French Open 2018: Elina Svitolina sweeps past Ajla Tomljanovic after shaky start; Grigor Dimitrov enters 2nd round

Paris: Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina overcame a slow start to power past Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic 7-5, 6-3 and become the first big name to reach the second round of the French Open on Sunday.

Under beautiful blue skies in the French capital, the fourth seed was broken twice early in the opening set before clawing her way back into the match from 5-1 down, by pinning her opponent behind the baseline and testing the Australian’s backhand as she rediscovered her groundstrokes.

The Ukrainian wrapped up the match with a comfortable second set, to stretch her head-to-head lead over Tomljanovic to 3-0.

Elina Svitolina celebrates after victory over Ajla Tomljanovic in their women's singles first round match. AFP

Elina Svitolina celebrates after victory over Ajla Tomljanovic in their women's singles first round match. AFP

“It was not an easy start and I had to really wake up. I had to step up my game,” Svitolina said straight after the match.

Svitolina arrived in Paris as one of six players with a chance of ending the tournament as World No. 1, and had not failed to make it to the second round of a Grand Slam since the U.S. Open in 2014.

The 23-year-old struggled to find her rhythm early on until the eight game when a Tomljanovic double fault handed Svitolina a second break point of the game. The Australian then hit long to make it 5-3 and Svitolina launched her comeback.

Tomljanovic lost the opening set with a cautious second serve that was dispatched by Svitolina, the Australian slamming her racket into the clay in an outburst of frustration after surrendering a four-game lead.

Svitolina dictated the second set, spreading the ball across the baseline and offering up some deft drop shots that stretched her opponent.

At 3-4 down in the second, Tomljanovic smacked a double-handed backhand into the net to hand Svitolina a break point, which she won easily before closing out the set.

Svitolina will next face either 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone — here this year as a qualifier — or Viktoria Kuzmova, who play later on Sunday.

Dimitrov ends Egyptian lucky loser's unexpected Paris odyssey

Grigor Dimitrov did not let a last-minute switch in opponent throw him off his stride as he subdued Egyptian lucky loser Mohamed Safwat 6-1, 6-4, 7-6(1) in the first round of the French Open on Sunday.

Safwat’s appearance on the Philippe Chatrier arena caught a lot of people by surprise, not least the organisers who were still flagging up Dimitrov’s showdown against Serbia’s Viktor Troicki on the large screens around Roland Garros even as the players made their way on to court.

But with Troicki pulling out with a lower back injury, the bearded Safwat was suddenly given a platform to make his Grand Slam main draw debut at the age of 27 despite losing in the final round of qualifying.

 Grigor Dimitrov celebrates during his first round match against Mohamed Safwat. Reuters

Grigor Dimitrov celebrates during his first round match against Mohamed Safwat. Reuters

So when exactly did Dimitrov discover that the identity of his first-round opponent had changed?

“I finished my warm-up and went to the locker room and Viktor told me ‘good luck’ and I was like ‘what’s going on’?” a bemused Dimitrov said courtside.

It was a sentiment shared by Safwat.

“I didn’t understand what was going on,” he said. “I didn’t even think for a second that I would have to go on court in the first match. I was (already) thinking (about) what I will do for the rest of the day.”

With little time to collect his thoughts on becoming the first Egyptian man to make it into the main draw of a major in 22 years, Safwat appeared to be suffering from a serious bout of stage fright as within 40 minutes the Bulgarian fourth seed had romped to a 6-1, 4-1 lead.

A medical time out taken by Safwat to treat blisters on his playing right hand gave him a chance to calm down his frayed nerves. The 182nd-ranked Egyptian skipped back to the baseline following the interlude and won back-to-back games for the first time in the contest by breaking Dimitrov.

The potions and lotions applied by the tournament’s trainer allowed Safwat to serve more confidently and he twice came within a game of taking the third set.

However, the challenge of toppling one of the top seeds was a task too far for a player who, before Sunday, had earned a grand total of $352,674 prize money after 11 years as a professional.

A netted backhand might have ended Safwat’s French Open odyssey but that did nothing to stop him from celebrating the standout moment in his career.

“When I was young, I was watching (Roger) Federer and Gustavo Kuerten play and I was recording the match,” said Safwat, who had never been inside Philippe Chatrier Court before walking out for his match on Sunday.

“I was always dreaming to play there. And, yeah, it’s a dream come true. Definitely this is a milestone in my career.”

Stephens, Cornet take contrasting routes to second round

France’s Alize Cornet dug deep to recover from a set down to defeat Italian Sara Errani 2-6, 6-2, 6-3 in a show of powerful baseline hitting to progress to the second round.

Cornet struggled to find her forehand range in the first set, at one point venting her frustration at a ball boy and drawing boos from the crowd, before she began to dictate the match from the back of the court with her powerful backhand.

But as the former Roland Garros junior champion rediscovered her length from the baseline, she roused the crowd from its post-lunch slumber, driving the ball low and hard and forcing the Italian into defensive strokes as her comeback took hold in the second set.

Roared on by the Philippe Chatrier court, the Frenchwoman squandered several match points in the deciding set, first with a double fault and then a run of overbaked shots from the back before Errani netted the ball to hand Cornet victory.

Sloane Stephens enjoyed her first Grand Slam win as the reigning US Open champion by demoslishing Dutchwoman Arantxa Rus 6-2, 6-0 in the first round.

The American 10th seed’s first major as a Grand Slam winner lasted only three sets after she was beaten in the first-round of the Australian Open.

That result in January was one of eight successive defeats she suffered following her Flushing Meadows triumph last September.

But if Rus harboured any hopes of pulling off another upset, those hopes were dashed in 49 brutal minutes by Stephens.

The Dutwoman managed to produce only two winners during the contest as Stephens ran her ragged from the baseline with a non-stop flow of flying groundstrokes.

She wrapped up the win to secure a second round match with either Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova or Magdalena Frech from Poland.


Updated Date: May 27, 2018 20:36 PM

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