Paris: Carlos Alcaraz came through a tricky early test at the French Open with flying colours, as the world No 1 sealed a 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory over Japan’s Taro Daniel on Wednesday to reach the third round.
Alcaraz enjoyed a dominant opening win over Flavio Cobolli in his first match as the top seed in a Grand Slam and the 20-year-old made another blistering start against Daniel to ease through the first set on the back of two breaks.
Daniel pounced early in the next to grab a 3-0 lead before Alcaraz got on the board. He continued to batter the suddenly error-prone Spaniard with some relentless hitting from the baseline before levelling the contest.
Normal service resumes
But the Japanese player, who is ranked 112, was quickly on the back foot again as Alcaraz regained focus to break early and close out the third set in style conceding only one game late on.
With normal service having resumed, Alcaraz closed out the match on serve to book an encounter with Canadian 26th seed Denis Shapovalov.
Thanasi Kokkinakis knocked 38-year-old Stan Wawrinka out in a five-set rollercoaster to book a third round place for the first time since 2015.
Australian world No 108 Kokkinakis came through 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (4/7), 6-3 in four hours and 38 minutes against the 2015 champion.
“I feel better now that I’ve won,” said the 27-year-old after securing victory on a fifth match point.
“What a match. I know Stan is getting older but in the first set he was playing the best. I was nowhere, just hanging in.”
Kokkinakis, who described Wawrinka, a three-time major winner, as a “legend” of the sport, last made the third round of a Slam in Paris eight years ago when he was just 19.
However, he has been plagued by physical and medical problems with a shoulder injury limiting him to just one singles match from November 2015 until May 2017.
He then missed the entire 2020 season due to mono before undergoing surgery on his sinuses in 2022.
“I’ve had a pretty crazy story. I came on the scene when I was pretty young, looked like I was set for a big future but I went missing for a few years,” he said.
Kokkinakis will take on either Russian 11th seed Karen Khachanov or Moldova’s Radu Albot for a place in the last 16.
Trying her hand at many sports
Like many a kid, debutant Peyton Stearns enjoyed participating in sports and tried her hand at plenty.
“Soccer, gymnastics, basketball, tennis, whatever,” the 21-year-old American said after eliminating 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 to reach the third round at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time.
Then Stearns paused, before adding with a chuckle: “Well, not so much tennis.”
By her own admission, she came to tennis relatively late for someone who would end up at its highest level, starting private lessons at age 8. It wasn’t until about three or four years later, the 2022 NCAA champion for the University of Texas explained, that she decided to focus on holding a racket.
Hitting the living daylights
“Gymnastics was very structured. I didn’t like that so much. I liked to do what I want when I wanted,” said Stearns, who had never played in the French Open’s main draw until this week. “I chose tennis because I loved that you can just hit the living daylights out of the ball.”
So that’s what she does, and did quite effectively against the 17th-seeded Ostapenko, outhitting a big hitter — Stearns compiled more winners, 30-29 — and leaving the field at Roland Garros with just one remaining woman who has won the title there: No 1 Iga Swiatek, the champion in 2020 and 2022, who plays her second-round match Thursday. Barbora Krejcikova, the 2021 winner, lost in the first round.
“Sometimes I surprise myself with how lethal my ball comes off (the racket) sometimes for my opponents, and how it really puts them in trouble,” Stearns said. “Maybe I didn’t realise that earlier on, but playing against top players, I realise that it is true. It comes off pretty heavy and big and that’s how I play. Definitely helps with confidence.”
Her victory over Ostapenko can be placed alongside a slew of other early upsets in Paris, where the sometimes-odd bounces of the red clay and the changing weather conditions can contribute to unexpected outcomes.
No 5 seed Caroline Garcia of France was defeated by Anna Blinkova 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, meaning 17 of 32 seeded women already were gone before the second round was halfway finished. In the men’s bracket, No 2 seed Daniil Medvedev bowed out Tuesday against a qualifier ranked 127th.
World No 1 spot
However, world No 2 Aryna Sabalenka survived a scare as fought off a determined challenge from fellow Belarusian Iryna Shymanovich to move into the third round with a 7-5, 6-2 victory as she eyes the world No 1 spot.
The 25-year-old, who will take over top spot from Swiatek with victory at the Paris Grand Slam, did not have an easy start with qualifier Shymanovich, ranked 214th, matching her power with every groundstroke.
Fighting tooth and nail
Shymanovich started moving her opponent around, playing the angles and forcing her to the net with audacious drop shots as she tried to stop Sabalenka imposing her own rhythm on the match.
The second seed wasted two set points at 6-5 but bagged the set on her third opportunity, chasing down yet another drop shot from her opponent.
She took a two-game lead at the start of the second set but had to fight tooth and nail for every single point before sealing victory on her second match point.