CoCo Vandeweghe was one of seven American women who advanced into the second round of the French Open.
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By Sandra Harwitt, special to USTA.com
The gates opened at Stade Roland Garros for the 2014 French Open and an American contingent of 20 singles players – 12 women and eight men – marched onto the red clay with their hopes high.
Traditionally speaking, Americans in recent times have not fared well on the terre battue. The American man who most recently stood alone at the end of this fortnight, waving the stars-and-stripes, was Andre Agassi in 1999, finally taking the title here on his third appearance in the championship match.
American women have been somewhat luckier than their U.S. male counterparts, capturing the Roland Garros title three since 2000. Of course, those three wins were from just two players: Jennifer Capriati triumphed here in 2001, and Serena Williams won in 2002 and again last year.
But with one round completed in Paris, there’s a healthy number of Americans still on their feet, each ready to compete in round two. The seven women moving on are Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Taylor Townsend, Varvara Lepchenko, Sloane Stephens, Alison Riske and CoCo Vandeweghe.
The four men who have secured spots in the second round spots are John Isner, Sam Querrey, Jack Sock and Donald Young. Steve Johnson appears on the verge of joining his countrymen, as he was leading Laurent Lokoli of France, 4-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 3-1, when referee Wayne McKewen insisted it was too dark to continue play.
For Serena Williams, the top seed of this year’s women’s show, the Sunday start to this event that irks many of the players has become less of an issue. She just got down to her usual early-round business of racing through an opponent, this time French wildcard recipient Alize Lim, whom she knows well as both women train at the Patrick Mouratoglou Academy in Paris. Serena certainly likes the young Lim – and they appeared to get along on court well during the post-match interview after Williams thrashed her young opponent, 6-2, 6-1.
“I think [the Sunday start] is a good thing for the tournament, for sure,” Williams said. “They get an extra day, they’re able to have more fans come out. It’s different for the players. Usually you’re ready to start on Monday. But, you know, now if you come to Roland Garros you might play on Sunday, so you’ve got to get ready for it.”
Interestingly, despite Serena being the player many think will go down in history as the greatest woman to play the game, the 17-time Grand Slam champion still admits to getting the jitters when getting underway at a Grand Slam.
“I was a little nervous, like I always am in my first round,” Serena said. “It’s always hard for me to shake those nerves and go from there.”
Venus Williams, who went down in the first round last year, put forth a confident 6-4, 6-1 victory over the young Swiss Belinda Bencic. It’s been a long time since Venus has had much to cheer about in Paris beyond Parisian food and chic shopping. Her last decent showing here was reaching a fourth career Roland Garros quarterfinal in 2006. Her best career result in Paris was losing to Serena in the 2002 final.
“[It’s] definitely good to play the first round and try to get some rhythm,” Venus said.
But there could be a bit of a hitch in any plan Venus is imagining in regards to returning to at least another quarterfinal here this year. The way the draw sets up, it would be an all-Williams sister third-rounder if they both get through their next matches. Serena leads their head-to-head meetings 14-10 and has won their last five outings. Venus’ last victory over her younger sister was in the 2009 Dubai semifinals.
On Tuesday, 18-year-old American wildcard recipient Taylor Townsend established a career milestone of her own, winning her first Grand Slam main draw match in her first Grand Slam main draw appearance. Townsend’s 7-5, 6-1 victory came at the expense of fellow American Vania King. The 205th-ranked Townsend was a bit overcome by the occasion, after rallying back from being down 5-1 in the opening set. But she showed tremendous resolve in the comeback win, setting up a meeting with the 20th seed Alize Cornet of France.
“It was awesome,” said Townsend, of her first-round success. “I had so much fun. I was really nervous at first, but I tried to fight every single point. Every ball that came on my side, I just tried to get it back, and worked on being positive the whole time.”
Women’s No. 15 seed Stephens overcame a determined opponent in Peng Shuai of China to prevail, 6-4, 7-6. The talented 21-year-old has excelled at the French Open in the past, having reached the fourth round for the last two years, and is the on-paper favorite to achieve that feat for the third year in a row. She’ll play Polona Hercog of Slovenia in the second round.
Meanwhile, Riske recorded her first-ever win at Roland Garros by defeating veteran Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia, 7-6, 6-3. The Pittsburgh-bred baseliner found herself down a break of serve throughout most of the first set, but showed off her trademark fighting spirit to get back on serve and gradually wear down her opponent. The world No. 45 will square off in the next round against Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic, who pulled off a shocking upset against No. 2 seed Li Na earlier in the day.
On the men’s side, Sock was the recipient of some luck in his match against No. 21 seed Nicolas Almagro. The American led 5-0 when Almagro was forced to retire with a foot injury. The world No. 75 reached the second round of the French Open in his debut last year, but has a huge opportunity to advance even further this year. He’ll next face the winner of the Johnson-Lokoli match.
Both Serena and Venus Williams will see second-round action on Wednesday, along with Lepchenko and Townsend. No. 10 seed Isner and Querrey also will play their second round matches that day.
Additional reporting by McCarton Ackerman