WASHINGTON, D.C. – By 16, she was a top 10 junior player in the world. Only three years later, she took the WTA Tour by storm, reaching the quarterfinals of the French Open en route taking out two top 10 players.
Romanian Sorana Cirstea is a seasoned tennis veteran despite being only 23-years-old. Her time in juniors combined with her quick ascension in the pro ranks primed her to succeed for years to come. But her good initial results in 2009 were clouded by injury and letdowns. It would be three more years before she found her best tennis and a ranking to go with it. Just last month, she reached her career-high ranking of world No. 22.
After her semifinal appearance in Stanford over the weekend, Cirstea had a quick turnaround into the humidity of Washington, D.C. to play in her first Citi Open tournament.
Following her first round win over Lesia Tsurenko, I chatted with the friendly, engaging Cirstea about the tough time her injury presented her with and how she bounced back, as well as her close friendship with Ana Ivanovic.
What is your most memorable moment on court?
Probably it would be when I won Orange Bowl when I was 13 because I was such a kid. Now, I’ve become a little more mature towards everything. I don’t get that excited or that down anymore. But when I was a kid, I was so excited. I felt like I could move mountains when I won the Orange Bowl. It was just pure euphoria. I think I will never experience that kind of feeling. That moment was one of the most important for me, and from there on (tennis) started to become a proper career.
If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you be doing?
I loved school, so I was one of those kids that were really good students — like an ‘A’ student. Even when I playing tennis, I still went to school and had really good marks. I’m not sure what I would have pursued, but probably I would be really good in school in whatever subject I would choose; I was always a very disciplined student. For example, I like different areas now, but I’m not sure how my life would have turned out if I was not a tennis player. Maybe I would have been interested in politics, economics, languages, communications.
What is one thing that scares you?
Getting to the end of my life and not reaching the dreams that I have. Probably this is the thing that scares me the most.
You and Ana Ivanovic are very close. How did that friendship come about?
(Smiling) She is my best friend. We are like sisters. It’s so nice to have someone like that on tour. We actually discovered each other a little bit late. I think I was 19, she was 22 or something. So maybe like four years ago when we first started to train together because of the adidas team, and interact.
And suddenly we realized that we had the same values, same way of seeing life, same background, same kind of families, same education. Because we are so similar in everything, now a lot of times we don’t even have to speak, we know what we are feeling. It’s just so nice to have someone like her on the circuit and just be able to share this time together because we spend so much time at the tournaments. So it’s nice to have someone you can call almost family.
After a successful first season on the WTA Tour in 2009, there were some struggles for a couple of years. How did you deal with all the trials and what have you learned about yourself?
I think I was a really good junior, so the transition to the WTA happened for me quite fast. I was quite talented. The first years on tour were very easy for me. Then players started to (know my game) a little bit. I had a very bad injury, I broke my heel, and that took me a little bit out of the game. So it was a little like a domino. It took me back and I fell in the rankings. And then it actually took me a while to get back. But I really really appreciate this time because I fell down to 100 and then I really had to work hard to get back.
Now I achieved my best ranking last month – I was 22 – so now I actually I feel that I do deserve to be here. I belong here; I worked hard to be here. I feel that I’m way more disciplined and appreciate things way more than I did when I was climbing the rankings. So I think it’s a learning process.
I’m very grateful for things good and bad that happened in my life because otherwise I wouldn’t be here today. So it’s a different way of thinking now than when I was 19. But, of course, everyone develops, gets experience and matures, and start seeing things different. But at the moment, I’m quite happy with the way things are going.
As the Premier Five tournament in Canada looms, four of the top ten women hone their skills at tournaments on opposite coasts. The resort atmosphere at Carlsbad, long a player favorite, contrasts with the urban surroundings of the national capital.
