Angelique Kerber became the first top seed to lose in the opening round at Roland Garros on Sunday as tearful Petra Kvitova swept to victory in her first match since surviving a knife attack which almost ended her career.
German world number one Kerber, the reigning US Open champion, dropped serve six times on her way to a 6-2, 6-2 defeat to Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova.
Before this year, the earliest exits suffered by a top seed in Paris came in the second round — Justine Henin in 2004 and Serena Williams in 2014.
“The pressure is always there especially in the big tournaments and the Grand Slams,” said Kerber, who won her first major at the Australian Open in 2016.
“Now I have to find to myself again and just try to forget the clay court season as soon as possible and then reset from the grass courts.”
It was the second successive first round exit at Roland Garros for Kerber — last year, she fell to unseeded Kiki Bertens before recovering to make the Wimbledon final.
It also continued a miserable spell for the 29-year-old on clay.
She lost her opener in Stuttgart where she was the defending champion, suffered a thigh injury in the third round in Madrid and lost first time out in Rome.
On Sunday, she fell a double break down to trail 5-1 to her Russian opponent who she was facing for the 12th time.
Makarova, now ranked 40 after reaching a career high of eight, was a double break ahead again for 3-0 in the second set.
Four successive breaks of serve followed before Makarova saved seven break points in the crucial eighth game to cause the upset.
“At the end of the match, it was really tough as I knew she wouldn’t give it to me — I had to win it,” said Makarova, a former semi-finalist at the Australian and US Opens.
Kerber’s defeat makes the women’s draw even more open with Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka all not playing.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova downed outclassed Julia Boserup of the United States 6-3, 6-2, falling to her knees in celebration in the moment of victory before weeping at the net.
“I’m really glad to have made the decision to play here,” said 27-year-old Kvitova, who was seriously hurt when she fought off a knife-wielding burglar at her home in the eastern Czech town of Prostejov in December.
– 20th year for Venus –
“I won the match today but I knew I had already won,” she added, referencing the initial nightmare scenario where she feared she’d lose the fingers on her left playing hand.
Kvitova, the 15th seed and a semi-finalist in 2012, fired nine aces and 31 winners past Boserup, making her Paris debut at the age of 25.
Svetlana Kuznetsova, the eighth-seeded 2009 champion, survived two time warnings to make the second round by seeing off Christina McHale of the United States 7-5, 6-4.
Olympic champion Monica Puig sent veteran Italian Roberta Vinci to her 10th first round loss in 13 visits, winning 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.
Madison Brengle of the US defeated Germany’s Julia Goerges 1-6, 6-3, 13-11 in a tie stretching to almost three hours.
Goerges went down blazing — she hit 79 winners but 90 unforced errors.
In the men’s event, Bulgarian 11th seed Grigor Dimitrov coasted past France’s Stephane Robert 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 to register his first win in Paris in four years.
Venus Williams marks her Roland Garros 20th anniversary later Sunday.
Three weeks shy of her 37th birthday, the American star, who made her debut in the French capital in 1997, starts against China’s Wang Qiang.
Williams’s staggering longevity is illustrated by the fact that her potential second round opponent is compatriot Amanda Anisimova who, at just 15, is the youngest main draw competitor since 2005.
When Venus was losing the 2002 Roland Garros final to Serena, Anisimova was just nine months old.
Austrian sixth seed Dominic Thiem, a semi-finalist in 2016, takes on unpredictable Bernard Tomic of Australia in the standout men’s match of the day. – Agence France-Presse