On a day when the women’s programme here at the French Open featured some edge-of-the-seat marathon encounters, Heather Watson’s hopes of reaching the third round for the first time were dashed in just 70 minutes.
The British No 1 had won all four of her previous meetings with the American Sloane Stephens, but was up against it from the moment she lost her serve in the opening game. Stephens won 6-2, 6-4 to progress to a meeting in the last 32 with Bulgaria’s Tsvetana Pironkova.
Watson has had a problem recently with her right arm, which was heavily taped, and took painkillers before going on court. However, the world No 45 refused to use that as an excuse for her lacklustre performance.
“I just wasn’t moving,” Watson said afterwards. “I tried making some balls, then I tried hitting winners, but I just wasn’t getting the balance right at all. I was missing too early or I was too defensive.”
She added: “I think I was giving away a lot of free points. I made a lot of unforced errors. Obviously, she played well and did what she needed to do, but I think I was just very inconsistent today.”
Stephens’ quick-fire victory was in contrast to the meeting of two former French Open champions as Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova scrapped for three hours and 50 minutes. At the Australian Open four years ago the same players contested the longest women’s match in Grand Slam history at four hours and 44 minutes.
Schiavone, who at 34 was the oldest player to reach the second round, came out on top on both occasions. This time the 2010 champion won 7-6, 5-7, 10-8, but only after Kuznetsova had been broken when serving for the match four times in the deciding set. Schiavone saved a match point with a bold forehand winner when she served at 5-6 in a match that featured 24 breaks of serve.
It was the third-longest women’s singles match at Roland Garros in the Open era and just 17 minutes shorter than the longest, in which Virginie Buisson beat Noelle Van Lottum in the first round in 1995.
Caroline Wozniacki, the No 5 seed, was beaten 6-4, 7-6 by Germany’s Julia Goerges, while three more top 10 players survived three-set marathons.
Serena Williams, Petra Kvitova and Andrea Petkovic all lost first sets before recovering to beat Anna-Lena Friedsam, Silvia Soler Espinosa and Lourdes Dominguez Lino respectively.
Williams, who now faces a heavyweight showdown with Victoria Azarenka, appeared in danger of suffering a third early departure from the tournament in four years after a first set in which she made far too many errors. She lost to Virginie Razzano in 2012 and to Garbine Muguruza last year.
The world No 1 said afterwards that her sister Venus had always stressed to her that “a win is a win, and as long as you live to survive the next day, you can always improve”.
She added: “I know my level is literally a hundred times better than I played today, so I think I take more solace in the fact I can play better.”Reuse content