French Open 2013: The Biggest Surprises from the First Week at Roland Garros

Jake Curtis@jakecurtis53Featured ColumnistJune 1, 2013

French Open 2013: The Biggest Surprises from the First Week at Roland Garros

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    The favorites are still alive heading into the second week of the French Open. But there were some surprises.

    Some of the unexpected occurrences involved upsets, some involved unanticipated trends, some involved unlikely incidents.

    Although frequent showers played havoc with the schedule the first week, rain in Paris in the spring does not constitute a surprise.

    Let's take a look at the top 10 surprises of the first week of the French Open.

10. No Teenagers Reach Men's Third Round

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    Mats Wilander and Michael Chang won French Open singles titles at age 17. Bjorn Borg won two French Open championships before he reached age 20. Rafael Nadal won his first French Open title in 2005 at age 19.

    But all the teenagers in this year's French Open men's singles draw are gone before the start of the second week. In fact, none of the three teenagers in the main draw made it to the third round.

    Jiri Vesely, 19, lost in the first round, and Nick Kyrgios, 18, and Lucas Pouille, 19, lost in straight sets in the second. All got into the main draw by way of qualifying or wild cards.

    The New York Times reported the average age of players in the top 100 in the men’s rankings has increased from 24.92  in 2003 to 27.13 in 2012. Plus, the average age of the top 100 has increased every year without fail for the last decade.

9. Serena Has Lost Just Six Games

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    That Serena Williams won her three matches during the first week of the French Open is not surprising. That anyone could be as dominant as she has been is a bit unexpected, however.

    Williams not only won all three matches without losing a set, she did not lose more than two games in any set. She has dropped just six games entering the tournament's second week.

    That may not seem shocking, considering Williams has won 27 straight matches. But it's worthwhile to remember she has not advanced past the quarterfinals of the French Open since 2003. Last year, she lost in the first round to a player ranked 111th, Virginie Razzano.

    In this year's French Open, Williams took just 51 minutes to dispose of 74th-ranked Anna Tatishvili while losing just one game, then took 62 minutes to oust 114th-ranked Caroline Garcia while losing three games.

    Williams' third-round opponent, Sorana Cirstea, is ranked 30th and was a French Open quarterfinalist in 2009. But Williams took just 61 minutes to polish her off with the loss of just two games.

    At age 31, Williams heads into the second week looking more and more like the favorite.

8. Stakhovsky's Photo Moment

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    Sergiy Stakhovsky did not win his match at the French Open, but he still stunned the crowd, the umpire and his opponent, Richard Gasquet, in a first-round loss on Monday.

    Believing a shot he hit had touched the line, despite being called out, Stakhovsky pulled out his cell phone, walked to the spot in question and took a picture of the mark left by the ball he hit.

    Stakhovsy then tweeted the picture, and Yahoo! Sports showed the photo he sent out on Twitter.

    Tennis officials did not see much humor in the stunt, and on Thursday, fined him $2,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct, about seven percent of his $27,000 winnings as a first-round loser.

    By the way, Stakhovsky, a 27-year-old from the Ukraine ranked 101st, lost the match in straight sets.

7. Nadal's "Struggles"

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    Because Rafael Nadal has been so dominant in 2013 and in past French Opens, any hint of vulnerability at Roland Garros is unexpected.

    Losing the first set in his opening-round match to Daniel Brands raised eyebrows. After all, Brands is only ranked 59th in the world and had never won a match in his four previous French Open appearances. When Brands took a 3-0 lead in the second-set tiebreaker, a monumental upset seemed possible.

    Nadal recovered to win in four sets, but the headline on the Reuters account of the match read, "Edgy Nadal stumbles through after Brands test."

    Nadal lost the first set in the second round as well, this time to Martin Klizan, ranked 35th and playing in his first French Open.

    Again Nadal recovered to win in four sets, then beat Fabio Fognini in the third round in straight sets, albeit with a tiebreaker in the first. But it's a bit surprising Nadal is not dominating opponents as he did last year, when he lost only one set (to Novak Djokovic in the final) and was forced to a tiebreaker only one other time.

