As with most sports, tennis takes a lot of you so it’s all about youth, they say. But don’t tell that to the Swiss maestro, Roger Federer, who’s now age 37. That’s really old in today’s sports world. He’s the only person in men’s singles still playing that started when he did.
So, naturally, Federer joked to a stadium filled with screaming kids that he’s “so super old.” He’s known as the gentlemen of the court for good reason. He only gets really serious when the match is on, otherwise, he’s calm, collected and wonderful to chat with about any subject.
This led to Stan Wawrinka, 34, pulled a crying boy out of a crush of autograph-seekers in the stands.
Rafael Nadal, about to turn 33, offered this advice to youngsters at his match who might be pondering a tennis career: “The main thing is, don’t think about winning Roland Garros.”
Schools in France are closed on Wednesdays, bringing out a, um, louder brand of fan to the French Open, and that trio of past champions of the clay-court major seemed to appreciate the adulation from the little ones who attended their straight-set victories. Fitting, too, perhaps, that Federer advanced to a third-round meeting against 20-year-old Casper Ruud, someone so much his junior that the guy’s father was in the field when Federer made his debut in Paris in 1999.
“I know probably more about his dad,” Federer said, “than about him.”
Federer, the tournament’s 2009 champion who hadn’t been in the field in four years, will be playing his third opponent in a row who is 25 or younger, after beating 144th-ranked Oscar Otte 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 in the second round.
Now the 20-time major champion takes on Ruud, a Norwegian ranked 63rd. He is coached by his father, Christian, who told Casper he once practiced with Federer, although they never played.
“Ever since I can remember, I’ve been watching Roger on TV,” said Ruud, who knocked off 29th-seeded Matteo Berrettini 6-4, 7-5, 6-3.
Then came this admission from Ruud: “To be honest, I’ve been a little bit more of a Rafa fan and Rafa guy.”
Better hope no one tells Roger.
Still, even if he always has preferred Nadal, Ruud described what comes next this way: “I’m playing one of the greatest champions ever of this sport on Friday, so I’m just super excited for it. I can play loose and free.”
Wawrinka, the winner in 2015 and the runner-up two years later, also had no trouble against a much younger foe Wednesday, eliminating 22-year-old Cristian Garin 6-1, 6-4, 6-0.
Afterward, Wawrinka came to the rescue of one of his tiniest fans, lifting him away from danger and offering a towel as a keepsake.
“I took him out of that mess a little bit,” Wawrinka said. “He was in pain and sad.”
Owner of three Grand Slam titles in all, Wawrinka will bring his signature backhand into what shapes up as a more competitive matchup against two-time major semifinalist Grigor Dimitrov, who eliminated 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic 6-7 (3), 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3 over nearly 4½ hours.
Nadal’s form hadn’t been up to his usual standards during much of the clay season: This was the first time since 2004 that he entered May without a title for the year.
But he looked good while taking the title at the Italian Open this month, including a victory over Novak Djokovic in the final, and he’s been close to untouchable so far as he seeks a record-extending 12th trophy in Paris.
His latest tour de force was a 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 win over 114th-ranked Yannick Maden, a qualifier from Germany. OK, so Nadal hasn’t really faced much of a test yet. Still, he is displaying the court-covering, ball-walloping style he has perfected, which could come in handy when he plays 2016 French Open quarterfinalist David Goffin in the third round.
“I don’t like the word ‘easy,’ because when you win, it always looks easier,” Nadal said. “I can say (I had) a comfortable victory. I have been in control most all the time. And that’s the only thing that really matters.”
While plenty of the sport’s big names still dot the men’s bracket, the women’s field keeps seeing top players depart.
On Wednesday, No. 4 seed Kiki Bertens, a 2016 semifinalist and considered a contender for her first major title, quit during the first set of her match against Viktoria Kuzmova because she was sick.
Tears filled Bertens’ eyes as she described waking up at 3 a.m., feeling ill.
“Vomiting. Diarrhea. All night long, all day long. I felt a little bit better before the match. I had some sleep, and I just wanted to give it a try,” she said. “But then as soon as I start warming up right before the match, it started again. There was not any energy left.”
Bianca Andreescu, an 18-year-old Canadian who was seeded 22nd, pulled out before her match against 20-year-old American Sonia Kenin, citing an injured right shoulder that sidelined her from March until this week. Kenin will face the winner of Thursday’s match between Serena Williams and Japanese qualifier Kurumi Nara.
