Australian tennis has been left fretting about the state of Ash Barty’s fitness, delighting in Alex de Minaur’s rejuvenation and sighing at the inevitability of rising star Alexei Popyrin’s lesson from the king of clay.
Yet the third day of action at Roland Garros on Tuesday was also time for a couple of the sport’s less hyped performers to emerge from the shadows, as Astra Sharma and James Duckworth both booked their place in the second round at Roland Garros.
Four Australian victories in a day were worth celebrating, even if one came with its own alarming health warning as Barty conceded it’s going to be “tough” for her now to regain her 2019 title while suffering with a hip injury.
The “acute” ailment, which blew up at the weekend and saw Barty need a medical timeout after two sets of her 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 win over Croatian-American Bernarda Pera will loom over her bid to win back the crown she opted not to defend in 2020.
“It’s going to be a little bit tough this week,” said Barty. “[The injury] just needed some [timeout] today to try to release it off as best I could. We were able to fight through, able to give ourselves a chance to play again the next round.
“A massive part of today was accepting the fact that, yes, I may not be absolutely 100% but I’m certainly good enough to go out there and fight and do the best I can and give myself a chance to win matches.
“I’m not going to hide behind the fact I’m not quite 100% – but I can guarantee I’ll go out there with the right attitude every day and give it a crack no matter what.”
Both she and Sharma moved just a match away from a third round meeting after the Perth player defeated Romania’s Irina Bara 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 to continue a breakthrough year which has been rather eclipsed by Barty’s heroics on clay.
But her performance, which featured 36 winners, including plenty of searing ones, showed again she can be a force to be reckoned with, just as when winning her maiden WTA title in Charleston in April.
She has rewarded Tennis Australia, who recommended her for a wildcard in a reciprocal arrangement with the French Federation, by the win.
“It’s a very special moment, it means a lot. I was definitely a bit nervous going out,” said Sharma, who’s been short of competitive action while resting some niggling injuries.
She will face Ons Jabeur, the Tunisian No 25 seed who she beat in the Charleston final and who booms that she is after revenge.
As the Australian No 1, de Minaur is used to hogging the limelight and there was a decent-sized crowd on Court 6 to see the new-look, attack-minded, claycourt-admiring ‘Demon’ earn a win over Italian Stefano Travaglia 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4).
But even he would not have begrudged the spotlight to his fellow Sydneysider Duckworth, who after a few grand slam heartaches in the past, was left jubilant about his own victory over another Italian, Salvatore Caruso, ranked 19 places above him, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2.
“I’m pumped,” said the Brisbane-based Duckworth after his first-ever win at Roland Garros at the sixth attempt. I still had this memory of 2015 in my mind, match point up in the first round against Andrea Arnaboldi and he hits the back of the line with a backhand … ooo, that was a tough one,” he said.
“That’s why you’ve got to savour them when they come,” added the 29-year-old who had previously won six of 29 grand slam matches. “It’s great that we Aussies were all able to get a win today – and, hopefully, we can keep it rolling.”
Popyrin did miss his chance, though, when he blew two points to win the third set before a certain Roland Garros terminator proved as merciless as ever, beginning his quest for a record 21st grand slam with a 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (7-3) win.