Halep into French Open 2nd round; Venus, Goffin out

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PARIS — Top-seeded Simona Halep won 10 straight games in beating Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-4, 6-0 to reach the second round of the French Open on Sunday and extend her winning streak to 15 matches.

Halep won on her 29th birthday, but with minimal celebrations planned for the evening since the coronavirus pandemic means players stay locked inside the security bubble of their hotels.

“It was really special day playing on Roland Garros on my birthday,” she said. “I cannot celebrate much because I have to stay in the room, so I will have a bottle of water.”

Wearing thick black leggings and a long-sleeved pink jersey to combat the chilly conditions on Court Philippe Chatrier, the 2018 champion made a series of unforced errors and trailed 4-2.

“I felt the cold. I’m not very happy with the cold in general,” Halep said. “So it was a little bit tough, I struggled.”

But then she found her range, clinching the first set with a hold to love and sealing victory on her first match point when her Spanish opponent clipped a forehand wide.

Halep is ranked second but seeded first at Roland Garros because defending champion Ash Barty skipped coming to Paris because of coronavirus concerns. Halep won titles on clay in Prague and Rome and her winning run – interrupted by the pandemic – dates to February.

She next faces either countrywoman Irina Camelia Begu or Jil Teichmann of Switzerland.

Halep was not alone in wrapping up warm.

Over on Court Suzanne Lenglen, U.S. Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka experienced a vastly different temperature to Flushing Meadows only two weeks ago.

The 10th-seeded Azarenka, who beat Danka Kovinic 6-1, 6-2, fumed when match officials didn’t immediately send them back to the locker room during a rain interruption.

“I am going to get frozen,” she complained. “No. I’m not waiting here a couple of minutes because I’m cold. It’s eight degrees, eight degrees, I live in Florida, I am used to hot weather.”

Before walking off court, Azarenka grumbled “it’s ridiculous. It’s too cold … What’s the point? Sitting here like ducks.”

After the match, she said the conditions were risky.

“I think my opponent slipped in the third game, so I think she was also feeling a little bit uncomfortable,” Azarenka said. “Does it increase the risk of players getting injured? Absolutely, I think that it does.”

She next faces Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, who won 6-4, 6-4 against American veteran Venus Williams.

“Even on my really good shots she had a lot of amazing replies that just kind of came out of nowhere,” Williams said. “Give her credit to playing an amazing match.”

The 40-year-old Williams exited in the first round at Roland Garros for the third straight year and is 0-3 in Grand Slam tournaments this year following the Australian Open and the U.S. Open. Since the start of 2018, the seven-time Grand Slam champion has lost in the first round in seven of the past 11 major tournaments.

Coronavirus restrictions mean only 1,000 people are allowed per day at the tournament in western Paris.

But only 150 were there to see 11th-seeded David Goffin begin his match against Next Gen ATP Finals champion Jannik Sinner at just after 11 a.m. under the new Chatrier roof.

Goffin, a former quarterfinalist here, was the first seeded player to be knocked out when he lost 7-5, 6-0, 6-3. His countrywoman Elise Mertens – seeded 16th – fared better in beating Margarita Gasparyan 6-2, 6-3.

No. 25 Alex De Minaur also went out in straight sets, losing 7-6 (9), 6-4, 6-0 to 2018 semifinalist Marco Cecchinato.

No. 21 John Isner went through 6-4, 6-1, 6-3 against Elliot Benchetrit and the big-serving American next meets qualifier Sebastian Korda, whose father, Petr, won the 1998 Australian Open and was the runner-up here in 1992. The 20-year-old Korda beat Andreas Seppi of Italy 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.

No. 27 Taylor Fritz relinquished a two-set lead but the American held firm to win 7-5, 7-6 (2), 1-6, 2-6, 6-3 against Tomas Machac.

No. 17 Anett Kontaveit lost 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia, but No. 20 Maria Sakkari and No. 27 Ekaterina Alexandrova both advanced.

In the pick of Sunday’s later matches, three-time Grand Slam winners Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka were playing on Chatrier in the 21st meeting between the veterans. Wawrinka won here in 2015 and Murray lost the final to Novak Djokovic the following year.

Tennis star Kyrgios to fight charge on mental health grounds

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CANBERRA, Australia – Wimbledon runner-up Nick Kyrgios will apply to have an assault charge dismissed on mental health grounds, his lawyer told an Australian court on Tuesday.

Lawyer Michael Kukulies-Smith appeared on behalf of Kyrgios in a court in the tennis star’s hometown of Canberra and asked for an adjournment so forensic mental health reports could be prepared.

Magistrate Glenn Theakston adjourned the case until Feb. 3, when Kyrgios’ lawyers are expected to apply to have the charge dismissed under a section of the local crimes law.

The 27-year-old Australian tennis star will appear in court in person on that date for the first time since he was charged by police by summons in July.

The law gives magistrates the power to dismiss a charge if they are satisfied an accused person is mentally impaired, and dealing with an allegation in that way would benefit the community and the defendant.

The common assault charge, which has a potential maximum sentence of two years in prison, relates to an incident in January 2021 that was reported to local police last December.

The charge reportedly relates to an incident involving his former girlfriend.

Kukulies-Smith told the court his client’s mental health history since 2015 made the application appropriate, citing a number of public statements made by Kyrgios.

In February, Kyrgios opened up about his performance at the 2019 Australian Open, saying what appeared to be a positive time in his life had been “one of my darkest periods.”

“I was lonely, depressed, negative, abusing alcohol, drugs, pushed away family and friends,” he wrote on Instagram. “I felt as if I couldn’t talk or trust anyone. This was a result of not opening up and refusing to lean on my loved ones and simply just push myself little by little to be positive.”

Kyrgios made further references to his mental health struggles during his runs to the final at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open.

After ending Daniil Medvedev’s U.S. Open title defense last month to reach the quarterfinals, Kyrgios expressed pride at lifting himself out of “some really tough situations, mentally” and “some really scary places” off the court.

Theakston questioned whether Kyrgios would need to appear in court for the February hearing, but Kukulies-Smith said his client wanted to attend.

Kyrgios was scheduled to play at the Japan Open later Tuesday against Tseng Chun-hsin of Taiwan.

Speaking in Tokyo before his matter returned to court, Kyrgios said it was “not difficult at all” to focus on tennis despite the pending charge.

“There’s only so much I can control and I’m taking all the steps and dealing with that off the court,” he told reporters. “I can only do what I can and I’m here in Tokyo and just trying to play some good tennis, continue that momentum and just try to do my job.”

Wimbledon champ Rybakova beats Keys in Ostrava opener

Agel Open Ostrava - Day One
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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic – Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakova came from a set down to defeat Madison Keys 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 in the first round of the Agel Open on Monday.

Rybakova had lost to Keys this year at the French Open and Cincinnati.

In other first-round matches in the eastern Czech city of Ostrava, Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia defeated Zhang Shuai of China 6-3, 6-3, and local hope Petra Kvitova overcame American Bernanda Pera 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.

Fresh from her second title of the year in Seoul last month, Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia knocked out former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.