Arab trailblazer Ons Jabeur crashed out of the French Open at the first hurdle on Sunday as Spanish teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz prepared to give Roland Garros a glimpse of the future of Grand Slam tennis.
Sixth seed Jabeur, seen as a potential champion, despite never having previously got past the fourth round, lost 3-6, 7-6 (7/4), 7-5 to Poland’s 56th-ranked Magda Linette.
Jabeur came into the event with a season-leading 17 wins on clay in 2022 and with the prestigious Madrid title under her belt.
However, she was undone Sunday by 24 unforced errors in the two hour 28-minute match.
Linette had lost to Jabeur in the third round in 2021 having stunned an injury-hit top seed Ashleigh Barty in her previous match.
“I just tried to stay focused after the first set and tried to make her uncomfortable. I was happy to fight for every single point,” said Linette who needed treatment on a leg injury after dropping the first set.
“I wanted to put her in the situation where she couldn’t move me around as much.”
Two-time runner-up Dominic Thiem, whose ranking has slipped to 194 after a lengthy battle with a wrist injury, was another early casualty, losing 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 to 87th-ranked Hugo Dellien of Bolivia.
Thiem, the 2020 US Open champion, has yet to win a match in six attempts since his return in March. He has now lost 10 tour-level matches in a row. His last victory came in Rome just over a year ago.
Not greatest feeling
The 28-year-old Austrian, a former world number three, reached at least the quarter-finals at Roland Garros five years running from 2016 to 2020.
He finished runner-up to Rafael Nadal in 2018 and 2019.
“It’s not the greatest feeling to go in a Grand Slam knowing that all is not perfect in practice. I don’t play like I would like to in practice,” said the Austrian.
Alcaraz, 19, bidding to become just the eighth teenager to capture a major men’s title, is widely tipped to end the dominance of 13-time champion Rafael Nadal and two-time winner Novak Djokovic.
He is the tour’s dominant player in 2022, winning a season-leading 28 matches with just three losses.
Three of his titles have come on clay in Rio, Barcelona and Madrid where he defeated Nadal, Djokovic and world number three Alexander Zverev to take the title.
Later Sunday, Alcaraz begins his French Open campaign against Argentine lucky loser Juan Ignacio Londero, ranked at 141 but who made the last 16 in 2019.
Alcaraz was ranked 97 this time last year. He was only two when Nadal won the first of his 13 French Opens in 2005 but he made his mark at the 2021 tournament where he came through qualifying to reach the third round.
“He definitely is special,” admitted Djokovic of Alcaraz who also claimed the prestigious Miami Masters earlier in the year.
Top seed Djokovic, who celebrated his 35th birthday on Sunday, and fifth-seeded Nadal, with 41 Grand Slam titles between them, are not in action until Monday.
Also sitting out the opening day is women’s world number one Iga Swiatek, the 2020 champion, who is on a 28-match win streak, having won five successive tournaments.
German third seed Alexander Zverev, a semi-finalist in 2021 when he gave up a two sets lead to Stefanos Tsitsipas, begins his bid for a maiden Slam title against Austria’s Sebastian Ofner, ranked at 218.
Ofner, without a win on the main tour since July last year, has come through qualifying at Roland Garros for the first time in five attempts.
Also in action on Sunday is Greek fourth seed Maria Sakkari against Clara Burel of France.
Sakkari was a semi-finalist at the French Open in 2021 where she was defeated in three sets by eventual champion Barbora Krejcikova.
by Dave JAMES