhere.

Kyle Edmund may have taken only seven minutes to complete his delayed five-setter over Jeremy Chardy, but the entire match stopped the clock at four hours, two minutes: the longest match so far. Yet within two hours, it had been overtaken by the No5 seed Alexander Zverev, who found himself in a five-set battle of his own against John Millman that lasted four hours, eight minutes.

The young German had a lot at stake, too. For despite owning three Masters titles, two of them on clay, among 11 titles, it had taken him a long time to make a deep run in the best-of-five format of the Majors. But he got something of a breakthrough right here last year to reach the quarter-finals. However, that success brought with it the need to defend significant points.

That he only arrived in Paris at the weekend after winning three three-setters on his way to the Geneva title did not help his cause.

But surviving five-setters at Majors has become something of a habit for Zverev. In last year’s Paris run, he came through three in a row. At Wimbledon, two of his three matches were five-setters. And he would pull off another to set a second-round match against qualifier Mikael Ymer, 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-3.

He knew it had been close, and sank to his knees in relief, before standing to raise his arms to the cheering crowd. Since beating world No1 Novak Djokovic to win the ATP Finals last November, Zverev has struggled to find the same form that took him to No3 in the world.

Since reaching the finals in Acapulco in February, he had won only six matches until his Geneva run, as he coped with off-court issues in his personal and management life that clearly ate into his time and his confidence.

He referred to the past few months when he spoke to the Tennis Channel after the match:

“It’s been a few not easy weeks and months for me, personally as well. So I just reminded myself that I’m still one of the best tennis players in the world and just reminded myself a little bit that everything is good and [that I’m going] to get another opportunity to play here in the second round and just point out some positive things.”

From two sets up, the German was broken twice in the third and lost a close tie-break. The final set was a closer affair but he finally got the breakthrough against the 56-ranked Millman, who caused such a stir at the US Open last September in beating Roger Federer in the fourth round in four sets.

He came pretty close to an upset again, and to winning his first main-tour match at Roland Garros, but Zverev lost just four service points in the decider, broke in the eighth game for a 5-3 lead, and served it out, the longest match of the tournament thus far.

Beyond here, his first seeded opponent could be No30 Dusan Lajovic, who beat Brazilian qualifier Thiago Monteiro, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. The Serbian next plays another qualifier, Elliot Benchetrit.

No8 seed Juan Martin del Potro did not play at the French Open for four straight years as he wrestled with repeated and persistent injuries. But last year the popular Argentine made the semis via two top-10 wins before losing to champion Rafael Nadal.

After reaching the final of the US Open, he would later miss the tour between Shanghai and Delray Beach in February as he recovered from a knee injury, and had won just four matches before taking to Suzanne Lenglen court against Chilean Nicolas Jarry, ranked 58.

In the battle of the 6ft6in men, the 23-year-old Chilean got the hotter start, and cruised to a 6-3 first set. But then the del Potro form kicked in carry him through the next three sets in quick order, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4.

The Argentine next plays Yoshihito Nishioka, but he admitted that the most important part of his preparation is to look after his health:

“There is a series of rituals. The knee, the wrist, and then I arrived here very early, and I have learned to live with these rituals. It’s now part of my daily routine. I’m not very happy about that, but it’s part of my daily routine. Tomorrow I will continue to recover with the physio, with my staff, and try to feel in the best shape for the next round.”

In the same sector of the draw, No10 seed Karen Khachanov beat Cedrik-Marcel Stebe to set a meeting with wild card Gregoire Barrere, and No22 seed Lucas Pouille beat Simone Bolelli to face Martin Klizan.

In the Zverev eighth, Fabio Fognini, champion in Monte-Carlo, scored his 50th Major match-win over compatriot Andreas Seppi, 6-3, 6-0, 3-6, 6-3. He said of playing Seppi, who was contesting his 750th tour-level match in his 56th consecutive Major event:

“It is always tough, because he’s a really good friend of mine. It’s always difficult, especially mentally, to play against an Italian friend.”

Fognini will now take on Federico Delbonis, while No18 seed Roberto Bautista Agut will face Taylor Fritz. The young American, who beat the Spaniard 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-4 in Lyon last week, said of the repeat showdown:

“I’m going to have to play very well. I played very good, I thought, in Lyon and just barely got it done. So I know what I have to do… I feel confident that if I do what I need to do, I can win again.”

Another Spaniard, 35-year-old Fernando Verdasco, put paid to the last Briton in the men’s singles draw, Dan Evans, in a high-quality four-setter lasting three and a half hours. It leaves Kyle Edmund as the only man standing in that draw

And so back to our beginning, and the remarkable Karlovic, who made another dent in the record books with his victory. He became the oldest player to win a match at Roland Garros since 44-year-old Torben Ulrich in 1973. Who knows what record will fall next after he plays Jordan Thompson.

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