RG.1- Oh Serena (covers eyes!), Oh Nadia (slaps forehead!)... OMG (a Radwanska takes down a planet!)
Leave it to a Williams (or two), a Radwanska (just one... but not THAT one) and (shaking my head) Nadia to get the 2013 version of Roland Garros off to a memorable start.
On the "good" side, Serena Wiliams became the first major player at this slam to get off on the right foot with a dominating win on Chatrier over Georgian Anna Tatishvili, leaving little doubt about her fine form with a 6-0/6-1 (she has mercy -- who says she's not a benevolent, double bagel-conserving champion?) victory that gives her a 68-3 record since she lost in the 1st Round in Paris last year to Virginie Razzano.
OF NOTE: Court Chatrier's surface should no longer be called the "terre battue" after this match, as it should be referred to as the "terre battue-ili," as there are surely some little bits and pieces of Anna crushed up and mixed with the brick dust there now.
Of course, there was also the "bad," as the first seed went down. Hard. And wouldn't you know it'd be Nadia. Petrova. As if there was any doubt.
The Russian, the #11-seed and a two-time RG semifinalist (and even -- briefly -- a pre-tournament fave back in '06!), had a shot to have a decent run over the next two weeks. But all of us who know and love Nadia also knew she might not make it to Tuesday. As it turned out, she didn't even make it out of Sunday afternoon, losing to 19-year old Puerto Rican Monica Puig, ranked #85 and making her grand slam main draw debut. Even worse for Petrova (with 109 slam wins to Puig's zero before today), she won the 1st set, then held a 4-2 advantage in the 3rd. Of course, recaps like this are the story of Petrova's missed-it-by-that-much career. Puig, the Backspin '11 RG "Junior Breakout" award winner, won 3-6/7-5/6-4 to advance to a slam 2nd Round for the very first time.
Late in the day, we had the best, anything-but-ugly theatre of Day 1, as one older sister (Venus Williams) faced off with one younger sister (Urszula Radwanska) on Lenglen, carrying on for about three and a half hours as U-Rad desperately tried to avoid losing several big leads, while Venus tried desperately to hold on for what, even if she won, she and everyone else knew would be her last hurrah in singles at this RG simply because her Sjogren's Syndrome (and ailing back) wouldn't likely allow a longer tournament run to become a reality after exerting so much energy in her first match.
As it turned out, it'll be her only singles match (she and Serena got a WC into the doubles), as Radwanska pulled out a three-setter in the final singles contest to finish on Sunday, but not without a whole heap of difficulty courtesy of Venus' remaining well of veteran champion's will.
Some examples: U-Rad served for the 1st set at 6-5 and held a set point, but Williams broke to force a tie-break. There, Ula went up 6-1 only to see Venus save five straight set points before finally losing the breaker 7-5. The 2nd set went to another tie-break, and Radwanska raced to a 4-0 lead this time and seemed ready to coast to a straights sets win. Umm, no. Venus won seven straight points to take the TB and go to a 3rd set. That was about all she had left in her, but not quite. U-Rad led 4-0 in the deciding set, but Venus broke her when she served for the match at 5-2. It took another try, at 5-4, for Radwanska to finally serve out the 7-6(5)/6-7(4)/6-4 victory and send Williams out in the 1st Round of a slam for just the fifth time in her 59 career appearances.
While this loss will surely open up a new, tiresome round of "when will Venus retire?" talk during Day 2's slow moments, it won't be delved into here. Williams has said often that she intends to keep playing, and there is no reason to not believe her.
Actually, the most intriguing thing that rests in the immediate future, now that Ula has survived her first match, is the potential of a Radwanska vs. Radwanska mash-up in the 3rd Round. Of course, Shahar Peer, Dinah Pfizenmaier and Mallory Burdette will have their say in whether in or not it becomes a reality later this week, but just think if it does. The possibilities are endless! I mean, why, the court could open up and a black hole could engulf the entire surrounding stadium -- and tournament grounds! -- and simply leave Aga and Ula to battle, alone, for the right to rule the free (and un-free) world, either alone or in tandem.
Depending on The Rad's mood, that is.
Hmm, considering all that, maybe everyone should be rooting for Peer against A-Rad in her 1st Round match, just so we won't have to worry about such apocalyptic fantasies (or possible realities?).
Just don't spread it around so much that The Rad hears about it, okay?
=DAY 1 NOTES=
...the first victory of Day 1 went to the woman who'd been the last to lose in Paris a year ago, as '12 runner-up Sara Errani took out Arantxa Rus 6-1/6-2 in a match that was as close as the scoreline insists it must have been.
...elsewhere, Ana Ivanovic and Anastasia Pavlychenkova danced on the head of two pins in early matches.
