Monday May 28th, 2012

Sloane Stephens Sloane Stephens was one of the 10 Americans to reach the second round. (Landov)

The second day of the French Open is in the books. Well, mostly in the books after still more matches were suspended due to darkness. On Monday, the American women remained perfect in Paris and Brian Baker kept on rolling.

American Woman: How's this for a stat: The American women are 10-0 through the first two days of the French Open, and the top-ranked American hasn't even taken the court yet. Sunday saw Venus Williams, Vania King, Irina Falconi, Alexa Glatch and Melanie Oudin advance, and the streak continued Monday with wins from Christina McHale, Sloane Stephens, Varvara Lepchenko, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and, perhaps most surprising, Lauren Davis, who beat No. 30 Mona Barthel 6-1, 6-1. Left in the wake of this American tidal wave? Two seeds (Sabine Lisicki and Barthel) and an Australian Open quarterfinalist (Ekaterina Makarova). The 10 Americans into the second round is the most at the French Open since 2003, and if both Serena Williams and Jamie Hampton win on Tuesday, the ladies will go 12-0 through the first round and break the record for most American women into the second round.

After years of relative futility on the red dirt, this year's success has seemingly come out of nowhere. The reality is that the Americans benefited from some favorable draws and the USTA has to be happy with how well its younger players are taking to the clay.

WERTHEIM: Azarenka escapes first-round upset scare

"Starting from last year at the U.S. Open when we all did pretty well, we all had some pretty good results, I think that kind of sparked something," Stephens said after her win on Monday. "The more media catches on to it, they're like, 'Oh, they're really doing something.'  We're not all lazy and don't do anything."

Mattek-Sands agreed. "A couple years ago everyone was asking me the opposite questions on why American tennis was so bad," she said. "I told them, 'I think we have some great young players coming up.' It's just the WTA right now has a lot of depth. It really shows that some of the Americans are coming through playing tough, grinding it out here on the clay, and it's awesome."

The Fabulous Baker Boy: Can someone get David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin on the line? I've got a pretty good story that's ready to be optioned for Hollywood. You would have understood if Baker came into Roland Garros sputtering, after playing 16 matches in the last month, eight matches just last week in Nice. At first I was bummed to see him stuck out on Court 6 for his first-round match against Xavier Malisse. For all the buzz around Baker, the sentimentalist in me didn't want to see him slink out of Paris on an outer court.

Well, Baker made sure that wasn't going happen. He beat Malisse 6-3, 7-6 (1), 7-6 (5) as the sun went down and assured himself a show court in the second round. It's as if the Tennis Gods are writing this script for us: Baker will take on Frenchman Gilles Simon next. Is it crazy to think he could pull off the impossible?

Tick tock, tick tock: It's necessary to keep things in perspective with the 20-year-old Ryan Harrison, who lost a four-setter to Simon. He was the second-youngest man in the draw and he played an experienced player in Simon, who improved to 3-0 against the American. But it seems every Harrison loss is immediately tagged with a "Well, he'll learn from that experience" pat on the head. This is Harrison's third straight first-round loss at a Slam and the loss puts him at 14-14 on the year.

As much as the book on Harrison is that he's a mature beyond his years, conducts himself like a professional, is open to learning and mentoring, and owns a competitive fire that's unmatched by anyone in his age group, his running out of steam or unraveling in matches is developing into a pattern. He was up a set and serving with two set points to go up 2-0 against Simon. He failed to convert and effectively fell apart for the rest of the match. Temperament is something that can mellow and improve over time (just ask Novak Djokovic, Victoria Azarenka or Andy Murray) and time is what Harrison needs.

Down and out: Ever seen a player retire at a Slam down match point? It happened to Alex Bogomolov Jr. on Monday. Down match point at 4-5 in the fifth, the Russian got leg cramps and pulled the ripcord, giving Arnaud Clement at least one more match before he retires. The crowd booed Bogo; Clement kept it classy, telling the fans to stop.

Unfortunately, Clement wasn't in Bogo's postmatch press conference, where he was questioned repeatedly about why he couldn't play just one more point. "I don't understand where you're going with these questions, man," Bogomolov said. "What do you want me to say? I got cramps and I retired."

Miscellaneous: Agnieszka Radwanska dominated Bojana Jovanovski 6-1, 6-0, setting up an Aga vs. Venus clash in the second round. ... Paris needs to get some floodlights or something. For the second day in a row two matches were suspended for darkness: Tommy Haas vs. Filippo Volandri was put on hold with Haas leading 6-3, 0-6, 6-4, 4-2, and Alex Dolgopolov vs. Sergiy Stakhovsky was stopped after they split the first two sets. ... Tough day for a few veterans: David Nalbandian and Lleyton Hewitt lost. ... Could you imagine if it were the Brits who had 10 women into the second round? Let's just say the American press is treating this whole thing with some admirable restraint. ... Jelena Jankovic needed three sets to beat Patrycia Mayr-Achleitner 6-1, 1-6, 7-5. ... Lucky loser? Laura Robson lost in the last round of qualies but won the No. 1 lucky loser position and moved into the main draw to play 26th-seeded Anabel Medina Garrigues, who rolled 6-2, 6-1. Funny thing is that if Robson had actually drawn the No. 2 position, she would have played a much easier opponent, Timea Babos, instead, as Vera Zvonareva withdrew from the tournament Monday morning. It's hard to underestimate the amount of luck that goes into everything in tennis.

Quote of the Day

"The first match, they're not easy. But in the end of the day I still won the match, I manage to go through those 60 mistakes and still win the match. I think that's pretty good statistics. If it would be 60 winners and I would lose that match, or win this match this way, I think that would suck a little bit more."-- Victoria Azarenka, with some interesting logic after her three-set win over Alberta Brianti.

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