Unexpected

By Jane Voigt

May 27, 2013 -- When big tournaments come around all professional athletes buckle down. More money. More prestige. And more press coverage adds fuel to the uptick in rigor. 

At Roland Garros the same is true. It's the second Major of the year so players are primed. Anyone with a measured belief has altered their mind for the challenges of Paris, home to the most demanding slam.  

Seeded players are likely to face first-round competition that walks on court with one burning thought -- go all out. They have nothing to lose. Qualifiers have fought through three rounds before landing a berth in the main draw. Wildcards have been graced with a spot in the main draw by the French Tennis Federation. 

Frenchman Gael Monfils was granted a Wildcard to this year's French Open. He has spent a great part of his tennis career ranked in the top 20, since turning pro in 2004. In 2011, he topped out at No. 7. However, with a cranky knee and a mind that couldn't commit fully to the game, 'La Monfs' skidded to No. 108 in early February of this year. 

Tomas Berdych would rather have had this gifted athletic remain sidelined, given what happened today. 

La Monfs took out Berdych, the No. 5 seed, in five sets: 76(8) 64 67(3) 67(4) 75. This was an unexpected result because Monfils can play brilliantly or play as if the weight of the world is on his shoulders. He can appear ready to cross the finish line, then completely fall apart. Berdych is much the same. Capable of superior tennis and agonizing losses when a match is his to win. 

Today, Monfils was first-class. 

He hit 26 aces to 11 from Berdych. In the first two sets, the 26-year-old Frenchman won 100% of points when his first serve went in. For the match he won 79% of points on his first serve. He won more points at the net, converted more break points, and won more receiving points. 

At 5-5 in the fifth, he cramped but found a way to break Berdych. He then threw in another 130 m.p.h first serve, slapped a couple forehand winners, and, voila ... match point. The fans were on their feet. They had waited four hours for the perfect result. 

Monfils proved that he was a 'dangerous floater'. Seeds are keenly aware these types of players lurk early in a slam.

Others were around Roland Garros today, and they did their damage.

Thirty-year-old Qualifier Zuzana Kucova with only five career WTA match wins to her name ousted Julia Georges the No. 24 seeded woman, 76(8) 60. Georges couldn't get off court fast enough as Kucova stood stunned but all smiles near the net post. 

Eighteen-year-old Wildcard Nick Kyrgios from Australia defeated veteran Radek Stepanek in three tiebreak sets: 76(4) 76(8) 76(11). Stepanek was not seeded, but has risen to the top 15 during his career. He is a clever player with sharp court sense. He confounds opponents and has scored wins over the best, for example, Roger Federer in the 2008 quarterfinals of Rome. 

American Melanie Oudin scored an unexpected first-round victory over Tamira Paszek today, too. The Austrian was seeded No. 28. 

As most fans remember, Oudin stunned tennis in 2009 with runs to the quarterfinals of the U. S. Open and fourth round of Wimbledon as an 18-year-old newbie to the WTA Tour. Her sunny disposition, dancing footwork, and tennis shoes emblazoned with her mantra, "Believe," ramped up tennis fever. However, she could not sustain her sparkle on court. Her ranking bottomed out at 139 in 2011. 

But Oudin always remained positive, hung out with Fed Cup champs and scored some key match wins there. Paszek, though, had fallen in stature since her first-round loss at the London Olympics. It was her initial Olympic competition. She made a fundamental error early by staying out late with her Olympian friends. She has not been the same since. However, this should not distract from Oudin's victory. 

The King of Clay experienced the unexpected today, too. The man everyone expects to win his eighth, and unprecedented title, slipped up in the first set against six-eight Daniel Brands. Nadal double faulted, gifting the lead -- 5/4 -- to Brands, who quickly converted the opportunity to a one set lead.

Losing the first set for other players might be routine. But not for Nadal. It was the first time in his career that he had lost a first set of a first round match at a Major. For a man who is 54-1 at Roland Garros, the hiccup could have been nerves. He puts himself under more pressure than any opponent could. 

Brands played the type of tennis Nadal does not like. It probably reminded him of Robin Soderling's tennis. He is the only man to have defeated Rafa in Paris. Both Brands and Soderling hit flat ground strokes, flat serves, and can slam-dunk winners because of the pace and depth on their balls. 

Fear not oh Nadal lovers. The Spaniard took control in the second set tiebreak, when he finally corralled the German's serve and commandeered a victory: 46 76(4) 64 63.

On court Nadal spoke with Fabrice Santoro, former French pro. After their initial foray in English, Santoro asked Rafa if he'd like to speak in French. He obliged, although his accent favored his Spanish roots. "In the end I was happy," he said, smiling. 

All photo credits to Tennisclix.com

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013