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2019 French Open: The story so far

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Roar Guru
1st June, 2019
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We are at the halfway mark of the 2019 French Open and there are so many talking points to get through as Rafael Nadal closes in on a possible record 12th men’s singles title.

As expected, the undisputed King of Clay has breezed into the fourth round for the 14th time in 15 years, only missing out in 2016 when he was forced to withdraw before the third round due to a wrist injury which ultimately forced him to miss Wimbledon.

He had won his first two matches in straight sets, but was given a stern challenge by Belgian David Goffin, dropping the third set before ultimately progressing to the Round of 16 where Juan Ignacio Londero, who is making his first Grand Slam main draw appearance, awaits.

The Spaniard isn’t expected to be challenged until at least the semi-finals, where one of Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka or Stefanos Tsitsipas could be waiting in the wings.

Federer, making his first appearance at Roland Garros after a three-year absence, has shown over the first three rounds why he has once won this tournament, winning his first three matches in straight sets without so much being made to sweat.

He marked his 400th Grand Slam match with a straight-sets win over Casper Ruud, ensuring he progressed to a fourth-round meeting with Argentine Leonardo Mayer.

The Swiss Maestro made it clear he intended to contest the clay court season for the first time in many years after he lost to Tsitsipas in the fourth round of the Australian Open in January, fuelling speculation of his looming retirement from the sport.

Tsitsipas will face either Stan Wawrinka or Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth round should he successfully navigate his way through his third round clash against Filip Krajinovic, which was suspended at 5-all in the third set due to darkness (the Greek star was already up by two sets).

At the time of writing, the 20-year-old has lost the third set in a tiebreak and it is currently 5-all in the fourth.

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Wawrinka, meantime, was due to resume his third round clash against Dimitrov up two sets to love, and a win would see him complete the Grand Slam of having beaten the Bulgarian former world number three at each of the four majors.

It would also be his third win over the 28-year-old in the past four majors after victories at Wimbledon and the US Open last year.

In the top half of the draw, top seed Novak Djokovic has also breezed through the early rounds, showing why he is a serious threat to Rafael Nadal retaining his crown at Roland Garros.

The recently-turned 32-year-old was due to face Italian qualifier Salvatore Caruso in his third round clash, with a possible quarter-final showdown against German fifth seed Alexander Zverev on the horizon.

Zverev has won the first two sets of his clash against Serbian 30th seed Dusan Lajovic and if he goes on with the job, he will then face either recent Monte Carlo Masters champion Fabio Fognini or Spaniard Roberto Bautista-Agut in the Round of 16.

At the time of this article going to print, the Italian has won the first two sets, the first in a tiebreak.

As far as Australian involvement in the men’s draw is concerned, Jordan Thompson remains the last man standing, but will have a tough ask tackling 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro for a place in the fourth round of a major for the first time.

In the women’s draw, Ashleigh Barty remains alive and is projected to rise into the world’s top five regardless of how she fares for the remainder of the tournament.

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The Queenslander has won her first two matches in straight sets, and only Andrea Petkovic stands in the way of her and a possible fourth-round showdown against Serena Williams, who remains without a title since she won the 2017 Australian Open while eight weeks pregnant.

The ageless American appeared headed for a humiliating first round exit, which would’ve been just the second in her storied Grand Slam career, when she dropped the first set against Vitalia Diatchenko, but would hit back to win the final two sets for the loss of just one game.

She then took care of Japanese qualifier Kurumi Nara to advance to the last 32, where compatriot Sofia Kenin is her next opponent.

Whichever of these players reaches the quarter-finals could face either top seed Naomi Osaka, who has had to come from a set down to win her two matches, or former US Open finalist Madison Keys.

In her first major tournament as world number one, Osaka, who has been less than impressive since ascending to the top of the rankings in January, appeared on the verge of an embarrassing first-round exit when she dropped the first set against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 6-0.

The Slovak was then in a position to serve for the match before the 21-year-old Japanese star demonstrated her mental strength to break her, take the second set in a tiebreak before running away with it 6-1 in the last.

She was then given a serious workout by former world number one Victoria Azarenka in the second round, again losing the first set, and then being a break down in the second, before again coming from behind to match her best performance at the French Open, reaching the third round.

Osaka should have it much easier against Katerina Siniakova, before a possible fourth-round showdown against Keys, who defeated her in straight sets in the third round last year.

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(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Keys, for her part, is due to face Russian qualifier Anna Blinkova in her third round match but not before surviving a major scare from Australian wildcard Priscilla Hon, against whom she split sets and was down a break early in the decider before rallying to win in three.

Defending champion Simona Halep is safely through to the third round after defeating Lesia Tsurenko in straight sets earlier on Saturday morning (local time).

Beforehand, she was stretched in her first two matches, dropping sets against Ajla Tomljanovic and Magda Linette, but showed why she is seriously intent on defending the title she worked so hard to win last year.

The women’s draw saw the early departures of many title contenders, namely Aryna Sabalenka, who was embarrassed by American teen sensation Amanda Anisimova at a major for the second time this year, Petra Kvitova, who was forced to withdraw before her first match due to injury, and Kiki Bertens, who retired during her second round match due to illness.

But the biggest dominoes to fall were Angelique Kerber, who had her hopes of completing her set of Grand Slam titles dashed on the first day when she was upset by Anastasia Potapova, and second seed Karolina Pliskova, who was outplayed by Croat Petra Martic.

It has also been a successful French Open campaign for former Wimbledon semi-finalist Johanna Konta, who has become the first British woman to reach the fourth round at the tournament since Anne Hobbs and Jo Durie got this far in 1983.

Her next opponent will be Croatia’s Donna Vekic, against whom she engaged in a war of attrition at Wimbledon nearly two years ago, ultimately emerging victorious after an 18-game final set cliffhanger.

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2016 champion Garbine Muguruza has also progressed to the last 16, with last year’s finalist Sloane Stephens standing in the way of her and a quarter-final berth.

Those are just some of the key stories to come out of the first week of the French Open as we approach the business end of the tournament, where Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are expected to duke it out in the men’s championship match next Sunday.

The women’s draw, meantime, remains wide as open, and all eyes will continue to be fixed on Naomi Osaka to see if she can complete the third piece of her Grand Slam puzzle, which if she does would see her head to Wimbledon with the chance to complete her set there.