The 2018 Roland-Garros fortnight was filled with surprises, emotions with a few disappointments sprinkled in along the way. While some players were unable to perform up to their usual standards, others performed beyond expectations on the Parisian red clay.
The women’s championship match between Romania’s Simona Halep, who was seeking her first Grand Slam title, and American Sloane Stephens, who was after her second Major in less than a year, certainly lived up to its billing. Down a set and a break to Stephens who played virtually flawless tennis for a set and a half, Halep kept fighting, adjusted her tactics and ultimately came away with a 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 triumph. Having lost her three previous Grand Slam finals, the time had finally come for the World No. 1 just as she kept reminding everyone it would. “I was trying not to repeat my result from last year in the final, I did what I could and I got the win this time,” Halep said. She becomes the first Romanian in 40 years to capture Grand Slam title.
“This is not the trophy I wanted, but it was still a great run. Congratulations Simona on her your Grand Slam title, it suits you very well. I wouldn’t have wanted to finish runner up to anyone else,” a classy Stephens said during her acceptance speech.
The opening day of the tournament saw the defending women’s champion, Jelena Ostapenko eliminated in the first round 7-5, 6-3 by world no. 67 Kateryna Kozlova. The Latvian committed 48 unforced errors in the match admitted afterwards that she played at 20% of her abilities. The early exit means that Ostapenko’s ranking will slip to no. 12 on Monday.
Meanwhile, Victoria Azarenka and Venus Williams also suffered the same fate as Ostapenko in Paris. Former World No. 1 Azarenka was knocked out in her opening match by Katerina Siniakova. It was the first singles main draw win at the French Open for the Czech. The good news for Azarenka though is that her is that her custody issues are finally behind and she is able to compete on the Tour full-time with her young son Leo in tow.
For her part, Venus Williams dropped her opener to world no. 85 Qiang Wang of China, the same player she beat last year at Roland-Garros.
With three former Grand Slam champions not making it out of the first round, the third quarter of the women’s draw was wide open for Elina Svitolina who came into the event as one of the favourites to lift her first Grand Slam trophy. But, the Ukranian was unable to take advantage as she fell in the third round to no. 31 seed Mihaela Buzarnecu of Romania.
Svitolina’s early loss opened the door for a pair of Americans, Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens, who faced off for the second time in the last three Grand Slams, in the semifinals. It was Stephens who came out on top against just like she did last September to capture her first Major title at the U.S. Open. This time, she advanced to her first French Open final.
A semifinalist in Paris in 2017, Karolina Pliskova was given no chance in the third round by an in-form Maria Sharapova who posted an impressive 6-2, 6-1 in the first meeting between the two players to set up a much-anticipated encounter with the returning Serena Williams in the Round of 16. Playing her first Grand Slam since winning the Australian Open last January following the birth of her daughter Olympia, Williams looked strong in her first three matches in Paris, but a pectoral injury prevented her from taking the court against Sharapova, one of her biggest rivals, much to the disappointment of fans around the world. The Russian went on to face Garbine Muguruza in the quarter-finals and the match was once again one-sided with the Spaniard quickly and comfortably moving onto the semifinals to play the World No. 1. Halep came out on top and called the win “one of the best matches I’ve played on clay in my career”.
Daria Kasatkina was one of several players who impressed during the French Open fortnight. The fiery Russian advanced to her first Grand Slam quarter-final thanks to her third win of the season over Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki. Kastakina is a former Roland-Garros junior title winner and has always felt comfortable in Paris. “Every time I come back here, it feels like home,” she said.
A semifinalist in Rome two weeks before coming to Paris, Anett Kontaveit continued her surprising run on the red clay at the French Open, upsetting world no. 8 Petra Kvitova en route to the Round of 16 before falling to eventual finalist Stephens. Kontaveit is definitely someone to keep an eye out for over the coming months.
With Roland-Garros finished for another year that means the 2018 clay court season is in the books. It will be interesting to see how the players now adapt to the grass as they get ready for Wimbledon next month before coming to Montreal for the start of the summer hard court season. Stay tuned!
Feature photo: Nicolas Gouhier/FFT