PARIS – For the fourth consecutive Grand Slam tennis tournament, Alison Riske has advanced past the first round.
Riske, a 23-year-old Peters Township native, defeated Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia 7-6, 6-3 Tuesday in the first round of the French Open at Roland Garros.
The win completes a “mini-Grand Slam” for Riske as she has won a match in all four of tennis’ major tournaments: Wimbledon, U.S. Open, Australian Open and French Open.
Riske, who has climbed to No. 45 in the world rankings, had to work a little longer than she wanted in the opening set against the 32-year-old Lucic-Baron. Riske won the first set in a tiebreaker, 7-2, then needed only 39 minutes to win the second set. She won 88 percent of her first-serves.
The outlook for Riske advancing past the second round changed greatly Tuesday when second-seeded Na Li of China, the Australian Open winner and a former French Open champion, was upset by 103rd-ranked Kristina Mladenovic of France, 7-5, 3-6, 6-1. Riske will play Mladenovic in the second round. That match likely will be played Thursday.
Riske is scheduled to begin women’s doubles competition today, teamming with Madison Keys against Irina Ramialison and Constance Sibille of France.
Li is familiar with unexpected upsets after winning a major tournament. It happened in 2011, after her French Open triumph made her China’s first player with a Grand Slam singles title. Her loss to Mladenovic came not quite four months removed from winning the Australian Open.
“I didn’t follow the game plan,” Li said. “Didn’t have any idea how to play.”
Her exit in front a partisan crowd on a cloudy, windy Day 3 came about 16 hours after the men’s Australian Open champion, third-seeded Stan Wawrinka, was beaten – making this French Open already unlike any Grand Slam tournament in history.
It’s the first time that the men’s and women’s singles champions from the previous major lost in the first round.
“Nobody say if you (are) No. 2 in the world, you have to win all the matches. I mean, this is tennis,” said Li, who works with Carlos Rodriguez, former coach of four-time French Open titlist Justine Henin.
For an opening match at a major, the “tension is different,” she added. “Always tough to pass the first round.”
Top players, even the likes of Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, frequently talk about being particularly jittery at the start of a Grand Slam tournament, even against clearly outclassed competition.
They notice, to be sure, when folks such as Li or Wawrinka depart quickly.
This French Open has seen some rough going for several past major champions and other highly seeded players, and the second round has yet to begin.
No. 13 Caroline Wozniacki, the 2009 U.S. Open runner-up, was beaten Tuesday, less than a week after her planned wedding to golf star Rory McIlroy was called off; No. 11 Grigor Dimitrov, considered an up-and-coming threat by many, lost to Ivo Karlovic; two seeded men, No. 16 Tommy Haas and No. 21 Nicolas Almagro, quit during the first set because of injuries; past Grand Slam titles winner Lleyton Hewitt also lost.
One person pleasantly surprised to finally feel what it’s like to win in the first round is 66th-ranked Marinko Matosevic of Australia, who was 0-12 at Grand Slam tournaments before beating Dustin Brown of Germany 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-7 (1), 7-5.
“Huge relief,” said Matosevic, who now meets No. 7 Murray. “It got pretty demoralizing at some stages. I had some tough draws. When I did have my chances, I just couldn’t quite do it.”
Li hung her head when she sailed a stroke long on match point for her 37th unforced error, 12 more than Mladenovic. At the opposite baseline, Mladenovic raised both arms, then covered her mouth with her trembling left hand, trying to process what had just happened. Soon, the 21-year-old Mladenovic was choking back tears.
“It’s never normal when you beat such a big name, big player,” said Mladenovic, who had been 1-5 at the French Open, including a loss to Li in 2010.
She faced two set points in the opener while trailing 5-4 but erased both and took three games in a row to nose ahead.
“This is really big,” Mladenovic said. “You don’t beat Li Na every day.”