PARIS (AP) — Defending French Open champion Iga Swiatek picked up Monday right where she left off last year in winning the title: running yet another opponent this way and that on the red clay of Roland Garros in a take-no-prisoners straight-sets victory.
Her best friend on the tennis circuit, Kaja Juvan, was the victim on Court Philippe Chatrier this time as Swiatek emphatically kicked off her campaign to become the first woman since Justine Henin in 2007 to defend the French Open title.
Playing on her 20th birthday, Swiatek treated herself to a 6-0, 7-5 victory — her eighth straight-sets win in a row at Roland Garros, having also not dropped a set in winning the trophy last year as an unseeded 19-year-old.
In first-round play in the men's draw, rising Italian star Jannik Sinner, a quarterfinalist on his debut at Roland Garros last year, had a far harder time. He saved match point in a 6-1, 4-6, 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-4 win over Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
And Daniil Medvedev proved that perseverance pays, finally winning a French Open match on his fifth attempt. The second-seeded Russian beat Alexander Bublik 6-3, 6-3, 7-5, after four previous first-round losses on the Parisian clay.
Evergreen 39-year-olds Roger Federer and Serena Williams were scheduled for later on Day 2. Williams, chasing a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title, was headlining the first of the new scheduled night sessions being introduced by Roland Garros this year.
In pre-tournament practice on the clay, Swiatek tested her high-kicking forehand and double-handed backhand against the master of those arts at Roland Garros: Rafael Nadal.
Like the 13-time men's champion, Swiatek used those tools to devastating effect against Juvan, particularly during a dominant first set in which Swiatek gave up just three points on serve — one of them a double-fault.
Poland's first Grand Slam singles champion faced more resistance in the second set as the 101st-ranked Slovenian settled and Swiatek went off the boil. Swiatek's numbers sagged across the board, except errors, which soared. She was broken for the first and only time in the match, in the set's fifth game.
“She didn't give me any birthday gifts,” Swiatek said of the partner with whom she won a gold medal in doubles at the Youth Olympics in 2018.
But Swiatek wasn't in the gift-giving mood, either. She secured the win with a snapped cross-court backhand at the net, on her fourth match point, that Juvan hit wide.
They hugged each other warmly at the net, best buddies once again. Swiatek then gamely played ball, waving her hands like an orchestra conductor, as on-court interviewer Marion Bartoli led the crowd, thinned by coronavirus restrictions, in a somewhat squawky rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
Swiatek's next opponent is 60th-ranked Swedish player Rebecca Peterson, whose best showings in Paris were second-round exits in 2018 and 2019.
Sinner was on the verge of a shock exit against Herbert. But the Frenchman could not seize his chance, shanking a shot wide at 4-5, 30-40 in the fourth set.
That proved to be a turning point as Sinner finally held, broke, and sealed the set. Herbert’s missed backhand volley then gave Sinner an early break in the decider and the Italian prevailed with his deep groundstrokes.
It was just the second meeting between the pair. Sinner had dropped only four games the last time they met, in a best-of-three-set match. This match was more closely contested as Herbert, who is also an accomplished doubles player, often tried his luck at the net and managed to put his rival on the backfoot during long spells of play featuring his aggressive approach.
“It’s a crazy sport," a relieved Sinner said. "I’m happy it went my way.”
John Leicester And Samuel Petrequin, The Associated Press