Today was the first day of the French Open. Of course, we could talk at length about Juan Martín del Potro’s knee issues (and I am of those who are quite preoccupied by it), or by Andy Roddick losing to Nicolas Mahut (no, Roddick is not finished, yes, he’s still upset when he loses, and yes, grass will do him a world of good confidence-wise). However, today, I want to come back on Paula Ormaechea’s great match against Venus Williams.
It was the last match played on the Court Philippe-Chartier today, but it was one of the very anticipated matches for many. Several minutes after Andrey Kuznetsov made a very good impression on many fans by taking a set (with a baguette, s’il-vous-plaît!) off World no 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, it was up to Paula Ormaechea to try and do the same in front of one of her childhood idols, Venus Williams.
Ormaechea passed the test with flying colours.
She said it before the match: she would take the court with the intention to win. She had a very good chance to do so, as she started the match on fourth gear, breaking Venus at her second service game and holding her own serve quite easily, varying the play in her own mix of crazy angles, wonderful backhands and inside-out forehands, to the point where she quickly found herself up 5-2 and serving out the first set. She got broken, but was able to close it out the second time she had to step at the line to do so, taking it 6-4.
It was counting without the formidable power the Williams sisters have to come back and fill deficits. Venus started the second set strongly, taking advantage of Ormaechea’s letdown, quickly going up 5-0 and ending up taking it 6-1.
The beginning of the third set let us to think that we would see a repeat of the second. However, we can never discount Ormaechea’s proverbial fighting spirit. She broke right back, but still could not hold serve. In fact, she was broken at all of her service games in that set, but her return game was still spot on, as she managed to break and get back on serve with an amazing running forehand up the line when down 2-3.
This was the last game won by Paula, as Venus won the last three for a 4-6 6-1 6-3 victory and a likely meeting with Agnieszka Radwanska in the second round.
Nevertheless, the great match played today by Paula Ormaechea opened many eyes to her talent. The 19-year-old from Sunchales (she’ll turn 20 in September) showed again, just like when she faced Radwanska in Melbourne, that she has guts, and that she’s not afraid to go for her shots. However, just as I remarked following her meeting with the Pole, her second serve still needs to be worked on if she wants to continue climbing up like she does.
But the girl who dreamed of so much of being like her idols that she wished she was black (making Venus laugh when she told her after the match) leaves Paris satisfied with her performance:
“I’m leaving happy despite losing because I felt good, I played my game, and came out to win. Afterwards she returned very well, and I couldn’t keep up the rhythm, and she ended up beating me. But I’m leaving Roland Garros happy and knowing that if I continue this way things will go well.”
As for Venus, she was very impressed by Ormaechea’s game and attitude:
“She played super well the first set. I think she really did a lot of the right things, and I have to congratulate her on the first set, and thankfully the next two sets were better for me. [...] She played beautifully. I think the thing I was most impressed with was her fight, determination. You can see that she has a plan for this game. Of course, I encourage her to keep doing well. I had a chance to talk with her a little bit after the match, so it was very good to see the young person doing so well. It was great.”
It was not to be this time, but something tells me that when they next meet, Ormaechea will be 100% ready and will not have any more hero worship left for the legendary oldest Williams sister. As many Argentine colleagues remarked: time to take the poster off the wall. I’m pretty sure it is by now. She can keep Roger’s up, though (Paula is a great fan of Federer’s). She will never have to face him in a match.
Huge thanks to Marcos Zugasti for the post-match quotes!