While Stephens’ only Grand Slam title came at the 2017 US Open, she enjoyed success at Roland Garros, finishing second in Simona Halep in 2018 and reaching two other quarter-finals on red clay in Paris, including last year.
“This is my favorite court in the world so I’m very happy to be back,” Stephens told the crowd at Court Philippe Chatrier. “It’s always amazing to start a Grand Slam on your favorite court, on your favorite surface.”
Stephens helped the Americans to a 4-0 score in the first few hours of play on the second day of the tournament after Sunday’s 1-4 start, when the only US victory came in a match between two American players: Jessica Pegula defeat Danielle Collins.
Madison keysrunner-up at Stephens in New York six years ago and semi-finalist at Roland Garros in 2018, defeated Kaja Kanepi The 6-1, 3-6, 6-1 on Monday improved her career record in the first round of a Grand Slam tournament to 35-5.
Stephens had a break in the second set against Pliskova, but then won three games in a row and ended the match. She had a 19-16 lead in winners and committed only 10 unforced errors to Pliskova’s 31, who lost in the 2016 US Open and 2021 Wimbledon finals.
“This court is a bit complicated. You have to play it a lot to understand when the wind is blowing and where it’s coming from,” Stephens said. “The more you play it, the better you understand it. But it’s a very complicated card. But that’s what makes it so amazing.”
Stephens won a small clay court tournament in Saint Malo, France earlier this month and reached the semi-finals of the Morocco Open last week after playing a total of three matches on the larger clay courts in Madrid and Rome.
“Last year my season on clay wasn’t great, but last year I played amazing at Roland Garros,” said Stephens, “and this year I really wanted to get matches and play a lot and see where it took me.”
Pavlyuchenkova said that a year ago she was afraid for her career because of a knee problem. She said she was forced to undergo intensive rehab and stopped playing tennis altogether for about five months, and the lack of physical activity during the process left her out of shape.
“It was a rollercoaster of emotions because I was sad. I was close to tears, but also sad because I wasn’t sure what (to come) next,” Pavlyuchenkova said after her victory. “There were also thoughts like, ‘OK, what if I never come back? Or if I skip so long because I never did.… What if I never win a match or never get back in shape? What if that’s all?
The former world No. 11, who dropped to No. 333 in the rankings, accelerated his comeback by winning tournaments in Madrid and Rome before reaching the quarter-finals in Strasbourg. She said she was “super focused” to avoid getting out early at the hands of her young adversary.
“I just focused on my game. I didn’t want to lose the first round,” Pavlyuchenkova said. “I wanted to stay here as often as possible because it’s a very special place for me.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.