Debate: is Nadal invincible?
On Day 2 at Roland-Garros, these are the matches capturing our imagination.
On paper, this has serious upset potential; on court, this has the makings of an entertaining contest. Daria Kasatkina, the 21-year-old No.14 seed, is one of the best shot-makers in the women’s game right now, but Kaia Kanepi, 11 years her senior, is a two-time former Roland-Garros quarter-finalist who has had the Russian’s number in their last two meetings.
Kasatkina fell victim to Kanepi in the fourth round at last year’s US Open and once more in Brisbane in January, turning their head-to-head rivalry on its head, 2-1 – a feat made all the more remarkable considering Kanepi had been a qualifier on both occasions. Her run in New York came at her first major in almost two years. After health and injury issues had sidelined her for 12 months, the world No.418 became the first qualifier to reach the last eight at Flushing Meadows in 36 years.
Form coming in
Kanepi’s clay-court record in 2018 reads 1-1 after qualifying in Rome, where she fell to a three-set defeat at the hands of world No.10 Sloane Stephens. But the real promise rests with Kasatkina, who fell to eventual champions Petra Kvitova in Madrid and Elina Svitolina in Rome while posting a 7-5 record on the dirt, a stretch that included a victory over 2016 Roland-Garros champ Garbine Muguruza in the Spanish capital.
It’s the first showdown for the duo at a major, and their first clash on clay. And while it is Kanepi who arrives having twice reached the quarters in Paris, Kasatkina has reached the third round in her two Roland-Garros appearances to date. In contrast, Kanepi is looking for her first main-draw win here since 2013.
Kanepi’s big-ball game once propelled her into the world’s top 15, and it will be the Estonian who will play the attacking tennis, likely to rack up the lion’s share of both winners and unforced errors. It overwhelmed Kasatkina on the quick hard courts of New York and Melbourne, but the slower clay plays into the crafty young Russian’s hands, and she will exploit spin and space at every opportunity.
Tempered expectations follow 2015 champion and last year’s finalist Stan Wawrinka at Roland-Garros, as recovery from last year’s knee surgery ticks along slowly. The Swiss will be buoyed by the return of Magnus Norman as coach on an ad-hoc basis, reuniting the three-time major winner with the Swede who oversaw his mid-career surge. But Guillermo Garcia-Lopez is a tricky opening assignment – the Spaniard beat him at the same stage in 2014, and while Wawrinka has won their subsequent three meetings to lead the head-to-head 7-3, his game is vulnerable right now.
The ever-popular Petkovic owns a 4-0 record over home hope Mladenovic, including a third-round win over the Frenchwoman en route to the Roland-Garros semi-finals in 2014. But it’s been a tough year for both players: Mladenovic, who knocked out defending champion Garbine Muguruza to reach the quarter-finals amid deafening scenes on Lenglen a year ago, suffered a 15-match losing streak that ended with a run to the St Petersburg final in February, while the high point of Petkovic’s season came in its infancy, when she outlasted Petra Kvitova in the opening round of the Australian Open to win 10-8 in the third. Could a victory in Paris help one of them hit the reset switch on 2018? If nothing else, the atmosphere promises to be electric.