A dark, gloomy rain-soaked morning threatened to disrupt the proceedings on the opening day of the 2016 French Open and when play began on Sunday, two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova’s future at this tournament started looking equally bleak as well.
Heavy conditions certainly do not play into the Czech’s strengths as she struggled to find a footing on the Philippe Chatrier Court clay made slower by the torrential downpour. Having committed 10 double faults, the 10th seed even found herself two points away from defeat but the champion inside her awoke just in time to edge past the 21-year-old Danka Kovinic 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.
Kvitova does have a semi-final appearance in Paris which she achieved four years back. When the match started, it was that version of the southpaw that showed up. She got better and better with each shot and broke the young Montenegrin for a 2-0 lead.
There was a brief interruption thanks to a passing shower but Kvitova, despite sprinkling a few double faults, looked solid otherwise. Pummelling her fiery lefty forehands, she managed to secure another break to grab the first set 6-2.
Halfway through the second set, it looked as if Kovinic’s chances were over for she quickly went down 0-3. But that’s when her ferocious backhand returns and admirable defense started showing some magic. She conceded another break to trail 2-4 but that would be the end of Kvitova’s dominance in that set.
The World No. 57 has had decent results on clay this year having reached the Istanbul final and she elevated her level several notches higher. As the 10th seed started looking more and more off-colour, Kovinic’s attacking defense took the centre stage.
A nervous Kvitova double faulted to fall behind 4-5 as Kovinic summoned all her courage to erase three break points and take the second set 6-4.
Experience played a crucial role in the third set that ultimately helped Kvitova. For the first half of the decider, she looked very vulnerable on her service games. Yet she managed to save break points to hold her serves until the ninth game when she finally cracked under pressure.
But that is where her vast experience came to her rescue once again. Down 30-30, 4-5, the 26-year-old produced a screaming backhand down-the-line winner along with her customary roar that freed her up. She could not convert that break point but did it on her very next opportunity.
The dark cloud having passed, Kvitova looked more confident and assured of her play again. It would be only a matter of time before she would deliver the final blow for the victory.
Contrasting wins for Kyrgios and Paire
In another early match of the day, 17th seed Nick Kyrgios overcame a tough challenge from the 124th ranked Italian Marco Cecchinato to win 7-6(6), 7-6(6), 6-4. The 21-year-old Australian had to save two set points in the second set tie-break before securing the only break of the match in the third set.
The match was not without controversy as the Australian, who is known for his volatile temper, was involved in another confrontation with the umpire. He was issued a code violation for screaming for a towel after which he kept on arguing with umpire Carlos Ramos about the decision.
19th seed and French hope Benoit Paire had to work harder for a 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 victory over World No. 112 Radu Albot.
In another early women’s singles match, World No. 27 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova cruised to a 6-2, 6-0 win over 19-year-old Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain.Published 22 May 2016, 19:03 IST