09/28 17:45 CDT 'Runaway train': Serena wins French Open opener; Nadal, too
'Runaway train': Serena wins French Open opener; Nadal, too
By HOWARD FENDRICH and JEROME PUGMIRE
AP Sports Writers
PARIS (AP) --- No matter how much success they've had over the years, and to
this day, Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal both profess to deal with doubts.
Both began this French Open with straight-set victories against overmatched
foes in Court Philippe Chatrier on Monday.
And both have something significant at stake over the coming two weeks: a
chance to equal a record for Grand Slam singles titles. Williams already has
23, the most by anyone in the professional era; one more will allow her to tie
Margaret Court's all-era mark.
Nadal began his attempt to pull even with rival Roger Federer for the most by a
man, 20, by beating Egor Gerasimov of Belarus 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.
His 2020 debut at a place he's won 12 trophies did not change Nadal's view of
things at this pandemic-postponed event: It's colder than usual, the balls are
heavier than usual, he's had less preparation than usual.
"The conditions are completely different," he said, "than any other Roland
Garros that we played."
Still, Gerasimov would have been forgiven for choosing the same metaphor to
describe Nadal that Williams' opponent came up with: "a runaway train."
After she played OK in the opening set, then was terrific in the second, of a
7-6 (2), 6-0 win over 102nd-ranked American Kristie Ahn, Williams --- so used
to being questioned about Court --- was asked on this day about Nadal and
"I don't get involved in the ?greatest' talk. You know, the greatest for me is,
and will always be, Jesus, so I'm going to leave it at that," Williams began.
And then she didn't leave it at that.
"Rafa, I'm obviously a huge fan of his. I always have been. But it's like you
can't compare two people that are equally great. Roger, I mean, he's Roger
Federer. I think that says enough," Williams continued. "So, you know, it's
like I don't understand why people want to pit, ?Who's this? Who's that?' They
both have spectacular careers that 99% of people can only dream of and ...
every single credit and every single thing that they get, they absolutely
deserve it. I'm a big fan of both, to be honest."
And rightly so. Novak Djokovic's name belongs in the conversation, too, of
He'll be aiming for his 18th major championship at this French Open, which he
finally gets underway Tuesday with his first Grand Slam match since being
disqualified at the U.S. Open.
It was in New York less than a month ago that Ahn faced Williams in the first
round --- and lost.
So imagine this (bad) luck of the draw: Ahn is now the only player to face
Williams in the first round at two consecutive Grand Slam tournaments. Of note:
Williams is 75-1 in openers at majors.
"I mean, I laughed," Ahn said. "I mean, what are the odds?"
Yet she was up to the task for most of a 72-minute, 102-point initial set
Monday, twice leading it by a break.
What changed for Williams?
"I just need to play with more confidence," she explained, "like I'm Serena."
Well, yes, she was more herself for the latter half of the contest, which by
the end really wasn't much of a contest.
And this is how Ahn described the sensation of being across the net from that
version of Williams, the one where she is at her very best.
"It feels like you're trying to push a runaway train in the opposite
direction," Ahn said. "It's very difficult to try and stop, to stop her
momentum when she's going, when she's feeling it."
The man Nadal beat in the last two finals, Dominic Thiem, won his first match
since winning the U.S. Open, advancing to the second round with a 6-4, 6-3, 6-3
victory over 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic. This, too, was a recent
rematch from New York.
Thiem will next face American qualifier Jack Sock, who beat Reilly Opelka 6-4,
6-4, 6-3 and was one of seven men from the U.S. to get to the second round, the
country's highest total since nine got that far in 1996; only one did a year
ago in Paris.
Another American moving on was Tennys Sandgren, who saved two match points and
knocked off No. 29 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland 7-5, 2-6, 4-6, 7-6 (1), 11-9.
Three more American men play their opening matches Tuesday.
While Sandgren finally got his first win in four attempts in Paris, No. 4 seed
Daniil Medvedev could not do the same, falling to 0-4 with a 6-4, 7-6 (3), 2-6,
6-1 loss to Marton Fucsovics. Medvedev was the runner-up to Nadal at the U.S.
Open last year, and reached the semifinals there this month, but the Russian is
not the same player on clay that he is on hard courts.
Among the other key results on Day 2 of a chilly, pandemic-postponed French
Open were losses by 2019 runner-up Marketa Vondrousova, who was beaten 6-1, 6-2
by Polish teenager Iga Swiatek; three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique
Kerber; 2017 U.S. Open finalist and 2018 French Open semifinalist Madison Keys;
and men's seeds No. 8 Gael Monfils, No. 14 Fabio Fognini and No. 19 Felix
Williams now gets another rematch, facing Tsvetana Pironkova, the player the
39-year-old American beat in the quarterfinals in New York earlier this month.
Williams keeps coming close to Court: Williams has made it to the final at four
of her past eight major tournaments, losing each time. At the U.S. Open, after
edging Pironkova, she exited in the semifinals against Victoria Azarenka,
slowed a bit down the stretch after hurting her left Achilles tendon.
Williams wore a strip of black athletic tape on the lower portion of that leg
Monday. Asked what she's done to take care of herself, she replied: "A ton of
AP Tennis Writer Fendrich reported from Washington; AP Sports Writer Pugmire
reported from Paris.
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