Photo: Martin Sidorjak
By: Ben Lewis
Every year we are treated to a special level of tennis at Roland Garros, the tennis calendar’s second major of the season.
Now, more than a week has now passed at les Internationaux de France, as its keen competitors have been on spinning, sliding, and diving their ways to dramatic victories or devastating losses on the terre battue.
Since that is all the French I know, let’s break down my four selections of epic, unforgettable matches from week one at the 2022 French Open.
Carlos Alcaraz def. Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-1, 6-7, 5-7, 7-6, 6-4
The rise of Carlos Alcaraz has been well documented these last few months in tennis circles. Simply put, it’s been meteoric.
Heading into last season’s French Open, the feisty and immensely talented teenager was well placed to be ranked 94th in the world.
A year later, now sculpted with muscles and a discernibly more powerful game, the Spaniard has won five ATP titles, two of which being Masters 1000s. He has soared up to 6th on the circuit and has been electrifying crowds at every stop on the tour with his all-court prowess, highlight reel shots and competitive edge.
Alcaraz is the full package: lightning quick speed, ruthless power from both groundstroke wings, a dominant net game, and a feathery touch which he employs with the occasional, perfectly timed drop shot.
In the second round at Roland Garros, he would clash with a determined veteran in Albert Ramos-Vinolas in an all-Spanish affair.
Ramos-Vinolas is highly experienced with over a decade spent on the ATP circuit, and has had his share of impressive results, particularly on clay courts where he’s won all four of his singles titles. He’s also a former French Open quarterfinalist and top 20 player.
It was a matchup of differing styles as the two went toe-to-toe through the Paris night. Ramos-Vinolas, a steady handed lefty player, with a heavy and well-placed forehand did all he could to disrupt Alcaraz’s dynamic athleticism, speed, and brutal power and shot making.
The youngster raced out to win the first set 6-1, before Ramos-Vinolas responded by seizing sets two and three.
In the fourth, he was inches from the finish line, holding match point at 6-5 on serve before Alcaraz mounted a comeback, stealing it in a tiebreak.
In the fifth set, Ramos-Vinolas used his precise shot making and net play to grab an early break, but Carlitos was unrelenting, again pushing back before defeating his fellow countryman 6-1, 6-7, 5-7, 7-6, 6-4 in 4 hours, 34 minutes.
The cheers on Court Phillipe Chatrier were thunderous.
Stefanos Tsitsipas def. Zdenek Kolar 6-3, 7-6, 6-7, 7-6
Greek star Stefanos Tsitsipas is no stranger to the big stage.
He’s a French Open finalist, a three-time semi-finalist in Australia, and has wins over all of the Big 3 (Djokovic, Federer, and Nadal).
At this year’s edition of Roland Garros, he was one of the favourites to return to the final, with an open draw in the bottom section.
That’s why many expected a routine match ahead with world number 134 Zdenek Kolar of the Czech Republic.
Kolar, a 25-year-old that has predominantly played on the Challenger circuit, arrived at Roland Garros having never qualified for the main draw of a major.
That changed in the lead-up week with three strong singles wins. He then defeated Frenchman and former top 10 player Lucas Pouille in the opening round.
Early signs still indicated it would be Stefanos Tsitsipas in control in this match, comfortably seizing the first set 6-3.
The two players had an array of terrific exchanges in the second, as Kolar pushed the Greek to a lengthy tiebreak, falling 10-8.
The Czech then raised his level to capture the third set, wrong footing the Greek talent with brilliant drop shots.
Kolar still maintained a high level of play and was knocking on the door of a fifth set with a 6-2 lead in a fourth set tiebreak. Tsitsipas however, saved his best level for the most crucial moments. He would finally close the match on an 18-ball exchange, coming away with a 6-3, 7-6(8), 6-7(3), 7-6(7) win.
In all, this match produced a staggering 124 winners between the two players, a testament to its immense quality and intrigue.
Jil Teichmann def. Victoria Azarenka 4-6, 7-5, 7-6
32-year-old Victoria Azarenka still aspires for more.
Azarenka has a heavily stocked trophy case to be proud of as she’s compiled a brilliant, Hall of Fame career. She is a two-time major winner in Australia, a three-time U.S. Open finalist, and she also advanced to the final four of the French Open back in 2013.
Her game might not be specifically built for clay, but her power more than compensates for a lack of spin that is often a trademark of the top red-dirt players.
Swiss competitor Jil Teichmann is at an earlier stage of her career, and enjoyed breakthrough results last season, making the finals in Cincinnati with big top 10 wins over Naomi Osaka, Belinda Bencic, and Karolina Pliskova.
It was clear we were in for a heavyweight contest in this third round encounter from the get-go.
Azarenka drew first blood, winning a tight first set 6-4 on the scoreboard. Teichmann, a left-hander who shows great willingness to come to net, raised her aggression in the second to come through 7-5 and level the match at a set apiece.
After a topsy turvy affair in the third, it was fitting to end on a 10-point third set breaker.
Teichmann mesmerized with her tennis in the final stages, earning six of the 10 required points with outright winners.
While she was halted in the following round by Sloane Stephens, reaching the last 16 was a career best result at a major for Teichmann.
Leylah Annie Fernandez def. Belinda Bencic 7-5, 3-6, 7-5
Two ferocious competitors took centre stage on Court Phillippe Chatrier during the Friday day session in Leylah Annie Fernandez and Belinda Bencic.
Montreal’s Fernandez has of course proven her moxie on multiple occasions, particularly at last year’s US Open with a stunning run to the finals at Flushing Meadows.
Canadians have also witnessed Bencic play at an incredibly high level. One of the biggest WTA titles of her career came seven years ago at Omnium Banque Nationale (formerly Rogers Cup) in Montreal.
Fireworks were expected in this clash and both players were intent on imposing their will in the early stages.
The first set featured clean tennis on both sides as the two totalled 21 winners to just 12 unforced errors. Fernandez’s clutch net game helped her prevail 7-5 and grab the early lead.
Bencic promptly shifted momentum by playing far more aggressively in the second set, with 18 winners off the racquet and her penetrating, elite two-handed backhand providing serious damage.
The third set hung in the balance early for the Canadian, however Fernandez had a series of early break point chances to stay level. While she failed to serve the match out at 5-4, she remained determined at 5-all, quickly breaking back before advancing with a love-hold.
Fernandez raised her arms in triumph, feeding off the crowd’s energy as she basked in another milestone win of her young career.
Leylah has now reached the second week at Roland Garros for the first time, and the 19-year-old looks hungry for more.