There goes the season Slam for Stan
PARIS -- When Stan Wawrinka won his first ATP Masters 1000 event five weeks ago in Monte Carlo, a shocking possibility suddenly loomed:
The man, who coming into the 2014 season at the age of 28 had never won a Grand Slam singles title, seemed quite capable of bagging the first two majors of the year. After winning the Australian Open, beating Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal along the way, Wawrinka was viewed by many as the consensus No. 3 favorite behind the only two men ranked above him.
Well, it took only two days and one round to end that nice little theory. Spain's Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, about a week from his 30th birthday, authored a massive upset in the twilight at Roland Garros, bludgeoning Wawrinka 6-4, 5-7, 6-2, 6-0.
Wawrinka held only a 3-2 head-to-head over Garcia-Lopez on clay, but the Spaniard is more than even now.
"I think it's just a different story," Wawrinka said. "Now it's a different picture for my career. I need to put the puzzle back together, but differently than in the past, because now it's, after winning Grand Slam, Masters 1000, being No. 3 in the world, everything is different, and I still didn't find all the pieces."
Garcia-Lopez, who is ranked No. 41 among ATP players, converted eight of 12 break point opportunities while Wawrinka was a mere 3-for-7. The Spaniard crafted 37 winners, but no fewer than 62 unforced errors from Wawrinka were the difference.
Wawrinka lost his first match in Madrid to 20-year-old Dominic Thiem, but few thought it would happen again in Paris. Thus, Jim Courier's achievement will remain a standard of recent history. Wawrinka will not be the first man in 22 years to start the season with titles at the Australian Open and French Open. Instead, he is the first Australian Open champion to lose in the first round of the subsequent Roland Garros since Petr Korda in 1998.
Going OT ... and then some
As the shadows began to cross Allee M. Bernard outside Court Suzanne Lenglen, a crowd of hundreds jammed in front of the big screen over the entrance of the stadium. At the other end of the cobblestone-paved road, Frenchman Julien Benneteau and the marvelously named Facundo Bagnis of Argentina were locked in an epic struggle on Court 1.
The first four sets went by relatively swiftly, in 123 minutes, with the players splitting one-sided frames.
Then came the fifth and furious set.
Both players showed tremendous heart, serving with no evident nerves. In the end, Bagnis prevailed 18-16 in the fifth when he managed to land one final backhand volley. He collapsed on his back into the red dirt as if he had won the whole thing.
The final score: 6-1, 6-2, 1-6, 3-6, 18-16. The entire thing required 4 hours, 21 minutes, and the ultimate set alone ran a total of 144 minutes. It equaled the record for most games in a fifth set at the French Open; John Isner and another French player, Paul-Henri Mathieu, did it two years ago with Mathieu escaping into the third round.
Incredibly, it was Bagnis' first main-draw match in a Grand Slam. Previously, he was 0-for-9 in major qualifying attempts before winning three matches here.
Benneteau, 32, showed some elegance, walking around to Bagnis' side of the net and embracing him. Afterward, Bagnis urged the applauding fans to increase their volume with hand gestures. Benneteau also applauded the 24-year-old left-hander as he left the court. Later, Bagnis almost collapsed on the court when accepting congratulations on his phone.
Nishikori knocked out
You could argue that, after Nadal and Djokovic, Kei Nishikori was the next hottest male player coming into Roland Garros.
The 24-year-old from Japan won his first career title in Barcelona and followed that up with a final appearance in the ATP Masters 1000 event in Madrid. Nishikori actually took the first set from Rafa before retiring with a back injury in the third. He came into this French Open as the No. 9 seed, his highest ever in a major, and looked to follow up on his fourth-round berth of a year ago.
When he lurched into a first-set tiebreaker against Martin Klizan after an uneven start to the match, it seemed like a good time for Nishikori's skill advantage to kick in. But it didn't. Klizan, serving big and holding his nerve, handled Nishikori and ran off with a 7-6 (4), 6-1, 6-2 victory. And so, the first major upset of the tournament had been rendered.
"I am disappointed in my performance," Nishikori said. "It was not very bad, but it was not perfect."
Later he was more succinct, saying, "I couldn't serve; I couldn't do anything today. It really sucks, I have to say."
Afterward, Nishikori said it was the first time since that Madrid final -- 15 days -- that he had hit serves at 100 percent and played active points.
And so, the return of Michael Chang to Roland Garros came to a swift end. Chang, who won the 1989 French Open, has been assisting Dante Bottini as Nishikori's coach.
"I have to mentally be ready to do whatever I have to do to be healthy," Nishikori said. "I guess this is my tennis life."
Tough day for Stars and Stripes
Christina McHale, a 22-year-old from Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, fell to Russian Elena Vesnina 7-6 (0), 4-6, 6-3. Thirty-six-year-old American Michael Russell fell to Alejandro Gonzalez 6-2, 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-1. Robby Ginepri, the last American man to reach the second week here, fell to Nadal 6-0, 6-3, 6-0 in a match that required only 102 minutes.
Wild card Taylor Townsend, 18, fell into an early hole against fellow American Vania King but prevailed 7-5, 6-1. Freshly minted U.S. player Anna Tatishvili fell to Kurumi Nara 6-1, 6-4. Donald Young defeated Dudi Sela 6-1, 2-6, 6-1, 6-0.
No. 18 Eugenie Bouchard defeated Shahar Peer 6-0, 6-2 in a match that clocked in at 59 minutes. ... No. 14 Fabio Fognini, the stylish one, was a 6-4, 6-4, 6-1 winner over Andreas Beck. ... Dominic Thiem, at 20 the youngest player in the top 100, handled Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-4, 7-6 (3), 6-2. ... No. 5 Petra Kvitova beat Zarina Diyas 7-5, 6-2.