No.8 seed Iga Swiatek posted an impressive 6-0, 7-5 win over Kaja Juvan in one hour and 27 minutes to kick off her Roland Garros title defence.
The Pole was untouchable for the first half of the match, dropping just nine points in the first set. But she had to work harder to close it out as Juvan raised her level, and needed all of her focus to edge a second set that could have gone either way.
Juvan is a familiar face for Swiatek. The pair have been both friends and opponents since their junior days, having first met at U14 tournaments and graduated to the pro ranks together. As partners, they were doubles gold medallists at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games; as competitors, they first played in the semifinals of the U16 European Junior Championships back in 2016.
Swiatek won that match 6-3, 6-2, as well as their first pro encounter this February in the second round of the Gippsland Trophy 2-6, 6-2, 6-1. Here, playing her first pro match as a defending champion and celebrating her 20th birthday, she showed no sign of being affected by either the moment or her No.101-ranked opponent, tallying 22 winners to 24 unforced errors.
"You never know what's going to happen when you're coming out on a court as a defending champion," Swiatek said. "I've never been in a situation like that. I'm really glad I could handle that pretty well and just play tennis, play a normal match without having in the back of my mind that I'm defending the title."
Indeed, Swiatek picked up where she had left off two weeks ago in Rome. She had captured that title with an eviscerating performance in the final, whitewashing Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 6-0.
In a 23-minute first set against Juvan, everything Swiatek touched continued to turn to gold. She came out on top of cat-and-mouse net exchanges, flicked reflex dropshot winners off full-power returns and hammered heavy forehands beyond Juvan's reach.
Sto lat, sto lat 🎂 🥳 🎉— wta (@WTA) May 31, 2021
The birthday girl @iga_swiatek moves on to the second round of #RolandGarros pic.twitter.com/JthzLB75hJ
"It's never easy to play against your best friend," said Swiatek. "I have some experience because I played with Kaja for a few times. You just try to block this friendship for two hours, just focus on the game. I think I'm doing that pretty well. It's nice to have that skill. So I was just trying to treat Kaja as any other girl, as any other opponent, because in sports when we are on court you can't have thoughts that are you going to make your game more soft."
Swiatek's winning streak of games reached 20 before Juvan finally held in the second set. From there, the Slovenian turned a one-sided rout into an absorbing contest, methodically working her way back into the match by adjusting her tactics and execution.
Having hit 12 unforced errors but no winners in the first set, Juvan began to find success by repeatedly deploying a well-disguised dropshot - and sometimes a fake dropshot that drew Swiatek forwards before Juvan pushed the ball deep instead.
The 20-year-old's canny play very nearly forced a third set. Having broken back to erase a 1-3 deficit, Juvan held two break points at 5-5, and missed a pass by inches on the second. Serving to stay in the match, she staved off the first three match points she faced with bold play.
But Swiatek, sensing victory, continued to pile on the pressure. A final banger of a backhand on her fourth match point was too much for Juvan to handle and sealed Swiatek's seventh win in a row.
Up next for Swiatek will be Rebecca Peterson, who came from a set and 2-5 down to beat Shelby Rogers 6-7(3), 7-6(8), 6-2 in exactly three hours. The Swede saved three match points in the second-set tiebreak.
That result means Swiatek will avoid the dangerous Rogers, who owns five Top 20 wins in the past year alone, and instead play Peterson, who has just two in her career to date.
Vondrousova avoids the upset, Hercog ousts Bertens
Two of the more vulnerable seeded players in the draw, No.20 Marketa Vondrousova and No.16 Kiki Bertens, emerged from three-set tussles with different outcomes.
Vondrousova, the 2019 runner-up, had won just one match in three clay tournaments ahead of Roland Garros. She also faced notorious upset artist Kaia Kanepi, who owns 20 wins over seeded players on the Grand Slam stage. After a slow start, it was Kanepi who held the upper hand after winning the first set 6-4 from 0-3 down.
But Vondrousova raised her intensity levels as Kanepi's play grew careless. From 3-3 in the second set, the Czech reeled off the last nine games of the match, committing just one unforced error in the deciding set compared to Kanepi's 10, to win 4-6, 6-3, 6-0. Vondrousova next faces wildcard Harmony Tan, who triumphed in an all-French derby on Court Simonne-Mathieu 6-4, 6-4 over Alizé Cornet.
Unlike Kanepi, Polona Hercog does not have a reputation as a danger to top players. The 30-year-old Slovenian had previously defeated just one Top 20 player on the Grand Slam stage, Madison Keys at Wimbledon 2019 - but added another after defeating Bertens 6-1, 3-6, 6-4.
Bertens' return from Achilles tendon surgery this year has not been rewarding. The Dutchwoman, who reached her sole major semifinal at Roland Garros 2016, has compiled a 2-5 record since coming back in March.
Hercog exploited Bertens' movement with a series of dropshots and heavy forehands as she raced out to a 5-0 lead. That was a sufficient lead to close out the first set, but a touch of shakiness in doing so opened the door for Bertens, who found some form to gradually turn momentum in her favour.
Indeed, Bertens advanced to a 4-2 lead in the third set, on the verge of her first Top 100 win since Roland Garros last September. But Hercog hustled superbly to win several key athletic all-court points, and took the last four games in a row.