Nick Zaccardi

OlympicTalk Editor
Venus Williams
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Venus Williams exits on French Open opening day

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PARIS (AP) — Venus Williams’ 22nd appearance at the French Open did not last long.

The 2002 runner-up lost her opening match at Roland Garros for the second year in a row, beaten 6-3, 6-3 by ninth-seeded Elina Svitolina in 1 hour, 13 minutes.

The 38-year-old Williams lost in the first round for the fourth time in the last seven years at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament.

Wiliams was broken in seven of her nine service games.

She wasn’t the only major winner to make an early exit. Angelique Kerber won’t complete a career Grand Slam this year.

Still hampered by a right ankle injury, the three-time major winner lost 6-4, 6-2 to an 18-year-old Roland Garros beginner, Russian Anastasia Potapova, on Court Philippe Chatrier.

No. 5 seed Kerber’s preparations for Roland Garros, where she never advanced past the quarterfinals, were hampered by the injury she suffered at the Madrid Open last month.

“Of course this is not my excuse and everything,” Kerber said. “I tried my best. I know that there is still a little bit of work to do to be really playing matches 100 percent.”

The 81st-ranked Potapova sealed the opening set with a cross-court backhand winner and broke twice at the start of the second. Kerber saved two match points before shanking a forehand wide sealing her fate.

“The clay season is over now for me. Yeah, I’m happy about that, that I can now look forward to playing on grass,” added Kerber, who won the Australian Open and US Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2018.

Playing his first match at Roland Garros since 2015, Roger Federer had no problem reaching the second round.

Back on the refurbished Chatrier, the 20-time Grand Slam champion defeated French Open debutant Lorenzo Sonego 6-2, 6-4, 6-4.

Federer missed the French Open in 2016 because of a back injury and then skipped the event to focus on Wimbledon. He won the title in Paris 10 years ago to complete a career Grand Slam.

“I missed you, thanks very much for the welcome,” Federer said to the crowd after concluding his match. “I was quite tense at the start.”

Among other seeded players in action, 2016 champion and 19th-seeded Garbine Muguruza advanced to the second round with a 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 win over American Taylor Townsend at the tournament’s newest stadium, Court Simonne Mathieu. No. 11-seeded Marin Cilic of Croatia defeated Thomas Fabbiano of Italy 6-3, 7-5, 6-1.

FRENCH OPEN: TV Schedule | Scores | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

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Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat win first tournament title together

Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat
FIVB World Tour
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Kerri Walsh Jennings‘ 56th international tournament title was among the most special. It marked her first in nearly three years (her longest drought), and the first ever for her new partner, Brooke Sweat. At 40, she became the oldest woman to win an FIVB World Tour event.

“It’s been so long,” Walsh Jennings said after the Americans doused Australians Mariafe Artacho and Taliqua Clancy 21-17, 21-19 in Sunday’s final of a four-star event in Jinjiang, China.

For Walsh Jennings, who has the same number of kids as Olympic golds, and the Rio Olympian Sweat, it means they are closer to, if not in the driver’s seat for one of two U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo. Walsh Jennings is bidding to become the oldest Olympic beach volleyball player in history in 2020.

The U.S. Olympic qualifying standings, which will count each pair’s 12 best results together, with still more than a year to go:

1. Walsh Jennings/Sweat – 3,900 (8 events played)
2. Ross/Klineman – 3,240 (5 events)
3. Day/Flint – 2,500 (6 events)
4. Hughes/Ross — 2,240 (5 events)
5. Sponcil/Claes — 2,080 (4 events, have a higher per-event average than Walsh Jennings/Sweat)
6. Larsen/Stockman — 1,840 (5 events)

Walsh Jennings and Sweat’s breakthrough win came earlier Sunday, when they dispatched Brazilians Agatha and Duda 21-19, 19-21, 15-13 in the semifinals. Agatha and her previous partner, Barbara, handed Walsh Jennings her lone Olympic beach volleyball defeat in the semifinals in Rio. Duda, 20, is a world champion at the U19, U21 and Youth Olympic level.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat announced their partnership Oct. 9, after a tumultuous two years for Walsh Jennings and nearly 15 years after Sweat first saw Walsh Jennings at a Toyota dealership exhibition in her freshman year at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Walsh Jennings’ 2017 season, after she and Rio Olympic bronze-medal partner April Ross split, ended prematurely with her sixth right shoulder surgery (followed by an ankle surgery). She said before the 2018 season that the 2020 Olympics would be her last, assuming she qualifies.