    Aside from the loss to Robin Soderling in 2009, Nadal had lost only five sets while winning five French Open titles since 2007. He lost two sets to Roger Federer, two to John Isner and one to Djokovic.

    That was before this year, when he's already lost two sets to players ranked outside the top 30.

    Realizing that trading groundstrokes with Nadal is fruitless, opponents have had success this week attempting low-percentage shots that produce enough winners to bother Nadal.

    Whether these so-called struggles are significant will be determined in the second week.

6. Haas' Marathon Third-Round Victory

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    At age 35, Tommy Haas is not supposed to win a marathon match at the French Open, especially one in which he let multiple opportunities slip away.

    In the third round, however, Haas proved to be more resilient in a grueling clay-court match than John Isner, who is seven years younger.

    After winning the first two sets, Haas let 12 match points slip away in the fourth set, then had a match point against him in the fifth set.

    Few can endure those kinds of setbacks, particularly an older player whose physical and mental energy should be waning.

    But, finally, on his 13th match point, Haas won, finishing off a 7-5, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-7 (10), 10-8 victory.

    Haas became the oldest player to reach the Round of 16 in the French Open since 2007, when Jonas Bjorkman did it when he was one month older than Haas is now.

5. Everything Has Gone Federer's Way

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    No one, including Roger Federer, could have imagined that things would go as well as they have for Federer in the first week of the French Open.

    Things started falling into place for Federer before the tournament began, when Andy Murray withdrew. That made it possible for both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic to be placed in the other half of the draw from the No. 2-seeded Federer. As luck would have it, that's exactly what happened when the draw was made.

    Then, Tomas Berdych, one of the prime threats in Federer's half of the draw, lost in the first round to Gael Monfils, clearing away a major hurdle to a berth in the final.

    Federer, meanwhile, had received a great draw, having only to vanquish qualifiers in both the first and second rounds, before handling Julien Benneteau in straight sets. That third-round match provided just enough of a challenge to show how well Federer is playing.

    Three straight-sets victories have not sapped much energy from the 31-year-old Federer, who said as much on the official Roland Garros website:

    I'm happy because I have not used much of my energy so far. I think I can go deep in the tournament. I feel totally relaxed. Mentally I'm okay. I'm quite confident. I can feel it, which is what you need if you want good results at Roland Garros.

    Finally, the cool weather in Paris during the first week benefits Federer's style. The ball stays lower when it's not so hot, which helps Federer more than it does a player like Rafael Nadal, according to Andrew Lilley on the official Roland Garros website.

    Whether this points to Federer winning his 18th Grand Slam title remains to be seen, but the first week has been a perfect storm of events in his favor.

4. South American Void in Men's Singles

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    When Argentina's Horacio Zeballos lost to Stanislas Wawrinka in straight sets in a second-round match on Friday, the South American influence in the men's singles was gone before the second week had started.

    Not a single South American male made it to the third round. Only four had reached the second round.

    It's a rather stunning development, because South Americans have been a major factor on the red clay at Roland Garros. 

    Six French Open singles titles have been won by South American men in the Open Era, according to the official Roland Garros website, including four in the past 16 years.

    In 2004, both finalists were from Argentina. Gustavo Kuerton of Brazil, Andres Gomez of Ecuador and Guillermo Vilas of Argentina all won French Open titles and are among the top clay-court players in history.

    Last year, four South Americans made it to the third round, two got to the fourth and one made it to the quarterfinals. 

    The absence of the top South American player, Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, was a major factor in this year's development. A French Open semifinalist in 2009 and a quarterfinalist last year, del Potro withdrew from the French Open a few days before the tournament started because of a viral infection.

3. Schiavone Reaches Fourth Round

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    At age 32 and two years into a downward spiral that left her ranking at No. 50, Francesca Schiavone looked like someone playing out the string. She bore no resemblance to the player she was while winning the French Open in 2010 and getting to the final in 2011.

    Schiavone entered the French Open having lost in the first round in 10 of her last 16 tournaments dating back to last September. Four of those losses were to players ranked outside the top 100, and she was a first-round loser in the past two Grand Slam events.