Top half: World No. 3 Victoria Azarenka has not lost a match away from clay all season. Of course, Azarenka has played only four matches away from clay since winning the Doha title in February. Walkovers and withdrawals ended her campaigns at Indian Wells, Miami, and Wimbledon, so attention will hover around her battered knee this week. Azarenka’s health may attract even more attention than it would otherwise because she faces a relatively mild early slate of opponents. An all-Italian battle between Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone tantalizes only for nostalgic reasons, and Urszula Radwanska seems little more likely than her elder sister to vanquish Vika. Among the surprises of the spring was Jelena Jankovic, a semifinalist in Miami and quarterfinalist at Roland Garros. Jankovic troubled Azarenka in her prime, but the momentum has shifted in that rivalry to reflect their divergent career arcs
The most compelling first-round match in Carlsbad will pit defending champion Dominika Cibulkova against former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic. Defeating Bartoli to win last year’s title, Cibulkova exploited a much weaker draw in the week of the Olympics. Still, she will bring plenty of confidence from her title at Stanford, whereas coaching turmoil once again enshrouds the Serb. The route will not grow much smoother for whoever survives that early test. Although the second round looks uneventful, Roberta Vinci could await in the quarterfinals. This crafty Italian has domianted Cibulkova on all surfaces, winning five straight from her, and she has taken her last three outdoor matches from Ivanovic. The relatively slow surface in San Diego should help Vinci outlast the heavy serve of Bethanie Mattek-Sands before then.
Semifinal: Azarenka vs. Vinci
Bottom half: Around this time last year, Petra Kvitova caught fire with a Premier Five title at the Rogers Cup and a semifinal in Cincinnati. The somewhat slower surface in San Diego may suit her game less well than those events, and North America historically has not brought out her best tennis. A rematch of her epic Australian Open loss to Laura Robson might await in the second round. Both women have oscillated wildly in their results this year, suggesting another rollercoaster ahead. A former Carlsbad champion lurks unobtrusively near eighth seed Carla Suarez Navarro, enjoying her best season so far. That former champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, has revived her career with two major quarterfinals in 2013. An abdominal injury has sidelined Kuznetsova since Roland Garros, but she should have time to play herself into the tournament.
The fourth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska reached finals in each of her last two Carlsbad appearances. Disappointed at Stanford on Sunday, Radwanska wil aim to erase that memory with her second title here. She should outmaneuver Daniela Hantuchova, whom she has defeated here before, and may not have much to fear from Samantha Stosur unless the Aussie’s form improves dramatically. Little in Stosur’s dismal performance at Stanford boded well for her chances of escaping a challenging opener against Varvara Lepchenko. That 27-year-old American lefty could meet Radwanska in a quarterfinal for the second straight week.
Semifinal: Kuznetsova vs. Radwanska
Final: Azarenka vs. Radwanska
Top half: Overshadowed by the men’s event at the same tournament, this WTA International event did succeed in luring a top-10 player as a wildcard. World No. 9 Angelique Kerber has fallen on hard times over the last few months, so a dip in the quality of opposition could prove just what the doctor ordered. Some of the women who might face her in the quarterfinals exited early at Stanford. Formerly promising American Christina McHale continues a rebuilding campaign in 2013 against Magdalena Rybarikova. Her period of promise long behind her, Melanie Oudin hopes to stay somewhat relevant nearly four years after her illusory surge at the US Open.
Like McHale, Rybarikova, and Kiki Bertens in the top quarter, Madison Keys looks to bounce back from a disappointing Stanford loss. Anchoring the second quarter, she might meet star junior Taylor Townsend in a second-round preview of future matches on more momentous stages. The reeling but canny Monica Niculescu hopes to fluster Townsend with her distinctive style before then. More young talent stands atop the section in Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard and France’s Caroline Garcia. These impressive phenoms must navigate around Australian Open quarterfinalist Ekaterina Makarova, a lefty like Townsend. Plenty of storylines and suspense will unfold in a very short time.
