Previewing Australia’s French Open Contingent

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This week’s French Open marks a welcome return to tennis in Australia’s mainstream media, with 12 Australians in the main draw, the biggest contingent since 1999.

For the last two weeks the excitement at the prospect of so many Aussies running around Roland Garros has been building, although it is unlikely an Australian will win the title. Even so, it’s encouraging to see so many Australians in the French capital and suggests a healthy future for the sport in the land down under.

On the men’s side, Bernard Tomic is Australia’s highest ranked male player and is seeded 27. He’ll meet Italian qualifier Luca Vanni in the first round.

So much is said of Tomic. He really is the epitome of the boy who cried wolf. He tanks when he should knuckle down and get on with it and when he gets on with it, he plays through injury, leading to him retiring from matches, and leaves us all wondering if it’s real or not.

Tomic has not had an ideal preparation leading into the French Open. He pulled out of Nice last week citing a virus, which naturally led to speculation as to whether it was a real injury. For the record, I think he was genuine and wouldn’t jeopardize his French Open preparations. If he gets through his opening match he’s projected to meet Djokovic in the third round. He could also be in an all-Australian affair in round two if he and Thanasi Kokkinakis win their respective opening encounters.

Nick Kyrgios, Australia’s rising star, will be entering a Grand Slam as a seed for the first time. He’s seeded 29 in what could be a fascinating tournament for him. Kyrgios loves spectacle. He is a born showman and he thrives on the big stage. As the underdog, who isn’t expected to win, he shines in the bright lights of upsetting his elders.

What will be interesting to see is how he copes with the pressure of being seeded. Seeds are expected to get through their early rounds. By rights, they should be playing players beneath them, but what happens when you go from being the underdog, to the top dog? How does your mentality change when you are now expected to win?

We wait with baited breath to see how Kyrgios takes up this challenge. His preparations have been interrupted by an elbow injury but he did defeat Roger Federer earlier this month in Madrid. Kyrgios promises to beat players he shouldn’t. What happens to this magic formula once you put add a seeding remains to be seen. He also reached his first ATP final in Estoril this spring on clay.

Australia’s recipient of the reciprocal wildcard, Thanasi Kokkinakis, will meet qualifier Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia in the first round. The South Australian is coming off winning his first ATP Challenger event in Bordeaux, raising his ranking to a career high of 83. It should be interesting to see how far he can go in Paris.

Sam Groth will have a tough opener against the 21st seed, Pablo Cuevas of Argentina in his first appearance at the French Open. Equally, Marinko Matosevic will face off against the in-form Thomaz Bellucci. Belluci is contesting his first World Tour final in just over two years in Geneva this weekend. James Duckworth may fare a little better against qualifier, Andrea Arnaboldi of Italy. Duckworth comes off a quarterfinal result in Nice.

On the women’s side, it’s hard to believe it’s been five years since Sam Stosur made the finals at Roland Garros. The Queenslander, who is often criticized for on-court mental lapses, has no easy path in Paris this year.

She will meet American Madison Brengle in the opening round with a likely third round meeting with defending champion, Maria Sharapova, if she gets that far.

Stosur’s preparations for Roland Garros have been solid. This weekend she meets Kristina Mladenovic in the final of the WTA Internationaux de Strasbourg after a promising week of tennis. On her way to the final, she defeated fellow Australian Ajla Tomljanovic 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, in a two hour, three set thriller. She next defeated American Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 on her the way to the final. Whatever the outcome of the final, Stosur should arrive in Paris feeling confident.

The draw Gods, however, have not looked favourably on Australian tennis fans, with West Australian, Casey Dellacqua meeting Croatian born, Alja Tomljanovic in the first round. Dellacqua had such a great season last year, but she hasn’t been able to recapture that form.

On the other side of the net will be Ajla Tomljanovic who has had a solid lead up to Paris. She went down to Sam Stosur on Thursday in Strasbourg, but not before serving 14 aces in an exciting three set encounter.

The Grand Slams give Australia two extra players as Tomljanovic and Russian born Daria Gavrilova are able to compete as Australians while they await their Australian citizenship.

Gavrilova will meet Swede Johanna Larsson in her first round encounter and she too is coming in off a positive clay court preparation. Gavrilova came through qualifying to win six matches in a row at Rome. Included in this was a win over Ana Ivanovic before eventual Rome champion, Maria Sharapova, ended her run. Her week in Rome put her ranking in the top 50.

Jamila Gajdosova will meet Frenchwoman, Amandine Hesse in her first round match and a win could set her up to meet Sam Stosur in the second round.

Some may question Tennis Australia’s decision to not award a reciprocal wild card to a female player, especially in light of Olivia Rogowska and Anastasia Rodionova’s week in qualifying. Sadly, only Rogowska has made it to the main draw defeating Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia 3-6, 7-5(5), 6-3. Rodionova lost in a heartbreaking three setter to Czech Andrea Hlavackova in the final round.

It’s unlikely an Australian will make it far into the second week at Roland Garros, but having a healthy contingent on the start line gives fans of Australian tennis hope for a bright future.

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