Roland Garros – Day 1 preview

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PARIS – It’s always a bit jarring when a tournament starts on Sunday.

It sort of throws the tennis fan’s internal schedule out of whack, because Sundays are supposed to be finals day, right?

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But the second Grand Slam of the season starts on Sunday, the better to squeeze an extra day of box office receipts.

On the positive side, it also gives fans who work all week an extra opportunity to see some tennis on the weekend.

And even though it’s not a full schedule, the morning lineups certainly attested to their interest.

Eight courts are in use, with four matches each, as select first-round encounters from the bottom half of the men’s and women’s draws get under way.

The lineups started early and snaked a long way from stade Roland Garros Sunday, on the first day of the French Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Nadal practice insanity

Cour 17 used to be the main court in the back part of the complex. But now, with the construction and opening of the new Court 18, all the stands around it are gone, and it’s just a low-level practice court.

Except … Rafael Nadal is scheduled to practice there from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

There is literally space for about 10 people to crowd into one corner of the court. Given the insanity that was on Court 1 Saturday to watch him practice during Kids’ Day, it’s hard to fathom they’d schedule him there.

On the plus side, there are no matches on neighbouring Court 15 today, only practice. But with Juan Martin del Potro and Diego Schwartzman the second hour, there will be people perched at the top of the Court 15 stands trying to have the best of both worlds.

That’s until the stern, black-suited security corps flex their muscles.

Matches to watch

There are 16 first-round matches from the bottom half scheduled for Sunday, with two French favorites – Lucas Pouille and Gaël Monfils – among them.

[32] Gaël Monfils (FRA) vs. [WC] Elliot Benchetrit (FRA)

Monfils says hey to Petra Martic of Croatia as he takes over her practice court Saturday at Roland Garros. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

For Monfils, who faces countryman (and wild card) elliot Benchetrit on Suzanne Lenglen, it’s a chance to pick up the pace on his season.

Monfils risked being unseeded for only the second time since 2008. But, currently ranked No. 38, he squeezed into the No. 32 seed because of various and numerous absences.

[5] Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) vs. Kateryna Kozlova (UKR)

Ostapenko’s defense of her unlikely title from a year ago is going to be one of the fascinating stories of this year’s tournament.

She begins against a hard hitter from the Ukraine who, at No. 66, is close to her career high. Kozlova has bigger challenges, though; she hasn’t played since Indian Wells.

Other than a run to the final in Taipei City right after the Australian Open, she has lost in the first round of her four other tournaments.

[4] Elina Svitolina (UKR) vs. Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS)

(No, you’re not imagining things. She has gotten very thin)

Svitolina is being tapped as one of the favorites to possibly win the whole thing, and those odds only improved after she won in Rome.

She faces a hard hitter in Tomljanovic, the Aussie-Croat who in her spare time dates Nick Kyrgios.

Tomljanovic is on the long, slow road back from shoulder surgery. That’s a surgery that doesn’t seem to be nearly as successful for tennis players as it is for, say baseball pitchers. 

And only now is she starting to win the matches she should, as one of the rare players on the women’s tour these days who can actually serve big.

[19] Kei Nishikori (JPN) vs. [WC] Maxime Janvier (FRA)

Nishikori practices with Juan Martin del Potro ahead of his first-round match Sunday at Roland Garros. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Nishikori has gone through ups and downs with his wrist over the clay-court season. But everything looks to be pretty good right now.  

And, as with Monfils, he can’t ask for much better than to face a wild card to open his tournament, especially in a best-of-five set match.

Nishikori has No. 12 seed Sam Querrey in his section of the draw. But Querrey himself has a tough first-rounder against countryman Frances Tiafoe.

Repeat for Venus

Who did Venus Williams face in the first round of the 2017 French Open?

Qiang Wang of China.

She beat her, but it was 6-4, 7-6 . So not a walk in the park. 

Who will she face in the first round of the 2018 French Open?

You guessed it.

Wang is arguably a lot better on hard courts. But she has given some very good players a very tough time this season.

Stormy weather ahead

The first few days of this year’s event are going to be a logistical challenge, from the look of things.

Fortunately, playing on the red clay is significantly more forgiving than the hard courts of the Australian and US Opens, and the grass of Wimbledon.

A few drops here, and the turf gets slippery, and the lines get slippery, and that’s all the wrote. And on the hard courts, the drying process can take awhile.

In Paris, they can play in some drizzle. And if they cover up the courts quickly enough when there’s a downpour, they can resume play in fairly short order once it stops raining.

On Day 1, the biggest issue early is the heat and humidity. But while the fans packed into some areas might feel it, and the players will get drippy in a hurry, it’s not the end of the world.

It looks significantly worse for the next few days after today.

The forecasters don’t seem to know exactly when it will rain. With this humidity, the thundershowers can pop up quickly, and be heavily localized.

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