Australia’s challenge at the French Open suffered a quadruple calamity on a miserable Monday in Paris that saw a Storm blow itself out, a brilliant comeback fall short and an injured warrior call it quits.
- Storm Sanders said “this isn’t the end” after being knocked out of her first overseas grand slam main draw
- After his remarkable fight back, Chris O’Connell said he was “devastated” he couldn’t capitalise on his opportunities
- John Millman left it until the very last minute to withdraw after medics advised he could make his back injury worse
Storm Sanders kept her promise to give it a “red hot go” against overwhelming favourite Elise Mertens at Roland Garros but the Queenslander was eventually overwhelmed after her early gale of winners had shocked the 14th seed.
Sydney wildcard Chris O’Connell was then left “devastated” after delivering a magnificent fightback from two sets down to drag American Tommy Paul into a final set dogfight, only to fall agonisingly short, losing the 63-minute decider 10-8.
Jordan Thompson was the next to fall, slogging away for over four hours and 23 minutes before losing to Spanish toiler Jaume Munar 6-7, (6-8), 6-1, 7-6, (7-5), 6-4.
If the hat-trick of on-court losses weren’t bad enough, play for the day hadn’t even begun when the dispiriting news of John Millman’s injury emerged.
The country’s No.2 men’s player was forced to withdraw with a back injury minutes before being due to take to the court for his opening-round match.
The 31-year-old was left “incredibly disappointed” to have to pull out of his match against Italian Gianluca Mager; he picked up the injury when in a practice hit with compatriot Alex de Minaur two days earlier.
Sanders, the Rockhampton left-hander who battled through qualifying to make it into her first overseas grand slam main draw, said she was proud of her efforts.
She shook up Mertens for a while, blasting winners as she raced into a 4-1 lead before the Belgian began to come to terms with her aggressive challenge, started mixing up her returns and dismantled the Queenslander 6-4, 6-1.
“I gave everything out there. I don’t give up,” said Sanders, who lost eight games on the trot after her blistering start, but saved three match points before succumbing in 83 minutes.
“I’ve got heaps of messages from home. Everyone is super proud of me. I hope everyone can keep following my journey. I want to keep going. This isn’t the end; this is the start.”
O’Connell, who received a wildcard as part of the French Federation’s reciprocal agreement with Tennis Australia, showed remarkable resilience to fight back before eventually succumbing to American world No.52 Paul 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 4-6 ,10-8.
Paul, ranked 77 places higher than the Sydneysider, had looked in control at two sets up but O’Connell kept the cooler head at the business end of both the next two to take it into a decider — his first-ever five-set match.
There had been nine breaks of serve leading into the last set, but none in 16 games in the final stanza until a wide backhand from O’Connell at 8-8, break point down, saw him slump to his haunches in dismay.
Still, Paul found it hard to put the match to bed, as O’Connell saved two match points and even earned a break-back point of his own until a weary backhand into the net finally ended his fight.
“It’s pretty devastating, I’m pretty upset about it,” said the 26-year-old. “I gave myself every opportunity to win it but it just wasn’t for me today.”
Millman’s fighting spirit is also famed and he left it to the very last minute before deciding to pull out in the morning once medics advised he could make the injury much worse if he played.
“It’s incredibly disappointing. I’m getting older now and I know I don’t have a whole lot of these ones left,” said the Brisbane stalwart, looking the picture of dejection.