Garbine Muguruza opts for relaxed approach at French Open

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PARIS (AP) If there is one player that should not be afraid of Serena Williams’ return to Grand Slam tennis at the French Open, it’s certainly Garbine Muguruza.

Despite an inconsistent clay-court season so far from Muguruza, the two-time Grand Slam champion from Spain is among the top contenders at Roland Garros, where she won her first major title two years ago by defeating Williams in the final.

Muguruza and Williams have played against each other five times, and the Venezuela-born Muguruza prevailed twice, both times at the French Open. Muguruza’s maiden victory over Williams in her second French Open appearance back in 2014 was a real shock, as she routed the defending champion 6-2, 6-2 in the second round.

This year, the third-ranked Muguruza and Williams could meet in the quarterfinals. Williams is competing at her first Grand Slam event since giving birth to her daughter in September and hasn’t played at a major since winning the Australian Open in January 2017.

“If that happens, it will be the best match for quarterfinals,” Muguruza said.

Muguruza’s preparations for the French Open have been far from ideal, though, winning just two matches on clay. After losing to Daria Kasatkina at the Madrid Open, she lost her opening match to Daria Gavrilova last week in Rome.

But the elegant and powerful Muguruza is not worried. After all, she had lost 6-1, 6-0 against Barbora Strycova in Eastbourne last year in her final warmup tournament before Wimbledon, then won the title at the All England Club.

“It stays less in your system like before, for sure,” she said about her poor performance in Rome. “You move on faster. There is no point to be sad about what happened in Rome, because now it doesn’t really matter. It’s true I didn’t play lots of matches. But I feel like I always had a chance, and they kind of slip away, all the matches somehow, so even if it’s a little bit disappointing, I feel like I was there and I had my chances. Eventually they will come to my side.”

After beating Williams in the 2016 final, Muguruza’s title defense was ended in the fourth round last year by local favorite Kristina Mladenovic of France in front of a partisan crowd at Court Suzanne Lenglen.

She said not being the defending champion this year will help her adopt a more relaxed approach. Proof to that, she was unaware of her first-round opponent until a reporter asked her a question about what it felt to be up against former French Open winner Svetlana Kuznetsova in the first round.

“Of course being the defending champion for the first time, it adds a lot of pressure and expectation, and for sure this year you think different,” Muguruza said. “It’s more relaxing, I guess.”

Muguruza was handed a tricky draw in Paris. If she beats Kuznetsova, she could meet Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia in the third round, then could be up against American CoCo Vandeweghe, who recently made it to the final in Stuttgart.

The tournament starts Sunday.

Jabeur bounces back at French Open, Ruud and Andreeva advance

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PARIS — Ons Jabeur got a do-over on Court Philippe Chatrier at the French Open and won this time.

A year after her first-round exit, the No. 7 seed Jabeur beat Lucia Bronzetti 6-4, 6-1 to help erase some bad memories and answer questions about a recent calf injury.

The Tunisian, a crowd favorite in Paris, smiled and expressed relief in not repeating last year’s mistake, when she lost to Magda Linette of Poland.

“I’m very happy to win my first match on Philippe Chatrier – because I’ve never won here,” Jabeur said on court about the clay-court tournament’s main stadium.

Now she can focus on trying to win her first major. She was runner-up at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year.

The 28-year-old Jabeur has also battled injuries this season. She had knee surgery after the Australian Open, and was then sidelined with a calf injury. She had stopped playing against top-ranked Iga Swiatek at the clay-court tournament in Stuttgart, Germany, in late April and then pulled out of the Madrid Open.

“It was a very difficult period for me after Stuttgart,” said Jabeur, adding that she’s beginning to find her rhythm.

Jabeur struck 27 winner’s to Bronzetti’s seven, though with 24 unforced errors she’ll have room to improve.

Mirra Andreeva had a memorable Grand Slam debut by dominating Alison Riske-Amritraj 6-2, 6-1. Andreeva’s older sister – 18-year-old Erika – was facing Emma Navarro later in the day.

Later, Swiatek gets her French Open title defense started against Cristina Bucsa, who is ranked 70th.

On the men’s side, No. 4 seed Casper Ruud beat qualifier Elias Ymer 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, to remind the higher-profile tournament favorites that he was runner-up to Rafael Nadal last year at Roland Garros.

New mom Elina Svitolina beats seeded player at French Open in 1st Slam match in 16 months

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PARIS — So much has changed for Elina Svitolina, who played – and won – her first Grand Slam match in nearly 1 1/2 years at the French Open, eliminating 2022 semifinalist Martina Trevisan 6-2, 6-2.

For one thing, she’s now a mother: Svitolina and her husband, French tennis player Gael Monfils, welcomed their daughter, Skaï, in October. For another, Svitolina is now ranked 192nd, nowhere near the career high of No. 3 she first reached in 2017, back in the days when she was regularly reaching the second weeks of major tournaments – including a pair of semifinal runs. Away from the courts, her home country of Ukraine was invaded by Russia last year, and the war continues.

“Everything,” she said, “is kind of old and new for me right now.”

In sum, Svitolina is juggling a lot nowadays.

She hadn’t played at a Slam since a third-round exit at the Australian Open in January 2022. She hadn’t played a match anywhere since March 2022, when she was still ranked 20th.

“It was always in my head … to come back, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself, because obviously with the war going on, with the pregnancy, you never know how complicated it will go,” the 28-year-old Svitolina said.

The work to return to the tour after giving birth began this January; her initial WTA match came at Charleston, South Carolina, in April. She won her first title since returning to action, at a smaller event on red clay in Strasbourg, France.

At Roland Garros, she used her big forehand to compile a 20-12 edge in winners and never faced a single break point against Trevisan, who was seeded 26th.

Trevisan cried as she spoke after the match about a problem with her right foot that made it difficult to even walk and prompted her to stop playing during her quarterfinal last week at the Morocco Open, where she was the defending champion.

Still, she gave Svitolina credit.

“Even though she’s just coming back from having a daughter, she’s a champion,” Trevisan said. “And she’s coming off a title, so she’s confident.”

Svitolina talked about feeling “awful when you’re pregnant, especially the last months,” but getting into a position now where she thinks she’s stronger than before – in more ways than one.

“I feel that I can handle the work that I do off the court and, match by match, I’m getting better. Also mentally, because mental (state) can influence your physicality, as well,” she said. “I tried to find the balance, and I feel like I’m seeing (things) a little bit again differently as well after the break. Everything is getting there. The puzzles are getting slowly into place.”