Ana Ivanovic. Jelena Jankovic. When Serena Williams is sidelined, a lot of new names begin showing up, not necessarily valid, at the No. 1 spot on the WTA rankings.
It won’t be any different in 2017. The dominant American is sidelined for the remainder of the year due to pregnancy. Angelique Kerber got a turn, and now so will others.
The struggling world No. 1 Kerber became the first top seed in the Open Era to lose in the opening round of the French Open on Sunday, falling to Russian Ekaterina Makarova 6-2, 6-2. Now the spotlight will be on both Karolina Pliskova, who can become No. 1 for the first time by reaching the Roland Garros final, and Simona Halep who can become No. 1 for the first time by winning the title in Paris.
Kerber was +9 in unforced errors to winners, and converted only two of 16 break chances.
“I think she played a good match. It was a tough first round,” Kerber said. “I had a few chance in the first set and also in the second set, and I didn’t make it. I think that was the key for the match. I believed in the second set, as well, that I can turn around the match and I was still believing until the last point, but she played well.”
Top 10-seeded winners Sunday were No. 6 Dominika Cibulkova rolling over Spaniard Lara Arruabarrena Vecino 6-2, 6-1; No. 8 Svetlana Kuznetsova handling American Christina McHale 7-5, 6-4; and No. 10 Venus Williams navigating past China’s Wang Qiang 6-4, 7-6(3).
“It was really, really tough,” Kuznetsova said. “I wasn’t playing so good. When you’re so nervous, you kind of gotta relax and just play the game. I felt like I was playing against myself…On the changeover for 5-4 I thought it was 4-3. I heard it was 5-4, and that meant I just had to serve for the match. So the umpire got me really happy. I’m like, ‘What is the score?’ He’s like, ’5-4.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, good.’ And he looked at me like I was from another planet.”
Other seeded winners were No. 15 Petra Kvitova making her 2017 debut with a 6-3, 6-2 win over American Julia Boserup, and No. 30 Timea Bacsinszky breezing past Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-1, 6-2.
“I think I played well after six months off,” said Kvitova, who will next meet another American in Bethanie Mattek-Sands. “I’m happy with the game, of course, but I mean, it wasn’t really about the game today…I maybe thought that I would cry when I stepped on the court, but I didn’t today, which I was happy about, because normally I can control my emotion on the court, so I’m happy that I kind of did it, as well, this time…So, yeah, a few tears for after the match point. Of course, going as a winner from the center court was much better than stepping on the court.”
Also on the upset tip Sunday were Turkey’s Cagla Buyukakcay topping No. 22 Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 6-3, 6-3, and Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig outlasting No. 31 seed Roberta Vinci 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.
“I haven’t had the most amazing year, I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself,” Puig said afterwards. “When you get to a Grand Slam, it’s just a different feel. You want to do well. You want to pass rounds. You want to have some big wins. I’ve never beaten Roberta in competition before, and she’s such a tough player, especially on the clay. Today was just all about the heart and the fight and just I was willing to go the extra mile to bring out that match.”
Monday’s highlights at Roland Garros include (4) Garbine Muguruza vs. Francesca Schiavone in a battle of former champions, (2) Karolina Pliskova vs. Saisai Zheng, (19) CoCo Vandeweghe vs. Magdalena Rybarikova, and (32) Shuai Zhang vs. Donna Vekic.
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