    There was no reason for optimism based on recent results. She had lost in the first round of both of the May clay-court warmup events leading up to the French Open, losing to players ranked 59th and 86th. And those defeats came a week after losing on clay to a player ranked 102nd.

    However, the magic returned without warning during the first week of the French Open. 

    She beat Melinda Czink in the first round 6-0, 7-6, then got her first win over a top-30 player since last July by beating 21st-ranked Kirsten Flipkens, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3.

    But that was nothing compared to what Schiavone did in the third round. Not only did Schiavone beat No. 13 seed Marion Bartoli in Bartoli's home country, but she dominated the match, winning 6-2, 6-1.

    Schiavone next plays No. 3 seed Victoria Azarenka, and the idea of Schiavone winning that match does not seem as outlandish as it would have a week ago.

    "When she starts winning matches and becomes more confident, then she can be very dangerous. So maybe she can sort out Azarenka and then if she arrives in the quarter-finals, who knows what can happen?" Bartoli said, according to Reuters.

2. Monfils Upsets Berdych in First Round

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    A French Open semifinals in 2008 and once ranked as high as No. 7, injury-riddled Gael Monfils had seen his ranking slip to No. 119 two weeks before the start of the French Open.

    He had reached the finals of two clay-court tournaments heading into the French Open, but both were minor events. More significantly, in four of his past five tournaments, he had lost on clay to players ranked outside the top 60. He needed a wild-card entry to get into the main draw at the French Open.

    Monfils' first-round opponent, Tomas Berdych, seemed capable of going deep into the French Open. He had beaten Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray on clay in his previous two tournaments, and his confidence was high. Berdych looked like the one player capable of beating the top three seeds.

    But Monfils stunned Berdych, 7-6, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 7-5. Monfils followed that up with an impressive four-set victory over Ernests Gulbis in the second round.

    Monfils very nearly won his third-round match against Tommy Rebredo, the No. 32-ranked player in the world. If Monfils had won that match, he'd be No. 1 on our list of biggest surprises of the first week. Despite winning the first two sets and having two match points, Monfils lost, 2-6, 6-7, 6-2, 7-6, 6-2.

1. Four American Women Reach Fourth Round

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    Although it's no surprise that Selena Williams got to the fourth round, the presence of three other American women is. 

    Victories by Jamie Hampton and Bethanie Mattek-Sanders over top-10 opponents were among the biggest upsets of the week and would have been included on this list were it not for the accomplishments of the American women as a group.

    The last time as many as four females from the United States got to the Round of 16 at the French Open was 2004. Few were surprised to see that quartet of Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Jennifer Capriati and Lindsay Davenport in the fourth round.

    It's different this time.

    Sloane Stephens' presence in the fourth round might not seem like a surprise, since the 20-year-old is ranked 17th, got to the fourth round of the 2012 French Open and was a semifinalist at the Australian Open this year. But she had lost in the first round in five of her past eight tournaments, including losses to three players ranked outside the top 50.

    Hampton, 23, is ranked 54th and had lost in the first round of last year's French Open. She gained confidence with a good showing in Brussels leading up to the French Open, then upset No. 25 seed Lucie Safarova in the first round in Paris, 7-6, 3-6, 9-7.

    Hampton's bigger accomplishment came in the third round, when she upset 2011 Wimbledon champion and 2012 French Open semifinalist Petra Kvitova in straight sets. The victory over the No. 7-ranked Kvitova was Hampton's first over a top-10 player.

    But the biggest win of the quartet belonged to Mattek-Sanders, who knocked off 2011 French Open champ and No. 6 seed Li Na in a rain-interrupted, three-set, second-round match.  

    Now 28 and ranked 67th, Mattek-Sanders seemed to be on her way out of tennis when her ranking fell out of the top 250 last August. Now, after a third-round win over Paula Ormaechea, she is in the Round of 16 at the French Open, surprising crowds as much with her playing outfits (colorful long-sleeved shirts, knee-high black socks) as with her success.