I’ve never been a fan of the French Open’s Sunday start, a novelty that began in 2006 that allows the 128 first-round matches to be played over three days. Aren’t Slams supposed to start off with a bang, with crowds descending onto the grounds, and the buzz of one of tennis’ major events permeating throughout? There should be a sense of controlled, yet overwhelming chaos! Instead, Roland Garros remains a sleepy site as the players take the show courts to half-empty stadiums with little fanfare. It’s a jarringly quiet start to what is usually two weeks of dramatic tennis. Oh, France. You perplex me.
That’s not to say that there aren’t any notable matches on Sunday. Venus Williams returns to Roland Garros for the first time since 2010, and Nicolas Mahut takes on another American in the first round of a Slam. Fingers crossed that one finishes before sundown.
Matches begin at 11 a.m. local time, 5 a.m. Eastern. ESPN has the coverage.
Andy Roddick vs. Nicolas Mahut (fourth on Court Suzanne Lenglen): After taking a month off after Miami to rest his body, Roddick returned to play his first clay match just last week in Dusseldorf. It wasn’t a particularly welcome return, as Roddick went 0-3, failing to win a set and losing to Tomas Berdych, Carlos Berlocq and Go Soeda. That makes this first-round match more of a tossup than it otherwise would be, though at No. 88, Mahut hasn’t exactly been lighting up the scoresheet, either. He’s played only one tournament on clay — a Challenger event in Bordeaux — winning two matches before losing in the quarterfinal. Gotta give the nod to Roddick, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this one went the full five sets.
Venus Williams vs. Paula Ormaechea (fourth on Court Philippe Chatrier): While much of the attention has been given to her potential second-round match against Agnieszka Radwanska, Venus has to get past the young Argentine first, which I don’t suspect to be a problem. Ormaechea has spent most of 2012 stuck in qualifying tournaments. I’m more interested to see how Venus is feeling on the Paris clay and more specifically, how she’s moving.
Melanie Oudin vs. Johanna Larsson (1st match, Court 7): Yes, that Melanie Oudin. Despite being ranked No. 266, Oudin secured a French Open wild card via a three-tournament playoff in April. There’s been a lot of chatter about Oudin’s renewed focus and fitness over the past month, but before we get carried away let’s remember that despite the fact that Oudin has won 12 matches in the last month and a half — more than she won in all of 2011 — she hasn’t beaten anyone in the Top 100. Larsson, ranked No. 81, made a name for herself last year in Paris when she upset Ana Ivanovic in the first round but hasn’t had a great 2012.
No. 6 Samantha Stosur vs. Elena Baltacha (1st match, Chatrier): For the second year in a row, Stosur will open up on Chatrier, and hopefully the stands won’t be as empty as they were last year. In some ways, that’s how Stosur likes it. She doesn’t mind doing her hard work outside of the spotlight, and this year, with all the attention on top five, Stosur might just be able to work through her draw without anyone noticing, not unlike how she did in New York last year. She’ll begin her Roland Garros campaign against Britain’s No. 1., who won’t have the firepower to handle Stosur’s heavy pace and topspin off the ground.
No. 9 Juan Martin del Potro vs. Albert Montanes (2nd match, Chatrier): Not too many people are picking Del Potro as a dark horse this year, and the usual hype surrounding him going into a Slam has deadened. He’s still posting solid results, but have tennis fans and pundits fallen out of love with the Argentine? He’s still the only man outside of the top three to win a Slam in 5,000 years (fact check: since 2005). Del Potro’s game lacks that little extra pop these days, and whether that’s a strength, technique or confidence issue is unclear. But the weather in Paris on Sunday should be hot, and that means the courts will be playing quite fast. I’m curious to see if that helps him.
Courtney’s pet picks: Kuznetsova vs. Lucic (first match, Lenglen), Ivanovic vs. Arruabarrena-Vecino (third match, Lenglen), Pospisil vs. Roger-Vassellin (second match, Court 2), Glatch vs. Tathishvili (fourth match, Court 3),