September 29, 2020

One Round Down

In a French Open that we knew was going to be strange even before it got started, it should be expected that we'd be treated to more than a couple surprises in the first few days of action. From colder than normal conditions to questionable calls, from breakthrough performances to amazing flameouts, we've aleady gotten our fair share of drama, and we've only just completed the first round!

Twelve of the women's seeds and eleven of the men's have already been kicked out of the draws -- and while I'm not sure where that ranks on the list of records, it sure feels high up there -- and even those who survived were pushed to their limits. And a couple of players have already proven themselves to be ones to watch.

Of course, there are the ones you might have expected would shine in early rounds. Coco Gauff, the 2018 Girls' champion here, refound the magic that seemed to be flagging in "Cincy" and New York, ousting ninth seed and 2019 semifinalist Johanna Konta in her opener, while nineteen-year-old Jannik Sinner, who beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in Rome, got his second straight win over David Goffin, having previously bested him in Rotterdam at the start of the year. But they weren't the only ones.

Young Iga Swiatek, a surprise fourth rounder last year, is trying to prove that run was no fluke. After an upset of Donna Vekic in Melbourne and a tough fight against Victoria Azarenka in New York, she started her run here with a straight-set, hour long drubbing of last year's runner-up Marketa Vondrousova. She is now the highest ranked player in her immediate section of the draw and could very well get back to the second week.

And don't forget about Kaja Juvan, still trying to crack the top hundred in the rankings, but playing well above her position. She got a win over Vondrousova in Palermo -- not to mention one over Venus Williams in Acapulco, and took a set off Serena last year at Wimbledon. But her biggest win by far came in her first round here, when she beat three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber in about an hour. She'll face wildcard Clara Burel next and potentially Alizé Cornet after that -- and I kind of like her chances.

It's not just the ladies getting things done -- Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka is trying to make his first big statement at a Major. The 25-year-old has only made the third round once before, this year in Melbourne, but a win over Felix Auger-Aliassime in his first round may give him the confidence to go a little better. Clay's never been his best surface -- he's barely won one in five matches on these courts -- but with a second round against wildcard Hugo Gaston, he's got a chances to improve.

In the same half of the draw, qualifier Sebastian Korda -- son of former world #2 Petr -- was able to go at least one better than his only other Major main draw. Still ranked outside the top two-hundred, the 20-year-old, who took a set off Denis Shapovalov in New York, was able to get the best of Andreas Seppi in a pretty straightforward four sets. He'll take on big-serving John Isner in an all-American final next, but as I've opined before, he's an imminently beatable foe.

But then there are the stories no one saw coming.

Let's start with 17-year-old Clara Tauson, who battled through qualifiers for the right to meet U.S. Open standout Jennifer Brady. The young Dane faced match points in the decider but pushed her opponent into extra innings and finally closed the deal after nearly three hours. She next meets Danielle Collins, a semifinalist in Australia last year but not one who can't be overcome. And then there's Russia's Kamilla Rakhimova, who beat top-seeded qualifier Ann Li to make the main draw here. She went on to easily dismiss another summer breakout, Shelby Rogers, a quarterfinalist here in 2016, in a match that lasted barely over an hour. Next up is Maria Sakkari, who'll be a much tougher opponent, but this could just be the start of her successes.

On the men's side, there's veteran Lorenzo Giustino, seen above collapsing after winning a six hour epic against Corentin Moutet, 18-16 in the fifth -- the first tour-level win of his career. I don't know that I give him too much of a chance against Diego Schwartzman in his next round, but it sure will be fun to watch him try. But perhaps we could see better results from lucky loser Marc Polmans, who is somewhat unusually the only Australian left in the men's draw -- surprising given the recent successes of Alex de Minaur, John Millman, and others. The 22-year-old ousted my dark horse pick Ugo Humbert in his opener and might actually stand a chance against Cristian Garin in the next round.

Whether any of these guys can last well into the second week of this crazy French Open still remains to be seen, but at the very least, they've all given us something to talk about. Some might really be setting themselves up for big things down the road -- others might just prove to be flashes in the pan. But at a Major where we've already seen crazy things, they may never have had as big an opportunity as they do right now.

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