Shock! French Open in chaos after No. 1 Kerber becomes first top seed ever ousted in first round
With Serena Williams out, Maria Sharapova banned, many top players struggling in 2017 and other top players battling injuries, this year’s French Open was expected to be one of the wildest Grand Slams in recent memory, a tournament that would see top seeds lose early in the first week, unknowns push deep into the event and, perhaps, any of 40 different women holding up the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen two Sundays from now. The draw was thought to be as wide open as ever. And it took about 83 minutes for that prophecy to become true.
Less than two hours into the year’s second Grand Slam, the women’s draw was thrown into chaos when top seed Angelique Kerber was ousted from the tournament, falling to Russsia’s Ekaterina Makarova in two quick sets, 6-2, 6-2. Almost as if to ratchet up the chaos a little more – no woman has ever lost in the first round of the French as a No. 1 seed. (On the men’s side, a top seed has only been bounced once from the opening round of Roland Garros – Stefan Edberg also suffered the embarrassment in 1990. And if you recall five years ago when Serena Williams lost to Virginie Razzano in one of the biggest upsets in Slam history which then catapulted Serena into one of the great runs ever — Serena was only a No. 5 seed that year, not No. 1.)
But while Edberg’s and Serena’s loss was a drop-your-jaw, widen-your-eyes, honest-to-God shocker — this? This barely felt like an upset. The biggest surprise was how unsurprising it was. Makaraova controlled the match from the outset, breaking Kerber in her first service game and only losing five points on her serve, before a marathon hold at 5-2 gave her the first set. The second was a lot like the first, with Kerber broken in the opening game but, this time, losing every serve. In what ended up being the final game, Makarova had to save multiple break points and come back from a 0-40 deficit to take the match in a brisk 83 minutes.
Kerber is a woeful 19-13 in 2017, struggled in the big, early-season hard-court events and then was barely able to get any clay-court match experience after going 2-4 on the surface entering Roland Garros. The German’s reign at No. 1 has been so mediocre that she actually lost the top spot earlier this spring to Serena Williams, who had been out of the sport for months, pregnant with her first child. Those struggles, coupled with a tough draw in Makaraova, a player who was ranked as high as No. 8 just two years ago but has struggled over the last 52 weeks, falling to No. 40 in the rankings despite fourth-round appearances at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, were enough to send the first big name of the tournament packing before the red clay even had a chance to dry.
Already the implications of Kerber’s exit are resonating on the top quarter of the women’s draw. With Kerber out, the race for the section’s quarterfinal bid is every bit a wacky as was expected. You could see Olympic champion Monica Puig (a lowly 15-17 since Rio), Sam Stosur (a former Grand Slam champ who’s made it past the fourth round in just one of her last 17 majors), maybe a qualifier such as Bethanie Mattek-Sands (the veteran American who had to win three matches to get into the tournament but has as reasonable a chance as any to emerge from this 16-woman grouping) or the sentimental favorite in two-time major champion Petra Kvitova, who stunned everybody by announcing her return to tennis just two days ago, about a month ahead of schedule, following her December stabbing that kept her out of the game. She won her first match 6-3, 6-2 and looked like the Petra of old. Is Kerber’s loss her gain?
Regardless, a tournament believed to be up-for-grabs became so less than two hours after the first ball. And the carnage is only just beginning.