Champions’ Day: Nadal, Djokovic, Wawrinka Begin on Monday at Roland Garros
Nadal carries 5-0 FedEx ATP Head2Head advantage into first-round matchup
Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka – winners of 12 of the past 13 Roland Garros titles – all will be in action on Monday as first-round play continues in Paris.
The top-seeded Nadal commences another attempt at history this fortnight. The Spaniard is trying to become the first man – and only the second player – in history to win 11 singles titles at any Grand Slam tournament. Australian Margaret Court won the Australian Open 11 times, including six before the Open Era began in April 1968 (1960-66, 1969-1971, 1973).
Nadal meets a familiar opponent on Court Philippe-Chatrier in Italian Simone Bolelli. The two have faced off five times in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, and Nadal has won all five, including a first-round contest at the 2012 Roland Garros, during which Nadal lost only five games.
Read More:Moya: ‘My Belief In Rafa Is At An All-Time High’
Djokovic, a potential challenger to Nadal in Paris, will look to pick up where he left off in Rome at the season’s third and final ATP World Tour Masters 1000 clay-court tournament. The Serbian reached his first quarter-final and semi-final of the season at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia earlier this month (l. to Nadal).
The 2016 Roland Garros champion meets Brazilian qualifier Rogerio Dutra Silva, who’s no stranger to the red dirt. Almost 75 per cent of the his 30 tour-level wins have come on clay (22/30), according to his FedEx ATP Win/Loss Record. Djokovic won their only prior FedEx ATP Head2Head matchup in straight sets at the 2012 US Open.
Stan Wawrinka has looked less convincing in recent times, as the Swiss continues his comeback from two knee surgeries last August. Wawrinka lost in the quarter-finals of the Banque Eric Sturdza Geneva Open last week to eventual champion Marton Fucsovics of Hungary.
It was Wawrinka’s third clay-court match of the year, and he was contesting back-to-back matches for the first time since February at the Diema Xtra Sofia Open. But perhaps returning to the site of his second Grand Slam title (2015 Roland Garros) will help Wawrinka. The 33-year-old, who fell in last year’s final to Nadal, kicks off play on Court Suzanne-Lenglen against Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Wawrinka is 18-2 in his past three Roland Garros appearances.
View Monday’s Schedule
In other action, Open Parc Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Lyon titlist Dominic Thiem will go for his 30th match win of the season against qualifier Ilya Ivashka of Belarus. The seventh-seeded Thiem has reached the semi-finals the past two years.
Twenty-seventh seed and 2016 quarter-finalist Richard Gasquet meets Italy’s Andreas Seppi; 13th seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain faces Uzbekistani Denis Istomin; and Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, the 11th seed, meets French wild card Calvin Hemery.
Monday will also feature a number of compatriots battling on la terre battue. Ninth seed John Isner of the U.S. meets 22-year-old Noah Rubin, who won the USTA’s wild-card challenge to make his Roland Garros debut. #NextGenATP American Frances Tiafoe will play 12th seed Sam Querrey; and Spain’s David Ferrer, 2013 finalist, meets #NextGenATP Jaume Munar.
Read More: Courtside and Beyond, Nadal Supports #NextGenATP Munar
Coverage: Daily live radio and text commentaries on BBC Radio 5 live, the BBC Sport website and app.
Britain’s Johanna Konta says being reminded of her poor French Open record by the media does not “make it easy” for her at Roland Garros.
Konta, seeded 22nd, was beaten 6-4 6-3 by Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva – her fourth successive first-round loss at the tournament.
The British number one has never won a main-draw match in Paris.
“I don’t think it helps if it keeps being said: ‘Oh, she hasn’t done well there before,'” she said.
However, Konta’s results on her least favourite surface over the past two years mean it is unsurprising they have been highlighted.
She only won two matches on the red dirt last summer and, although she showed encouraging signs in Madrid and Rome earlier this year, it has been compounded by her loss against world number 93 Putintseva.
Her form on this surface contrasts sharply with her success on grass, where she reached the Wimbledon semi-finals last summer, and the three WTA titles she has won on hard courts.
After losing to Putintseva, she asked journalists whether they felt it was fair to keep bringing up her previous form in the main draw at Roland Garros.
“If every time you went in to work – because, obviously, you travel – and let’s say for a few years your pieces of writing have been crap every time when you come into Roland Garros.
“Right? Just crap. And then your colleagues start to say: ‘You know, you really suck around that time.’ And that happens, you know, for a few years.
Carlos Moya talks with ATPWorldTour.com ahead of Rafa’s attempt for an 11th Roland Garros title
As an ATP World Tour player, Carlos Moya lifted the Roland Garros trophy in 1998. His first Grand Slam achievement as a coach came a year ago, when he helped guide Rafael Nadal to his 10th Roland Garros title. ATPWorldTour.com spoke with coach Moya ahead of Rafa’s first-round match at Roland Garros against Simone Bolelli.
