First-time winner a lock at French Open
A year after stunning the tennis world by winning the French Open for her initial tour-level title, Jelena Ostapenko is again in rare company: a first-round loser as the defending champion at a Grand Slam tournament.
Something even more unusual happened at Roland Garros, too: Venus Williams was beaten in her opening match at a second consecutive major, the only time in her lengthy, distinguished career she’s had such early back-to-back exits.
All in all, it was quite a Day 1 at the only Grand Slam site that gets things started on a Sunday. There already is certain to be at least one first-time French Open finalist, because 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone and 2012 runner-up Sara Errani joined 2017 champ Ostapenko and 2002 runner-up Williams on the way out of the bottom half of the draw.
Ostapenko’s high-risk game produced far fewer rewards than problems, with 48 unforced errors to only 22 winners as she bowed out to 67th-ranked Kateryna Kozlova of Ukraine 7-5, 6-3 at Court Philippe Chatrier. Over at Court Suzanne Lenglen, things went similarly for Williams, a seven-time major champion, who had 21 more unforced errors than her opponent in a 6-4, 7-5 loss to 85th-ranked Wang Qiang of China.
“Terrible day at the office today for me. I mean, in general, I played maybe, like, 20 percent of what I can play. Made like 50 unforced errors and so many double-faults. Like, couldn’t serve today,” Ostapenko said. “I had this unbelievable pressure. I felt that I’m not myself.”
She is only the second reigning women’s champion to exit in the first round of the French Open a year later — it happened to 2005 winner Anastasia Myskina, too — and only the sixth at any major tournament in the professional era.
Errani lost to 32nd-seeded Alize Cornet of France 2-6, 6-2, 6-3, while Schiavone was beaten by Viktoria Kuzmova 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2). Also out of that half of the draw: No. 22 Johanna Konta of Britain, a 6-4, 6-3 loser against Yulia Putintseva.
All seeded men in action won, including No. 2 Alexander Zverev and No. 4 Grigor Dimitrov, who eliminated Mohamed Safwat, the seventh “lucky loser” to make it into the draw and the first man from Egypt to play in a Grand Slam tournament in 22 years.
In 2017, ranked only 47th and 20 years old, Ostapenko became the first woman since 1979 to win her initial tour-level trophy at a Grand Slam tournament.
But the fifth-seeded Latvian has had a rough road this season: Her record is just 12-12.
Kozlova, meanwhile, is 24 and arrived at Roland Garros with an even worse mark for 2018 — 4-6. She wasn’t even sure a couple of months ago whether she could participate in the French Open, because she damaged knee cartilage and resumed practicing for about 15 minutes at a time in April.
“I didn’t expect anything from this match,” said Kozlova.