Coming Back

Worldwide coverage of Roland Garros was interrupted for more than hour today, as thunder storms pummeled Paris. After Tennis Channel got up and running, Brett Haber apologized for the suspension and called it, “a massive outage.” 

Of course the shutdown of action raised the roof conversation, Roland Garros being the only Grand Slam venue without at least one covered court. (The U.S. Open unveils its newly appointed roof for Arthur Ashe Stadium in August.) Unfortunately for the fans and players in Paris, reports paint a dim picture. A roof could only be possible come 2020. 

The struggle was real for Serena today. No two-set walk in the park for the defending champion. Mladenovic is 12 years younger and came on like gangbusters. Photo credit Leslie Billman

Serena Williams and Kristina Mladenovic felt the roofless Stade Roland Garros blow the hardest. Williams had won the first set, 6-4, and the two had battled to a tiebreak in the second. Boom. La deluge. Off they walked. Mladenovic had to have been thinking about her return. She’d have to win the tiebreak and play a third set against the defending champ, if her hopes of advancing were to be realized. 

After the clouds parted and sun spilled on the red clay, they were both tested.

Williams came out unsteady while ‘Kiki’ ran away with the first three points. Four more and she’d be the pride of Paris. But she fumbled badly on her serve, losing two points to send the tiebreak to 6-6. From there, it was anyone’s guess who’d pull it off. Each woman lost serve four times, over the next 10 points with Mladenovic losing her serve and the match at 12-10. Final score 6-4, 7-6(10).

“I just made it a point to play my game,” Williams said about the tiebreak, reported the WTA. “Up until that point I had not been playing my game. I was playing really defensive. It’s not me. So, I just wanted to be Serena out there.”

Williams was up 6-4, 6-6, when they called the match for rain. Mladenovic was the steadier when they resumed the tiebreak. Photo credit Leslie Billman

The match was the first test for Williams, who is attempting to win her 22nd Grand Slam singles title and tie Steffi Graf’s record. Mladenovic may have been playing in front of her home crowd, but on the biggest stage in the world and against the biggest name in women’s tennis, nerves could have caused her trouble. But they were not.

Mladenovic consistently dug out of deficits, throughout. She returned deep and assuredly, pressuring Williams and extending games well beyond the four-point minimum. Some took a dozens points for Williams to win. 

“I feel like I made a tremendous amount of errors,” Serena said. “But, you know, I feel like she kind of forced me to. She forced me to go for it.”

Williams watched a shot go long, which again prolonged the completion of the match. Photo credit Leslie Billman

The stats tell the story. They each served three aces. Williams won 72% of points, when her first serve went in, while Mladenovic won 66%. On points won off second serves, Williams won 58% and Mladenovic won 53%. They each tallied 27 winners, with Mladenovic hitting a couple more unforced errors than Williams. 

At 23, Mladenovic has years ahead to hone her game. She, of course, was anticipating her match today against Serena. Kiki knew she had to be positive and, most of all, awake to the occasion and her game.

“I grew up watching Serena play,” she said. “Then I’m going to play against her.” She knew how difficult the day would turn out. 

“I think she played well,” Williams said of Mladenovic. Hopefully, she’ll hear that comment and feel proud about her performance. 

And in the end, victory. Photo credit Leslie Billman

Another Frenchwoman feel under the spell of the elder Williams’ sister, Venus, just about the time Serena was victorious. Venus’s opponent … Alize Cornet. 

With her victory, Venus (No.9) notched her sixth consecutive match win over Cornet, and entered the fourth round of Roland Garros for the first time since 2010. Venus turned pro 22 years ago, will be 36 next month and is playing in her 19th French Open. A finalist in 2002 in singles, Venus and Serena have won the doubles title twice: 1999 and 2010.  

At the time of publication, the Williams sisters had won the first set in their second-round doubles match against the Russian team of Vitalia Diatchenko and Galina Voskoboeva … in a tiebreak, 7-6(8).

Finally … four American women have made week two in Paris: Serena Williams (No. 1), Venus Williams (No. 9), Madison Keys (No. 15) and Shelby Rogers, who is ranked number 108 in the world. Only North Carolina native, John Isner, advanced to the same stage on the men’s side. This ties his best performance recorded in 2014. The last American Grand Slam winner was Andy Roddick. He won The U. S. Open in 2003.




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