World No 1 Angelique Kerber crashes out of French Open

The French Open was not a day old by the time that Dan Evans had proved beyond doubt that his relationship with clay court tennis is fractious and Angelique Kerber proved that her relationship with success is fragile.
Angelique Kerber stretches for the ball during her defeat by Ekaterina Makarova at the French Open. Picture: AFP/Getty ImagesAngelique Kerber stretches for the ball during her defeat by Ekaterina Makarova at the French Open. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Angelique Kerber stretches for the ball during her defeat by Ekaterina Makarova at the French Open. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

Neither of them will trouble the match schedulers again during the tournament. Evans was sent home by Tommy Robredo 5-7, 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 and world No 1 Kerber was dismissed by Ekaterina Makarova 6-2, 6-2.

The fates do seem to be trying to tell Robredo something. The 35-year-old Spaniard was once ranked as high as No 5 in the world but that was 11 years ago. Since then, he has become a regular fixture at the hospital (rumours that he has a loyalty card with his local A&E remain unfounded) needing foot surgery this year, elbow surgery last year, treatment for leg and foot problems two years ago, help with a leg injury in 2013, leg surgery in 2012 and therapy for back problems in 2010.

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But on the rare occasions that he has been able to keep all his working parts in order, Robredo has shown that there is life in the old battler yet. And yesterday was one of those occasions.

Evans did not play badly in the first set but as Robredo warmed to his task – the thermometer was stuck in the 30s so it was hard for him to do anything else – so Evans faded away. A double fault (it was his 10th) on match point summed up his afternoon.

Kerber did manage to make a little history with her loss – she became only the first women’s top seed to lose in the first round at Roland Garros in the Open era.

Her humiliation took just 82 minutes and while losing to Makarova is no disgrace – the world No 40 is a vastly experienced and talented campaigner – it was yet another early exit to add to the list this season.

A year ago, Kerber was the champion of the Australian and US Opens, she reached the final of Wimbledon and she elbowed Serena Williams out of the No1 spot. Coming back to do it all again, she has been weighed down by expectation and hogtied by pressure. Now she is the world No1, she is supposed to be good in every match, every week. And it’s harder than it looks.

“This year, I mean, the expectations are much bigger, especially in the big tournaments and the grand slams,” she said, sadly. “And the expectations are also from me really big, of course, because I know what I can do, what I did last year.”

Slightly more alarming was her assessment of what was wrong – this was no small matter that needed just a minor tweak to correct it.

“Fitness-wise is when you are not moving so good,” she began. “Then it’s, of course, technical. You’re 
always too slow to the balls, and 
mentally, as well. I mean, if you are losing a lot of first rounds now, especially on clay, which is not my best surface, the confidence is not there.”

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It was not so much confidence that saw Petra Kvitova through her first match in almost six months as sheer, unadulterated joy. Kvitova was attacked in her apartment just before Christmas – a burglar tricked his way into her home and then held a knife to her throat. As she struggled to get free, she grabbed the knife and suffered cuts to her racket hand.

At the time, her surgeon doubted that Kvitova would ever play again but, as she said, “I’m happy that I like challenges.”

The plan has been to try and come back in time for Wimbledon, but that date was brought forward by a month and yesterday she flattened Julia Boserup, the world No 86 from the United States, 6-3, 6-2 in 74 minutes.

She hit 31 clean winners, she cracked down nine aces and she generally looked like she had never been away. Just getting to Roland Garros was an achievement in itself; everything else that came with it was just jam on top. “I think I came here as a winner already,” Kvitova said. “The first point was amazing.

“I surprised myself like with the forehand winner straightaway. I’m glad it’s still there, still in the mind, still in the hand.”