There isn’t a matchup across tennis — men’s or women’s — that produces tennis more thrilling than when Victoria Azarenka and Angie Kerber face off. Somehow the two Aussie Open champs have never met on clay though, and their first encounter on the dirt is officially delayed another year after both lost in their opening match at the French Open.
With Stan Wawrinka staving off elimination on Monday, Kerber’s upset at the hands of Kiki Bertens was the first real jolt to either bracket. Kerber just hasn’t been able to get her game to click consistently since winning her first major in Australia (though Bertens deserves credit for fully earning the victory). The German will now head to the grass, a better surface for her game.
Azarenka’s loss comes with a different context. The former No. 1 was on course to reclaim that spot with a dominant hardcourt season, but that momentum came to a halt with her back injury, leading to questions coming into Paris. After saying she was pain-free in press, she was clearly in discomfort against opponent Karin Knapp, except this time it was a knee injury. Looking as if she needed to throw in the towel, Azarenka resisted, calling for the trainer and fighting through the start of tears due to the pain:
— Nick McCarvel (@NickMcCarvel) May 24, 2016
As Knapp served for the match at 6-3, 6-5, Azarenka showed a champion’s fight, breaking to force a tiebreaker and later saving a match point in the breaker to force a deciding set. She is both a fighter and cognizant of old accusations that she feigned injury to halt momentum of her opponents, but the knee ailment was simply too compromising, and she retired trailing 4-0 in the third. Though she did not hold a press conference, she released a statement:
Azarenka not coming to press. This is what she said in a statement: pic.twitter.com/tbupgWiQak
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) May 24, 2016
Get well, Vika.
In other Tuesday events:
— Andy Murray resumed his battle against Radek Stepanek, leading 4-2 in the fourth but down two sets to one. After Murray prevented Stepanek from cashing in chances in the fourth, they headed to a fifth, which was far more competitive than anyone would’ve guessed. Though Stepanek got to within two points of the match, it was Murray who prevailed 7-5. He’ll have to turn right back around and play on Wednesday.
— Greg Sharko (@SharkoTennis) May 24, 2016
— Serena Williams rolled in her opener against Magdalena Rybarikova, who has been injured and is not fully recovered. With that said, Williams was fantastic in a 6-2, 6-0 romp that took just 42 minutes. Teliana Pereira is her next opponent.
— Rafael Nadal was just as sterling in a 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 demolition of big-serving Aussie Sam Groth. The 9-time champ dropped just five points in ten service games and hit the early point of the tournament:
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) May 24, 2016
Nadal’s draw also cleared up with Fabio Fognini’s straight set loss to Marcel Granollers. Fognini isn’t the threat he was to Nadal last year, but it still makes the King of Clay’s route to the second week much simpler. He plays Facundo Bagnis on Thursday.
— Novak Djokovic didn’t have it quite that easy, losing a break lead in the first set against veteran Rendy Lu. Lu had 40-0 to go up 5-4 until Djokovic took command, ripping off five straight points and the rest of the match for a 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 score. He’ll face Steve Darcis in round two.
— Other men’s results: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tomas Berdych, David Goffin and David Ferrer all won in straights. Dominic Thiem was a bit fortunate that opponent Inigo Cervantes became injured. Cervantes served for a two sets to one lead, but couldn’t close it and Thiem rolled from there. John Isner resumed his match from Monday and ultimately overcame John Millman, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (12), 7-6 (7), 7-5.
In round one’s most anticipated matches, Nico Almagro beat Philipp Kohlschreiber in four sets and Borna Coric thumped Taylor Fritz in a battle of two of the draw’s only teenagers. Fellow teenager Sascha Zverev saved three set points to take a two sets to one lead on Pierre-Hugues Herbert before play was suspended due to darkness.
— Other women’s results: Madison Keys, Venus Williams, Timea Bacsinszky, Elina Svitolina and Dominika Cibulkova advanced in straights. Carla Suarez Navarro, Ana Ivanovic, Sam Stosur and Dasha Kasatkina needed three sets but also won. Louisa Chirico needed “overtime” to beat fellow American Lauren Davis, 6-2, 2-6, 8-6. Taylor Townsend easily won her opener. Andrea Petkovic defeated Laura Robson. Seeds Johanna Konta and Jelena Jankovic were knocked out in minor upsets.
In the two big surprises, Genie Bouchard rolled past Laura Siegemund (many expected a close match) and Dasha Gavrilova was upset by Mariana Duque-Marino.
Wednesday’s marquee matches:
Kei Nishikori vs Andrey Kuznetsov. Prediction: Nishikori in a competitive straight set victory.
Aga Radwanska vs Caroline Garcia. Prediction: Garcia could easily win but her struggles playing in front of her home country fans make Radwanska the favorite.
Other men in action: Murray, Wawrinka, Milos Raonic, Nick Kyrgios, Jack Sock, continuation of Zverev-Herbert.
Other women in action: Garbine Muguruza, Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova, Sloane Stephens, Lucie Safarova, Svitolina vs Townsend, Svetlana Kuznetsova vs Heather Watson, the Williams sisters in doubles.