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Alix Ramsay Checks In From Paris Tennis • Roland Garros 2019 For Tennis10sBalls

A ball boy waits for his turn as during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 30 May 2019. EPA-EFE/JULIEN DE ROSA
A ball boy waits for his turn as during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 30 May 2019. EPA-EFE/JULIEN DE ROSA

 

 

To say that the women’s draw at Roland Garros is top heavy is to put it mildly and yet the three heavyweights of the game packed into that section are all looking a little fragile.

 

Before those of a politically correct persuasion get all hot under the collar, yes, we know that using any reference to weight in a sentence involving female players is regarded as sinful, but how else would you describe the defending Roland Garros champion and former world No.1, the current world No.1 and the champion of the US and Australian Opens and the living legend and possessor of 23 grand slam singles titles? When it comes to champions, it doesn’t get any more heavyweight than that.

 

And yet Serena Williams looked as nervous as a kitten in her opening round against Vitalia Diatchenko, Naomi Osaka dropped the first set of her first match 6-0 and even Simona Halep was taken to three sets as she began the defence of her title.

 

Serena Williams of the USA plays Kurumi Nara of Japan during their women?s second round match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 30 May 2019. EPA-EFE/CAROLINE BLUMBERG

Serena Williams of the USA plays Kurumi Nara of Japan during their women?s second round match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 30 May 2019. EPA-EFE/CAROLINE BLUMBERG

Forty eight hours on and Serena was looking a little more settled as she overpowered Kurumi Nara 6-3, 6-2 while Osaka had to hang on for dear life to ride out the storm that was Vika Azarenka. It took 10 minutes shy of three hours for the world No.1 to win 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 and even when she was serving for the match at 5-1, she was not given a moment’s peace. Azarenka can still fight like a cornered ferret when she needs to; what she has not rediscovered since returning from maternity leave is how to close out the big matches.

 

“I feel like I didn’t dip at all during this match, and she was just playing so well,” a mightily relieved Osaka said. “I was just waiting for her to get a little bit tired. I think she did towards the end of the second set and the third set. So that’s when I just tried to really accelerate on how fast I was sort of winning the points.

 

“Against Vika, she has the ability to hit winners. I don’t think the other girl [in my first match] hit that many winners. I was more making the mistakes. For me, that match, I just had to stop making errors, and it immediately became easier.

 

“But against Vika today, I felt like once I was back towards the back of the court and she was more dictating, then the point was immediately over. So I felt like I had to be more aggressive, and that’s kind of hard to do while you’re down and you have to win a lot of games in a row.”

 

Ideally, she would like to win a lot of games in a row in the next round but given that she is playing Katerina Siniakova, who edged past Maria Sakkari 7-6, 6-7, 6-3, that is unlikely. She may well win, but it won’t be easy.

 

That Serena can play at all has taken some people by surprise. Photographed in a wheelchair at Disneyland in Paris just days before the start of the Open, the Twittersphere lit up with rumours and theories. She was crocked. Her knee has finally given out. And, the slightly more sensible explanation: that she did not want to exhaust herself schlepping around a theme park for hours and hours just before she tries to win a major title. So what did Serena have to say about the state of her knees?

 

“I’m not going to get into that,” she said. “I’m playing and all’s good.”

 

Right then, she was not in the mood to share. And then another hack asked her, quite politely and conversationally, at what point during the course of a grand slam did she get the feeling she could win it. The answer was short and to the point.

 

“I generally come to a grand slam to win it,” she said, curtly.

 

Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic plays Madison Brengle of the USA during their women?s first round match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 26 May 2019. EPA-EFE/CAROLINE BLUMBERG

Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic plays Madison Brengle of the USA during their women?s first round match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 26 May 2019. EPA-EFE/CAROLINE BLUMBERG

Best move on and change the subject. Don’t get her angry – it never ends well. She did let on, though, that the year has not been easy. In Australia, she twisted her ankle during her quarter-final against Karolina Pliskova. She lost that match and, basically, has never really been the same since. Everything has been an effort and by beating Nara on Thursday to reach the third round, she had managed to complete two full matches for the first time since January.

 

“I have had a tough year since I twisted my ankle in Australia,” she admitted. “Like, it’s just been really tough after that. So everything definitely feels a little bit harder than normal, but at the same time, I know that it’s going to get better.”

 

It might just get a little better against Sofia Kenin, the 20-year-old world No.35 from Florida. But then again, it might not.

 

And finally, for a bit of a giggle, this: an official email from the French Tennis Federation publicising their drive to keep the French-speaking world united and playing tennis together.

 

“The French Tennis Federation (FFT), working closely with tennis federations from around 30 French-speaking countries, is organizing a series of events to showcase French-speaking tennis. These “Rendez-vous de la Francophonie du tennis” will take place during the Roland-Garros tournament, on Thursday 30 and Friday 31 May. They are under the patronage of the Secretary General of the International Organisation of La Francophonie (IOF), Louise Mushikiwabo.”

 

Louise must be one of the Toulouse Mushikiwabos, then…

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