Alien conditions await SA tennis stars at French Open

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Lloyd Harris (Photo supplied by Tennis SA)
Lloyd Harris (Photo supplied by Tennis SA)
  • SA tennis stars Lloyd Harris, Kevin Anderson and Raven Klaasen open their French Open campaigns on Tuesday.
  • The event is played in the unusual time slot of September-October, with the cold weather causing slow playing conditions.
  • Organisers have also created some controversy by changing the balls from Babolat to Wilson.

South African tennis stars Lloyd Harris, Kevin Anderson and Raven Klaasen will open their 2020 French Open campaign at Roland Garros in Paris on Tuesday.

The trio already had to deal with a host of challenges because this year's event is a far cry from the annual clay court Grand Slam.

Due to the event being played in September instead of its usual late May slot, rain and low temperatures are prevailing.

Harris and Anderson's first-round matches were already moved from Sunday to Tuesday because of rain.

The event also takes place in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic and during the event players will all be restricted to the controlled bio-secure environment. Players, management and staff are regularly monitored for infection.

There is also the matter of a change of ball which has sparked a fair bit of controversy, with the 'King of Clay' Rafael Nadal leading the chorus. Roland Garros changed its official ball from Babolat to Wilson because of the wet weather conditions.

Cape Town tennis coach Stephan de Kock, who is travelling with Klaasen, said players have stepped into the unknown in Paris.

"Instead of the usually warm weather it is rainy, chilly and the wind comes up now and again," said De Kock.

"It is the same for everyone and it will be a matter of adapting. Some Europeans have grown up in these conditions so they will cope better than players from elsewhere.

"The new ball has sparked huge debates but we know it will be slow and heavy because of the rainy conditions.

"The character of the courts will change a fair bit. We will not have dry and fast clay courts.

"Then there will be empty stands which are strange, especially when playing on the show courts.

"Many of the top players usually have private accommodation in Paris but now all the players are staying in one area in the vicinity of the stadium."

Harris, South Africa's top world-ranked player at No 96, has a tough assignment against Australian world No 108 Alexei Popyrin, who lifted he 2017 French Open junior title.

Over the last three years, Popyrin has spent most of his time in Europe. His 96th slot on the world rankings may not accurately reflect his real standing on the circuit.

Anderson has had a poor run of form of late and faces an uphill battle again Serbian world No 72 Laslo Djere.

It will be another awkward first-round clash for Anderson as his opponent Djere has a good record on clay. He does not have a service to match Anderson but has solid groundstrokes which he launches mainly from the baseline.

SA doubles specialist Klaasen and Austrian partner Oliver Marach are up against the unseeded French duo, Benjamin Bonzi and Antoine Hoang.

Coach De Kock has observed the South Africans at training and said the duo were "fired up" and looked comfortable on the clay surface.

- Tennis SA

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