Little of consequence transpired on Day 1 beyond the injury-related exits of Martinez Sanchez and Gulbis. (Nice work with the voodoo doll, Mirka!) Azarenka fans may be disappointed by her early demise, but the silver lining to this cloud is that the Belarussian will be forced into resting the hamstring injury that she unintelligently refuses to respect. Perhaps the most surprising news of the day was Kuznetsova’s sturdy performance against the dangerous Cirstea after a predictably uneasy start. The defending champion will have plenty of work to do against Petkovic on Wednesday, however, and we have plenty of work to do right now. Day 2 preview straight ahead…
Murray (3) vs. Gasquet (Lenglen, 3rd match): Few spectators will have forgotten their five-set Wimbledon collision two years ago, when the Scot thrilled his compatriots by rallying from a two-set deficit against the mentally fragile Frenchman. Gasquet has won their other two meetings, however, and brings a 10-match winning streak from titles in Bordeaux (a challenger) and Nice, where he recorded his most impressive win since the cocaine investigation by defeating Verdasco in the final. Neither the Scot nor the Frenchman enjoys playing on clay as much as other surfaces, and Murray has looked anywhere from uninspired to horrific during his 3-3 campaign at Monte Carlo, Rome, and Madrid. If the match extends deep into a fourth or fifth set, however, he’ll have the fitness edge over a weary Gasquet. The French crowd should aid their player in the initial stages, but don’t be surprised if they turn against him should he open poorly. Located in the weakest quarter, the winner will be favored to reach the quarters or even the semis. The fourth seed certainly could use any momentum that he can accumulate here to psychologically buttress him against the Murray Mania that looms in a few weeks.
Llodra vs. Bellucci (24) (Court 1, 4th match): Although far from a star-studded matchup, this all-lefty clash opposes the artful, net-charging Frenchman and the baseline-rooted Brazilian in an engaging contrast of styles. Both players have demonstrated a propensity for mixing flashy winners with ghastly errors, so expect some entertaining momentum shifts. Court positioning will prove crucial in this match; can Llodra find his way to the net or will Bellucci keep him pinned behind the baseline? Still vulnerable to outbursts of rash aggression, the Brazilian has noticeably improved over the last few weeks and displayed sufficient patience to oust Isner in Rome.
Dementieva (5) vs. Martic (Court 2, 2nd match): Struggling to win matches of any sort recently, the world #5 succumbed last week to Pironkova in her Warsaw opener after premature exits in Rome and Madrid. It’s a bit surprising to note that Dementieva has won multiple titles this year, for her form at the important events has been indifferent at best. Opposing her is a lanky Croatian teenager who has matured rather slowly following success in the juniors but who scored eye-opening wins over Wickmayer in the Paris Indoors and Rezai in Miami while posting a competitive effort against Jankovic in Indian Wells. The match rests in Dementieva’s ever-shaky hands, which means that another wobbly outing would give the 19-year-old upstart a chance.
Dokic vs. Safarova (24) (Court 6, 1st match): Since the 2009 Australian Open, Dokic hasn’t recaptured the luster of that electrifying quarterfinal run; illnesses and recurrent personal issues have hampered her comeback. Last year, though, she nearly defeated Dementieva here before retiring with an injury, so her high-risk style can reap rewards even on a slower surface. Confronted with this challenging assignment, Safarova will need the positive momentum accumulated from victories over Wozniacki, Pennetta, Radwanska, and Sharapova during her three clay-court tournaments. Will the thigh injury that forced her to retire from Madrid recur? Expect a scintillating, offensive-oriented contest in which both competitors play much more aggressively than would the standard clay-court player. If the relatively fast conditions observed on Sunday persist, this match could produce very high-quality tennis indeed.
