The women's tournament kicked off on Sunday with a solid win by 2010 runner-up Samantha Stosur and ended with a stunning upset of Flavia Pennetta by Varvara Lepchenko. In between, all the relevant seeds survived despite being pushed at and there were some impressive moves by new names.
No. 10 and three-time semi-finalist Jelena Jankovic thrashed Alona Bondarenko (Ukraine) 6-3, 6-1, former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova ran past Magdalena Rybarikova 6-2 6-3, no. 14 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova struggled yet beat Yaroslava Shvedova and no. 17 Julia Goerges flattened Mathilde Johansson 6-1 6-4.
There was only one upset on paper when Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez overcame No 19 Shahar Peer 7-6(4) 6-1, but the Spanish serve and volleyer has won a WTA Premier title on clay before and Peer is no lover of the surface, so the result did not come as total surprise. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, the highest-ranked American in the tournament due to the absence of the Williams sisters, came back to best Arantxa Parra Santonja, 2-6 7-6(5) 6-3, finally winning a tough three-setter at a major after a year of struggles. Young Canadian Rebecca Marino bested Kateryna Bondarenko 6-3, 6-3.
There was also an emotional win by France's Alize Cornet who wore a black ribbon on her dress in her 6-4, 6-2 win over Renata Vorakova as a tribute to Stephane Vidal, the coach and fiancé of fellow French player Virginie Razzano, who just passed away due to a brain tumour. "I will not be the only one to wear this black ribbon," Cornet said. "It's really moving for all of us and, I'm a good friend of Virginie's. The French players paid a tribute to Stephane to show Virginie that we would support her daily because we're always by her side."
Stosur, who reached the final of Rome last week, seems to have recovered from a virus which affected her in the final at the Foro Italico and pounded serves and forehands past Iveta Benesova 6-2, 6-3. Jankovic, who said on Roland Garros radio that she is starting to feel her age even though she is only 26, had few problems with Bondarenko, but has been less than satisfied with her clay court season. At 2010 Roland Garros, she admittedly did not show up mentally against Stosur in the semis and was crushed. But hopes springs eternal, even for the tired Serbian. " I really love playing in Roland Garros," said Jankovic, who also reached the 2007 and 2008 semis. "I really love these courts. Hopefully I can do well here again. Obviously my dream is to one day win it."
After winning Stuttgart and taking down no. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, Goerges is one of the tournament's dark horses and showed it in win over Johansson, pasting forehands, moving quickly and rarely backing off the ball. She is more of a known quality now, and whether or not she can produce consistent, stunningly good tennis at a major with the pressure on remains to be seen, but she has the game to go very far. "I don't think I have a big chance for the title here because I have never reached further than the third round in a Grand Slam, so we shouldn't be talking here about winning a Grand Slam," she said.
Marino has very little familiarity with clay but has a big enough serve and forehand to hurt anyone on a good day and hit through Bondarenko, who is just back from injury. She will have a much more difficult time against the net rushing and tricky Martinez, but does not appear fearful of the lefty. "She is a clay-court player, so that's always difficult playing someone who is so used to the surface. I'm lucky. My dad's a lefty, so I grew up with that."
Mattek-Sands and Lepchenko will face off and while they have played each other in the past, this time both will be brimming with confidence, having beaten a competent Spanish clay-courter and stunned an excellent Italian seed respectively. Mattek played aggressive and vowed not to let go of another close three-setter like she did at the 2010 US Open against Andrea Petkovic or at the 2011 Australian Open against Arantxa Rus, where on both occasions she fell 7-5 in the third set. "I thought about my Australian Open three set match that I lost and thought 'I am not doing that again, I am going to win this match'. For me it was mental, because a lot of times I like to feel good when I win. I like to hit winners. Today I had to grind," said Mattek after the match.
25-year-old Lepchenko had reached the second round of Roland Garros once before, but did not beat a player of the former quarter-finalist Pennetta's calibre. This time around the lefthander did not back off her shots and forced the Italian into errors time and time again.