Main course ready after hors d’oeuvres

If it was not for injury-plagued Frenchman Gael Monfils, tennis aficionados would still be looking forward to watching the top five seeds in action at Roland Garros this week. S’busiso Mseleku goes through the ups and downs of the past week and what to expect in the home straight from today.

Former world number 7 Gael Monfils came into Roland Garros ranked 81st and had to earn a ­ wild-card selection to make it to his eighth French Open.

But he served the best hors d’oeuvres of the tournament in his first-round encounter against fifth seed Tomas Berdych at Court Philippe Chatrier.

Monfils – a runner-up at the Paris Masters in 2009 and 2010, and a semifinalist at the 2008 French Open – eventually prevailed, winning 7-6, 6-4, 6-7, ­6-7, 7-5.

As much as he finally succumbed to Spaniard Tommy Robredo in another five-set epic battle on Friday, many see his first-round conquest to have somehow eased Roger Federer’s way to the final.

How, you may ask . . .

You see, while Berdych, a former semifinalist at Roland Garros, has not won any title this season, he had been playing some good tennis and has in the process scored victories over Federer and world number 1 Novak Djokovic.

He has conquered the Swiss master six times and was on the bottom half of Federer’s draw.

His exit only left another Frenchman, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, as the single player on the bottom half who has beaten the former world number 1.

However, Federer has beaten Tsonga in all their last five meetings.

The ladies’ section also saw some upsets this week with former number 1 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark.

The 10th seed was eliminated by Bojana Jovanovski. Jovanovski took the match 7-6, 6-3, ensuring that her stay is even shorter this year than last, when she was eliminated by Kaia Kanepi in the third round.

And then on Thursday, unheralded American Bethanie Mattek-Sands caused what is still the upset of the tournament in the ladies’ section when she beat 2011 French Open champion and sixth seed Li Na of China 5-7, 6-3, 6-2.

But the game’s connoisseurs would be quite content with the fact that going into the second week, the men’s top four seeds – Djokovic; Federer; crowd favourite Rafael Nadal, who is on his way up after an injury-induced long lay-off; and David Ferrer, another clay specialist – are still on course.

The ladies’ section is still also full of top seeds with Serena Williams (1), with Maria Sharapova (2), Victoria Azarenka (3), Agnieszka Radwanska (4) and Sara Errani (5) making up the top five.

Fifteen-Grand Slam champion Williams is on court today against Italy’s Roberta Vinci after dispatching 26th seed Sorana Cirstea 6-0, 6-2 and committing only 16 unforced errors.

She has now won 70 and only lost three matches since losing in the first round a year ago here, and has won 26 consecutive matches.

Her majestic roll has seen her garner titles at the Wimbledon Championships, the London Olympics and the US Open.

Sit back, relax and expect some scintillating tennis this week and don’t rule out any of Williams, Sharapova, Djokovic, Nadal and Federer in the finals . . .unless you are a terrible gambler.

Did you know?

» Maria Yuryevna Sharapova was born on April 19 1987.

» She is a Russian professional tennis player who, as of May 27 2013, is ranked second in the world by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and is the only Russian player in the top 10.

» A US resident since 1994, Sharapova has won 29 WTA singles titles, including four Grand Slam singles titles.

» Sharapova made her professional breakthrough in 2004, aged 17, when she defeated two-time defending champion and top seed Serena Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final.

» She was forced out of the game for 10 months by a recurring shoulder injury, which ultimately required surgery in October 2008.

» Sharapova returned to the game in May 2009, returning to the top 10 in March 2011.


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