Novak Djokovic begins his historic and likely once-in-a-lifetime quest for that elusive “Djoker Slam” Monday at the French Open. Djokovic’s first of what he hopes is seven matches on the red clay pits him against Italian veteran Potito Starache.
While Novak should have it easy Monday and really through the first week, things will get precipitously tougher next Monday when the pressure ramps up. So for the Serb, who I think everyone but him agrees has dropped a level from his lofty heights a year ago, best enjoy the fun while he can.
Roger Federer doesn’t have quite the pressure that Djokovic’s faces this week. And the Swiss hasn’t lost a Grand Slam opener since Luis Horna got him at Paris in 2003 some nine years ago. His opponent Monday afternoon, Tobias Kamke, is actually a pretty good player, but it’s hard to see Roger slipping up here on the red clay. A victory would tie Federer with Jimmy Connors for the most career Grand Slam wins at 233.
Federer’s draw became slightly clearer when Andy Roddick was routed by Nicolas Mahut of all people in four sets. Roddick, who lost all six sets at the World Team Cup last week, I think may have played his last French Open. I know clay isn’t his surface, but the former No. 1 just has no pop from the baseline anymore and his serve doesn’t have that ferociousness. And he shouldn’t be losing to Mahut on a clay court! That loss has to sting regardless of surface.
Dubbed by many as Roddick’s replacement, Ryan Harrison will be on the Center Court Monday against Gilles Simon. Simon beat Harrison in three sets at Indian Wells and the Frenchman should get through the scrappy American once again. Last year at the French, Harrison played Robin Soderling tough, and on the big stage I expect another good fight. But Harrison has struggled against the Top 20 players, in fact he’s never beaten a Top 15 player.
Also on Monday, John Isner, Tomas Berdych, Bernard Tomic and red-hot American Brian Baker are also in action. For the women it’s Victoria Azarenka, Marion Bartoli, Jelena Jankovic and defending champion Li Na on the schedule.
As for today (do any players really want to play Sunday?), Juan Martin Del Potro got through in four sets but of big concern is his ailing left knee. And from the looks of it today I don’t know how it’s going to hold up through 15 days of stress.
“I will have two days to work with the physio on my knee,” said Del Potro. “So I have time to recover and to be in good shape for the next match.
“After Madrid the pain start. I’m still working with the physio every day, trying to recover and to feel better for the match.”
JW Tsonga was blown out in his first set but won in four over the hard-hitting youngster Andrey Kuznetsov. German Michael Berrer upset Jurgen Melzer and Stan Wawrinka, who could meet Djokovic next week, was a five set winner.
For the women, the big story was Venus Williams who in the end overpowered promising Argentine teen Paula Ormaechea 4-6, 6-1, 6-3.
“She played super well the first set. She did a lot of the right things and I have to congratulate her on that set,” Williams said. “Thankfully the next two sets were better for me, but she played beautifully today. The thing I was most impressed with was her fight, determination. You can see she has a plan for this game.”
Former champs Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova were also winners.
The first round concludes Tuesday with tournament favorites Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams.
ESPN2 has coverage starting at 5am ET for you early birds. Tennis Channel takes over at 10am ET. Happy Memorial Day to those in the U.S.
MONDAY FRENCH OPEN SCHEDULE
Court Philippe Chatrier 11:00 AM Start Time
Victoria Azarenka (BLR) v. Alberta Brianti (ITA)
Na Li (CHN) v. Sorana Cirstea (ROU)
Novak Djokovic (SRB) v. Potito Starace (ITA)
Gilles Simon (FRA) v. Ryan Harrison (USA)
Court Suzanne Lenglen 11:00 AM Start Time
Kristina Mladenovic (FRA) v. Dominika Cibulkova (SVK)
Roger Federer (SUI) v. Tobias Kamke (GER)
Michael Llodra (FRA) v. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (ESP)
Karolina Pliskova (CZE) v. Marion Bartoli (FRA)
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