Nishikori vs. Giraldo (Court 6, 3rd match): Yet another product of the renowned Bolletieri Academy, Nishikori burst upon the stage in 2008 by defeating Ferrer in a five-setter at the US Open. Although chronic injuries have undermined his attempts to consolidate that breakthrough, his expert movement and low-risk style have achieved their best results on hard courts but also could prosper on the consistency-demanding clay. Unfortunately for the Japanese prodigy, a more recent breakthrough artist confronts him in the first round. Giraldo followed his upset of Ferrero in Rome with a sturdy effort in Madrid, where he nearly toppled the towering Isner. Far more experienced on the surface, he should overcome NIshikori in the end, but first we should see some extended, well-constructed rallies.
Oudin vs. Medina Garrigues (Court 8, 1st match): Last year’s US Open quarterfinalist has amply demonstrated the mental tenacity required to thrive on the grit. On the other hand, the diminutive American has struggled with the high-bouncing surface (which makes us wonder how the petite Henin has handled it so well) and with the heavy spins employed by clay specialists. A semifinalist in Strasbourg, where she won a set from Sharapova, Medina Garrigues long has flourished on her favorite surface with a sturdy, well-rounded game. The aging Spaniard has perceptibly faded over the last several months, however, and may still be weary from a two-match, one-day effort last week during the aforementioned Strasbourg run. Expect plenty of service breaks as Oudin attempts to seize one last opportunity to gain momentum before defending her impressive summer results. Scheduled to face the winner in the second round, Dementieva must be hoping not to see the Georgian, who has beaten her once and taken her to three sets in their other two meetings.
Errani vs. Shvedova (Court 10, 3rd match): Can an adroit counterpuncher with a high tennis IQ survive in a WTA where power is at a premium, even on the most counterpuncher-friendly surface? The Italian will seek to disrupt the Russian-turned-Kazakh’s timing with elegant spins and delicate touch, needing to construct the points more meticulously than her opponent. Shvedova’s strategy is quite straightforward: see ball, hit ball, watch opponent flail helplessly at ball, repeat. Courts have been playing relatively fast so far this year, which bodes ill for Errani; still, it’ll be intriguing to see whether she can weave a web around a ball-bruising but stylistically limited opponent from the second tier of sluggers.
Troicki vs. Robredo (21) (Court 17, 3rd match including completion): One never knows what to expect from Troicki on any given day, for the least famous Serb oscillates between inspired shotmaking and inexplicable avalanches of routine misses. On the other hand, one knows exactly what to expect from Robredo, who has made a living out of tormenting the inconsistent plebeians of the ATP while lacking the offensive weapons to challenge the elite. That comment might sound like an insult, but it isn’t; in an era of Slam-obsessed superstars, fans should respect a player who competes at the same level on every occasion even as they admire the brilliance of higher-ranked players. Will Troicki’s game ebb or flow at crucial moments? If it flows, Robredo might be in trouble; if it ebbs, the Spaniard will take full advantage.
Briefly noted: The allergy-addled Djokovic tentatively begins his Roland Garros campaign against ball-bruising Russian Evgeny Korolev; although this match normally wouldn’t garner our attention at all, we’re curious to observe the state of the Serb’s fitness, which would be crucial in upcoming rounds. Not at her finest on clay, Radwanska has been assigned a potentially stern test in the person of Elena Baltacha, who has quietly recorded some impressive wins this year over Li Na, Cirstea, Kateryna Bondarenko, and Chakvetadze. (Actually, maybe cross out the last one from the “impressive” category.) Elsewhere, Barrois and Dulgheru attempt to translate their success from Warsaw and Strasbourg to Paris against the respectable but unintimidating duo of Garbinand Hradecka, respectively. Can Dushevina follow up her near-upset of Serena in Madrid with a sturdy performance against the unpredictable Alona Bondarenko? In a ridiculously saturated top quarter, Stosur can’t afford many missteps. The 2009 Roland Garros semifinalist opens her tournament opposite a Romanian star of the future, Simona Halep, who finally is making headlines for the right reasons. But the place to be in the late afternoon on Tuesday is Court 1, where Safina nemesis Kai-chen Chang collides with someone special:
We were a bit concerned when Ana mentioned that an illness had prevented her from preparing as effectively as she would have wished. Nevertheless, a decent performance in Paris would help her prove that Rome wasn’t a mirage.