America’s last survivor in the French Open singles, Varvara Lepchenko can blame Maria Sharapova for having her match against Petra Kvitova moved from the splendor of the Philippe Chatrier Center Court to the little No. 1 Court at Roland Garros. But perhaps it was just as well.
After a very good French Open, in which she raised her level and did her new country proud, Lepchenko was crushed by the Wimbledon champion 6-2, 6-1 Monday in exactly one hour.
But at least that was not as a severe a beating as Rafael Nadal inflicted on Juan Monaco. The Argentine is a really top-class clay-court player, but he walked off Court Suzanne Lenglen in a bit of a daze, having been hammered 6-2, 6-0, 6-0. From down 2-1 in the first set, Nadal reeled off 17 straight games. The King of Clay has rarely been more devastatingly effective.
Andy Murray also showed his ruthless streak after losing the first set easily to Richard Gasquet. Despite feeling twinges in his lower back — a problem that almost caused him to default in the second round — Murray loosened up and produced some brilliant tennis to win 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2. By the time Murray had hit Gasquet with a series of winning lobs, feathery drop shots and pinpoint passing shots, even the small element of the crowd who had booed him as he walked on court had fallen silent.
Earlier, the Parisian fans had been a lot happier, despite the cold, miserable weather. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga returned to resume his interrupted match against Stan Wawrinka and won 6-4, 7-6 (6), 3-6, 3-6, 6-4 despite dropping serve in the first game played Monday at 4-2 up in the fifth.
“I had a thousand questions in my head all morning, and it was a bit of a nightmare until I hit the first ball,” said Tsonga, who had never reached the quarterfinal at Roland Garros before. “I really wanted to win that match. It was very difficult.”
After Tsonga had done his victory dance, Sharapova appeared and proceeded to occupy Center Court for 3 hours, 11 minutes as she tried to wear down the dogged resistance of the Czech Klara Zakopalova for a 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2 victory. The conditions were heavy and awkward with a cold wind swirling around the court, but, even so, 21 breaks against serve seemed excessive.
But it was always exciting, with Sharapova managing to win one shot off her forehand in the act of falling flat on her back and ending up with her legs in the air. Then she lost a point she should have won by signaling one of Zakopalova’s shots wide even though she went on to hit a winner. The umpire took the point away from her for interference.
It is not, apparently, much use in trying to follow what Sharapova is doing out there.
"I’m useless at game plans,” Sharapova said with a laugh. “That’s probably the one thing he (Thomas Hogstedt) gets so frustrated with me about. I go out there and do my own thing and after the match he’s like ‘Really? What’s the point of having me?’ But I apologized in advance when I hired him, so he’s OK.”
So by the time Sharapova worked it all out and Murray and Gasquet were into their match, it was obvious Kvitova and Lepchenko would have to be moved.
“I was a little disappointed because I have never played on Chatrier,” Lepchenko admitted. “But I don’t know the real reason I felt so flat. Maybe the cold. I was just rushing too much. I am disappointed the way I played. I have to figure out a way not to have these letdowns after playing well. I know what I’m capable of, and I’ll be pushing myself to do even better now.”
Lepchenko, who was born in Uzbekistan but became a naturalized US citizen last September after living in the States for many years, was thrilled to hear that she has almost certainly qualified for the Olympics Games in London.
“Back in Tashkent, I used to dream of the Olympics, and now I’m not only playing in them but I’m playing for the USA," she said. "Right now, I’m sad at losing but so excited, too — a real mix of emotions.”
Lepchenko was one of two US women, along with Sloane Stephens, to get as far as the fourth round at Roland Garros. No US men reached the third round. The US women started the tournament with 10 straight victories, but they were 5-12 thereafter.