Stan out, still hampered by left knee
On Day 3 at Roland-Garros, these are the key matches sparking our interest.
First match (11am), Court 1
Big because ...
Any first-round clash between Grand Slam champions, let alone two players to have held the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen, sparks anticipation of an early showcourt blockbuster. For the second straight season, No.3 seed Garbine Muguruza takes on a fellow former champion in her first match; in 2017, it was Francesca Schiavone, a task she handled with ease. This time around, it’s 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who's hoping to kick-start her resurgence.
Muguruza holds a 5-1 advantage over the Russian - including a hat-trick of wins last season - and it is their Grand Slam meetings which serve as a good omen for the Spaniard. She claimed a straight-sets win over Kuznetsova en route to the title in Paris in 2016 and repeated the feat in the Wimbledon quarter-finals last year, where she went on to win her second Grand Slam title. It's their most recent outing, however, which offers most hope of a classic, a quarter-final showdown in Cincinnati in which Muguruza edged the Russian 7-5 in the third. Kuznetsova’s lone victory came on clay in Rome three years ago.
Form coming in
Muguruza posted a middling 4-3 on the clay leading in, with a pair of Fed Cup wins against Italian clay-court stalwarts Schiavone and Roberta Vinci the highlights. She also reached the third round in Madrid before falling in a three-setter to Russian Daria Kasatkina. Kuznetsova arrives with a 3-4 record on the red dirt for 2018. Her best showing was a quarter-final run in Istanbul, where she bowed to eventual finalist Polona Hercog.
Having made her Grand Slam breakthrough as a 19-year-old at Flushing Meadows, Kuznetsova waited five years to deny Dinara Safina for her second Grand Slam triumph in Paris. This was the major she was always tipped to dominate, and with a 52-14 record after 19 years on tour it stands as her most successful of the four. She was runner-up to Justine Henin in 2006, and has reached another semi-final, four quarter-finals and five fourth-round appearances. For Muguruza, despite just five main-draw appearances, Roland-Garros also stands tall on her majors CV. She holds a 19-4 record, including two wins over Serena Williams – in the second round in 2014 and in the final in 2016. Two quarter-final finishes preceded her title run before a fourth-round defeat to Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic last year.
Both women almost dance on the clay, such is their comfort with the red dirt under foot. When firing on all cylinders, they clock some of the heaviest groundstrokes on tour, making for some hefty hogging of the highlight reels. The trouble with such high-risk shot-making is both are susceptible to wildly erratic displays. Much will depend on which of the two finds the mark more effectively on first serves, and which can find the right balance with controlled aggression off the ground.
Third match, Court Philippe-Chatrier
Czech world No.70 Kristyna Pliskova has little to lose in this opening assignment, despite her opponent being ranked 383 places beneath her. Rankings count for zip when it’s Serena Williams in question, and despite having never played each other before, Pliskova would do well to take on her twin sister’s tactical nous, with Karolina having beaten the 23-time Grand Slam championat the 2016 US Open. While 6ft Pliskova does not typically move well on clay, her monster lefty serve could provide with a rusty Williams with more than a few headaches. The 36-year-old is competing in her first major since giving birth in September, and despite not having played a match on clay this season, Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, insists she is here with one thing in mind – winning the title. Pliskova has quietly slipped under the radar in her preparations, but brings an 11-5 clay-court record for 2018, including quarter-final showings in Charleston – where she beat countrywoman Petra Kvitova – and at home in Prague.
Second match, Court 3
Normally a first-round clash between the No.16 seed and a 19-year-old wildcard ranked No.105 would not garner a mention, but in-form Brit Kyle Edmund – with a list of clay-court casualties to his name, including Novak Djokovic and David Goffin this season – is not up against any ordinary teenager. With Lleyton Hewitt in his corner, rising Australian Alex De Minaur already channels the same fearless grit as his mentor and after a stunning run to the Brisbane semi-finals and a maiden tour final in Sydney to start 2018, the teenager is hungry for more. There is revenge in the offing too, with Edmund having beaten his younger opponent in Estoril only weeks ago. After a surprise run to the Australian Open semi-finals, the Briton did not win a match until he hit the clay in April, when he produced his first tour final run in Marrakech. Quarter-finals in Estoril and Madrid ensued, while De Minaur reached a Challenger final on clay in Alicante leading in.