Bottom half: Building on her momentum from Stanford, Sorana Cirstea eyes one of the draw’s softer sections. Home hope Alison Riske looks to prove herself as a threat outside the small grass event in Birmingham, while Heather Watson traces the same trajectory as McHale on the long, slow road back from mononucleosis. Ending her clay season on a high note, Alize Cornet won an International title in May. But she threatens much less on hard courts and might well fall victim to the enigmatic Yanina Wickmayer at the outset.
By far the most established of the home threats, second seed Sloane Stephens faces high expectations this summer. American fans know much more about the Australian Open semifinalist, Wimbledon quarterfinalist, and conqueror of Serena Williams than they did a year ago. The 15th-ranked Stephens has produced much more convincing tennis at majors than at non-majors, where she barely has cracked the .500 threshold in 2013. Her sturdiest pre-semifinal obstacle could come in the form of Andrea Petkovic, still producing results more disappointing than encouraging in her comeback from serious injuries. A relatively minor illness may blunt Petkovic’s injuries this week, though, while compatriot Mona Barthel retired from her last tournament with a sore shoulder.
Final: Makarova vs. Stephens
(June 30, 2013) Current and former WTA world No. 1s gathered together on Sunday in London to celebrate “40 Love” – the 40th anniversary of the WTA, founded by trailblazer Billie Jean King.
The WTA and its leaders have strived to bring equality, recognition and respect to the tour over the years. The organization is now the global leader in women’s professional sport, and proudly counts many pioneering accomplishments, including the successful campaign for equal prize money.
Seventeen of the 21 WTA No. 1s were in attendance, including three of the original nine, displaying elegance and beauty. Can you name each one in the photo below?
Emcees Pam Shriver and Mary Carillo introduced each of the No. 1s in style, referencing the “sassy sour” Maria Sharapova to the ever elegant Monica Seles. Each lady then had the chance with the mic, and afterward, it was time to mingle and celebrate.
The “pink” carpet arrivals were no less stunning.
Teenagers Eugenie Bouchard and Madison Keys were also invited guests, with the WTA calling them “potential future world No. 1s.” Quite an honor.
Watch all the pink carpet interviews with the World No.1s, gala speeches from the legends and much more with a full replay of all the Sunday celebrations. (Begins around the 24 minute mark.)
A wild Wednesday swept through the All England Club. We glance back through the avalanche of upsets that rendered some sections of both draws almost unrecognizable as a major.
Roger rolled: 36 straight quarterfinals at majors. Seven Wimbledon titles in the last ten years. None of his legendary opponent’s credentials mattered to the 116th-ranked Sergei Stakhovsky, who became the lowest-ranked man to defeat Roger Federer in a decade. His moment of truth came in the fourth-set tiebreak, as crucial for the underdog as it was for the favorite considering the momentum that Stakhovsky had built by winning the second and third sets. Federer had started to reassert himself late in the fourth, and he surely would have secured the fifth set if he had reached it.
Unlike Alejandro Falla in 2010, and Julien Benneteau in 2012, Stakhovsky made sure that the Swiss did not survive the crossroads. A barrage of unreturnable serves early in the tiebreak, a clutch backhand down the line, and a sequence of magnificent lunging volleys brought him to match point on his serve. Sure enough, Federer saved it with a pinpoint passing shot. But Stakhovsky kept his composure through what felt like an interminable rally with the champion serving at 5-6 in the tiebreak. Finally, a Federer backhand floated aimlessly wide as time seemed to stand still on Centre Court, where things like these never happen.
Maria mastered: Off the WTA radar for years, former prodigy Michelle Larcher de Brito had gained most of her publicity from distinctively elongated yodels. She entered the main draw as a qualifier, though, which meant that she had accumulated more grass matches than her heralded opponent. Former Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova has stumbled early in the draw there more often than not in recent years. Slipping and skidding around the site of her first major breakthrough, she never found her rhythm or range from the baseline in a loss that recalled previous Wimbledon setbacks to Alla Kudryavtseva and Gisela Dulko.
The finish did not come easily for de Brito, as it never does against Sharapova. The girl who long has struggled with her serve deserves full credit for standing firm through deuce after deuce as five match points slipped past until the sixth proved the charm.
