PARIS, France - After being delayed multiple times in wet and blustery conditions, No.16 seed Elise Mertens was able to move into the second round of Roland Garros 6-2, 6-3 past Margarita Gasparyan in one hour and 43 minutes.
In a reprise of her 6-1, 7-5 defeat of the Russian in the second round of the 2019 Australian Open, Mertens kept a tighter ship with 20 winners to 23 unforced errors compared to Gasparyan's 22 winners and 31 unforced errors - as well as proving considerably sharper on big points. In particular, though each would have 10 break point opportunities each over the course of the match, Mertens would convert seven of hers to Gasparyan's four; while the World No.122 would also come to rue the four service games she lost from game point up.
"It's definitely not easy," said Mertens afterwards of the weather. "Conditions are very different. I think it's harder to win a point. You have to work for the point a lot more. Lower bounces. But, you know, it's for both of the players. Everyone has to adapt their way to win the match... I'm not pleased with the level I played maybe because I don't know if you can play your best level in these conditions. Definitely not the level that I want to play in further matches. But it was enough today."
The players would warm up twice before finally starting the contest, and when they did it was Gasparyan who was sharper out of the blocks in an initial exchange of breaks, racking up seven winners to Mertens' one in the first two-and-a-half games. Leading 1-1, 0-30 on the Belgian's serve, the pair would need to retreat off court from the elements again, and when they resumed the dynamic shifted.
Mertens would hold that game on return before Gasparyan squandered a 40-0 lead in a flurry of errors to drop serve again, and the US Open quarterfinalist tightened her grip on the scoreboard to advance to a 5-1 lead. Though she would be unable to serve the set out as Gasparyan briefly rediscovered her range, Mertens responded quickly, showcasing phenomenal defence on multiple occasions to break for 6-2.
A more evenly contested second set saw the momentum shift between both players throughout, each pegging the other back whenever they threatened to pull away. Just as in the first set, Gasparyan broke in the opening game of the second, finding joy with her off forehand in particular - but Mertens responded by targeting the 26-year-old's hit-or-miss backhand, showcasing some fine all-court prowess of her own as she moved to within a point of a 4-2 lead.
But a pair of loose forehands stymied the Prague finalist, and suddenly it was Gasparyan who held a brace of points for 4-2 - only for Mertens to come up with two straight winners, the first a breathtaking redirected backhand down the line, to break back for 3-3.
It was the third service game Gasparyan had lost from multiple game point up of the day, a pattern which was never going to cut it against a player with as sharp an awareness of scoreboard momentum as Mertens. The 2018 Tashkent champion would add to her highlights reel with some intermittently gorgeous backhand strikes, but her mistakes were piling up again at an alarming rate.
The final two games of the match saw both players hold break points: the difference was encapsulated by Mertens nailing a pass down the line to take hers, moving up 5-3, while Gasparyan would miss three chances to stay alive as the 24-year-old served for the match. Blazing last-ditch return winners garnered Gasparyan her lifelines, but backhand errors squandered the first two before Mertens escaped a third with a neat volley putaway.
With rain coming down heavily again, Mertens wasted no more time to wrap up her day's work, sending down consecutive service winners to set up a second-round date with two-time quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi, who came from a set down to defeat Monterrey finalist Marie Bouzkova 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.