Attention is ramping up again on the French Open’s scheduling, with the night session so far exclusively featuring men’s matches.
Tournament director Amelie Mauresmo had to apologise last year after saying men’s matches had more appeal as a justification for only one women’s match featuring in the 10 prime-time sessions across the fortnight.
The French Open is unique among the grand slams in having only one match in its late slot and, in the first five days, that will be a men’s contest every time.
With fifth seed Caroline Garcia bowing out on Wednesday, the chances of a women’s match making the cut have reduced further, and former finalist Sloane Stephens hit out after her 6-2 6-1 win over Varvara Gracheva.
“I’m on the player council and we’ve had a lot of conversations about this and we’ve had a lot of conversations about equality,” said the American. “Four out of four men’s matches. That’s not what we talk about. That’s not what we’re about.”
Garcia’s 4-6 6-3 7-5 loss to Russian Anna Blinkova was a major blow to the home country.
Blinkova, ranked 56, had never beaten a top-five player before but battled back from a set down to triumph, finally taking her ninth match point.
🚨 Upset alert 🚨
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) May 31, 2023
Garcia was left hugely frustrated by her failure to seize the initiative, saying: “Sometimes when I’m on the court, I don’t dare go to the net. I don’t dare pummel through my balls. And the greatest regrets I have is that I don’t up my game when I should.
“My backhand is bad. Everything is bad. And this is what is tough to digest right now.”
Second seed Aryna Sabalenka was not at her best in the opening set against qualifier Iryna Shymanovich but finished strongly to win 7-5 6-2.
In her press conference, the Belarusian refused to answer questions about her previous support for president Alexander Lukashenko in a heated exchange with a Ukrainian journalist.
Former world number three Elina Svitolina continued to impress in her comeback grand slam, taking inspiration from husband Gael Monfils as she saw off Australian Storm Hunter 3-6 6-3 6-1.
Less than 11 hours after completing an emotional five-set win over Sebastian Baez, Monfils was back at Roland Garros cheering on Svitolina.
“I watched him, but not live, I was screaming in my room,” said the Ukrainian. “It was an unbelievable match. I don’t know what he is doing here now, I think he should be resting, but I’m really thankful for him coming to support me, especially in this tough match.”
Svitolina is playing her first slam in more than a year following the birth of baby Skai last October.
The new mother and father are juggling the day job with childcare, and Svitolina said: “It’s the first tournament for us where we are both playing at the same tournament, and Skai is here with us in Paris as well. It’s really, really special.
“So far everything is going well and we really enjoy our time off the court together and on the court we try to be focused and play as good as we can.”
Svitolina is also having to put to one side thoughts of the troubles in her homeland and is using the situation to inspire her on court.
🚨 𝑻𝑾𝑬𝑬𝑵𝑬𝑹 𝑨𝑳𝑬𝑹𝑻!
— Eurosport (@eurosport) May 31, 2023
She said: “When I step on the court, I just try to think about the fighting spirit that all of us Ukrainians have and how Ukrainians are fighting for their values, for their freedom in Ukraine. And me, I’m fighting here on my own frontline.
“I cannot be sad. I cannot be distracted in some ways. I’m just going to lose. I have a flag next to my name so I’m fighting for my country, and I’m going to do that each time I step on the court.”
Third seed Jessica Pegula had an untaxing afternoon, taking the first set 6-2 against Camila Giorgi before the Italian pulled out.
Ninth seed Daria Kasatkina produced the shot of the tournament so far, a fizzing tweener winner, in a 6-3 6-4 victory over former finalist Marketa Vondrousova, while 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko lost out 6-3 1-6 6-2 to American Peyton Stearns.
Meanwhile, Leylah Fernandez, the young Canadian beaten in the US Open final by Emma Raducanu in 2021, is close to dropping out of the top 100 after losing to her former junior rival Clara Tauson.