Chastening defeat deals struggling Scot fresh setback
PARIS－That Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka were back together on Court Philippe Chatrier, all these years and operations later, was something of an accomplishment－not to mention a rare first-round matchup between past Grand Slam champions.
Only one－Wawrinka－played like an ex-champ.
Having no trouble smacking his one-handed backhand and other strokes through the thick air as the fall-time French Open got going Sunday, the barrel-chested Wawrinka needed just 97 minutes to overwhelm Murray 6-1, 6-3, 6-2.
The six games collected by Murray equaled the fewest he has managed in any of his 237 Grand Slam matches; that also happened in a loss at Roland Garros in 2014 against 12-time champion Rafa Nadal.
“I’ll need to have a long, hard think,” said Murray, ranked 111th as he works his way back from two hip surgeries, “and try and understand what happened.”
One big problem: He didn’t serve well, putting only 36 percent of his first serves in play.
Another: He didn’t return particularly well either and won only 25 percent of points in Wawrinka’s service games.
Murray said those things weren’t related to his artificial hip.
“It’s going to be difficult for me to play the same level as I did before. I mean, I’m 33 now and I was ranked No 1 in the world, so it’s difficult with all the issues that I have had,” Murray said. “But, yeah, I’ll keep going. Let’s see what the next few months hold, and I reckon I won’t play a match like that between now and the end of the year.”
This was the first time two men with Grand Slam titles－Murray and Wawrinka each own three such trophies－played each other in the first round at Roland Garros since Yevgeny Kafelnikov against Michael Chang in 1999, and at any major tournament since Novak Djokovic faced Juan Carlos Ferrero at Wimbledon in 2012.
Murray and Wawrinka met in the 2017 semifinals in Paris and neither has been quite the same since.
“Many things happened to him,” said the 35-year-old Wawrinka, who is seeded 16th. “To me, also.”
But 2015 French Open champion Wawrinka’s road back from two procedures on his knee has been less arduous than Murray’s journey.
And Wawrinka’s path in Paris continues for at least another match.
Hotly tipped American Sebastian Korda earned his first main-draw win at a Grand Slam by beating Italy’s Andreas Seppi 6-2,4-6, 6-3, 6-3.
For Korda, success is all in the family. The 20-year-old American’s father, Petr, won the 1998 Australian Open and was the runner-up at the 1992 French Open; his mother, Regina, reached the top 30 in the WTA rankings.
And his older sisters, 27-year-old Jessica and 22-year-old Nelly, both play professional golf and have won LPGA Tour titles.
He said he tries his hand at golf, and they occasionally pick up a tennis racket.
“I mean, my only claim to fame is the only (golf) tournament I ever played, I won, and I beat my sisters, when I was like 11 years old,” Korda said Sunday, “so, yeah, they will never live that one down.”
Korda credits his dad “as a really big help” in his burgeoning career.
“He oversees everything. He doesn’t really travel with me that much, but we’re always in contact and whenever I’m home, we’re always on the court together,” said the Florida-based Korda, who won the 2018 Australian Open junior title. “I don’t think I would be anywhere near where I am right now without him.”
Korda tweaked his back during the first-round victory but said he thinks he’ll be fine for what’s next: an all-American matchup against John Isner.
Playing his first clay-court match anywhere in 2½ years, the 21st-seeded Isner advanced with a 6-4,6-1, 6-3 win over Elliot Benchetrit.
“He’s a great hope for American tennis. I’m very happy to be playing him next round, because in five years’ time, I won’t be playing, and he’ll be right in the prime of his career,” the 35-year-old Isner said of Korda.
Venus Williams finished 2020 with an 0-3 record in Grand Slam matches, adding a first-round exit in Paris to those she had at the Australian Open and US Open.
After her 6-4, 6-4 loss to Anna Karolina Schmiedlova at Court Simone Mathieu, the 40-year-old Williams said that, no, she would not play again this season－but that, yes, she “definitely” will be back on tour in 2021.
“It’s really just about going back and reevaluating and moving on as quick as possible,” Williams said. “It’s been a very long year of quarantine. Now I’ll get to rest. So I’m looking forward to that.”
She is a seven-time major champion and was the 2002 runner-up at the French Open to her younger sister, Serena. But after a resurgent 2017, when she reached two Grand Slam finals, the older Williams has not enjoyed much success at the sport’s four most important events.
Dating to the start of 2018, she now has failed to get past the first round in seven of the past 11 Slams.
Schmiedlova plays US Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka in the second round.
And what’s next for Williams?
“I’m going home from here. I’m done,” she said. “If there is somewhere to play, I won’t be there.”