Walsh Jennings paired with 2008 Olympian Nicole Branagh. They had a best 2018 finish of fifth in six FIVB World Tour events before splitting.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who went winless in Rio with Lauren Fendrick and then had her second shoulder surgery, have a pair of thirds, a runner-up and now a win in eight events together.

“Looking forward to more,” Sweat, after her first career gold in more than 60 international events, said Sunday.

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VIDEO: Beach volleyball Olympian surprises her team with baby announcement

Roger Federer returns to French Open on 10th anniversary of title, 20th anniversary of debut

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Roger Federer called it the most satisfying win of his career, next to his maiden Wimbledon title. Ten years ago, he at last conquered the red clay of Paris, capturing his first French Open title to complete the career Grand Slam.

It remains Federer’s lone Coupe des Mousquetaires as he returns this week to play the tournament for the first time since 2015. Many have speculated this could be the 37-year-old’s French farewell, but the most important voice has repeatedly shot that down.

“How much longer am I going to play? I wish I knew,” Federer said on ESPN at the Miami Open in March. “We’re not thinking about retirement because the more I think about it and the more I talk about it, the closer I am to it. I have no plans. There was talk about [retiring after] the Tokyo Olympics and all that, but that’s not true.”

Federer spoke again Friday, one day before the 20th anniversary of his first Grand Slam main-draw match and two days before he opens play against Italian Lorenzo Sonego. He said he didn’t know if he can win this year. The No. 3 seed, he reached the quarterfinals of his two clay events earlier this month.

In some ways, Federer feels similar to how he did going into the 2017 Australian Open, after missing the 2016 Olympics and U.S. Open due to a knee injury and seeing his ranking fall to No. 17. Federer then won the Australian Open, his first major in four and a half years, igniting a late 30s resurgence.

“A bit of the unknown,” he said. “I feel like I’m playing good tennis, but is it enough or is it enough against the absolute top guys when it really comes to the crunch? I’m not sure if it’s in my racket.”

FRENCH OPEN: TV Schedule | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

In 2009, Federer came to the French Open with a hint of desperation that he had been carrying for three years. Rafael Nadal beat him in the semifinals in 2005 and the final in 2006, 2007 and 2008, the last one a clinical 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 in a tidy 108 minutes.

“I was like, man, how many more chances do I need to get the title?” Federer said not of 2008 but of 2006, the first of consecutive years he came to Paris seeking to complete the Roger Slam — holding all four major titles at once.

The chance in 2009 became an opportunity when Nadal was upset by Swede Robin Soderling in the round of 16. It ended a 31-match win streak to start Nadal’s Roland Garros career and closed his path to a fifth straight French Open title.

“My dream scenario is to beat Rafa here in the finals,” Federer said the next day, after coming from two sets down to outlast Tommy Haas, adding later, “I knew the day Rafa won’t be in the finals, I will be there and I will win. I always knew and that I believed in it.

“Even though people said, oh, he’s got to go through Rafa to win this title, I knew it wasn’t particularly the case because you can’t be in every Grand Slam final.”

So it happened. Federer and Soderling met on a windy, occasionally rainy Sunday with Bjorn Borg, Tony Parker and Eva Longoria in attendance. Federer spent the previous night watching CDs of his two most recent matches with Soderling, who had taken just one set in their nine career meetings.

It turned out to be one of Federer’s easier matches of the two weeks, a 6-1, 7-6 (1), 6-4 affirmation.

“I felt like I just played three, four finals of French Open this week because everybody expected me to win. It’s an unbelievable relief of pressure,” Federer said. “Of course there’s no Nadal on the other side of the net, but I beat him a couple of weeks ago on clay [in the Madrid final], so I really feel like I deserve it.”

It marked Federer’s 14th Grand Slam singles title, tying Pete Sampras‘ record. Federer is now at 20, Nadal at 17 and Novak Djokovic at 15. The greatest-ever debate is now fluid, but a decade ago John McEnroe asked Federer, as he cradled the Coupe des Mousquetaires on Court Philippe Chatrier, how it felt to be the GOAT.

“Am I the greatest of all time? We don’t know, but I definitely have many things going for me,” Federer said.

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