French Open: Federer living in the moment as Medvedev makes Roland Garros breakthrough

By Sports Desk May 31, 2021

Roger Federer is enjoying the "whole rhythm thing" of playing at a grand slam again but admits he has no idea what he is capable of achieving at the French Open.

The Swiss looked sharp in his first-round match on Monday against Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin, posting a 6-2 6-4 6-3 win – coming through his first match at a major since the 2020 Australian Open and subsequent knee surgery.

It was partly his prowess but perhaps also the shortcomings of Istomin's performance that allowed 2009 champion Federer to put on a show on Court Philippe Chatrier, setting up a clash with a familiar foe in Marin Cilic next.

Federer and Cilic will be going head to head for an 11th time – Federer leads the series 9-1 – and for the first time since the 2018 Australian Open final, which went the way of Basle's 20-time grand slam winner in five sets.

It will be their sixth clash in a slam and at the earliest stage they have encountered each other at a major, with those past tussles also including the 2017 Wimbledon final, when an injury-hampered Cilic lost in straight sets.

Federer spoke after beating Istomin of how it is difficult to gauge what he might go on to manage at Roland Garros.

"In a way, I like this situation, that I don't know what's next, how my next match will be. I don't even know who I play, to be honest," Federer said.

"I take it round by round, match by match. I think it's going to help me, with the way I go about it. I'm very happy I won today. It gives me a chance again to test myself on Thursday, I believe. I don't know when I'm playing.

"So see how I feel tomorrow morning. Just all these things going through practice, coming to the site, seeing people, just this whole rhythm thing.

"It's nice to be back in it."

Federer is in Paris without his family due to COVID-19 restrictions and worries it will be the same story at Wimbledon.

But he added: "We signed up for it. I didn't do rehab to then sit at home again. There's a lot to look forward to."

MEDVEDEV WINS AT LAST

Daniil Medvedev's status as the second seed in Paris was the factor that made it possible for Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal to be drawn in the same half of the draw, which is what transpired.

There is an element of farce about Medvedev being seeded above 13-time Roland Garros champion Nadal, because the Russian has gone out in the first round in each of his previous visits to the clay-court slam.

However, on Monday, the world number two made a breakthrough, winning well in a match where he was expected to run into trouble as he earned a 6-3 6-3 7-5 victory over Kazakhstan's Alexander Bublik.

"It doesn't feel different than the Australian Open for me coming into this tournament. Now when I'm coming to these big tournaments feeling like this, I know I'm capable of doing big things," Medvedev said.

"If I lose here in Roland Garros it's probably going to be because my opponent will play really good."

NEXTGEN MAKE EARLY IMPACT

David Goffin, the Belgian 13th seed, lost 6-0 7-5 7-6 (7-3) to 19-year-old Italian Lorenzo Musetti, and it was a day when the sight of 39-year-old Federer turning on the style was balanced by the inspiring sight of the next generation showing their potential.

Musetti's fellow Italian Jannik Sinner is also 19 and is the 18th seed, showing on Monday he has the fight to come through tough battles, rallying from two sets to one down to beat experienced French player Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-1 4-6 6-7 (4-7) 7-5 6-4.

It was the first time Sinner had won a deciding set in a best-of-five match.

Sinner, Musetti and Spain's Carlos Alcaraz could all be major factors at Roland Garros in future years.

Alcaraz, who turned 18 in early May, followed up his run through qualifying and to the second round of the Australian Open by doing the same in the French capital.

He dropped only 11 games in winning three best-of-three-set qualifiers last week and was too strong for his 24-year-old compatriot Bernabe Zapata Miralles, snatching a 6-3 2-6 6-1 7-6 (7-4) win for a first senior win at Roland Garros.

"I think the mental game is really, really important in this kind of matches," Alcaraz said. "You have to be focused and calm all the match, like three hours and 10 minutes.

"It's really important and not easy to do. In the match I trusted a lot in my physical side. I could play really, really good game during the whole match."

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  • Tokyo Olympics: ITF pushes start times back amid player anger over heat and humidity Tokyo Olympics: ITF pushes start times back amid player anger over heat and humidity

    The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has confirmed matches at the Tokyo Olympics will now start later in the day after concerns over player health and welfare.

    World numbers one and two Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev have been among the players to complain about games starting too early in the day, citing the heat and humidity at Ariake Tennis Park as a major issue.

    Indeed, on Wednesday, 25-year-old Medvedev struggled with the conditions as he battled to a 6-2 3-6 6-2 win over Fabio Fognini.

    Despite being allowed 10 minutes off court at one stage, Medvedev was in visible discomfort during the last-16 tie, and had two medical timeouts before being asked by chair umpire Carlos Ramos whether he could continue.

    "I can finish the match but I can die," the Russian replied to Ramos, per ESPN. "If I die, are you going to be responsible?"

    The 72 per cent humidity meant 31 degrees Celsius felt like 37 degrees Celsius on the heat index. Medvedev was not the only player to suffer on Wednesday, with Paula Badosa having to be taken from the court in a wheelchair as she retired against Marketa Vondrousova due to heatstroke.

    Earlier in the week, Medvedev had questioned the approach of starting matches in the late morning, while top seed Djokovic suggested scheduling the first games for 15:00 local time.

    The ITF has now agreed, with start times pushed back to 15:00, meaning the majority of matches in the closing stages of the Olympic tennis will be played during the slightly cooler evening hours.

    "In the interests of player health and welfare and following extensive consultation, the ITF has announced a change of schedule due to the increasing heat and humidity currently being experienced in Tokyo," an ITF statement read.

    "The decision to start matches at 3pm JST from Thursday is possible due to the outcomes of today’s matches across the five competitons being staged and the size of the player field.

    "[The decision] is designed to further safeguard player health."

