For someone who has followed Sania Mirza closely, there were familiar patterns in her first round encounter against Germany’s Kristina Barrois at the French Open on Monday.
Forehand winners aplenty and a fair amount of backhand winners to go with unforced errors and double faults. The deciding factor, as always, would be whether Sania could manage a positive winner-error ratio.
Wearing a strapping below her left knee, but showing no ill-effects of that or the back injury she sustained two weeks ago in Prague, the Indian got off to a solid start using her forehand to good effect and breaking the German to go up 3-1; then, saving two break points to build a 4-1 lead in the first set.
By the seventh game, when Sania hit 3 forehand winners to hold serve for 5-2, the German was already getting frustrated – banging her racket on to the ground – as Sania kept the ball away from Barrois’ forehand and controlled the pace and direction of the match by consistently targeting her opponent’s backhand.
Sania was unable to convert any of 3 set points in the very next game, but managed a comfortable hold, blasting 3 forehand winners and a backhand winner to close out the first set 6-3 in 34 minutes.
The second set started off in a similar fashion. The Indian jumped to a3-1 lead, but then showed signs of vulnerability as Barrois managed to level the set at 3 all. However, Sania’s focus and forehand did not waver as she broke the German twice in the last 3 games to complete a comfortable 6-3, 6-3 win in 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Barrois has been in good form recently, reaching two quarter-finals and one semi-final in her last four WTA events and the win, only Sania’s second in five appearances in Paris, on her least favourite surface bodes well for the Indian when her favourite part of the season – the grass courts of Wimbledon and the hard courts of America – comes around.
Sania finished the match with 28 winners to 26 unforced errors – a good ratio for someone with her go-for-broke playing style, but she will need to work on her serve — 7 double faults — if she hopes to go further in the draw.
Her next opponent will likely be the 12th seed Agnieszka Radwanska and Sania will have her work cut out for her. Radwanska’s game is based on chasing balls down all day and plays just the type of tennis which could make Sania beat herself.
Monday’s win was worth at least 100 WTA ranking points for Sania, who will move into the world’s top 65 in the rankings , a jump of nearly 100 places since the start of January.
For Barrois, the tournament ended much earlier than she would have liked, but she might have a shot at revenge in just a few days. The German is drawn to meet Sania in the second round of the women’s doubles draw, where Sania and partner Elena Vesnina are seeded 7th.
The focus now moves on to Somdev Devvarman, who will take on former world no. 3 Ivan Ljubicic in the first round tomorrow. Devvarman will go into the match as the heavy underdog, but that’s when he has played some of his best tennis recently. He will certainly need it to have a shot at winning!