Ai Sugiyama may have matched the all-time record for consecutive Grand Slam appearances but the Japanese veteran insists she is still as excited to be playing as during her first major nearly 15 years ago.
The 32-year-old’s determination showed no sign of abaiting as she battled through to a 6-1, 2-6, 6-3 victory against Russia’s Alla Kudryavtseva on Tuesday in a match which was played over five hours because of rain delays at Roland Garros.
Sugiyama, who has the longest Grand Slam streak for a woman in the Open Era, is now tied with the men’s record of 56 consecutive main draw appearances held by the now-retired Wayne Ferreira.
She will overtake Ferreira when she competes at Wimbledon next month.
“Fifty-six in a row, it’s hard to believe!” she said. “Even now I’m really excited to be here. Sometimes there are ups and downs and today was also a tough day, but I always try my best.”
“I’m also lucky to have been really healthy over my career,” said Sugiyama who turned professional nearly 16 years ago.
Her first Grand Slam appearance was in Wimbledon in 1993 and she has competed in 14 French Opens.
Her experience showed against 20-year-old Kudryavtseva in their first round tie which had the players scurrying to the locker room for three hours because of rain.
“In the first set it looked easy but I never got good rhythm,” Sugiyama said. “It was only in the second set that I really started to play my game.”
“Luckily the rain delay helped me a lot. I wasn’t really settled down well after the second set, but I had three hours to think, talk to coaches and trainers and that helped a lot. I saw my game plan a little more clearly,” Suyiyama said.