Bertens and Andreescu join two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who withdrew before her first match because of an arm injury, and former No. 1s Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki, who both lost in the first round.
Naomi Osaka Comes Back For Win
Naomi Osaka’s body language made her plight plain. For all she’s already accomplished, the internal pressure stemming from aiming to do even more was ruining her debut as the No. 1 seed at a Grand Slam tournament.
Fed up with her poor play in a first-round match at the French Open — errors off Osaka’s racket gave her opponent her first 30 points Tuesday — she missed yet another shot. She was within a game of losing. Osaka wheeled around to look at her box and display what seemed to be a sarcastic thumbs-up.
“Definitely sarcastic. I was kind of thinking: ‘Do you guys see this amazing tennis I’m playing right here? Thumbs-up.’ I don’t even know what I wanted them to do. I felt kind of bad after I did it. It was more like I had to put my emotions somewhere,” Osaka said. “It’s one of those matches where you’re not playing well, but you have to find a way to win. For me, I’ve just begun learning how to do that.”
Five times just two points from defeat in a swirling wind, Osaka held it together enough to overcome all of those miscues and stretch her winning streak at majors to 15 matches by eventually beating 90th-ranked Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia 0-6, 7-6 (4), 6-1.
As she got going, Osaka delivered a pinpoint cross-court forehand that was too hard to handle, then looked at her box again, this time with a pumping clenched left fist. Afterward, she acknowledged having jitters as she pursues a third consecutive major title while topping the seedings.
“I feel like I’m thinking too much about the number next to my name right now, instead of feeling free and having fun like I normally do in Grand Slams,” Osaka said. “The reason that I wasn’t moving my feet is because I was super nervous, super stressed.”
Defending champion Simona Halep could relate.
Starting her first defense of a Slam title, she also turned in an uneven performance and needed three sets to get by, topping 47th-ranked Ajla Tomljanovic 6-2, 3-6, 6-1.
“I need to be calm. Just focused on my game. Not thinking about my opponents and not thinking about the result,” said Halep, who was a runner-up twice in Paris before earning the trophy in 2018.
Clay has never been Osaka’s best surface; her power-based style is more suited to hard courts, such as those at the U.S. Open, which she won last September, or the Australian Open, which she won in January to become the first tennis player from Japan to be ranked No. 1.
Her only first-round exit in 13 appearances at majors came at the French Open two years ago. The only 6-0 Grand Slam set she has lost came Tuesday.
Yet after having a career record of 9-11 on clay entering this season, she is 8-1 on the slow stuff in 2019. She talked about feeling more and more comfortable on the surface and assured everyone that the abdominal and thumb injuries she’d dealt with in recent weeks were no longer any issue.
But nothing seemed right at the outset against Schmiedlova, who has never been past the third round at a major and is 6-15 in openers.
Schmiedlova’s first 30 points came via 18 unforced errors and 12 forced errors by Osaka — and zero winners of her own.
By the end, Osaka won despite 38 unforced errors, 24 more than her foe.
She’ll probably want to play better in her next match, against two-time Australian Open champion and former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka.
“It’s going to be exciting for me,” said Azarenka, who eliminated 2017 French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko 6-4, 7-6 (4). “I love to challenge myself against the best players.”
Osaka appeared to be finding her groove ahead 3-0 in the second set.
That’s when the day’s off-and-on rain returned briefly in the form of sprinkles. Spectators popped open umbrellas and the players covered themselves with orange tournament towels while waiting on their sideline seats, before heading off court for about five minutes.
In all, the delay was less than 10 minutes — play continued elsewhere — so there was no warmup when they returned. The respite served Schmiedlova well: She suddenly produced her very first winner with a 96 mph (155 kph) serve to get within 3-1, then made it 3-all.
Schmiedlova served for the match twice. At 6-5, 30-15, and again later, she was two points from pulling off what would have been only the second first-round upset of the women’s No. 1 seed in French Open history.
This is what Osaka said was running through her mind: “Can I sleep at night, knowing that I maybe could have done something more?”
Schmiedlova couldn’t close it out. Osaka wouldn’t let her.
“You could see,” Schmiedlova said, “that she’s No. 1, there.”