AnaIvo dominated Petra Martic, going up 5-0 in the 1st, and then very nearly saw her house cave in, letting the tentativeness that has dogged her since winning Roland Garros in '08 make her first Paris match in '13 more difficult than it should have been. Martic is a good player trying to round back into the promising form she showed a season or so ago, but Ivanovic IS a former #1 and slam champion. Somehow, though, she's failed to learn how to put a proverbial boot on an opponent's neck and close out a match without her stomach doing backflips and nearly emptying its contents on her toes. She won 6-1/3-6/6-3, but it took three sets and five match points spread out over four straight games in the 3rd to do it.
Pavlyuchenkova, "Miss Two Steps Forward and One Step Back," nearly became "Miss One Step Forward and Two Steps Back" against Andrea Hlavackova. She dropped the 1st set, then fell behind 4-2 in the 2nd. The Czech served for the match and twice got within two points of knocking out the #19 seed, but the Russian ultimately won 4-6/7-6(5)/6-4 to avoid crashing out of the 1st Round of a second straight slam after having previously not done so since 2009.
In other women's action: While Serena has lost just three times since her upset loss to Razzano in Paris a year ago, the Pastry came to the Roland Garros as a wild card who'd WON just three tour matches since defeating Serena. She got a win today, though, over fellow French wild card Claire Feuerstein.
WILD CARD WINNERS: Caroline Garcia, Razzano, Shelby Rogers
QUALIFIER WINNERS: Dinah Pfizenmaier, Galina Voskoboeva
PASTRY WINNERS: Garcia, Razzano
...on the men's side, Roger Federer got career RG match win #55, moving to within one of tying Guillermo Vilas for the most in tournament history. Of course, he'll be joined -- and likely surpassed -- at the top of that list soon by some guy named Nadal, who comes to Paris with 52 career wins in his back pocket (but seven RG titles to Fed's one). Oh, and Lleyton Hewitt had a special kind of (double) meltdown on Day 1 against Gilles Simon ("not a crowd favorite" of his countrymen and women, it was noted on ESPN2 -- can you imagine them saying such a thing about an American at the U.S. Open?). The Aussie led two sets to none, but saw Simon knot the match and then take a 5-0 lead in the 5th set. Hewitt battled back to 5-5, then lost anyway, 7-5.
...ADDITIONAL WEEK 21 AWARDS: in some news that Carl wasn't able to touch on, Serbia's Jovana Jaksic gets the "ITF Circuit Player of the Week" for her win over Li Ting (CHN) in the $25K Tarakan challenger. It's the 19-year old's circuit-leading fifth title of the season, and she continues on her way to the Top 200. Meanwhile, Belinda Bencic (SUI) is the "Junior Star" for Week 21 after winning yet another high-level girls title, this time the Grade A 54 Trofeo Bonfiglio event in Milan with a win in the final over Hordette Darya Kasatkina to run her junior level winning streak to seventeen matches. Previous winners of this event include Sloane Stephens, Dominika Cibulkova, Anna Kournikova, Gabriela Sabatini and Hana Mandlikova.
...LIKES FROM DAY 1:
-- Chris McKendry noting on ESPN2 that Errani had indeed been the first player to advance out of the 1st Round today, as I'd thought that was the case, but after forgetting to check a live scoreboard for five minutes as her match with Rus was ending I then saw that Petra Cetkovska's win over Olga Puchkova had occurred almost simultaneously. Of course, taking ESPN's word for something tennis-related isn't exactly like checking Wikipedia. Hmmm, or maybe that's EXACTLY what it's like, actually. But I'll go with it and enter the info into my little Backspin Slam Award Notebook.
-- Tennis Channel's Rennae Stubbs noting that Urszula Radwanska has "good eyelashes" during the post-match on-court interview conducted after her win over Venus. Her "host" duties are still a bit of a work in progress, but Stubbs is near the top of the charts in just about everything else she does on air.
...DISLIKES FROM DAY 1:
--Tennis Channel for some unTennisGodly reason showing the mediocre middle of the 1st set of the James Blake/Viktor Troicki match while, at the same time, Venus was coming back from U-Rad serving at 6-5 in the 1st set, then saving five straight set points (from 6-1 down in the tie-break) before ultimately dropping the breaker 7-5. Thankfully, there's always the online feeds, but is that really that difficult a call to make? Have the poo-throwing chimps that used to traditionally run (and still occasionally drop in for a visit) ESPN2's slam coverage made the move to TC or what?
Of course, once the Blake match was finally over, TC did switch over to show the final set or so of Venus' loss. Then, in an unintentionally damning indictment of TC's own programming decisions, Brett Haber noted (for, oh, the millionth time over the last few years whenever Venus loses a match in a slam) that it could be the last time either American makes an appearance in Paris, but mentioning, in the understatement of the day, that Venus is a "champion of even greater stature" than Blake. Oh, really? The bigger head-scratcher would be how the underachieving Blake could be called a "champion" in the same sentence in which Venus Ebony Starr Williams is called the same.