How is Nadal feeling going into Roland Garros this year? Like last year, he’s going into Roland Garros with three titles on the season (Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, Internazionali BNL d’Italia). Having said that, the circumstances are a little different this year. Losing in Rome to [Dominic] Thiem in ’17 (QFs, 4-6, 3-6) was a matter of fatigue. It was significant, of course, and we looked into it but we blamed an accumulation of exhaustion and the conditions in Rome over anything else.
In general, we didn’t jump to conclusions or get overly dramatic after that loss; it was just something to keep an eye on at the time. We went into Rome this year with a different approach. After losing to Thiem in Madrid this year (QFs, 5-7, 3-6), the approach to Rome was about validation. How Rafa bounces back from defeat is what matters most.
Nadal’s draw this year seems advantageous… I don’t know about that. We’ve checked out our half of the draw, but we don’t like to look too far ahead. We take matters one match at a time. Every opponent and each match needs to be assessed before we start thinking about who might be next.
Was withdrawing from Indian Wells ( BNP Paribas Open) and Miami (Miami Open presented by Itau) a team decision to give Nadal time to recover from a hip-related injury and increase his chances of being ready to defend his title in Paris? Roland Garros is the ultimate goal, but success throughout the clay season is very important to us. Rafa was a little preoccupied about not facing stiff competition in time for Roland Garros but looking back, he obviously has been able to play and he has been challenged. He likes to go into Roland Garros with momentum and we’ve achieved that goal. Rafa’s healthy and he managed to play very competitive tournaments and was tested repeatedly, so we’re where we want to be. Roland Garros is where Rafa defends 60 per cent of his points, so doing well here is key.
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You won your first Grand Slam as a coach here a year ago. What has changed since then? As a coach, you’re always adapting and getting to know your player’s game more thoroughly. I’m always analysing the circumstances and where we stand at that moment. Compared to this time last year, I understand Rafa more, both as a player and as a person.
Does it surprise you that once again, Nadal is the leading contender to win at Roland Garros? No, it doesn’t surprise me. I trust him and believe in both his quality of play and his talent. When it comes to Rafa, I know what I’m dealing with. I’ve known him as my rival, and then as his mentor. Now that I spend more time with him, my belief in Rafa is at an all-time high. He’s in a good place, both mentally and physically.
In regard to your time as Nadal’s rival as opposed to his coach: Can you describe the time you faced Nadal at Roland Garros in 2007? (Nadal d. Moya 6-4, 6-3, 6-0 in QF) He was a whirlwind and he blew me off the court. I was playing well, but he was on another level and there was little I could do to compete that day.
Is there one match that stands out against Nadal that you use as a way to improve his game? I lost to Rafa in 2008 at Chennai 7-6(3), 6-7(8), 7-6(1). That match was an epic one. I’m not really big on looking at the past; my philosophy as coach is more about what we can do now and what’s ahead of us.
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You’ve said before that the most important thing is that Nadal keeps the desire and the will to win. What is the key to not losing either of the two? It’s about staying positive, even when things get ugly. We experienced two difficult moments after the injuries Rafa sustained at the Australian Open and in Acapulco. Having to withdraw from Indian Wells and Miami, that was hard. The upbeat feeling came back when Rafa was healthy again, and he was training at full strength. But getting back there is never easy and it takes mental strength as well.
You’ve also said there’s always room for improvement. Considering where Nadal is right now in terms of form, what’s there to improve? A player can always get better and in a lot of ways. Your positioning on the court, your aggressiveness, your approaches… that’s why training is so important for us. Once the match starts, it isn’t about improving but remembering what you learned on the practice court.
If you aren’t practising hard enough, then you’re not going to have those tools to rely on once the match begins because there’s so much going through your mind. Those reactions need to be built into your mind so you don’t have to think as much once you’re out there. So maybe it’s more about “remembering” rather than just “improving.” Of course, when we train, we are trying to fix things as well. But this isn’t something we do especially for Roland Garros, this is every week. We see something, we address it immediately.
Have you been able to do any sort of specialised training this season? No, not as much compared to last year due to the injuries. We use our training time to focus on any outstanding issues we notice the match before.
Watch Rafa’s My Story
Does Nadal get nervous this time of year? I wouldn’t call it nervous, but he does feel pressure going into Roland Garros.
So the pressure is there. Correct. We as a team feel pressure. Team Nadal is under constant pressure to win. We’re talking about one of the all-time greats here. We know with whom we are dealing with and there’s no use trying to dance around that. Rafa will be the first to admit we’re under pressure all the time.
