Sloane eyes another Paris fairytale
Two-time semi-finalist Bacsinszky put two years of injuries behind her with victory in qualifying.
Sometimes there is no disguising sheer happiness, nor any reason to.
Two-time Roland-Garros semi-finalist Timea Bacsinszky has endured two years of persistent and assorted injury misery; and the Swiss was so delighted at the end of her 6-3, 6-4 first qualifying-round victory over Fanny Stollar that she leapt into the air and let out a prolonged shriek of: “Allez!”
The last time Bacsinszky wielded a competitive racquet on the Paris clay was on the great stage of Court Philippe-Chatrier in 2017, when she succumbed in the last-four to eventual champion Jelena Ostapenko.
Since then a wretched series of hand, thigh and calf troubles caused her ranking to plummet from a zenith of No.9 to No.761 by last year.
Having climbed back up to 94, the business of this week’s qualifying competition – in which she is one of 96 contenders fighting it out for 16 main draw places – is something she is approaching with gusto.
With 20-year-old Stollar firing 32 winners including 10 aces, Bacsinszky was up against it. But in a match interrupted by rain for 40 minutes, the young Hungarian made too many errors and stumbled on the key points, converting just one of 10 chances to break.
“I’m definitely thrilled,” Bacsinszky said. “Being able to be back here and win a match again – no matter if it’s qualifying or main draw – is so special. I’m very proud of how I’ve managed to come back and be fit again over this long time. I have no injuries now and I’m feeling good – just some little things hurting left and right, but this is the life of a professional athlete. Nothing worrying.”
On Court 8, she looked every bit as focused as she would have been on the big show courts, saying: “I’d better be focused! This is my job and I’m good at it. Maybe that’s why I belonged among the best players in the world at some point, because I know how to regroup and focus in the important moments. Matches are what we work for every day. They’re why we get up early and work hard. I did everything to come back here. I love it. So out on court I’m completely focused because I’m lucky to be here.”
Another former Grand Slam semi-finalist had a gloomier time of it. A decade ago Yanina Wickmayer made the last-four at the US Open and was briefly ranked No.12. But having made the third round here on three separate occasions, she has been unable to retain a consistent place in the top 100 since 2016.
Here Russia’s Natalia Vikhlyantseva punished Wickmayer’s many errors with a 6-3, 6-0 demolition.
Just days ago on Instagram, Wickmayer declared France’s Kristina Mladenovic her best friend on the tour, not least for the positive messages she sends whenever the Belgian experiences defeat. So at least she can rely on Mladenovic to say all the right things this time.
Elsewhere an intriguing young American was making her mark. Whitney Osuigwe, 17, was junior champion here two years ago, and has reached No.124 in the world. Her opponent Myrtille Georges had 11 years’ extra experience and was playing on home soil, but despite dominating Osuigwe in the first set and breaking her three times in the second, she allowed the dangerous youngster to take it into a decider.
In drizzly conditions Georges looked to have regained the whiphand with a 3-0 lead but required repeated treatment to her cramped calves, and crumbled. Osuigwe took it 2-6, 7-6(3), 7-5 in two hours and 30 minutes.
“She was playing really well but I usually play really good in the third set, so I knew if I just stayed with her I could go for the win,” smiled Osuigwe in victory.
“It would mean so much to make the main draw. Roland-Garros is my favourite tournament of all time. I love Paris, red clay is my favourite surface, and I just love the facility, the people and everything about it!”
Reigning Roland-Garros junior champion Cori “Coco” Gauff also prospered, despite being just 15 years old. Long accustomed to “youngest ever” labels, Gauff began training at the Patrick Mouratoglou Academy in Nice at the age of 10, and has declared her intent to be the “GOAT” (Greatest of All Time). Here she belied her youth to see off the experienced world No.172 Ankita Raina, ranked 148 places than Gauff, taking the win 6-4, 6-4.
It was a thin day for the French in women’s qualifying. Of the seven competing, just one advanced; Elsa Jacquemot saw off Basak Eraydin 6-3, 6-1.
Among those defeated was Alize Lim, who received a wildcard into the qualifiers with a ranking of 406, after a horrible series of injuries. “You can only imagine how happy I feel about stepping on the court here again,” she posted on Instagram. But she was drawn against the No.1 seed for qualifying Bernarda Pera who defeated her 6-1, 6-3.
The 2014 US Open semi-finalist Peng Shuai, now 33, was vanquished by Rebecca Sramkova, who won 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-0.