That Was My 15 Minutes
So another Grand Slam first round has come and gone. As the French Open second round matches begin and the tournament advances, the excitement and news grows with it. History is still being written. Amid the talks of shocks and surprises and the excitement of seeing the world's best players compete again in one of the world's biggest tournaments, I can't help but spare a thought for the first round losers who gave it everything but couldn't quite get over the line.
Of course no one wants to lose in the first round. Yet at every Grand Slam 64 men and 64 women go home disappointed by the first Wednesday. Some have come from the other side of the world just to play one match. For many it's not that big a deal, like Alexei Popyrin, Rafael Nadal's first victim, they're comfortably making a living and they'll be back competing on the grass in a couple of weeks.
However, what about the wildcards and the qualifiers who are stuck in the abyss of the ATP and WTA rankings? They have that monkey on their backs that is a triple figure ranking. It's back to the challenger tour for them, if they can afford a plane ticket.
I watched Elina Svitolina's first round match on TV, a player that I love to watch and have seen play numerous times on the box. I didn't know much about her opponent though, Oceane Babel, all I could gather from the match was that she was French. I've just discovered that her ranking is 1111. There must be some mathematical error given the way she was playing. Are you sure they don't mean 111? The final score was 6-2 7-5 to the number five seed, but the second set was nothing short of a duel. The French wildcard just kept punching these beautiful shots and giving it to the Ukrainian. Hitting winners that landed in the far corners, giving Gael Monfils's fiancé no chance. Her serve was something special too. But in the end, she just wasn't as good as her opponent.
For all I know, she could be the future of French tennis. We could be watching her on the Arthur Ashe Arena in the second week of a future US Open. She could be raising the Ion Tariac Trophy above her head in a few years time. Then again I've seen this before in the early rounds of slams where low ranked players really justify their wildcards and shine, gaining respect from the crowd in the process, only to disappear soon afterwards.
In the 2018 Australian Open wildcard Destinee Aiava stepped up to the plate in the first set against Simona Halep in round one. Her game was incredible, but it has yet to take her higher than 147 in the rankings, and as yet she's a no show in the slams outside of her homeland.
In the US Open of 2013, Victoria Duval not only pushed Sam Stosur, then seeded 11, but actually beat her, losing in the second round. Sadly the American never got higher than 87 in the WTA rankings.
As I write this, Sascha Zverev is taking on Roman Safiullin in round two. I hear from the TV commentary that the Russian qualifier will be ranked around 150 if he goes out in this round and will therefore be in the qualifying draw for Wimbledon. I hope he qualifies, I love the way he's keeping up with the the number five seed on Court Suzanne Lenglen, but it's a big ask to qualify for a slam and all his hard work in this French Open still doesn't bring him into the world's top 100.
This is a harsh reminder of how fiercely competitive the world of tennis is and that there are so many awesome players, all dedicated to their careers, but there is only room for 128 of them in every slam, and even less in the Masters tournaments. However, from a fan's point of view, it makes watching the early rounds so much more appealing and it's fantastic to see the world's best being tested. It's a wake up call for those who wait for the business end of the tournament, claiming that early round matches are too one sided.
Also, every now and then, an underdog can actually win and, like in the US Open of 2011 when number six seed Li Na was upset in the first round by a certain Simona Halep, a star is born.