Career-wise, they really aren't even on the same planet. Earth, Venus or otherwise.
...and, finally, a little housekeeping:
*MAY PRE-RG PLAYERS-OF-THE-MONTH*
1. Serena Williams, USA...won Madrid & Rome, and didn't lose a match (again)
2. Victoria Azarenka, BLR...lost Rome, but made herself a RG "contender"
3. Maria Sharapova, RUS...lost Madrid, and bought a Serena voodoo doll
4. Kaia Kanepi, EST...rounding into form w/ Brussels title, until she gets hurts yet again
5. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS...hot and cold (and she's already been both in Paris)
HM- Sara Errani, ITA & Alize Cornet, FRA
RISER (doubles): Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
SURPRISE: Romina Oprandi, SUI
VETERAN (doubles): Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN
COMEBACK: Alisa Kleybanova, RUS
FRESH FACE: Laura Robson, GBR
DOWN: Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
TEAM: Hsieh Su-Wei & Peng Shuai (TPE/CHN)
ITF PLAYER: Jovana Jaksic, SRB
JUNIOR: Belinda Bencic, SUI
*RECENT RG "FIRST VICTORY" HONORS*
2009 Li Na/CHN (def. Domachowska/POL) & Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS (def. Olaru/ROU)
2010 Dominika Cibulkova/SVK (def. Ivanova/RUS)
2011 Simona Halep/ROU (def. Kudryavtseva/RUS)
2012 Samantha Stosur/AUS (def. Baltacha/GBR)
2013 Sara Errani/ITA (def. Rus/NED)
*RECENT SLAM "FIRST DEFEATS"*
2012 AO: Heather Watson, GBR (lost to Azarenka/BLR)
2012 RG: Elena Baltacha, GBR (lost to Stosur/AUS)
2012 WI: Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP (lost to Stosur/AUS)
2012 US: Stephanie Foretz-Gacon, FRA (lost to Tatishvili/GEO)
2013 AO: Olga Puchkova, RUS (lost to Sharapova/RUS)
2013 RG: Arantxa Rus, NED (lost to Errani/ITA)
*RECENT RG "FIRST SEED OUT"*
2005 #25 Dinara Safina/RUS (lost to Razzano/FRA)
2006 #18 Elena Likhovtseva/RUS (lost to Sprem/CRO)
2007 #31 Severine Bremond/FRA (lost to Krajicek/NED)
2008 #15 Nicole Vaidisova/CZE (lost to Benesova/CZE)
2009 #19 Kaia Kanepi/EST (lost to Shvedova/KAZ)
2010 #10 Victoria Azarenka/BLR (lost to Dulko/ARG)
2011 #19 Shahar Peer/ISR (lost to Martinez-Sanchez/ESP)
2012 #30 Mona Barthel/GER (lost to Davis/USA)
2013 #11 Nadia Petrova/RUS (lost to Puig/PUR)
*VENUS 1st Rd. SLAM EXITS"*
1997 Wimbledon (Grzybowska/POL)
2001 Roland Garros (Schett/AUT)
2006 Australian Open (Pironkova/BUL)
2012 Wimbledon (Vesnina/RUS)
2013 Roland Garros (U.Radwanska/POL)
TOP QUALIFIER: Anna Schmiedlova/SVK
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): xx
TOP LATE-ROUND (SF-F): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q2: #24q Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova/CZE d. Alexandra Panova/RUS 1-6/7-5/10-8
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): xx
TOP LATE-RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr.): xx
FIRST VICTORY: #5 Sara Errani/ITA (def. Rus/NED)
FIRST SEED OUT: #11 Nadia Petrova/RUS (lost 1st Rd. to Puig/PUR)
UPSET QUEENS: xx
REVELATION LADIES: xx
NATION OF POOR SOULS: xx
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Day 1 wins: Pfizenmaier/GER, Voskoboeva/KAZ
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Day 1 wins: Garcia/FRA, Razzano/FRA, Rogers/USA
LAST PASTRY STANDING: Day 1 wins: Garcia/FRA, Razzano/FRA
MADEMOISELLE/MADAM OPPORTUNITY: xx
IT "??": xx
COMEBACK PLAYER: xx
CRASH & BURN: Nominee: #11 Petrova/RUS (1st Rd./Puig)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominee: #19 Pavlyuchenkova/RUS (1st Rd. - down set & 4-2 vs. Hlavackova, who served for match)
JOIE DE VIVRE: Nominee: V.Williams/USA
DOUBLES STAR: xx
AMG SLAM FUTILITY UPDATE: xx
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: xx
All for Day 1. More tomorrow.