Top seed Li, former finalist Errani make winning starts

 - Alex Sharp

American Ann Li joins former Grand Slam finalists Sara Errani and Vera Zvonareva as first-round qualifying winners.

Ann Li, Roland Garros 2020, Qualifying first round© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

If you scan down the rankings the presence of the stars and stripes is pretty impressive.

Seventeen American women are plying their trade in the top 100 and just outside, Ann Li is vying to join that contingent.

The 20-year-old, based in Florida at the USTA National campus, is making moves on the major stage.

On Tuesday, Li banished a sluggish start from 3-5 to prevail 7-6(6), 6-4 against Dutchwoman Indy de Vroome in the opening round of qualifying at Roland-Garros.

“First match here and it was a fight, I’m glad it’s over,” the world No.110 said. “I played well when I needed to in the important moments.

“You’ve got to push yourself mentally, then you can perform physically. It was tough for me because I had a little bit of nerves, so I wasn’t moving well, but I found a way.”

Li has risen to the demands of Grand Slam tennis in 2020, navigating through qualifying in Melbourne to advance to the second round.

It got better on home soil, with a career-best US Open. The 20-year-old dispatched compatriot and No.13 seed Alison Riske before she fell to former champion Angelique Kerber at the third hurdle.

“Grand Slam-wise I haven’t played much, but the 2020 Australian Open and US Open gave me a lot of confidence. I’m super into the process,” Li  said. “I’m just trying to get better every day, doing the right things on court, which I think is helping me to perform.”

Marta Kostyuk, Roland-Garros 2020, first-round qualifying.©Philippe Montigny / FFT

Li is embracing the plethora of fellow Americans gracing the top of the sport.

“It’s great that we are doing so well and competing so strong at this level,” she said. “As long as we keep pushing each other, then it is an exciting future. I’m glad to be in that group.”

Teenage sensation Marta Kostyuk shot back into prominence at the US Open and managed to maintain her rhythm in Paris.

The 18-year-old toppled Isabella Shinikova 6-1, 3-6, 6-0 in a turbulent contest on Tuesday. The world No.119, three places off her career-high ranking, qualified for the main draw in Prague prior to Roland-Garros and is reaping the benefits of the hard yards in lockdown.

“I was working so hard on my fitness, it’s a joke,” Kostyuk said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been as fit as this in my life. I’ve never liked running but in quarantine you couldn’t do much, so I started to enjoy it. I’m going every day and its now part of my routine.”

The 2017 Australian Open junior champion is managing to feel like a Parisian, with a view of the Eiffel Tour from her hotel room.

She is relishing the chance to feature in the main draw here for the first time, boosted by an impressive trio of results at the US Open.

A fortnight ago Kostyuk outplayed former top-10 player Daria Kasatkina and two-time semi-finalist Anastasija Sevastova, before pushing eventual champion Naomi Osaka to a deciding set.

“Oh yeah, it’s obvious that match has given me a lot of belief,” the Ukrainian said. “I feel that I can play much better.

“Now I feel more confident against lower-ranked players. Before I was always unsure, now I know. That US Open gave me a lot of confidence, I mean a lot.”

Fellow teenager Carole Monnet celebrated her Grand Slam qualifying debut, disposing of No.23 seed Whitney Osuigwe, 6-3, 6-1.

And her run to the second round of qualifying at home will not be enough for the French prodigy.

Carole Monnet, Roland Garros 2020, qualifying first round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

“It’s a dream to play Roland-Garros as my first Grand Slam,” Monnet said. “I’m happy to win of course, I’m not so surprised, but I know my level and for me, I’m just looking at what I can change, what I can improve.”

Meanwhile, 2012 finalist Sara Errani opened her qualifying campaign with a dominant 6-2, 6-2 victory against Georgia’s Ekaterine Gorgodze

“I’ve been here so many times, of course it’s really nice to come here and think of so many great memories,” said the Italian. “The last couple of years I haven’t felt comfortable on court, so I just want to enjoy every match.

“I know this is a different stage of my career. I need to take it one step at a time and not look 10 steps ahead. I’m not at the level from those good memories, but I’m working to get back to that level.”

Another former Grand Slam finalist, Vera Zvonareva, swept aside fellow Russian and 11th seed Natalia Vikhlyantseva, 6-1, 6-2.

The 2003 Roland-Garros quarter-finalist is joined the second round by top-10 seeds Elisabetta Cocciaretto, of Italy, and Nadia Podoroska, of Argentina, who both advanced in straight sets.