PARIS – Carla Suárez Navarro was pleased, of course, to be back on a tennis court at the French Open on Tuesday night after being treated for cancer, competing for the first time in nearly 1 1/2 years.
And not just at any tournament, but her favorite one. Still, the 32-year-old from Spain made clear that she was not pleased with the result. Because she didn't just want to be out there; she wanted to come out on the right end of the score.
“Maybe with time, I (will) see this different, but now I’m not too happy,” Suárez Navarro said. “I was here to win that match.”
Suárez Navarro returned to professional tennis following chemotherapy treatments for Hodgkin lymphoma and came close to victory before eventually being beaten 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4 by 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens in a first-round match at Court Simonne Mathieu.
When it ended after nearly 2 1/2 hours, Stephens embraced Suárez Navarro at the net.
“Obviously she’s been through a lot and we’re all happy that she’s better and healthy and being able to play again, which I think obviously is the most important thing,” said Stephens, who was the runner-up at Roland Garros in 2018. “We all love her and love having her around.”
Suárez Navarro was ranked as high as No. 6, won two WTA singles titles and reached the quarterfinals at Grand Slam tournaments seven times — twice in Paris.
But she had not played professionally since February 2020, making a promise to herself that she would make it back to play at the French Open.
Her road back included hitting soft tennis balls just for 20 minutes at a time in the beginning. Full practices did not start until March.
She announced in April that she was cured of cancer and later said this will be her last season on tour.
“A long time. Really tough moments. Tough months,” Suárez Navarro said Tuesday. “But, well, every time, I had on my mind that I want to be here.”
VENUS SAYS GOODBYE — AND HELLO
Venus Williams is done in singles at the French Open after losing in the first round for the fourth year in a row.
The 40-year-old American is just about to get started in doubles — with a new partner, 17-year-old Coco Gauff.
“You know, I think we’re hopefully going to be a perfect match,” Williams said about teaming with Gauff, who beat her in singles at Wimbledon in 2019 and the Australian Open in 2020. “She’s so extremely talented that I’ll definitely be expecting her to do all the work.”
Williams has won seven Grand Slam singles titles and was the runner-up in Paris to her younger sister, Serena, in 2002. The two Williams siblings also have won 14 Grand Slam doubles trophies as a pair.
Asked about her recent singles record at Roland Garros after being defeated 6-3, 6-1 by Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia on Tuesday, Williams said: “I guess it happened. So moving on.”
MANY HAPPY RETURNS
The last time Ann Li competed at Roland Garros, she lost to a 182nd-ranked opponent in qualifying for the clay-court Grand Slam tournament.
That left a bitter taste and the 20-year-old American wanted to erase the bad memory on her return.
“It’s funny because I played there on the same court — with the same ref, too — last year,” Li said. “So, I was like: I’ve got to redeem myself.”
That’s exactly what she did.
Regarded as a rising star, Li did not face a break point on Court 9, lost only six points in the opening set and hit a total of 17 winners to beat Margarita Gasparyan 6-0, 6-1 and move into the second round in just 46 minutes on her main-draw debut.
The 75th-ranked Li recently returned from a two-month layoff because of an abdominal injury.
“I had to kind of step back,” she said. “I was in Orlando and took some time and really wanted to heal fully, because an ab is a tricky spot. I had some good preparation on the clay there and when I came here I was really excited.”
A runner-up at Wimbledon’s junior event as a teenager, Li is not a natural on clay, but she said she prepared well for the French Open and feels more comfortable on the slow surface.
“Last year on the red clay it was my first time here, so it was a little bit uncomfortable, a little bit unfamiliar,” she said. “But I feel really good now.”
___ AP Tennis Writer Howard Fendrich in Washington contributed to this report.
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