The Long And Short Of Opening Day At The French Open
PARIS -- The French Open lasts 15 days, which makes it the longest of the Grand Slams, but the tournament also can whiz by as quickly as a waiter avoiding your attention in a Parisian cafe.
Louisa Chirico, who turned 19 a week ago, took the court at Suzanne Lenglen at 11 on a gloriously sunny morning and, less than 90 minutes later (while most of the United States was still sleeping), her French Open was over. Chirico lost in straight sets to No. 9-seeded Ekaterina Makarova (though she gave her a good fight in the first set).
Chirico has played here before in the junior tournament, reaching the semifinals in 2013, but playing in the French Open as a wild card was different, and short-lived.
"It's the real thing,'' Chirico said of walking onto Suzanne Lenglen. "I just felt excitement. I was trying to just walk to my chair, but I couldn't help but look up at all the people and smile and feel the atmosphere. I hit on the court in the morning but it definitely felt a lot bigger with the crowd.''
By the way, Chirico warms up for a match by throwing a small football around. Really, a football. She said she got a lot of looks from people as she passed the ball back and forth with her coach. "I guess it's unusual to see a girl throwing a football.''
(And don't worry -- she says the football is inflated properly.)
Chirico is/was one of the 24 Americans (17 of them women) in the French Open this year, though only three played the opening day: Chirico, Lauren Davis and Steve Johnson. There were more Croatians (four) on the court Sunday than Americans. There also were only three players (of any nationality) seeded in the top five playing Sunday, with Roger Federer (No. 2) and Simona Halep (3) the two highest. There were matches played on only eight courts. We won't see the two top seeds -- Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams -- until Tuesday.
So, sometimes the French Open can also move slowly, not unlike the service you get in a restaurant here. (Seriously, waiting for the bill in Europe can be like waiting for your number to be called at the DMV.)
Halep lost in the final to Maria Sharapova here last year and she said it was tough walking back onto the dusty red clay of Court Philippe Chatrier again for this year's opening match. She talked about how the crowd atmosphere got her going for her straight-sets victory, which is saying something given that the stadium was practically empty for the first serve. There was a much bigger crowd the next match, when Federer took the court wearing a bright purple shirt that made him look like an avid Barney fan.
"Let's enjoy the color while we can,'' Federer said, referring to Wimbledon's strict dress code. "Let's see how long I can wear it. Let's hope seven matches.''
The fans, as usual, shouted "Rah-zher!'' through his straight-sets victory, but one of them went a little overboard and ran onto the court to shoot a selfie with Federer after he beat Alejandro Falla. That was the third time Federer has had a fan run onto a court here at Roland Garros, including during practice Saturday.
The incident and Federer's strong statements -- he said something should be done immediately if not "yesterday'' -- provided some controversy on what otherwise was a rather quiet opening Sunday.
As the sun dipped in the Paris sky and the concession stands ran low on crepes and the skies darkened, Steve Johnson found himself still locked in a tight battle with Guillermo Garcia-Lopez over on cozy Court 3. Johnson began the match by winning the first two sets only to drop the next two. He pushed back, however, and won the fifth set 6-3 in a match that lasted nearly three and a half hours. He advances to the next round in a couple of days.
"I think I was the only American to win today,'' Johnson said. "Maybe tomorrow the Americans will come out, guns blazing, and take care of business. Confidence breeds more confidence."
The French Open lasts as long as your game can make it.