We had to wait for the first day proper for British success at Roland Garros, as the quietly spoken Aljaz Bedene showed why his clay court skills this year has propelled him back to within touching distance of the Top 50.
The start of the match was tight, trading breaks with Ryan Harrison before getting a decisive break at the end of the first set to serve it out for a lead. The momentum was firmly in the Brit’s court as he took full advantage of a lacklustre performance from Harrison as Bedene wrapped up a two set lead.
However, Harrison, who was getting mightily grumpy with movement in the crowd and his inability to get past some solid serving from Bedene, fought back taking advantage of a loose game (and a loose racquet) from Bedene to keep himself in contention.
It was short-lived as the Brit broke twice before sealing his spot in thw second round on his third match point. For those who have never spoken or heard him in press, he is a softly spoken, articulate slip of a guy who could give himself a lot more weapons with a little more physicality. He admitted that he slipped a little in the third set and had to regroup for his win.
“I think the three sets I won I was really solid. The third set wasn’t the best. Basically gave one game away too easily. But, yeah, first set was tougher than expected. Second set I played really well. Yeah, basically, just the beginning of the third set wasn’t good.
“Definitely the racquet was loose. I think that was the problem I’ve got. I mean, I changed it afterwards and I was better. I knew he’s going to fight, and he did. He actually came back strong after that second set, which I think he gave it away too easily.
“I got a little bit frustrated after that. But then in the fourth set I came back strong, so it was good.”
In terms of his confidence – it appears to be back after a failed appeal to the ITF that sent his career into a complete tailspin.
“It wasn’t easy, but I had to say it to myself that I have to forget about the Davis Cup and focus on myself. You know, I’m 27 years old. I want to have a good career. That time after March, basically started to play different tennis. And I’m good on the mental part, as well.”
Always been known as ‘Slovenian-born’
Yet his ambitions to play for his country at the Olympics remain. And in light of the twitter taunting from compatriot Dan Evans, there now could be an interesting debate about which country that might be.
He said: At the moment I’m representing Great Britain, but I do want to play Olympic Games. That’s, you know, I think a dream for every athlete. I’ll have to see on that what can be done.
“I don’t know what the rules are (about re-representing Slovenia), really. I haven’t checked that, no. I’m not thinking about that now – Davis Cup is off the radar now.”
He handled Evans’ somewhat jingoistic tweets and comments with good grace, but there was more than a hint of poignancy to one of his replies.
“I have always been known as Slovenian born. But, you know, I love Britain. I have spent quite a lot of time there. I’m enjoying it there. I can’t wait for the grass season to start, although I’m not playing Queen’s. But, you know, grass is British thing. I can’t wait for that. But, yeah, I still feel Slovenian and British.”
For now though he is the Brit who is leading the charge with Andy Murray, Kyle Edmund and Johanna Konta to play on Tuesday as the first round matches are set to conclude.
Jiri Vesely sent No. 14 seed Jack Sock packing, although Bedene had no doubts that Vesely could well be his next opponent. He told reporters that he certainly had not expected Sock to be across the net from him in the next round.
“I think Vesely can beat many good players on clay and, you know, it’s best of five. I don’t think Sock is the fittest. I think Vesely is really fit. I know he won in three sets still, but the first two were tough. But I think he’s a great player. I didn’t think Sock is going to win.
“But, you know, playing Vesely — I played him once. I lost on clay. Great serve. He doesn’t miss from the back. It’s going to be a good match if I play well.”
Vesely is a big unit, well over 6’ tall but he moves very well on clay and backs up a solid serve and forehand with some nifty drop shots and a slice backhand that can do a bit of damage.
The clay gives him time on the ball, and with his variety, Bedene is right that if both of them bring their A-game it could be a gruelling encounter.
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