Sabalenka, Ruud light up Roland Garros after rain wreaks havoc on schedule

Published May 29, 2024
FRANCE’S Alize Cornet plays a backhand return against Qinwen Zheng of China during their French Open first-round match on Tuesday.—Reuters
FRANCE’S Alize Cornet plays a backhand return against Qinwen Zheng of China during their French Open first-round match on Tuesday.—Reuters

PARIS: Second seed Aryna Sabalenka and two-time French Open finalist Casper Ruud launched their bid for a maiden title in Paris as they eased past their respective opponents on a cold, rainy day in the first-round on Tuesday.

Spectators at Roland Garros were largely starved of action with the weather preventing any chance of play on the outer courts before 4 p.m. local time, the proceedings were limited to the two main showcourts — Philippe Chatrier and Suzanne Lenglen — both of which have retractable roofs.

Sabalenka, who is looking to clinch her second Grand Slam crown of the year, recorded a breezy 6-1, 6-2 win over Russian teenager Erika Andreeva while Ruud eased past Brazilian qualifier Felipe Alves 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.

The 26-year-old Sabalenka, who successfully defended her Australian Open title earlier this year, arrived at Roland Garros as a top contender after strong results in the European clay swing and wasted little time to get going on Court Philippe Chatrier.

After breaking in the fourth game when 19-year-old Andreeva hit a double fault, Sabalenka fired up her forehand to quickly build up a 5-1 lead and closed out the opening set when her opponent sent a shot wide.

The Belarusian pounced on world number 100 Andreeva’s serve again to grab the lead in the second set before handing the break back while attempting a chip from deep, but last year’s semi-finalist promptly surged ahead 4-2 after saving more breakpoints.

Having neutralised the increased threat from Andreeva, she wrapped up the contest on serve in 68 minutes, finishing it off on her third matchpoint with a sublime drop shot at the net to huge cheers from the crowd.

NORWAY’S Casper Ruud in action against Felipe Meligeni 
Alves of Brazil during their first-round match on Court 
Philippe-Chatrier.—AFP
NORWAY’S Casper Ruud in action against Felipe Meligeni Alves of Brazil during their first-round match on Court Philippe-Chatrier.—AFP

“I’m trying to do well on clay, it is tough conditions here but I enjoy playing here and I’m just trying to bring my best tennis every time — whatever the surface,” said Sabalenka.

Meanwhile, Ruud, fresh from his win in Geneva last week, looked confident on the Paris clay, serving close to 90% first serves as he sped past the Brazilian in under two hours.

“I think it’s been a good clay season for me. Madrid and Rome could’ve gone a bit better. It wasn’t what I hoped for. But other results went well. All in all I’m happy.”

Ruud, a losing finalist in the previous two editions of the French Open, earned three break points at 3-2 and more on the Brazilian’s next service game before snatching a break on his seventh opportunity to go 5-3 up and bag the first set.

Alves had matched Ruud’s power game for about an hour but gradually the mistakes piled up as Ruud did not give a single break point away in the entire second set.Another early break in the third saw Ruud firmly in the driving seat and the 25-year-old sealed his win in just under two hour.

Frenchwoman Alize Cornet’s career ended with a straight-sets defeat by Zheng Qinwen in her record-extending 69th consecutive Grand Slam appearance.

Cornet was no match for China’s Australian Open runner-up Zheng, losing 6-2, 6-1.

She made her debut at Roland Garros as a 15-year-old in 2005 and has not missed a Grand Slam tournament since the 2006 US Open.

Cornet reached a career-high ranking of 11th in 2009 and enjoyed a surprise run to the 2022 Australian Open quarter-finals.

“I already cried yesterday watching Rafa,” said a tearful Cornet after seeing Nadal lose what was likely his last match at the French Open on Monday.

Over on Court Suzanne Leng­len, former Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina powered into the second round with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Belgian Greet Minnen.

Kazakh world number four Ryba­kina is the only player to defeat Swiatek on clay this season, in the Stuttgart semi-finals in April.

Australian Alex De Minaur thumped Alex Michelsen, Petra Martic overcame Kristina Mladenovic and Arantxa Rus stunned three-times Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber in the few matches that were completed on the outside courts.

In Tuesday’s late matches, Daniil Medvedev had lost in the first round on five of his previous seven Roland Garros appearances, but made no mistake this time, seeing off Dominik Koepfer 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-3.

Sixth-seeded Greek Maria Sakkari bowed out in the first round for the second straight year with a 6-3, 4-6, 3-6 loss to Varvara Gracheva.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2024

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