The big shocks at Roland Garros so far
The Roland Garros website describes the famous red clay playing surface as "the most physically demanding and the most subtle in terms of technique."
It credits the dirt as why the French Open was always the toughest tournament to dominate for any length of time (until a certain Spaniard came along).
The French organisers pride themselves on the fact that a clay court is a leveller & it gives the less talented a chance of victory against the best.
As true with any sport, everyone loves a shock, & you'll often find in tennis the lower-ranked player courting the backing of the crowd unless they are playing a home favourite.
And the first week in Paris has been no different, with seeds falling on both the men's and women's side of the draws.
Here, we take a look at those who arrived expecting so much, be achieving so little.
Dominic Thiem - beaten by Pablo Andujar 4-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.
It's fair to say, Austria's Dominic Thiem hasn't had a good year so far. In fact, ever since he won his maiden Grand Slam title at last years US Open, things just haven't gone his way. An early exit at the Australian Open in February, followed by Thiem opting to sit out Miami to focus on the clay-court season. And a run to the semi-finals on his return in Madrid had Thiem fans hopeful that momentum was building ahead of Roland Garros. But the last 16 defeats to Lorenzo Sonego in Rome and Cam Norrie in Lyon put paid to any thoughts that Thiem was in any form to make a serious challenge at the French. And so it proved for the two-time finalist in his first-round match against Spanish veteran Pablo Andujar. The Austrian blew a two-set lead against the 35-year-old Andujar in a contest lasting almost four-and-a-half hours on Court Philippe Chatrier. It was the first time in his 17-year career that Andujar had come from two sets behind to win and opened up the bottom half of the draw as the big three sat in the other half.
Hubert Hurkacz - beaten by Botic van de Zandschulp 6-7, 6-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.
There have been four ATP Masters 1000 events played so far in 2021 & Polish world no. 20 claimed one of these titles in Miami. That win was Hurkacz's second of the year after lifting the trophy at the Delray Beach Open & it's the reason his defeat to Dutch qualifier Botic van de Zandschulp came as a bit of a surprise. Hurkacz's two titles came on the hardcourt & his form on the clay has been patchy at best. But you still thought he would have had enough to overcome world no. 154 van de Zandschulp. Just like Thiem before him, Hurkacz held a two-set lead before the Dutch player hurtled back to win, with Hurkacz only managing to win six more cames for the rest of the match.
David Goffin - beaten by Lorenzo Musetti 6-0, 7-5, 7-6.
Okay, so this wasn't that much of a shock. But given that Goffin was seeded 13 and Lorenzo Musetti was playing in his first-ever Grand Slam main draw, it was still a bit of an eye-opener. Especially given the one-sidedness of the defeat. There are high hopes for young Italian Musetti, considered the next-gen of the next-gen should the big three ever move aside. Still, Goffin suffered the dreaded bagel here in the first round and never recovered despite pushing Musetti more in the later sets. I hope I'm wrong, but at just 30-years-old it seems that Goffin's best days are behind him after he reached a career-high world no. seven in 2017. With the high standard of players now established on tour, Goffin looks like he may be left behind.
Andrey Rublev - beaten by Jan-Lennard Struff 6-3, 7-6, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4.
Andrey Rublev came into the French Open as one of the men who had beaten Rafa Nadal on clay this year. So he had reason to be optimistic. And he admitted after this shock loss that he had been hitting the ball well on the practice court but that it hadn't transferred over to match form. Rublev had already beaten Jan-Lennard Struff twice this year, including recently on clay in Rome. But he found himself two sets down before mounting a comeback, taking the third and fourth sets. Those watching expected Rublev's quality to ensure he completed the turnaround going into the fifth. Yet it was Struff, showing mental resolve, who completed the job he had started nearly four hours earlier, taking it 6-4 in the deciding set.
Felix Auger-Aliassime - beaten by Andres Seppi 6-3, 7-6, 4-6, 6-4.
It seems that not so long ago, Felix Auger-Aliassime was being touted as THE big hope on the men's tour. But that hope has never fully materialised & now the young Canadian is at a crossroads in his career. Andreas Seppi is 37-years of age and had been concentrating on the challenger tour recently. But he had enough to beat the 20-year-old man from Montreal who recently hooked up with Toni Nadal, Rafa's former coach and famously known as 'Uncle Toni'. But the new relationship hasn't borne any fruits of success as yet, Auger-Aliassime only winning four of the ten matches that his new coach has been in his player box. Worrying times for the youngster.
Roberto Bautista-Agut - beaten by Henri Laaksonen 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Roberto Bautista-Agut is known as 'Mr Consistent', the guy who will always turn up, play his game, and more often than not come away with a win. Despite not renowned for his prowess on clay - surprisingly for a Spaniard - not many predicted he would fall to qualifier Henri Laaksonen. The Swiss world no. 150 has only ever been as high as no. 93, so his win in four sets was a big shock on day four as 'Mr Consistent' had a bad day at the office.
Aslan Karatsev - beaten by Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3, 7-6, 4-6, 6-1.
For much of 2021, Aslan Karatsev, named after the Turkish word for lion, has been the story of the men's game. He was a relative nobody when he started knocking out seeds at the Australian Open to reach the semi-finals. And that was just the beginning. A title on the hardcourt in an ATP 500 in Dubai followed the next month before reaching another final in Belgrade, beating home favourite Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals. He also overcame fellow Russian Daniil Medvedev on clay in Rome and had high hopes for Roland Garros. But it seemed as if the theme of the first few days at the French was shocking the younger, more fancied opponents. After Seppi, Andujar before him, another veteran, 37-year-old Philipp Kohlschreiber, triumphed in three hours and four sets in arguably the shock of the week so far.
Casper Ruud - beaten by Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 7-6, 2-6, 7-6, 0-6, 7-5.
This contest turned out to be one of the matches of the first week. It was a draining five-setter, had a bit of needle, a high break of serve rate and some ferocious rallies. 22-year-old Norwegian Ruud brought with him some fine clay-court form, winning 17 times already on his favoured surface, including a clay title in Geneva and two Masters 1000 semi-finals. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (apparently his name is worth 53 points in scrabble) deservedly through, but Ruud will be devastated he didn't make it into the second week at least, considering the shocks earlier in the week in his half of the draw.
Fabio Fognini - beaten by Federico Delbonis 6-4, 6-1, 6-3.
It tells the story of where Fabio Fognini's tennis is right now that at one point during this match, the Italian had to take a medical time out after punching his racket in frustration. He also wasn't happy with questions regarding the wealth of young Italian talent coming through at the moment following the defeat. It's been a sharp decline in form recently for Fognini, a man who has won big clay-court titles in the past, including the 2019 ATP Masters 1000 in Monte Carlo. In contrast, Federico Delbonis has enjoyed a rich vein of form, reaching the quarter-finals in Rome and the semi-finals in Belgrade. Still a shock, but one many saw coming.