  • Tokyo Olympics: Badosa taken from court on a wheelchair as temperatures soar Tokyo Olympics: Badosa taken from court on a wheelchair as temperatures soar

    Paula Badosa was forced to withdraw from her quarter-final against Marketa Vondrousova and taken from the court on a wheelchair after suffering from heatstroke at Tokyo 2020.

    Tuesday saw heavy downpours in the Japanese capital, but the hot and humid conditions from earlier in the week returned early on Wednesday with temperatures at times going above 30 degrees Celsius.

    Vondrousova, who had shocked home favourite Naomi Osaka in the previous round, won the first set 6-3 at Ariake Tennis Park but her opponent was clearly struggling as she prepared to play the second set.

    She required medical assistance to depart the court, as Vondrousova progressed to the final four.

    VONDROUSOVA COMMENTS ON THE HEAT

    The conditions for the tennis in Tokyo have been a quite literal hot topic with both Daniil Medvedev and Novak Djokovic stating matches should start at 3pm so the majority can be played as temperatures cool.

    Vondrousova explained how it was playing in the searing heat, saying: "It was a big struggle from the beginning.

    "I warmed up in the morning and I felt it was really hot and humid. Also, I was a bit tired from yesterday because I had doubles too.

    "But I knew she had too [singles and doubles]. I felt like we both were struggling from the beginning.

    "I was just thinking, you have to stay there mentally, just fight for every point and just see what happens. It's good for me that I can have some rest now.

    "It's all about the head too. You have to stay there mentally and fight. Even when you lose the point, you have to get up and fight again. It's really a struggle here with the weather, but that's it, we have to fight."

    OLYMPICS LIKE A SLAM FOR SVITOLINA

    Next up for Vondrousova is a last-four meeting with Elina Svitolina, the fourth seed and highest-ranked player left in the women's draw.

    The Ukrainian was a 6-4 6-4 victor over Camila Giorgi and talked up the significance of winning Olympic gold.

    "I know that for Ukraine, [the Olympics] is a really big thing," Svitolina said. 

    "I value the Olympics as a grand slam, and I tried to prepare to bring my best tennis. Here I am in the semi-final, and I can get a chance to get a medal. It's very special for me, but I try to take one match at a time."

    Belinda Bencic (9) came through 6-0 3-6 6-3 against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on the other side of the draw. She will face Elena Rybakina (15), who was too good for seventh seed Garbine Muguruza in a 7-5 6-1 win.

    Ash Barty was beaten along with partner Storm Sanders in the women's doubles quarter-finals earlier on Wednesday but the world number one bounced back to win her first-round mixed doubles match with partner John Peers.

    The Australian duo beat Argentina's Horacio Zeballos and Nadia Podoroska 6-1 7-6 (7-3).

  • Tokyo Olympics: I can finish the match but I can die – Medvedev struggles with suffocating heat Tokyo Olympics: I can finish the match but I can die – Medvedev struggles with suffocating heat

    Daniil Medvedev told the chair umpire "I can finish the match but I can die" as he struggled with the suffocating heat at Tokyo 2020.

    A 6-2 3-6 6-2 win over Fabio Fognini on Wednesday was enough to see Medvedev through to the last eight at Ariake Tennis Park.

    But the world number two struggled with 72 per cent humidity that meant an already hot 31 degrees Celsius felt like 37 degrees Celsius on the heat index.

    An extreme heat rule meant Medvedev and Fognini were allowed to leave the court for 10 minutes at one stage of the contest.

    Medvedev was in visible discomfort before serving, between points and at changeovers. 

    He had two medical timeouts before being asked by the chair umpire Carlos Ramos whether he could continue.

    "I can finish the match but I can die," the Russian replied to Ramos, per ESPN. "If I die, are you going to be responsible?"

    After the match, Medvedev – who along with Novak Djokovic has been vocally calling for matches to start later in the day to counteract the heat – described his struggles.

    He said: "Even from the first set, I didn't feel good enough with my breathing. That's why I called the physio. I felt like my diaphragm had blocked. 

    "I couldn't breathe properly. I think it was the most humid day we have had so far.

    "Then, on the second set, I just had darkness in my eyes, like between every point I didn't know what to do to feel better. 

    "I was bending over, and I couldn't get my breathing together. I was ready to just fall down on the court.  

    "I knew there was a 10-minute break. So I went under the cold, freezing shower.

    "When you have such a change of temperature and go out on the hot court, you can fully cramp, and it finishes the match for you, either that or you feel better. I was lucky I felt better.

    "I don't care too much [about closing the roof], to be honest because I don't know if they have AC [air-conditioning]. 

    "It can be actually more humid and hot when they close it, but they should start the matches later. I said it in the first round, and I'll continue saying it.

    "All the players I know said this is not normal to start at 11am [local time]. 

    "[Djokovic] went to ITF and talked to them, and they gave him reasons - I heard maybe from tomorrow they're going to change it, but let's see."

    Following the Medvedev match, organisers were quoted as saying they were "considering" making a change, starting from Thursday's action.

    Paula Badosa also struggled on Wednesday and ultimately had to leave the court in a wheelchair after retiring with heatstroke from her quarter-final match against Marketa Vondrousova. 

    The Spaniard also withdrew from her mixed doubles match later alongside Pablo Carreno Busta, ending their hopes.

    Carreno Busta is still in the singles and will face Medvedev next.

    Vondrousova, who had won the first set before her opponent withdrew, said: "It was a big struggle from the beginning because I warmed up in the morning and I felt it was really hot and humid.

    "Also, I was a bit tired from Monday because I had doubles too. But I knew [Badosa] had [played singles and doubles] too. 

    "I felt like we both were struggling from the beginning. I was just thinking, you have to stay there mentally, just fight for every point and just see what happens."

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