Vika victimized: Injuring her leg during her first-round victory, world No. 2 Victoria Azarenka never reached her scheduled Centre Court rendezvous with Flavia Pennetta on Wednesday. Azarenka withdrew from Wimbledon while blasting the All England Club for creating unsafe playing conditions. She now needs only a retirement or walkover at Roland Garros to complete a career injury Slam, and she will hand the No. 2 ranking back to Sharapova after the tournament.
Jo-Wilfried jolted: Also on the retirement list in a day filled with injuries, world No. 8 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga handed Ernests Gulbis a ticket to the third round after losing two of the first three sets. A semifinalist at Roland Garros and at Queen’s Club, Tsonga had seemed one of the tournament’s leading dark horses at the outset. But Gulbis, the most dangerous unseeded man in the draw, eyes an open route to a quarterfinal against Andy Murray.
Caro curbed: An Eastbourne semifinal aside, Caroline Wozniacki has struggled without respite since reaching the Indian Wells final in March. Another early loss thus comes as no great surprise for someone who lost in the first round of Wimbledon last year. Wozniacki secured just four games from Petra Cetkovska, not the first upset that the Czech has notched on grass.
Tall men toppled: Their opponents had nothing to do with it, but the tenth-seeded Marin Cilic and American No. 2 John Isner added themselves to the exodus of retirements. While Isner did not harbor real hopes for a deep run, Cilic reached the final at Queen’s Club barely a week ago and had reached the second week of Wimbledon last year. Of the top-16 seeds in the bottom half of the men’s draw, only Murray and Nicolas Almagro remain.
Serbs swiped: More comfortable on slower surfaces, former No. 1s Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic departed in straight sets on Wednesday. Ivanovic’s loss came at the hands of rising Canadian star Eugenie Bouchard, who may rival Laura Robson (or Larcher de Brito?) for the breakout story of the women’s tournament. The proudly patriotic Jankovic may take some comfort in the fact that her misfortune came at the hands of a fellow Serb. Her conqueror, Vesna Dolonc, is the only Serb left in the women’s draw.
Hewitt halted: The 2002 champion soared to a straight-sets victory over the 11th-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka in the first round, only to tumble back to earth against flashy Jamaican-turned-German journeyman Dustin Brown. Lleyton Hewitt’s defeat leaves Novak Djokovic as the only former champion and only No. 1 in the Wimbledon men’s draw.
And more…: The seeded casualties did not stop there. Fernando Verdasco bounced No. 31 Julien Benneteau in straight sets, No. 22 Sorana Cirstea lost two tiebreaks to Camila Giorgi, and No. 27 Lucie Safarova let a one-set lead get away against another Italian in Karin Knapp. Nadal’s nemesis, Steve Darcis, also withdrew from Wimbledon with a shoulder injury.
Hanging on tight: In the women’s match of the day, No. 17 Sloane Stephens narrowly kept her tournament alive against Andrea Petkovic by surviving an 8-6 third set. Stephens will have a real chance to reach her second semifinal in three 2013 majors with both top-eight seeds gone from her quarter. Also extended to a third set were No. 19 Carla Suarez Navarro and No. 25 Ekaterina Makarova, the latter of whom overcame rising Spanish star Garbine Muguruza. Meanwhile, men’s 20th seed Mikhail Youzhny needed five sets to survive Canadian youngster Vasek Pospisil as hardly anyone escaped at least a nibble from the upset bug.
Rising above the rubble: But a few contenders did. Extending his winning streak to seven, second seed Andy Murray notched another routine victory as he becomes the overwhelming favorite to reach a second straight Wimbledon final. Murray’s pre-final draw might pit him against a succession of Tommy Robredo, Youzhny, Gulbis, and Benoit Paire or Jerzy Janowicz—hardly a murderer’s row, although the Gulbis matchup might intrigue.
