A flustered Jelena Ostapenko has become only the sixth female grand slam champion to fall at the first hurdle of her title defence when she lost to Kateryna Kozlova at the French Open, while American veteran Venus Williams also fell on day one in Paris.
The world No.5 Ostapenko never looked at ease on the Roland Garros main show court on Sunday, slumping to a 7-5 6-3 defeat to a Ukrainian opponent who had won both the pair’s previous meetings.
Not since Anastasia Myskina lost in the opening round of the 2005 tournament has the French Open lost its women’s champion so early.
By losing, Ostapenko joins a ignominious group including, as well as Myskina, Steffi Graf, Jennifer Capriati, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Angelique Kerber who all lost as grand slam champions on the first run of their defences.
Kozlova, competing with a large, weeping blister on her heel that caused her to take a medical break at the end of the first set, was well worth the victory, playing with power and composure, in contrast with the flustered champion.
Ostapenko’s eyes searched the coach’s box at every opportunity but could find no answers as she checked out early.
“It was terrible day,” she told reporters afterwards, her pink cap pulled low over her eyes.
“Honestly today began not in a nice way and I knew something like that could happen, so I tried to stay positive. But …
“I just woke up here and my mood was not amazing. few things go wrong and you are pissed off but you try to stay positive. Then you lose a match and it is no longer possible to be positive.”
Ostapenko said she might have had a better chance had she been scheduled on Monday or Tuesday but it simply hadn’t been her day.
“When I went on court today, I had this unbelievable pressure and felt I was not myself on court.”
“I will just try to forget this as soon as I can.”
It might appear lower-ranked players are becoming something of an achilles heel to the Latvian – already this year she had lost to two players outside the world’s top 50.
Kozlova, ranked 66, makes it an unhappy hat-trick for the 20-year-old.
WANG QIANG FLIPS THE SCRIPT ON VENUS WILLIAMS
Venus Williams has become the French Open’s first major casualty as the seven-time grand slam winner fell to a straight-sets 6-4 7-5 defeat at the hands of China’s Wang Qiang.
Wang avenged her loss to Williams in the first round at Roland Garros last year.
The 85th-ranked player was also beaten by ninth-seed Williams at Wimbledon a few weeks later and had never beaten Williams before Sunday.
The loss marked the first time 2002 runner-up Williams has lost her opening match there since 2001 and the only time in her career she has lost consecutive grand slam opening round matches.
In an earlier match, Sloane Stephens enjoyed her first grand slam win as the reigning US Open champion by demolishing Dutchwoman Arantxa Rus 6-2 6-0.
It was the American 10th seed’s first win at a grand slam tournament since claiming her first major title in New York last September.
She was beaten in the first round of the Australian Open and that result in January was one of eight successive defeats she suffered following her Flushing Meadows triumph.
But if Rus harboured any hopes of pulling off another upset, those hopes were dashed on Sunday in 49 brutal minutes by Stephens.
In other women’s games, Elina Svitolina marched through to the second round of the French Open after a tough opening set against Australia’s Alja Tomljanovic.
World No.4 Svitolina fell 5-1 behind in 23 minutes but powered back to a 7-5 6-3 victory.
Enjoying her highest ranking since returning from a shoulder reconstruction that wiped 13 months off her career, Tomljanovic threatened a huge upset after surging to 5-1 in the first set on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
But the 25-year-old instead faces sanctioning for her racquet-smashing outburst after surrendering six straight games and the opening set.
A finalist last month in Rabat, Tomljanovic has rebuilt her ranking to 68th in the world after falling outside the top 100 during her long lay-off in 2016-17.
“It’s tough losing to a top seed when you’re in position to potentially win the set and then you never know what can happen,” Tomljanovic said.
“But physically I wasn’t great going into the match. I was really quite sick last week.
“So I was actually pretty happy with the way I fought because I could have rolled over after the fifth game.
“So it’s kind of unfortunate. It’s kind of bittersweet because I’m glad that I provided a decent level at times, but losing is never fun.”
France’s Alize Cornet dug deep to recover from a set down to defeat Italian Sara Errani 2-6 6-2 6-3 in a show of powerful baseline hitting.
Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit is into the second round after a 6-1 4-6 6-2 victory over American Madison Brengle, as is Ekaterina Makarova, who beat China’s Zheng Saisai 6-4 6-1, and Petra Martic, who downed Wang Yafan 6-2 6-3.