Mixed U.S. results, cancan kick off French Open
Fortnight plus one
PARIS -- Even the most casual of tennis fans can easily identify the distinguishing feature of the French Open. Who wouldn't take notice of players gliding across a terracotta-hued clay court, whose kicked-up dirt creates a swirling cloud and clings to socks as if glue? It's a remarkable sight, as is the chess-like construction of points that is most evident on this surface.
There is another unique feature that separates the French Open from the other three Grand Slams. For the sixth-consecutive year the tournament spans 15 days instead of the usual Grand Slam two-week box office run. Although the extra day has yet to be adopted by the Australian and U.S. Opens, or Wimbledon, the French Tennis Federation (FFT) believes it's a winning policy.
"We believe it works well here in France," said Gilbert Ysern, the French Open Tournament Director and Managing Director of the FFT. "On Sunday, most people don't go to work, so it's a good opportunity to launch the tournament. It's an extra weekend day that we can get more spectators, more TV coverage and more media coverage. We like that and that's the reason for a 15th day."
According to Ysern, Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has been the only player to express annoyance at the new strategy, as had happened last year when the top-ranked French player's requests for a later start date were denied.
This year, players were taking their Sunday start with a fairly indifferent attitude.
"It's just a bit of a different feel, and I guess there's still a lot more people here practicing today than playing matches," said Samantha Stosur, last year's finalist, who won her opening match 6-2, 6-3 over Iveta Benesova. "You've just got to get your head around it."
"It's very weird playing on Sunday," said Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 2009 French Open champion, after posting a 6-2, 6-3 first round win over Magdalena Rybarikova. "And now I have two days off, probably. I don't know how it's going to feel. For me it's first time [playing on the opening Sunday]. But I believe it's more spectators to the Grand Slam so it's more money probably."
Americans in Paris
The French Open is the Grand Slam where the American players usually don't have to unpack and settle in for very long. They come. They play. They lose. They leave. And it's often all said and done before the first week is over.
When the tournament opened Sunday there were 17 Americans on board -- nine women and, with Andy Roddick sidelined by a shoulder injury, eight men.
Four Americans played Sunday, delivering mixed results.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who at No. 34 is the highest ranked American woman in the draw, posted the first victory for the Yanks. It didn't come easily, as she trailed by as much as a set and a service break before posting a 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 win over Arantxa Parra Santonja of Spain. This is the third time Mattek-Sands has reached the French Open second round, which is as far as she's ever gone at the tournament.
As far as Mattek-Sands is concerned, she's game to play on clay or whatever court they put in front of her. That said, she happily weighed in on the American struggles at Roland Garros: "It's tough to say why the Americans haven't done well. I don't know if it's in their head. You know, it's tough, because you play a Spanish player, you play an Italian player, and they play on clay all the time. I don't know if that's kind of psyching themselves out before they even get out on the court. I'd tell them to just go for it. At this point, you really got nothing to lose on the clay."
Joining Mattek-Sands in the second round is Varvara Lepchenko, who upset No. 18 seed Flavia Penetta 6-3, 2-6, 6-3.
Irina Falconi, who spent two years playing at Georgia Tech before joining the pro circuit in 2010, had the unenviable distinction of being the first American to be sent packing. She lost to Gisela Dulko 6-3, 6-4.
Robert Kendrick went down the same path as Falconi, falling to Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-1, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.
Can you cancan?
Bethanie Mattek-Sands delights in every opportunity for a new experience. So it comes as no surprise that a few nights ago she and her hubby, Justin, took in their first show at the Moulin Rouge, where she was afforded the royal treatment.
"I got to go back stage and dress in the costume, I even had feathers in my hair," Mattek-Sands said, laughing. "Then I got to do the cancan with them. It was a very cool experience."
Never bashful, Mattek-Sands was happy to entertain a handful of media by demonstrating her newly acquired cancan technique, showing off some good height on her kick. She elected to skip the Moulin Rouge dancers' trademark full split on the floor, admitting she didn't quite meet the standards.