World number one Ashleigh Barty looked far from her best as she beat American Bernarda Pera in three sets, 6-4 3-6 6-2, but Mats Wilander still backs her to be very tough to beat at Roland Garros.
Barty took the opening set without too many problems but she definitely was short of fluency - and whatever fluency she had completely deserted her during the second set, where her less experienced opponent was allowed to dominate.
What was most surprising was how passive Barty looked, with Eurosport commentators Simon Reed and Annabel Croft saying it looked as if she was “in a straightjacket.”
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In the deciding set she had to get the trainer on for a medical time out very early on. Whether it was the help of the trainer or the break impacting her opponent the tide completely turned after that and she saw out the match with ease as Pera struggled to recover her form.
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Wilander believes Barty will still be very tough to beat, despite her back problems and lack of fluency, finding her way into the tournament.
"As long as she is healthy," Wilander told Eurosport. "As long as her lower back, or whatever it was there, is okay. Otherwise, I think it is good for her.
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"She has not played for a couple of weeks, obviously, and I think for her she needs to play a couple of good matches here, a couple of close matches.
She is never going to blow anyone off the court but the tennis IQ, with the weapons she has, is unbelievably high.
"In the end, it was a good match. She is going to be tough to beat."
Barty will now face the winner of Chloe Paquet against Magda Linette.
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Watch all the action from the 2021 French Open live on Eurosport, eurosport.co.uk and the Eurosport app with 13-time champion Rafael Nadal eyeing a remarkable 14th title and 2020 Roland Garros sensation Iga Swiatek aiming to replicate her stunning triumph.
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