French Open Day 1 Women’s Recap: Muguruza Survives, Kerber Crashes Out

French Open Day 1 Angelique Kerber

The opening day of a Major is always exciting. It starts with 128 players, everyone hopeful that this is the tournament they’ll make their deep run – the tournament they’ll finally win. Yet, as always, 50% of the players are going home each day.

French Open Day 1 Recap

The Americans, starting with 17 women in the French Open draw, saw that number drop. So far, four Americans are gone. Venus Williams had been winning matches despite a faltering and much slower serve. But that deficiency was exploited by Elina Svitolina. The honorary Frenchwoman, thanks to her high-profile romance with beloved Frenchman Gael Monfils, put in a serve-punishing performance during today’s straight sets win. Taylor Townsend brutally blasted Garbine Muguruza in the first set, only to see that hard fought lead evaporate – along with her Roland Garros appearance.

Here’s a look at how the women fared today in Paris.

For the Win

Kristina Mladenovic (def Fiona Ferro 6-3 7-6) should be feeling quite confident. In just two months, the talented Frenchwoman has climbed from World #68 to World #53. With her ability to employ savvy net play, Mladenovic continues to find ways to pressure opponents. In addition, Mladenovic can take the ball early and create a strategic road map to a win. While Ferro made the second set a contest, Mladenovic prevailed in the tiebreak. However, Mladenovic is going to need to clean up her unforced errors to bring in a win against Petra Martic–her second round opponent.

Sloane Stephens (def Misaki Doi 6-3 7-6) was able to claim this match, despite momentary lapses. It seems like when the American is focused, she can use her heavy forehand to drive through the court. Yet, two shots later, we see Stephens send questionable shots that shift momentum. And, the Japanese lefty, Doi, tried in vein to capitalize. It’s the Stephens serve that will need to improve if she hopes to see the second week. The 7th seed can’t afford to simply spin in her serve. When her well-placed aggressive serve isn’t working, her opponents can quickly jump on the ball and take the offense. It only gets harder after Round 1, so the 2017 US Open champion will need her A-game if she wants to continue.

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Garbine Muguruza (def Taylor Townsend 5-7 6-2 6-2) was pushed around in the first set by American Taylor Townsend. Yet, the 2016 Roland Garros champion overcame a first-set deficit to win her first round match in three sets. After her shaky start, the Spaniard upped her first-serve percentage and started coming forward to end points at the net. It proved to be a great strategy since the Townsend game is built around her powerful forehand, not stellar movement. It’s clear that Muguruza is starting to self-correct, is seeing her opponent’s weaknesses and finding her opportunities. Muguruza is a player who can go far.

Going Home

Svetlana Kuznetsova (lost to Kristina Kucova 4-6 2-6) unexpectedly lost her opening match. What should have been a straightforward win for the resurgent Russian was anything but. Seems the Russian couldn’t hang on to her serve against the Slovak’s aggressive return. Hopefully Sveta will be putting in some work on her serve to improve her grass court chances.

Angelique Kerber‘s(lost to Anastasia Potapova 4-6 2-6) opening round defeat ended her career Grand Slam chance. The French Open title will elude her yet again. The ankle injury the German suffered in Madrid certainly contributed to today’s loss. But, this is a tournament where she’s been stymied at the quarterfinals. It’s going to take a more aggressive approach for Kerber to lift the trophy in Paris. The amazing German defender will need to bring a strong offense for a career Grand Slam quest. Maybe next year?

Katie Boulter withdrew on Friday, citing a lingering back injury. The British #3 will collect half of the first-round loser’s prize money. But, it’s Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele who is perhaps the biggest loser, courtesy of this late withdrawal. Had Boulter withdrawn a few hours earlier, Voegele would have entered the draw as the last entrant. Instead, the Swiss woman lost in qualifying. It’s now Ludmilla Samsonova who is the beneficiary of Boulter’s withdrawal.

A Look at Day 2

Serena Williams will be in action, hoping her faltering knee holds up. The ailing American has been given a relatively easy opening round against Russian Vitalia Diatchenko. Other American women in action include Jessie Pegula facing the tall task of upending Australian Ashleigh Barty. Vavara Lepchenko will meet Zhang Shuai. Danielle Collins will face Tatjana Maria in what will no doubt be a frustrating match. Alison Riske will square off against Andrea Petkovic who’s looking to bring back her victory worm dance. Sofia Kenin has been handed the kindest of the American draws taking on qualifier Giulia Gatto-Monticone.

And Last but Not Least

A quick check-in with the oddsmakers shows the Top 5 favorites:  Simona Halep 4-1; Kiki Bertens 8-1; Naomi Osaka 10-1; Serena Williams 12-1; and, Petra Kvitova 12-1. My pick, Belinda Bencic, is at 30-1 odds. But, players have won with far longer odds. Bencic was certainly one of the most impressive women today, crushing Frenchwoman Jessika Ponchet in the first set before edging out a closer second set. She is definitely playing well enough to go all the way.

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