Given their previous success at Roland Garros, Ons Jabeur, Garbine Muguruza and Dominic Thiem were always going to be prominent in the 2022 conversation.
Jabeur, who lifted the girls’ singles trophy at Roland Garros in 2011, recently underlined her clay-court credentials with victory in Madrid and as runner-up in Charleston and Rome. Her 17 match wins on clay this year were the most of any WTA player.
Muguruza defeated Serena Williams to win her maiden major at Roland Garros in 2016, while Thiem was runner-up in the 2018 and 2019 tournaments.
But on opening day at Roland Garros 2022, the conversations on those high-profile players took another turn as each suffered first-round losses to arguably lesser-known opponents.
Jabeur, widely considered the woman most likely to challenge in-form world No.1 Iga Swiatek in Paris, exited in three sets to world No.56 Magda Linette.
Muguruza became a victim to Kaia Kanepi, who turns 37 on 10 June and is the oldest woman contesting the 2022 singles draw.
For former world No.3 Thiem, a straight-sets loss to world No.87 Hugo Dellien was perhaps less shocking given his recent injury challenges. Still, it added to a frustrating period for the 28-year-old, who last claimed an ATP-level match win at Rome a year ago.
But if the positives were scarce from their respective on-court performances, the players maintained refreshing perspective in their post-match assessments.
While not shying from her disappointment at the loss, Jabeur vowed to look ahead to the grass-court season.
“I’m a pretty positive person,” she reasoned after Linette wrestled a 3-6 7-6(4) 7-5 victory over two hours and 28 minutes. “I’m not going to let a match like this ruin it … obviously I was expecting better but maybe it’s a good thing for me to reflect (properly) on this match.”
The 27-year-old Jabeur has good reason to be positive about the short-term future. In 2021, she made history as the first player from Tunisia, and the first Arab woman, to reach a Wimbledon quarterfinal.
The now-world No.6 Jabeur clearly identifies further possibilities at the 2022 Championships.
“We say that maybe something bad happens because there is something good will happen in the future,” Jabeur noted soon after her Roland Garros exit. “Definitely (this is) a great, great time to reflect and to see what’s going to happen next.”
Some soul-searching was perhaps also on the cards for Muguruza after Kanepi’s 2-6 6-3 6-4 victory.
The 2016 champion and former world No.1 led by a set and 3-1 before the Estonian stormed back to seize the upset after two hours and six minutes.
Now 7-9 in match wins this season, Muguruza has lost five matches after holding the first-set advantage.
"I've had matches so much in control, but then I don't manage to close and it gets complicated,” admitted the Spaniard, who is nevertheless determined to persevere with current processes.
“A match is a match and at the end, there's only a winner. I feel that I'm training hard, I'm putting the work, I'm playing tournaments, trying to switch those moments, try to get more confident.
"We're going to keep doing it. At some point, I'm 100 per cent sure that I'm going to go out there and get those wins that are slipping away right now from me."
Thiem, who claimed a first major title at the 2020 US Open, also appreciates that patience will be critical in a return to major dominance.
Absent from the second half of the 2021 season as he managed a serious wrist injury, the Austrian returned to the tour at Challenger level in March. Further delayed by a COVID diagnosis soon afterwards, he contested only five ATP tournaments ahead of Roland Garros.
“It is what it is. I know that it’s going to take time. That the level is extremely high from all the players competing here and I’m not there yet,” said Thiem, who recorded an 11th consecutive match loss.
“I was really working hard to get there but the time was just not enough. I have to accept it.”
And while admitting that his forehand, first-serve percentage and decision-making are all areas for improvement, Thiem also believes he is heading in the right direction.
“I’m not doing anything different in training,” he insisted. “I think that’s the key because with a certain way of training I got very successful so it’s time to do the same again to get back on track.”
Taking heart from the fact he is no longer experiencing pain in his wrist, Thiem will target those improvements at ATP Challenger level. Armed with a wildcard into next week’s tournament in Perugia, Italy, work ethic is clearly no issue for the dedicated – but pragmatic – Austrian.
“The key is just to be patient, work on the stuff which is not working and then it will come back,” he reasoned. “But I think it's going to take a few more months until I can really say, ‘okay, now I'm ready to beat those top guys again’.”