Could this be Venus' year at the French?
ROLAND GARROS, France – If Venus Williams is ever going to win the French Open, she needs a few more performances like this.
Patti Schnyder, the Swiss left-hander, has been around a long time and can trouble anyone, but on Sunday Venus was imperious on a court named after a tall, athletic diva of another age, Suzanne Lenglen. Williams came through in the first round of the French Open with a 6-3, 6-3 victory.
The fact that the elder Williams sister had never lost to Schnyder in 10 meetings probably helped, but it was the manner of her victory that was so impressive.
This was the Venus we saw all the way through to the final of Madrid when she seemed more at ease on clay than at any time in her career. The fact that Aravane Rezai stunned her in the final with a performance few thought Rezai capable of might have thrown Williams out of her stride here in Paris, but there was no evidence of that.
She made it to the final here at Roland Garros in 2002 but has never gotten that close again. Is this the year? If she keeps playing like this, then the answer could be yes.
Meanwhile, Rezai had an untroubled win herself, beating a Canadian with an Egyptian background, Heidi El Tabakh, 6-1, 6-1.
It was a glorious day in Paris. Crowds flooded the walkways, boutiques and outside courts of this legendary complex and there was plenty of drama and good tennis to keep them happy.
The upset happened before the Williams-Schnyder match on Suzanne Lenglen when Ernests Gulbis, the 23rd seed and currently the game's most talked about personality, was forced to default at 6-4, 6-2, 1-0 down against the experienced Frenchman Julien Benneteau.
Gulbis already was in trouble when he went for a wide ball and felt something snap in his upper thigh. He took a three-minute break for off-court treatment and played on for half an hour but eventually took the correct decision and withdrew.
If it is a hamstring, he is going to struggle to be fit in time for the British grass court season that he loves, and there was no point in making the condition worse.
Benneteau was right afterward in saying that he was in charge of the match before Gulbis hurt himself, but with such a mercurial performer you never know what the outcome might have been in different circumstances.
When frustration set in as he struggled to play on, Gulbis bounced and broke his racket. "No big deal," he said afterward, repeating the answer he had given to the injury. "It's sport, it's the way it goes."
That moved someone to ask what would be a big deal for him. His answer was typical Gulbis.
"I don't know what would be a big deal," he replied. "Hmm....I don't know. I'll have to think. Good question, actually. Thank you for asking. Maybe three broken rackets. Throw them into the stands; hit someone with a ball. I'll have to get back to you on that one."
He was laughing as he talked. If the injury keeps him out for a while, we'll miss him. There is more to come from this young man.
The match of the day came as a surprise. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the big Frenchman who is something of a cult hero in France, was not expected to be delayed very long on the Philippe Chatrier Center Court by Daniel Brands, a little-known 22-year-old German ranked 88th in the world.
But the ultimate score of 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5 to Tsonga tells a different story.
Brands produced some amazing shot-making and kept coming back at Tsonga when all seemed lost. Brands saved a couple of match points before conceding defeat, but Germany may have found a new player of note.
Last year's finalist Robin Soderling, the man who upset Rafael Nadal in such sensational fashion, came through the first round with no problem, 6-0 6-2, 6-3, against Laurent Recouderc of France, while Marin Cilic needed four sets to get past Brazil's Ricardo Mello.