There was a hint of change in the damp Parisian air when only 13 of 32 seeds reached the third round of the French Open – the smallest percentage at a grand slam tournament since the number of seeds was increased to 32 at Wimbledon 19 years ago. But the 29-year-old Simona Halep, top seed in the absence of Ashleigh Barty, remains a firm favourite to win her second title after exacting swift revenge on the American teenager Amanda Anisimova.
Halep looked awesome winning 6-0, 6-1 in less than an hour against Anisimova, who stopped her in straight sets in the quarter-finals last year. Her coup de grâce was a cross-court passing backhand on the run that left her opponent dazzled and helpless at the net.
Halep, the 2018 champion, was on a 16-match winning run this time and Anisimova, one of four teenagers left, had dropped only four games in her first two matches, the fewest of any player left in the draw. But the illusion of parity evaporated when Halep inflicted a 23-minute bagel then powered to the finish line. Unlike last year, she moved inside the court time and again to apply quality pressure deep and wide.
She denied Serena Williams’s withdrawal on that side of the draw made her job easier. “Any player can win any match,” she said. “The mental part is very important at the highest level, and probably some players are tired. I have learned to live in the present. I feel fit, relaxed and strong.”
Halep meets another teenager, Iga Swiatek, on Sunday after the exciting Pole ended the revival of the 2014 semi-finalist Eugenie Bouchard 6-3, 6-2. This was the deepest the 26-year-old Canadian, now 158 in the rankings, has gone in a major tournament in three years. Halep will find Swiatek harder to beat than she did Anisimova.
When Carolina Garcia warmed French hearts by beating Elise Mertens 1-6, 6-4, 7-5, under cover on Chatrier, there were poignant moments at the beginning and end of their long match. In early exchanges, torrential rain on the new roof drowned out the mild applause from the Covid-scattered crowd in a stadium built for 15,000 fans as Garcia looked near collapse.
By the end of a tense encounter, the small bubbles of fans filled the stadium with their raucous approval of her progress to the fourth round with a sixth ace on her sixth match point. With exquisite timing it was announced that Dominique Perrault Architecture had won the competition to design the new roof on Suzanne Lenglen. It would bring, the communique said, “architectural intervention [that] not only creates a roof but also proposes a large-scale architectural ensemble whose silhouette dialogues both with the surrounding landscape and the architecture of the existing building”. And maybe keep the rain out.