In the wake of a difficult first-round victory, 2011 champion Petra Kvitova caught a break today when Yaroslava Shvedova withdrew. Kvitova becomes the only top-eight seed to reach the third round in the bottom half of the women’s draw. She could face a compelling test from Makarova on Friday, but her most significant competition might come from Stephens or Marion Bartoli in the semifinals. Struggling mightily for most of the spring amid coaching turmoil, 2007 finalist Bartoli has picked an ideal time to find some form again. She ousted Christina McHale in straight sets today and has become the highest-ranked woman remaining in her quarter.
Matches and events fly past in the fortnight of a major too quickly to absorb everything that happens. But, now that the red dust has settled, here are the memories that I will take from Roland Garros 2013.
Gael Monfils and the Paris crowd making each other believe that he could accomplish the impossible, and then Monfils accomplishing it.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands looking completely lost at the start of her match against Li Na and then gradually finding her baseline range, one rain delay at a time.
The courteous handshake and smile that Li gave her conqueror despite the bitter defeat.
Shelby Rogers justifying her USTA wildcard by winning a main-draw match and a set from a seed.
Grigor Dimitrov learning how to reach the third round of a major, and learning that what happens in Madrid stays in Madrid.
Bojana Jovanovski teaching Caroline Wozniacki that what happens in Rome doesn’t stay in Rome.
Ernests Gulbis calling the Big Four boring, and former top-four man Nikolay Davydenko calling him back into line.
Petra Kvitova and Samantha Stosur settling their features into resigned masks they underachieved yet again at a major.
John Isner winning 8-6 in the fifth and then coming back the next day to save 12 match points before losing 10-8 in the fifth.
Virginie Razzano winning twice as many matches as she did here last year.
Tommy Haas dominating a man fourteen years his junior and then coming back the next day to save a match point and outlast Isner when the thirteenth time proved the charm.
Benoit Paire losing his mind after a code violation cost him a set point, and Kei Nishikori quietly going about his business afterwards.
Ana Ivanovic telling journalists that “ajde” is her favorite word, and sympathizing with Nadal for the scheduling woes.
Tommy Robredo crumpling to the terre battue in ecstasy after a third consecutive comeback from losing the first two sets carried him to a major quarterfinal.
Sloane Stephens calling herself one of the world’s most interesting 20-year-olds.
Nicolas Almagro swallowing the bitter taste of a second straight collapse when opportunity knocked to go deep in a major.
Victoria Azarenka reminding us that it is, after all, rather impressive to win a match when your serve completely fails to show up.
Fernando Verdasco clawing back from the brink of defeat against Janko Tipsarevic to the brink of an upset that would have cracked his draw open—only to lose anyway.
Alize Cornet pumping her fist manically in one game and sobbing in despair the next.
Mikhail Youzhny remembering to bang a racket against his chair instead of his head.
Francesca Schiavone catching lightning in a bottle one more time in Paris, just when everyone thought that she no longer could.
Stanislas Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet putting on a master class of the one-handed backhand.
Svetlana Kuznetsova walking onto Chatrier to face Angelique Kerber and playing like she belonged there as a contender of the present, not a champion of the past.
Roger Federer joining alter ego @PseudoFed on Twitter, and fledgling tweeter Tomas Berdych telling one of his followers that his most challenging opponent is…Tomas Berdych.
Agnieszka Radwanska proving that her newly blonde hair wasn’t a jinx, but that major quarterfinals still might be.
Jo-Wifried Tsonga showing us his best and worst in the course of two matches, illustrating why he could win a major and why he has not.
Sara Errani looking the part of last year’s finalist while tying much bigger, stronger women up in knots.
Novak Djokovic overcoming a significant personal loss midway through the tournament and standing taller than ever before at the one major that still eludes him.
Jelena Jankovic completing a dramatic come-from-behind win and a dramatic come-from-ahead loss against two top-ten women in the same tournament.
David Ferrer, the forgotten man, reaching his first major final at age 31 in a reward for all of those years toiling away from the spotlight.
