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Tennis • Quack, quack: Azarenka waddles into second round on day of tough conditions at Roland Garros

By Ricky Dimon

Well, everyone saw this coming.

When the French Open was postponed four months from May and June to September and October because of the coronavirus pandemic, it was obvious that conditions in Paris would be much different than usual. After all, this is fall–not spring.

And “much different” is exactly what we got on Day 1 of a most unusual major.

Temperatures were in the 50s on Sunday, with considerable wind and consistent rain–albeit not enough to cancel play–making it feel in the 40s. There was a brief stoppage during Victoria Azarenka’s first-round victory over Danka Kovinic, but after a lively discussion and a quick trip to the locker room, the match resumed.

At one point during the first set, Azarenka refused to wait on the court for the rain to subside. To be clear, she was not refusing to play. For her, it was either continue playing or wait in the locker room; waiting on the court in the cold and rain was not an option.

Not for someone from Florida or California , at least!

“I’m down to play whatever,” Azarenka told an official while sitting under an umbrella on her bench “You know I’m not complaining here, but this is getting a little bit ridiculous…. I’m not waiting here because I’m going to get frozen. No, I’m not waiting here a couple minutes because I’m cold. It’s eight degrees. I live in Florida; I’m used to hot weather…. It’s ridiculous; it’s too cold. What’s the point sitting here like ducks?”

The match resumed shortly thereafter and Azarenka powered her way to a 6-1, 6-2 win. A recent runner-up at the U.S. Open, the 10th-seeded Belarusian needed just one hour and one minute to continue her winning ways.

“I am glad to get it finished so I can watch the others struggle in this weather and rain,” she assured.

And struggle they did. In the marquee matchup of the day, Andy Murray could not even get his showdown against Stan Wawrinka to the two-hour mark. Wawrinka, whose power allowed him to hit through the heavy conditions whereas the Scot could not, eased to a 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 victory in one hour and 37 minutes. Murray, however, was not about to blame anything that was beyond his control.

“I should be analyzing that hard and trying to understand why the performance was like that,” the three-time major champion admitted. “I don’t feel like the conditions are an excuse for it; I don’t feel like that’s a valid reason…. I’ll need to have a long, hard think and try and understand what happened.”

Another struggling veteran, Jeremy Chardy, will also be wondering what could have happened in his first-round contest. The 33-year-old Frenchman led qualifier Jurij Rodionov by two sets to love and had a match point on his own serve for a straight-set win. Several hours later, it was Rodionov who earned the first ATP-level victory of his career with a 3-6, 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-4, 10-8 triumph after a total of four hours and 36 minutes.

The longest match of the day saw Juan Ignacio Londero outlast Federico Delbonis 6-4, 7-6(1), 2-6, 1-6, 14-12 in four hours and 54 minutes. That all-Argentine affair ended after 9:30 pm with rain coming down as hard as it had all day.

It was a scene no one had ever seen before at Roland Garros, as this is the first year in which the outer courts have lights. At previous French Opens, the Londero-Delbonis match would have long since been suspended and postponed until the following day.

But this isn’t your normal French Open. It wasn’t on Day 1, and it probably won’t be at any point during the fortnight.

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.