Kiki Bertens: Free of expectations
The two former Roland-Garros semi-finalists were made to work on their way to the second round on Monday.
Kvitova overcame Oceane Dodin, 6-3, 7-5, while Bertens needed three sets against Ukrainian Katarina Zavatska to record her first match-win in seven months.
It’s not often Kvitova plays the mirror image of herself. But that’s exactly what happened when the two-time Wimbledon champion faced the 118th-ranked Dodin.
Armed with a big serve and huge groundstrokes not dissimilar to the left-handed Czech, the right-handed Frenchwoman pushed the No. 11 seed for 77 minutes in a highly-entertaining match full of great rallies, which Kvitova eventually won, 6-3, 7-5.
“We never played each other, not even in a practice,” Kvitova said in an on-court interview after moving to the second round with a blistering drive volley that delighted the small crowd on a covered Court Philippe-Chatrier. “So it was really tough from the beginning.”
After a near-flawless first set, during which she struck 12 winners and made just four unforced errors, it looked as if Kvitova was about to run away with the match as she clinched an early break in the second set.
But the 23-year-old Dodin, who is coached by her father, clawed back the break and stayed level until 5-5, when she got broken on a wild forehand. Kvitova dropped only one more point before booking a spot in the second round, where she will play Italy’s Jasmine Paolini.
“I found she was playing very aggressive, very flat shots, similar to me, so I was trying to wait for the change to break her serve,” said the Czech, who produced 29 winners, 16 more than her opponent. “In the second set, she came back and she really played much stronger, and it was really tough in the end.”
The fifth-seeded Bertens had to dig deep to beat Zavatska, 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 in a match delayed by rain on the Court Suzanne-Lenglen.
“It was really tough, she started really well, I was rushing a bit,” said Bertens on court after the match. “It’s really tough to play aggressive here and to hit winners. In the second and third sets, I was much more patient.”
Ranked 112th in the world, the 20-year-old Zavatska had played much better than her ranking indicated in the opening set. The match turned early on in the second set, when Bertens found her groove and started to overwhelm her opponent with a combination of heavy topspin, power and deft drop shots.
An unusual moment occurred at the start of the final set, when Zavatska ran out of racquets to play with after breaking two strings in back-to-back points. On the verge of tears, she was able to continue after her coach handed her a racquet from the stands. That distraction proved to be too much, as Bertens quickly clinched the set 6-0.
Bertens’ faces another tough opponent in the next round: 2012 finalist Sara Errani. The Italian came through qualifying before beating Olympic champion Monica Puig in the first round. Although Errani has got the better of Bertens in all five matches they’ve played, their last encounter was four years ago at the Rio Olympics.
Even though the conditions in Paris in September take some getting used to -- Kvitova said she had lowered the string tension in her racquet to deal with the extra moisture in the air -- the Czech is just grateful to be playing tennis again.
Lockdown, and not knowing when tennis would resume, wasn’t easy.
“I was still practicing, but it was really, really tough to get motivated by myself without anything,” said the 30-year-old Kvitova. “I'm a person who loves to play matches and have the motivation to get better, that the tournaments are there and playing better in a match.
"So in that time when I didn't really know what will happen, I was so unmotivated to just play tennis. I just had to play because of my body, of my health that I don't forget everything... But really, I wasn't really enjoying the tennis in that time.”
Kvitova, who reached the fourth round of the US Open, has some unfinished business in Paris. Last year, she was forced to pull out shortly before her first round with a forearm injury.
“This time I can get only better,” said the two-time Wimbledon champion, who reached the semi-final in Paris in 2012.