PARIS — A year after stunning the tennis world by winning the French Open for her initial tour-level title, Jelena Ostapenko is again in rare company: a first-round loser as the defending champion at a Grand Slam tournament.
Something even more unusual happened at Roland Garros, too: Venus Williams was beaten in her opening match at a second consecutive major, the only time in her lengthy, distinguished career she’s had such early back-to-back exits.
All in all, it was quite a Day 1 at the only Grand Slam site that gets things started on a Sunday. There already is certain to be at least one first-time French Open finalist, because 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone and 2012 runner-up Sara Errani joined 2017 champ Ostapenko and 2002 runner-up Williams on the way out of the bottom half of the draw.
Ostapenko’s high-risk game produced far fewer rewards than problems, with 48 unforced errors to only 22 winners as she bowed out to 67th-ranked Kateryna Kozlova of Ukraine 7-5, 6-3 at Court Philippe Chatrier. Over at Court Suzanne Lenglen, things went similarly for Williams, a seven-time major champion, who had 21 more unforced errors than her opponent in a 6-4, 7-5 loss to 85th-ranked Wang Qiang of China.
“Terrible day at the office today for me. I mean, in general, I played maybe, like, 20 percent of what I can play. Made like 50 unforced errors and so many double-faults. Like, couldn’t serve today,” Ostapenko said. “I had this unbelievable pressure. I felt that I’m not myself.”
She is only the second reigning women’s champion to exit in the first round of the French Open a year later — it happened to 2005 winner Anastasia Myskina, too — and only the sixth at any major tournament in the professional era.
Errani lost to 32nd-seeded Alize Cornet of France 2-6, 6-2, 6-3, while Schiavone was beaten by Viktoria Kuzmova 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2). Also out of that half of the draw: No. 22 Johanna Konta of Britain, a 6-4, 6-3 loser against Yulia Putintseva.
All seeded men in action won, including No. 2 Alexander Zverev and No. 4 Grigor Dimitrov, who eliminated Mohamed Safwat, the seventh “lucky loser” to make it into the draw and the first man from Egypt to play in a Grand Slam tournament in 22 years.
In 2017, ranked only 47th and 20 years old, Ostapenko became the first woman since 1979 to win her initial tour-level trophy at a Grand Slam tournament.
But the fifth-seeded Latvian has had a rough road this season: Her record is just 12-12.
Kozlova, meanwhile, is 24 and arrived at Roland Garros with an even worse mark for 2018 — 4-6. She wasn’t even sure a couple of months ago whether she could participate in the French Open, because she damaged knee cartilage and resumed practicing for about 15 minutes at a time in April.
“I didn’t expect anything from this match,” said Kozlova, who never had beaten someone ranked in the top 30 and was 1-6 in Grand Slam play before Sunday.
She is now 3-0 against Ostapenko, however.
Ostapenko was largely her own undoing. She allowed her opponent to convert 7 of 16 break points, including when a backhand landed in the net to end the match after about 1½ hours. Moments later, Ostapenko was gone, swiftly heading to the locker room. She raised her left hand to acknowledge the crowd’s applause but she kept her eyes focused on the ground as she walked off.
“Any player who could hit, like, five shots back, I think, probably could beat me today, because I didn’t really play well,” said Ostapenko, who complained about limited preparation ahead of Roland Garros because of a leg injury suffered at the Italian Open this month.
“And didn’t really matter who was on the other side,” Ostapenko added, “because she was just waiting for me to miss.”
Kozlova stayed steady despite the enormity of the moment and while dealing with a blister on the back of her right foot. She was treated by a trainer during a medical timeout after the first set.
“Actually, I have three blisters, but one was the worst, with blood,” Kozlova said afterward. “When you are playing the match, sometimes you are not feeling the pain. … I tried to stay focused.”
Williams appeared to be getting back into her match when she grabbed a 3-0 lead in the second set. But she immediately gave away that edge and kept missing shots this way and that.
“I like to think,” she said, “that I win all my matches if I’m playing well.”
On this day, she was not. Nor was Ostapenko. And both already are gone from the French Open, just as things were getting started.
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