Monday, May 25, 2009
Americans appreciably better in Day 2
By Greg Garber ESPN.com
PARIS -- It's hard to believe, but Venus Williams has been coming to Roland Garros for 13 years now. In the midst of this undeniably fallow period for Americans at Roland Garros, there is some comfort in that.
Venus Williams has not advanced past the third round of the French Open since 2006.
She may not move on the red clay with the sure footing that has brought her five titles on the grass at Wimbledon, but Williams grinds and grinds, and in a dozen French Opens, she has failed to win at least two matches only twice.
On Monday, Venus played a predictable opening-round match against fellow American Bethanie Mattek-Sands -- predictable for the Williams sisters in the first round of a Grand Slam. After rolling through the first set, winning six of seven games, she briefly imploded, losing the second set before finding equilibrium and winning the match 6-1, 4-6, 6-2.
"I'm definitely a third-set person," Venus said later. "Once I get to the third set, I feel a new level coming."
She has now won 36 of 48 matches here at Roland Garros, a tidy .750 winning percentage on the surface that least suits her game. She and her younger sister, Serena, in opposite sides of the draw, are the most likely candidates to be the last American standing when Week 2 rolls around.
"We don't have a lot of players, but we do have good players -- Serena and I, obviously," Venus said. "It would be exciting to see more champions on the horizon, but we just have to hang in there."
On the opening day, Americans lost four of their five singles matches. Monday was appreciably better. No fewer than four players from the United States -- three of them women -- were victorious.
Andy Roddick, the No. 6 seed, defeated French wild card Romain Jouan 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 in a tidy 93 minutes. Meanwhile, Alex Glatch dispatched Flavia Pennetta 6-1, 6-1, and 34-year-old Jill Craybas handled Tsvetana Pironkova 7-5, 6-2 to reach the second round here for the third time in her career.
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Robby Ginepri, who lasted the longest among Americans a year ago, reaching the fourth round, lost in straight sets to Pablo Andujar, and Kevin Kim lost to Robin Soderling, also in straights.
In recent years, Americans have been famously resistant to the clay here at Roland Garros. It's been a decade since Andre Agassi collected the 1999 title and seven years since Serena Williams won it. While the Williams sisters have combined to win the last three Grand Slam titles, 21 majors have transpired since Roddick won the U.S. Open in 2003.
Roddick, for one, is tried of hearing about American failures in Paris.
"I don't know if you can generalize why you don't do well," Roddick said. "All of these kind of theories on what you're supposed to be better, you're never going to build your game around the worst part of your season. That just doesn't make sense.
Andy Roddick committed a measly eight unforced errors in a convincing first-round win in Paris.
"It's amazing, because you never hear a story of a clay-court specialist -- why don't you prepare and play better on grass? I've never once read that story in my life."
There may be more good news to come on the women's side.
Without help from the Williams sisters, the Fed Cup team captained by Mary Joe Fernandez is headed to the November final in Italy. Terrific performances by young players like Melanie Oudin and Alexa Glatch have set the table for a possible victory -- perhaps fueled by the Williams sisters.
"We both really want to play, but once we give our word we want to keep it," Venus said. "Being at the end of the season is tough, and we both obviously expect to be playing in the [year-end] championships."
What would prevent them from playing?
"If it wasn't a good decision for me -- or I was injured," Venus said. "But you can't predict if you're going to be injured."
Craybas said that the criticism of American tennis has been a rallying point for the women.
"There's been so much down-on-America stuff that we've been feeding on it -- in a positive way. We'd all like to play in Italy, but [the Williamses] are the highest-ranked players.
"We'd love to have them play."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.