May 26, 2019
Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber and the legendary Venus Williams were first-day casualties at Roland Garros.
As big names go, they don’t come much bigger than Kerber and Venus.
One defeat was pretty much expected, the other wasn’t.
After all, Venus was playing the highly fancied Elina Svitolina and was always going to have her work cut out.
Having fallen a set behind, Williams did characteristically fight back with a break of her own.
But Svitolina was playing some exquisite tennis, including a slide-rule forehand pass that scraped the outside of the line and left the American looking stranded and dumbfounded.
Before very long it was all over, Svitolina cruising through 6-3, 6-3.
Like Venus, Kerber must now turn her thoughts to Wimbledon. And the German doesn’t seem to mind too much at all.
An ankle injury hampered her clay-court preparations. And talk of taking the only Slam that has so far eluded her was hopelessly wide of the mark.
Kerber was happy to start looking ahead after what was nevertheless a shock defeat to an astonished Anastasia Potapova.
The 18-year-old Russian ranked 81, admitted: ‘I was just speechless and I’m still so happy. My phone has been exploding.’
Her 31-year-old opponent was more subdued but staying positive as she reflected: ‘I didn’t really have too many matches on clay, and now the clay season is over for me.
‘Yeah, I’m happy about that. And now I can look forward to playing on grass.’
Kerber’s Wimbledon chances actually just improved due to this defeat. Now she has plenty of time to get her body right for the big one, where she could yet be among the favourites.
Meanwhile, Roger Federer had to suppress some extreme nerves despite the warmest of welcomes and a relatively easy victory over Lorenzo Sonego, 6-2, 6-4, 6-4.
‘I felt on edge at the start, my heart was beating crazily,’ he revealed after one hour and forty-one minutes of action.
Even 37-year-old legends, with the world still at their feet, can suffer near-panic inside, due to the sheer weight of expectation.
Luckily Federer knows how to cope with all emotions and situations. That’s why he is still a contender here if only an outside bet.
By Mark Ryan