Do you enjoy that feeling? I’d rather play under pressure than compete with nothing to lose. Pressure isn’t always a bad thing. I had to live with that pressure when I was on Tour, at a different level than Nadal has to deal with, of course, and I’m living with it again as his coach. So I get it, and it’s just something I have to accept.
Is Novak Djokovic back in form? All signs point that he’s there. We’ve picked up on those signals for a while now. They became loud and clear in Rome, where he lost a very tough match against Rafa. When Rafa was on point, he was a little superior, but if he dipped even a little bit, they played on level terms. Anything could have happened. This is Novak we’re talking about, another all-time great. He can pounce at any time.
Some consider Dominic Thiem as Nadal’s top rival on clay, but Alexander Zverev has already won two ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events on the surface (Rome 2017, Madrid 2018). A lot of attention has been focused on Thiem because he’s defeated Rafa three times on clay and because he’s established himself as a solid player on the surface. Sascha is more well-rounded though, and he can play well on any surface, but he hasn’t beaten Rafa on clay. This doesn’t mean Thiem is better than Sascha or Djokovic, but he’s been the most successful against Rafa as of late. So I get that people consider Thiem as Rafa’s biggest threat.
Besides Thiem, who else do you consider the biggest threats to Nadal’s Roland Garros title defence this year? Djokovic, as usual, and Sascha. [Marin] Cilic and [Kei] Nishikori as well, but taking into consideration every match is a five-set match, I’d say Thiem, Djokovic and Zverev are the biggest threats.
Coverage: Daily live radio and text commentaries on BBC Radio 5 live, the BBC Sport website and app.
British number one Johanna Konta’s struggles at Roland Garros continued as she lost in the French Open first round for the fourth successive year.
The 22nd seed lost 6-4 6-3 to Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva.
Konta spoke positively in the build-up about her ability on the red clay, but made too many unforced errors against an opponent ranked 93rd in the world.
Heather Watson, Britain’s only other player in the women’s draw, faces France’s Oceane Dodin on Monday.
“I never really found my rhythm,” Konta said. “I never really found the way I wanted to play.
“And I think, obviously, there’s some of that to do with her. I think she played quite smart.”
Williams loses in first round
‘You’re on the main court in an hour’ – world 182’s late call to face Dimitrov
Live scores, schedule and results
Konta pays price for unforced errors
Konta’s stock rose, along with her ranking, on the back of a wonderful grass-court season last year, in which she reached the Wimbledon semi-finals.
But she has struggled to match those heights since, reaching just one quarter-final this year, in Brisbane in January.
Although clay is the former world number four’s least favourite surface, she talked up her ability on the dirt before Sunday’s opening match and pointed to her record in French Open qualifying as an indication she can perform at Roland Garros.
This defeat, however, was less to do with the surface and more to do with her aggressive, and sometimes wild, shot-making.
Konta made 32 unforced errors, compared with just 22 winners, with another loose backhand up the line somewhat fittingly ending the match, in an hour and 24 minutes.
“Unforced errors, obviously, are an indication of not being able to find your margins, which I obviously wasn’t able to,” Konta said.
“Otherwise, I think I just had a bad match.”
Konta’s exit leaves Watson on her own
Konta’s defeat leaves British number two Watson as the country’s sole representative left in the women’s draw.
The 26-year-old has endured a difficult year in terms of results, losing eight matches in a row before ending that run in Nuremberg last week.
“Relief was the overriding feeling because I’d not had a win on the WTA tour for a while,” Watson, who has dropped to 86th in the world, told BBC Sport.
“I wasn’t thinking too much about the run but the media was, and from that perspective it was nice to get it off my back.
“I don’t feel like I was playing badly, just things weren’t clicking together.”
Watson has reached the French Open second round on five previous occasions, with home hope Dodin standing in the way of a sixth opening success.
The tall French player is ranked well below Watson at 133rd and has also struggled for form, winning only one WTA Tour match this season and claiming just a handful more on the ITF circuit.
Britain’s number three male player Cameron Norrie is also in action on Monday, having qualified for the main draw of a Grand Slam for the first time, and faces Germany’s Peter Gojowczyk.
Great Britain Davis Cup captain Leon Smith on BBC Radio 5 live:
Johanna Konta will be bitterly disappointed with that performance. She gave so many free points to Putintseva, who did play well.
If you hit 32 unforced errors with only 22 winners, then that is what happens.
But I don’t see a reason why Konta can’t become a good clay-courter. She serves well on any surface, has powerful groundstrokes and moves very well. She was just too offensive against Putintseva.
Pouille, top Frenchman, looking to reach QF for first time
There will be no first-round exit for Alexander Zverev at Roland Garros this year. The 6’6” German dominated his opener on Sunday, cruising past Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 in only 69 minutes. The second seed hit 11 aces and dropped only four points on his first serve (27/31).
