French Open 2021: Unpredictable first round sees some Australians soar

Ash Barty had a hard fought first round victory getting forced into a third set. Source: WTA

If you were to sum up the first round of Roland Garros in one sentence, the only word that comes to mind is unpredictable. From shock first-round exits, first time wins and two first-round winners withdrawing ahead of the second round, both the men’s and women’s draws have been turned on their heads.

The story of the first round has been Naomi Osaka’s decision to withdraw from the tournament, following a comfortable first-round victory. The number two seed has chosen to take some time away from the court in the meantime, putting her mental health above the game.

However, she wasn’t the only withdrawal following a first round win, with 11th seed Petra Kvitova withdrawing on day three due to an ankle injury. Kvitova fell during her post-match press conference, and following MRI scans, she announced the decision to withdraw with the hope she’d be back for grass court season.

It was easier to predict that a top seed in the bottom half of the mens draw was going to fall in the first round, but Dominic Thiem losing from two sets up was not the loss anyone was anticipating.

Meanwhile, second seed Daniil Medvedev won his first French Open match in the five years he’s been in the tournament. Despite the Russian’s rocky relationship with clay, he is feeling more confident than ever likening his form to how he felt coming into the Australian Open earlier this year.

Australian Women ace the first round

Storm Sanders fell short in her first round match against Elise Mertens Source: Tennis Australia

The first round for the Australian women was a mixed bag with three of the four athletes advancing to the second round.

World number one Ash Barty didn’t make her first-round victory against Bernada Pera look easy. In what many expected to be an easy win for the Australian, Pera managed to steal the second set from Barty in style.

Barty never looked comfortable in the first two sets before turning on the charm and ripping through Pera in the third in 32 minutes, converting two of her three breakpoint opportunities. The match wasn’t without concerns, with the top seed requesting a medical timeout between sets, Barty claiming the issue was her hip rather than the strapped left thigh.

As 2021 continues Astra Sharma just seems to go from strength to strength. The 25-year-old advances to the second round at the French Open for the second time in her career weeks after her first WTA title.

Sharma battled through her first set against Irina Bara, with both women struggling to find an opening until they traded breaks in the 11th and 12th games, leading to a tiebreak that Sharma was able to win after getting control of her unforced errors. The second set was an easy cruise to victory for the Australian, managing to win four successive games to finish Bara off.

The one loss from the Australian women’s contingent came from Storm Sanders against the 14th seed Elise Mertens. Sanders got out to a flying start, winning the first three games but Mertens was able to settle after the seven minute third game and take over, breaking Sanders twice before finishing the set with a 40-love game without any hesitation.

Sanders just wasn’t in it from there, going down a break straight away in another 40-love game and was unable to hold her serve for the entire second set. The one positive that could be taken away was Sanders breaking Mertens a second time for the match in the fourth game.

If there was an Australian that breezed through their first round match it was Ajla Tomljanović, dismantling Kateryna Kozlova in one hour and 41 minutes. Tomljanović had a commanding lead early, winning the first five games of the match and breaking Kozlova three times. Even with the Ukrainian putting up enough of a fight to take the next two games, all Tomljanović had to do was win the eighth game to capture the first.

The second set wasn’t quite as simple, with the pair trading breaks in the first two games before both holding serve until they broke one another a second time for the set. Tomljanović didn’t waste much time from then on, breaking Kozlova for a third time for the set and holding her serve to finish the match.

Ash Barty636
Bernada Pera462
Irina Bara6[5]2
Astra Sharma7[7]6
Storm Sanders41
Elise Mertens66
Kateryna Kozlova24
Ajla Tomljanović66

MORE FRENCH OPEN NEWS

French Open 2021: The women’s champion could come from anywhere

French Open 2021: Alex de Minaur to lead the six Aussie men

French Open 2021: The four Aussie women hopefuls

Australian Men break under the pressure

Alex de Minaur convincingly won in straight sets in his first round match (Source: Tennis Australia)

What was originally meant to be six Australian men soon morphed into five just minutes before John Millman was supposed to step on court. Withdrawing due to a back injury, Millman being unable to play offered lucky loser Peter Gojowczyk the rare chance to come in at a moments notice and play Gianluca Mager.

James Duckworth was one of two winners from the Australian men, taking down Italian Salvatore Caruso in four sets. Duckworth overcame a nerve wracking second set, which saw Caruso break the Australian’s serve three times.

The Australian didn’t look shaken, breaking early in the third set but ultimately being forced into a tie break which he convincingly won. From there Duckworth put Caruso to bed, winning four consecutive games to finish off the match.

Alex de Minaur proved why he’s the top Australian seed at Roland Garros by knocking out Italian Stefano Travaglia in straight sets. De Minaur was broken twice in the match, getting forced into a tiebreak in the third but Travaglia was plagued by unforced errors through out the entire match, losing six points in the tiebreak to unforced errors sending the Australian to the second round.

Most fans would mark a first round match against Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros as an automatic win for the Spaniard, but Alexei Popyrin wasn’t about to go down without a fight. The pair already faced each other once this year, with Nadal winning convincingly in straight sets, which he looked like he was on track to do once more.

However, Popyrin put up a challenge against Nadal in the third. Taking the first break, fans watched on pondering whether Nadal would drop a set in the first round for the first time since 2013. Nadal managed to break back and send them into a tiebreak, with Popyrin hitting three winners but was unable to force an error from the Spaniard.

Despite winning the first set in a tiebreak against Jaume Munar, Jordan Thompson couldn’t pick up the pieces following a brutal second set which he only one a solitary game in. Thompson was offered several opportunities to win the third set but couldn’t find a way to clinch the set to go up for the remainder of the match. Ultimately, all it took was a single break of serve in the fourth set to end Thompson’s French Open campaign this year.

The most exciting match in the first round from the Australian men came from Chris O’Connell’s five set loss to American Tommy Paul. It was hard to seperate the two as to who played better throughout the match with O’Connell able to force a fifth set after starting two sets down.

Just ten breakpoints were won for the match, and in the final set Paul didn’t get the opportunity to break O’Connell’s serve until the 17th game. He finished the job in the next game despite the Australian’s efforts by forcing deuce three times in the final game.

Salvatore Caruso466[4]2
James Duckworth637[7]6
Alex de Minaur667[7]
Stefano Travaglia236[4]
Rafael Nadal667[7]
Alexei Popyrin326[3]
Jaume Munar6[6]67[7]6
Jordan Thompson7[8]16[5]4
Tommy Paul664410
Chris O’Connell44668

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About Jacqui Dodd 99 Articles
Jacqui is a journalist based in Melbourne. A fan of all things sports she primarily focuses on Olympics and Tennis news. You can hear her on The Inner Sanctum's Olympics podcast, Ascending Olympus.

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