In a battle of the former French Open champions, it was fourth seed Garbiñe Muguruza who made a winning return to the Parisian red clay with an impressive 6-2, 6-4 victory over the resurgent Francesca Schiavone to kick off her title defence.
Magnificent Muguruza Moves a Set Clear
12 months on from her historic triumph on Court Philippe Chatrier, Muguruza returned to the Stade Roland Garros ready to pick up where she left off, and it showed as she surged ahead by a double break over her Italian counterpart, who was playing in her final French Open. Despite an immediate fightback from Schiavone to reclaim one of the breaks, it was all-business-like for Muguruza who held onto her single-break advantage before claiming a second to establish a commanding 5-2. From there, the defending champion didn’t blink, serving out the set at love in 42 minutes.
Muguruza Moves On, Bids Farewell to ‘Spectacular’ Schiavone
The second set was a different story as Schiavone would be the one to go on the offensive after falling behind by yet another break, reeling off three games in a row from 0-2 down to assert herself with some of the trademark aggressive tennis that won her the championship a long seven years ago.
Muguruza, however, seemed to have an answer to Schiavone’s refreshing onslaught, managing to stay with Schiavone before pulling away in the ninth game, with the help of a perfectly threaded backhand passing shot into the open space. Tasked with the job to serve it out right then and there, the Spaniard had her fair share of struggles before finally being able to get over the line, converting her fourth match point as Schiavone’s forehand volley slipped into the tramlines, thus sealing the victory in an hour and 33 minutes.
“I'm happy that I managed to play, to be kind of composed out there,” Muguruza said in her post-match press conference. “I wasn't sure how I was going to react again on the centre court, playing against an ex-champ.”
In addition to speaking of the difficulty of the matchup, Muguruza spoke of the retiring Schiavone. “She has been on tour for such a long time, when I look back on some videos, I heard her name since I’m... I don’t know how old. She’s fitter than most of the players,” she said.
“I don’t see myself playing at 36! She has a spectacular body to be able to do that.”
Stats Corner: Solid Start for the Defending Champion
Beginning the defence of her 2016 title against a very tricky first-round opponent, Muguruza impressed throughout in all areas, particularly on her serve, and the numbers sure don’t lie. From the service line, the fourth-seeded Spaniard maintained a high 68 percent first-serve percentage, winning 62 percent of the points behind her first delivery and an even more impressive 72 percent on her second.
From the ground, Muguruza picked her times to attack well, maintaining a healthy 17-16 winner-to-unforced-error differential while Schiavone ended with a differential of -5 (16-21). Perhaps the most troubling thing on this day for the Italian was her serve, as she won just 42 percent of her service points throughout the match, but she has plenty to be proud of for the way she responded midway through the match.
Next Up for Muguruza: Kontaveit
Awaiting the defending champion in the second round is dangerous Estonian qualifier Anett Kontaveit, who earned her 30th win of the year in her opening-round win over Romanian Monica Niculescu just moments before Muguruza earned just her 18th. The pair has split their first two meetings, with Kontaveit winning their most recent three-set battle in Stuttgart five weeks ago.