5 things we learned at Roland Garros Day 1: Heat, security and happy faces!
Over the next two weeks, the world’s best tennis players will battle it out at the French Open in the famous Roland Garros stadium. Over those two weeks, our sports editor Paul Myers will be bring you a daily round up of the results coming out of the competition as well as a list of five striking facts from the tournament. Here is his selection from the first day of play.
1. Tighter security, happy ways
It’s all changed over the years. Once ago visitors to Roland Garros could take the bus to one of the stops near the entrances. You could even cycle along the boulevards which envelope the venue on he western fringes of Paris. Cyclists could park their bikes just opposite one of the entry points.
But that’s no longer possible. There are checks of bags and clothes. The railings are off limits. One would think that faces would be as tight as the security. But no. All the guards lining the route smile and say: “Bonjour, monsieur.” Such sunny dispositions. Must have something to do with the heat which enveloped Paris on the first day of the tournament.
2. Gael Monfils – plus ça change!
The sun. The fun of Gael, my son – as they’d doubtless quip in London town. Well, maybe they wouldn’t but we’ll do it here. Monfils is the showman incarnate. Has been for ages. He’s also very talented and has been in the top 10. But there have been no major titles. He can run the big guns of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic close but they just seem to have a tad more. Monfils moved into the second round after dropping the first set against the 19-year-old Frenchman Elliot Benchetrit. The youngster received a wildcard – an invitation from the organisers – for the main draw and raced into a 4-0 lead in the first set. Monfils came back and the 31-year-old served to make it 4-4. But the 32nd seed promptly lost his service and the teenager served out to take it 6-3. A shock in the offing? No. Monfils turned it round and sauntered away with the next three sets 6-1 6-2 6-1. “Gael’s been one of my idols,” said Benchetrit. “I’ve grown up watching him and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga obviously because they’re French. That gave me more motivation to play well. Gael brings so much to the court.”
3. Money talks … sense
Benchetrit will take away from the court just over 40,000 euros in prize money for losing in the first round to his compatriot. “I haven’t spoken to my team about the prize money,” he said. “Thinking about it can be an extra pressure. But it means I can go and play more tournaments and prepare for them in a better way. The ultimate goal is to play in as many tournaments as possible, use what I have learned from playing here this year and come back next year without having a wildcard.”
4. Money, money, money, root of all evil
There’s a line like that in a song by the trip hop collective Massive Attack. But there’s a spirit of sharing in the Grand Slam tournaments now. In changes brought in this year, a player who is injured can withdraw from his first round match and allow one of the people from the qualifying tournament play – a so called lucky loser. Lucky because their name is drawn out of a hat and loser because they were defeated in the final round of qualifying. That’s how the Egyptian Mohamed Safwat came to be playing against fourth seed Grigor Dimitrov on the first day of the tournament. Dimitrov probably felt himself to be simply lucky. He had been scheduled to play Viktor Troicki. The Serb had won two their five encounters over the years and beat him in the first round at the French Open in 2016. Safwat, 27, had never played in the main draw of a Grand Slam and he was all over the place in the first set as he got his bearings on centre court. Dimitrov won it 6-1 in 24 minutes. Safwat got in the swing of things in the second which he lost 4-6 and the third went to a tiebreak before he succumbed. The beauty of all this is that Safwat shares the opening round payday of 40,000 euros with Troicki and the crowd get to see a decent match rather than what used to happen which was a player going through the motions for a few games and then pulling out.
5. Damage limitation comes in many shapes
Reigning champion Rafael Nadal will start his quest for an 11th Roland Garros crown on day two against lucky loser Simone Bolelli after Alexandr Dolgopolov pulled out injured on day one. Dolgopolov has won two of his nine encounters with Nadal but has never beaten him on clay. Bolleli has never beaten Nadal. So their sixth meeting on day two looks a formality. Especially since their only other meeting at Roland Garros was a brusque 6-2 6-2 6-1.
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