Maria Sharapova staying true to her uncompromising self and ending a match in which she hit 11 double faults with—an ace.
Serena Williams consigning her last trip here to the dustbin of history.
Rafael Nadal collapsing on the Chatrier clay just as ecstatically the eighth time as he did the first.
Staying up until 5 AM to watch a certain match, and wanting to stay up longer for one more game or one more point.
Looking forward to jumping back on the rollercoaster at the All England Club.
The schedule of play in singles has shrunk to two courts as the second week starts at Roland Garros. Categories have started to shrink as well in the latter stages of these recaps.
Match of the day: That pesky Gilles Simon just won’t do the decent thing and retreat respectfully from Roger Federer, bowing every two steps. Simon has defeated Federer twice and now taken him to a fifth set in both of their major meetings. Reeling off 10 of 13 games in one stretch, the Frenchman even led the former champion by two sets to one until Federer compiled a seven-game surge of his own and eased through the final set without drama.
Comeback of the day: Maybe we should rename this category the “Tommy Robredo Comeback of the Day.” The Spanish veteran became the first man in the Open era to win three consecutive matches at a major after losing the first two sets. At least Robredo did not need to save match points this time, as he did against Gael Monfils, but he trailed Nicolas Almagro by a break in both the fourth and fifth sets. Of course, this was Nicolas Almagro.
Gold star: Assigned the tallest man in the draw, David Ferrer trimmed him down to size with a clinical efficiency worthy of Procrustes. Serena Williams also would have appreciated Ferrer’s demolition of Kevin Anderson and his massive serve, which ended with consecutive breadsticks. Alone among the men in his half, he has not dropped a set or played a tiebreak through four matches.
Silver star: Like Ferrer, Tsonga has not lost a set en route to a second straight quarterfinal here. His victory over Viktor Troicki produced a routine scoreline like those before it, a departure from his usual trends but good news for his future here.
Stat of the day: By rallying against Simon, Federer extended his streak of consecutive quarterfinals at majors to 36. That’s nine years, reaching back to Wimbledon 2004.
Question of the day: Tsonga threw quite a scare into world No. 1 Novak Djokovic at the quarterfinal stage here last year, holding four match points in the fourth set. He took Federer to a fifth set in the same round at the Australian Open this year. Does another heart-stopping epic lie in store?
Match of the day: A 48-winner barrage from Svetlana Kuznetsova avenged a loss in Madrid to world No. 8 Angelique Kerber. Kuznetsova has reached the quarterfinals at both majors this year, something that at least half of the WTA top ten cannot say pending tomorrow’s results. Unseeded former champions plowing deep into the draw always adds an extra layer of interest to the second week of a major.
Comeback of the day: Her first three matches had tumbled into the win column almost too easily. Like Federer, Sara Errani encountered her first serious test of the tournament today against Carla Suarez Navarro and nearly flunked it. She regrouped to secure her tenth win at Roland Garros in the last two years, having won one match in four previous appearances. Predictably, neither woman hit an ace.
Gold star: Never at her best on clay, Agnieszka Radwanska seemed ripe for an early upset when she lost early at the key clay non-majors and withdrew from Brussels last week with a shoulder injury. Radwanska thus has surprised by reaching the quarterfinals without losing a set, comfortably knocking off 2008 champion Ana Ivanovic to set up an intriguing clash with Errani. All of the top four women are still in the draw.
Silver star: To Roberta Vinci’s credit, she gave Serena Williams something to ponder in the second set as she stayed level until 3-3 and made inroads toward a break in the seventh game. Unwilling to throw her opponent a lifeline, Serena snuffed out the threat, broke, and then served out her 28th straight win. Four matches, ten games lost.
Stat of the day: In five years and 20 majors since she won her in 2008, Ana Ivanovic has reached one major quarterfinal.
Question of the day: Four years ago, Serena and Kuznetsova combined on a quarterfinal thriller that the Russian snatched late in the third set. Could we see a worthy sequel in the same round on Tuesday, or is Serena simply too bulletproof at present?
