With big first-round upsets, a huge opportunity emerges at the French Open

With big first-round upsets, a huge opportunity emerges at the French Open

5: 30 PM ET

  • D’Arcy MaineESPN.com

The look of disappointment was obvious all around the grounds at Roland Garros during the first two days of play. Ons Jabeur. Garbine Muguruza. Naomi Osaka. Anett Kontaveit.

And defending champion Barbora Krejcikova.

Play was suspended on all other courts because of rain Monday afternoon. All eyes were on No. 2-ranked Krejcikova in her opening-round match against French teenager Diane Parry as they played under the roof at Philippe-Chatrier.

Krejcikova looked more than comfortable with the attention and in her role as favorite. After a double fault in the opening match, she calmed down and took control. She won the next 15 points and eventually jumped out to a commanding 6-1, 2-0 lead. And then it all fell apart.

Parry found her way back into the match and Krejcikova, who had been sidelined for three months prior to the French Open with a right elbow injury, won only three more games. Krejcikova was the only defending champion at Roland Garros who lost in the first round.

” “You know, I just feel like I’m going to die,” she said in a tearful press conference.

She had arrived in Paris ahead of the 2021 tournament unseeded and known as a doubles specialist, and over the past year has emerged as one of the most recognizable faces on tour.

Still, with the surging newly crowned Madrid Open champion Jabeur and 2016 French Open victor Muguruza very much in contention on her side of the draw, as well as world No. It was clear that her path to the final would be difficult.

But, in a surprising twist for women’s tennis: all of those players were sent home after the first round. Each player looked sad as they quickly packed their bags and walked off, realizing that they had missed an opportunity.

“Obviously I’m a little bit disappointed because I was expecting myself to go far in this tournament,” Jabeur told reporters on Sunday.

Jabeur’s disappointment, and that of her eliminated peers, could result in a career-making opportunity: That half of the draw is now wide open, without a French Open champion. And a rising star such as Maria Sakkari, Amanda Anisimova, Coco Gauff or Belinda Bencic could be there to take advantage of it.

None of these four players have ever reached the finals in a major tournament before. Each of them could now do that.

Roland Garros would be an ideal place to do this — the six previous women’s champions were all first-time major winners.

Do not mistakenly think that World No. 1 Iga Swiatek, on the opposite side of the draw, remains the overwhelming favorite to win the title. Her 6-2, 6-0 first-round win over Lesia Tsurenko on Monday marked her 29th straight victory. The 20-year-old hasn’t lost since February and has won five titles along the way, including four at the 1000-level.

There’s dominant and then there’s Swiatek.

But, even if everything goes according to plan, Swiatek will still have to play — and beat — someone else in the final to win her second Suzanne-Lenglen Cup. It is now up to you to decide who will take advantage of this opportunity and play in the championship Saturday in Paris.

After Jabeur and Muguruza’s losses on Sunday, Sakkari became the betting favorite from her half of the draw to win the title according to Caesars Sportsbook, with the third-best odds in the event (behind only Swiatek and 2018 champion Simona Halep, who plays in her opening-round match on Tuesday).

The 26-year-old Sakkari, currently ranked No. 3, won the lone WTA title of her career on clay at the Morocco Open in 2019 and made her breakthrough at a Slam by reaching the semifinals at Roland Garros in 2021. She reached the semis at the US Open, and reached the final at Ostrava before the year was out. She believes that Roland Garros was the turning moment.

“I don’t really think about what happened in 2021 but of course it was the start of, you know, a different journey for my career,” Sakkari said on Sunday. “I started, I have stated many times, believing more myself after what happened here. “

That momentum and confidence has carried into 2022. She reached the Indian Wells final in March, where Swiatek lost to her. She also made a quarterfinal in Rome, which led into the French Open. Sakkari made quick work of Clara Burel in her opener on Sunday with a 6-2, 6-3 victory. Her next match is likely to be more difficult. She is scheduled to take on Karolina Muchova, the 2021 Australian Open semifinalist, on Wednesday, and a win could result in a potential third-round clash with Anisimova.

Anisimova, who has the second-best odds from that side of the draw to win the title, opened her 2022 French Open with a statement victory over Osaka on Monday. The 20-year-old had spoiled Osaka’s title defense at the Australian Open earlier this year in the third round, and she proved the victory was no fluke. Anisimova reached the semifinals in Paris in 2019 and trails only Jabeur for the most tour-level wins on clay this season thanks to a semifinal run on the green clay at Charleston and quarterfinal appearances in Madrid and Rome.

“It’s good going into this tournament knowing that I was so close back [in 2019], and just having a very good run, so I know it’s in me,” Anisimova said on Monday. “I feel confident right now, thanks to all the tournaments I have played. “

Anisimova, who reached the French Open junior final in 2016, will next face Donna Vekic in the second round.

Like Anisimova, Gauff also reached the French Open junior final, but she did her one better and won the title in 2017. Since then the now-18-year-old has had some of her best results on the European clay. She notched her second career singles title on the surface at the Emilia-Romagna Open in 2021, and followed it up by reaching her first major quarterfinals at Roland Garros.

During her first-round match on Sunday, she held off a challenging start from Rebecca Marino for a 7-5, 6-0 victory. She’ll next face Alison Van Uytvanck, who was losing to Ann Li before Li had to retire with injury. Gauff, the No. 18 seed, wouldn’t face another seeded player until at least the fourth round. Gauff has been a star since her debut on the professional circuit. This could be her best chance to win a major title.

Bencic, a 2019 US Open semifinalist, has already proven she can win on the big stage with her gold-medal winning performance in Tokyo last summer. Although she has never advanced beyond the third round of Paris, she won the Charleston clay title in April.

“To prove that I can do [the] Olympics, and that I can do this here on clay, it’s like an enormous challenge that I’ve overcome and it helps me moving forward,” Bencic stated in Charleston.

The momentum has carried into her 2022 French Open campaign — she routed Luca Jani”>Reka Luca Jani, 6-1, 6-1, in her opener. And Bencic doesn’t have to wait long to test her current level as she will take on a resurgent Bianca Andreescu, the 2019 US Open champion, in the second round.

Andreescu is one of six former major champions remaining in this side of the draw, along with Petra Kvitova, Angelique Kerber, Emma Raducanu, Victoria Azarenka and Sloane Stephens — all of whom would relish the chance to win their first trophy at Roland Garros. As would Leylah Fernandez, who reached the final at the US Open in September, and a slew of other talented players of varying levels of success.

What will happen in round two and beyond is anyone’s guess, but one thing is certain: Someone will have the chance to make it big in less than two weeks.

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