Tennis

American women steal show on Day 2

Lauren Davis
Lauren Davis is one of 10 US women to advance to the second round of the French Open.
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Richard Evans

Richard Evans has covered tennis since the 1960s, reporting on more than 150 Grand Slams. He is author of 15 books, including the official history of the Davis Cup and the unofficial history of the modern game in "Open Tennis." Follow him on Twitter.

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PARIS

Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer moved into the second round of the French Open without mishap. No surprise there, but how about six American women?

Without getting carried away, because this is, after all, just the first round, such across-the-board success made it a memorable Memorial Day for American tennis in Paris.

Apart from headliner Lauren Davis, who scored a barely believable 6-1, 6-1 victory over talented, young German Mona Barthel, there were solid and slightly surprising victories Monday for Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Vania King, Sloane Stephens, Varvara Lepchenko and Christina McHale. In all, there are 12 US women in the draw, and 10 have won while Serena Williams and Jamie Hampton are scheduled for first-round matches on Tuesday. This hasn’t happened in a while.

2012 French Open

2012 French Open

Just to add to the little green shoots of optimism that are appearing, many of the winners are still in the early stages of their career and beat higher-ranked opposition. Stephens scored a particularly impressive 6-4, 7-6 victory over the experienced Russian Ekaterina Makarova. Stephens is 19 and is ranked 70. Makarova is four years older and ranked 38.

King beat Galina Voskoboeva of Kazakstan, who, at No. 49, is ranked eight places higher. King, 23, was four years younger than her opponent.

McHale, who battled to a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over the Dutch player Kiki Bertens, did not fit the mold in that she is considerably higher ranked (36 to 91) than her opponent. Nevertheless, this is red European clay and Bertens looked far more at ease on the surface at the start before McHale wore her down.

Mattek-Sands, ranked 167th, had to overcome the biggest negative ranking differential when she faced the talented German Sabine Lisicki who is the 13th-ranked player in the world. But Mattek-Sands came through in style 6-4, 6-3.

Earlier in the day, on Court Three, which is to be found in a far-flung corner of the Roland Garros complex, Davis scored the best win of her career over another German, Barthel, who is considered the most naturally gifted of a group of young emerging players from the nation of Steffi Graf. Davis, who packs a punch off her double-fisted backhand despite her diminutive height of 5-foot-2, knew that hanging around behind the baseline against a big ball striker like Barthel wasn’t going to work.

“She wins a lot of matches in the smaller tournaments by grinding it out,” said John Evert, Chris Evert's brother, who has been overseeing Davis' development at the Evert Academy in Boca Raton, Fla. “But we knew she would have to take it to Barthel and knock her out of her rhythm,”

The tactic worked from the get-go. Having seized the initiative, Davis never let go. The German was in such a state by the end that she served four double faults in the penultimate game as she tried to make the lopsided score line look more respectable.

“I’ve seen her play on TV,” said Davis with all the wide-eyed wonder of the 18-year-old that she is. “I mean, she’s 13 in the world. She’s a really good player. Her backhand is so sick, I tried to keep away from it. I have a lot of confidence right now — probably my biggest win.”

Asked to define herself, Davis said: “I have a lot of heart. I have so much passion for the game. I love playing. I’m tough mentally.”

Davis is obviously helped by her environment.

“I’ve been there two years,” she said of the Evert Academy. “It’s basically my home. I love it. It’s like my family there. Everybody’s so supportive and so loving. I fit in perfectly.”

The good thing — for two players, at least — is that the US is guaranteed two players in the third round because their are two all-American matches in the second round. Davis will take on McHale, and Mattek-Sands will play Stephens.

With his victory over the German player Tobias Kamke, Federer tied Jimmy Connors for the record number of Grand Slam victories, 233.

“It’s a huge record, me making it,” said Federer. “I had not realized. But I’m very happy because Jimmy Connors was a huge champion — still is.”

Federer’s performance against the hard-hitting Kamke was far from perfect but, despite trailing 2-4 in the second set, he was never in danger and came through 6-2, 7-5, 6-3.

“I had a bit of ups and downs on my serve,” Federer said. “And today I was sometimes taking the wrong decisions, and that creates errors. But, overall, I’m happy I’m through. Sometimes, you have to come through when you are not playing your very best.”

Djokovic, the world No. 1, is searching for the only Grand Slam event title he has never won. He was made to work hard in the first set by the experienced Italian Potito Starace but came through unscathed 7-6, 6-3, 6-1. There were no problems for American John Isner, who blasted his way past a Brazilian baseliner, Rogerio Dutra Silva, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.
 

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