Last year, Zverev, after winning his maiden ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title in Rome, lost to Fernando Verdasco in the first round in Paris. Zverev is now a two-time clay-court Masters 1000 titlist after winning the Mutua Madrid Open earlier this month (d. Thiem), and he’s looking to reach his first Grand Slam quarter-final this fortnight.
“On clay especially I have been playing well… I have won two tournaments (Munich, Madrid), made the finals in Rome; again, losing to Rafa in a close match. I feel good, and today was a good start to the tournament,” Zverev said.
His best showing at a Grand Slam was a fourth-round run at 2017 Wimbledon (l. to Raonic). Zverev made the third round at Roland Garros two years ago. He will next meet Serbian Dusan Lajovic or Czech Jiri Vesely.
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The highest-seeded Frenchman in the draw cruised in his opener. Fifteeenth seed Lucas Pouille routed Russian Daniil Medvedev, a titlist in Sydney earlier this year, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 on Court Philippe-Chatrier. Pouille won 82 per cent of his first-serve points and won almost half of his return points against the 22-year-old Medvedev.
“The beginning of a tournament is always complicated, and it’s reassuring when you have a problem of confidence to realise that you were playing well during training and you could apply the game today,” Pouille said.
“I tried to focus on very simple things. I tried to have a sound and sturdy game without trying any wild things, play effective tennis without trying to shine… I’m very happy with the way I managed to cope with my emotions.”
France’s No. 1 enjoyed his best Roland Garros showing last year when he reached the third round (l. to Ramos-Vinolas). He’s into the second round for the fifth time. Pouille will next meet Brit Cameron Norrie or German Peter Gojowczyk, who finished as the Banque Eric Sturdza Geneva Open runner-up on Saturday (l. to Fucsovics).
It’s been 35 years since France’s Yannick Noah won Roland Garros in 1983. No other Frenchman has matched the feat – or won another Grand Slam title – in the Open Era.
In other action, 26th seed Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia and Herzegovina saved nine of 10 break points to beat American qualifier Denis Kudla 6-4, 6-2, 6-2. Dzumhur, a two-time ATP World Tour titlist, will next meet Radu Albot of Moldova, who came back to beat Frenchman Gregoire Barrere 4-6, 0-6, 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 in two hours and 33 minutes.
“I have sort of lukewarm feelings,” Barrere said. “I’m obviously disappointed to lose like that, but I’m very happy about my playing level for the first three sets. I’ll have to continue playing like that and seizing the game in my hands.”
Did You Know? Pouille broke into the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings in March for the first time. View ATP Rankings
Bulgarian defeats lucky loser Safwat in straight sets
Grigor Dimitrov adapted well to the challenge of facing a late replacement in the draw on Sunday, beating lucky loser Mohamed Safwat 6-1, 6-4, 7-6(1) to reach the second round at Roland Garros.
Dimitrov had prepared to face Viktor Troicki in the opening match of the tournament on Philippe-Chatrier Court before the Serb withdrew with lower back pain, handing Egypt’s Safwat a place in the main draw. Safwat, the first Egyptian man to compete at a Grand Slam since Tamer El Sawy at the 1996 US Open, handled the occasion well, testing the World No. 5 after a slow start.
The fourth seed hit 31 winners and won 88 per cent of first-serve points to snap a three-match losing streak after just over two hours. Dimitrov entered Roland Garros after opening-match losses at ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events in Madrid (l. to Raonic) and Rome (l. to Nishikori).
Dimitrov awaits the winner of the first-round encounter between Chile’s Nicolas Jarry and Jared Donaldson. Dimitrov is yet to meet either player on the ATP World Tour.
Dimitrov controlled the opening set from the baseline, hitting with greater power than his opponent off both wings to take a one-set lead after 22 minutes. The reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion dropped just eight points in the opener, taking charge of important points on his forehand side to outmanoeuvre the lucky loser.
The second set appeared to be following the same pattern, with Dimitrov, once again, using his forehand to great effect to secure an early break. But Safwat rallied, after taking a medical time-out at a set and 4-1 down, to come to within a point of levelling proceedings at 4-4. Dimitrov saved break point, taking the initiative with a strong forehand before finishing at the net, to maintain his advantage before sealing the set with a composed hold to love two games later.
The Egyptian carried his improved level into the third set, bravely saving break points at 3-3 and 4-4 to keep pace with Dimitrov before reaching a tie-break. At that point, Dimitrov rediscovered his first-set form, dominating with the forehand to race to the finish line.
Did You Know? Grigor Dimitrov is now one victory away from his 50th Grand Slam match win (49-30). The 27-year-old has won 20 matches at the Australian Open (20-8), six at Roland Garros (6-7), 15 at The Championships (15-8) and eight at the US Open (8-7).