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French Open

U.S. women rolling at Roland Garros, eyeing larger goals

May 28, 2012 05:26 PM
Bethanie Mattek-Sands scored a big opening round victory over Germany's Sabine Lisicki.
Sloane Stephens is confident that she could win at least one singles title - if not more - at Roland Garros before the end of her playing days.
20-year-old Christina McHale has found a kinship with fellow Americans Melanie Oudin and Varvara Lepchenko.
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com

PARIS -- Of all the 10 U.S. women who have won first round matches at Roland Garros on Sunday and Monday, perhaps it was 18-year-old Lauren Davis who looked the most impressive on the red clay.
 
The quick and gritty 18-year-old qualifier from Boca Raton, Fla., stunned 30th seed Mona Barthel 6-1, 6-1 on Monday. Davis, who trains at the Chris Evert Academy and talks to the eight-time French Open champ twice a week, was on the verge of winning the USTA Roland Garros wild card at the USTA Pro Circuit Challenger event in Indian Harbour Beach, Fla. a few weeks back but fell in the semifinals.
 
"I was really disappointed because I really wanted that wild card," David said. "But then I became super-motivated to qualify. To win four matches in a row here, maybe it's even better."
 
Davis is on a hot streak, winning 14 of her last 18 matches, as are the American women as a whole. They are 10 for 10 at the French Open, and have given the country its most representatives in the second round in Roland Garros since 11 made it in 2003. Moreover, top U.S. contender, Serena Williams, hasn’t played yet, nor has the youngster Jaime Hampton. On Sunday, Venus Williams, Melanie Oudin, Alexa Glatch and Irina Falconi scored wins. During Monday’s play, it was Vania King, Christina McHale, Varvara Lepchenko, Bethanie-Mattek-Sands, Sloane Stephens and Davis who advanced.
 
Stephens took out Russian Ekaterina Makarova - the same woman who had upset Serena at the Australian Open – in straight sets 6-4, 7-6 (6). After a rough start to clay court season, Stephens qualified for Rome and won a round, and then last week reached the semis of Strasbourg.
 
"It's exciting," she said. "I was just talking to Christina in the locker room.  I'm like, ‘Who do you play?’  She's like, ‘I play Lauren Davis.’  I'm like, ‘Oh, my God.  I play Bethanie.’ So all the Americans are playing Americans, but it's good that we'll have people in the third round.  So that's always nice. But to everyone that got a win, which is really exciting, because everyone always says that we're not good on clay. That'll prove 'em wrong."
 
Stephens love to play on clay. King says she hated it three years ago, but with her French coach has learned to like it. Davis plays on green clay at the Evert Academy while Lepchenko, who was born in Uzbekistan, seems to be at ease on the surface.
 
"It really shows that some of the Americans are coming through, playing tough, grinding it out here on the clay,'' said  Mattek-Sands, who took out 12th seed Sabine Lisicki. "And it's awesome."
 
Two of the harder-working U.S. contingent scored marathon wins when McHale survived Kiki Bertens of The Netherlands 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 and Lepchenko let go off match points in the second set but overcame Kazakhstan’s Ksenia Pervak  6-2, 6-7 (6), 6-4.
 
McHale, who gave up a 5-0 lead in the third set at 2011 Roland Garros against Italian Sara Errani, looked more relieved than happy after winning
 
"I was struggling to find my best tennis," said the 20-year-old. "The first round to find the way to get through - I was really happy. I stayed in the match and kept fighting. I'm getting used to the clay, but I still have some improvements on my sliding."
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Oudin came out to watch McHale's match, and since she moved to New York to work with USTA Player Development, the two have become friends and practice partners.  Lepchenko also works out there. 
 
"We're all pushing each other at the same time," said McHale. "It's like a healthy competitiveness, I think."
 
Lepchenko says that she, Oudin and McHale all battle over who gets to hit with USTA Player Development head Patrick McEnroe. They have all smacked balls with him this week at Roland Garros.
 
"We have an amazing team with Patrick at top of Player Development," she said. "In New York we have a really positive attitude; all the coaches and fitness coaches are great. That’s why Melanie and Christiana and I are starting to show results. Patrick has great tactics and he's told me just a couple little things that have helped me so much."
 
At times, the 25-year-old lefthander looked she might fold against Pervak, but she made some critical adjustments late and came through with the victory.
 
"I got really tight and let her back into the match and started to play really well," Lepchenko said of Pervak. "I was very passive and pushing and then I started to play my game again. When I'm behind I play my game better. When I’m up I started to think more – ‘what I should I do?’ - I'm starting to find that state of mind where I can close it out."
 
Lepchenko will go up against former World No.1 Jelena Jankovic, who has been in a slump. King gets a rematch of her nearly three-hour win over Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova last year.
 
Stephens has to focus on Mattek-Sands, who just came back from injury and is striking the ball well - yet she has her eyes on a bigger prize in Paris one day.
 
"Well in 10 years I better have won this one time at least," said Stephens. "Otherwise I will be one unhappy camper."
 

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