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French Open 2020: Damp Conditions, Heavier Balls, Throw New Challenges for Players; Serena Williams Pulls Out

From switching to the use of a heavier ball to dealing with drizzly September weather players are struggling to adapt to the new conditions at the French Open. A combination of factors have led to an increase in match time for players in the opening rounds increasing fears of player burnout and injuries in the latter stages of the tournament.
Lorenzo Giustino of Italy at the French Open

Some players have likened playing on the clay court at the French Open in moist conditions to playing on quicksand.

The French Open is turning out to be a very challenging one for players, even for clay court specialists known to think of this tournament as their personal fiefdom. The tournament is usually scheduled for May and June, and the moist weather conditions in Paris in the month have introduced fresh variables for everyone.

While a host of big names have deigned to play in Paris due to the pandemic and travel protocols between countries, those that did, have their own suffering to deal with. In a huge blow to the tournament, Serena Williams chasing her record equalling 24th Grand Slam withdrew from the tournament due to an achilles injury. WIlliams had brushed aside compatriot Kristie Ahn in straight sets in the first round, but the effects of back to back Grand Slams, with little break — and the physically draining conditions in Paris — added to what seems to be an injury that will keep her out for the rest of the year. “I felt like I needed to walk with a limp,” Williams said, announcing her withdrawal. “I had to focus on walking straight," 

This may well be the first of many injuries to come this fortnight. The matches have been uncharacteristically long in the opening rounds of the Grand Slam. Six first round matches in the men’s segment went over the four-hour mark, while one touched six hours — the tussle between Lorenzo Giustino and Corentin Moutet. The Italian eventually won after sealing the fifth set 18-16. Juan Ignacio Londero played against Federico Delbonis for almost five hours in their all-Argentine first round with Londero ultimately winning 14-12 in the decider. 

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In the women’s side of the draw, four first round matches went past two and a half hours. Spaniard Garbine Muguruza beat Tamara Zidansek by 7-5, 4-6, 8-6 in over three hours. 

It is clear that the use of heavier balls, and the weather conditions in the city have forced the matches into longer slugfests, posing a huge strain on players bodies. As the tournament progresses, there runs the risk of injuries through fatigue or even player breakdowns.

This has also brought out the old question as to why the French Open remains the only Grand Slam to not use a tiebreaker in the final set. 

“I think it’s good to have some sort of limit on it,” South Africa’s Kevin Anderson said after his first-round win against Laslo Djere on Tuesday. “I would definitely encourage the French Open to do that.” 

Karolina Pliskova, who took more than two hours to beat Mayar Sherif also feels that there should be a tiebreaker at the French Open. “If it’s 10-10, or something like that,” she said. “I think tiebreaks would be brutal but, yeah, it’s how it is.”

Russian Andrey Rublev struggled to defeat Sam Querrey on Tuesday, eventually sealing it in the decider. He, however, had a different take on the tie-breaker issue.

“In my opinion, they shouldn’t do tiebreak [for] fifth,” he told reporters. “These matches, it’s something that you will remember, something that makes you understand why you worked so hard, doing all the tough exercises.

“They make you feel even more proud of yourself,” he added. 

Djokovic in Round 2

Novak Djokovic entered the second round of the French Open beating Mikael Ymer in straight sets 6-0, 6-2, 6-3. This was Djokovic’s 32nd victory in 33 matches this year.

“It’s always a pleasure to return to Paris on Philippe Chatrier, this important court. The atmosphere is a little different this year with few fans but I remain motivated to win the title,” said Djokovic, one of only two men who have defeated 12-time champion Rafael Nadal in 15 years in Paris.

Ymer, who made his fourth main draw appearance in the tournament, said, "It felt like when a snake kills its prey.” 

"I had chances to rally but then I got suffocated,” he added. 

Bautista Agut Beats Gasquet

Roberto Bautista Agut defeated Richard Gasquet 7-6 (5), 6-2, 6-1 after recovering from a slow start and entered the second round. 

Gasquet raced to a 5-2 lead with three breaks of serve in the opening set but Bautista Agut recouped and got back into it, forcing a tiebreak. He then sealed the opening set after a series of errors by Gasquet.

The match was over in under two hours as Gasquet’s game fell apart following the opening set loss. Bautista Agut will face Hungarian Attila Balazs in the second round.

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