Now that the second week has arrived, you can find previews of every match on this site. This article covers all eight on Sunday.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Viktor Troicki: While their head-to-head stands more evenly balanced than you might think, Tsonga has won both of their clay meetings convincingly. Troicki has sandwiched a tortuous five-set win over a clay specialist between two straight-sets victories, the latter an upset of Marin Cilic. For a man with a losing record this season headed into the tournament, an appearance in the second week marks an excellent step forward. The bad news for Troicki is that Tsonga has not lost a set through three matches, showing uncommon discipline and purpose. With the French crowd behind him on the biggest tennis stadium in his nation, he should make short work of a man who often gets rattled in hostile or tense environments.
Gilles Simon vs. Roger Federer: When they first started to collide in the second half of 2008, Simon seemed to have Federer’s number. He rallied from losing the first set to grind past him twice that year on the hard courts of the Rogers Cup and the year-end championships. Surely chagrined that his stylistic flights of fancy could not trump a mechanical counterpuncher, Federer labored to finish him off at the 2011 Australian Open after squandering a two-set lead. Rome this month marked the first time that he finally seemed to solve his “Simon problem.” Displaying his superior clay skills, Federer yielded just three games to a Frenchman who lost his first two sets at his home major and needed to come from behind in the third round as well. Simon lost 23 games in his last match. Federer has lost 23 games in the tournament. Not even the crowd, which adores Federer, will give him a meaningful edge.
Kevin Anderson vs. David Ferrer: The tallest man in the draw faces the shortest man in the draw. On clay, though, David Ferrer looms much larger than does Kevin Anderson despite the South African’s appearance in the Casablanca final this spring. Ferrer has dominated all of his first three opponents without dropping a set, pouncing on a weak draw after Madrid and Rome assigned him quarterfinals against Nadal. The Spanish veteran has made a living out of defanging huge servers like Anderson, using his deft reflexes and compact swings to blunt their single overwhelming weapon before outmaneuvering them along the baseline. Anderson bounced Ferrer from the second round of Indian Wells in March, but that victory may have owed something to Ferrer’s busy South American clay schedule just before and the deflating loss to Nadal that ended it.
Tommy Robredo vs. Nicolas Almagro: This all-Spanish battle should feature plenty of traditional clay tennis with extended rallies from behind the baseline. A former member of the top ten, Robredo launched an impressive comeback from injury this spring by winning the Casablanca title and upsetting Tomas Berdych in Barcelona. He has emerged from one of the draw’s most star-studded nuggets, which included not only Berdych but Gael Monfils and Ernests Gulbis. Saving match points against Monfils in the last round, Robredo has rallied from losing the first two sets in each of his last two matches. By contrast, Almagro has grown famous for choking away huge leads. But he has won all five of his meetings with Robredo, all on clay, while losing one total set. Look for him to control the rallies as Robredo slips into retrieving mode.
Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. Angelique Kerber: Two of their three previous meetings have gone deep into a final set and ended with almost identical scores, the most recent in Madrid this spring. Kerber’s burst from anonymity into the top 10 occurred near the same time that Kuznetsova plummeted from trendy dark horse to forgotten woman. True to those trends, the German lefty has won both of their matches this year. Kuznetsova should hold a clear surface edge, however, and she showed by reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals that she still can bring her best tennis to the biggest tournaments. An upset of Agnieszka Radwanska at Roland Garros last year suggests that Kerber has plenty to fear, although she will bring momentum from gritting through a hard-fought contest with dirt devil Varvara Lepchenko. This match may hinge on whose forehand does the dictating.
Serena Williams vs. Roberta Vinci: Headlines would ripple through the tennis world if somebody merely stands up to Serena, much less defeats her. A canny veteran with plenty of clay skills, Vinci will resist more tenaciously than most of her previous victims. Serena will deny her the time to construct her artful combinations, though, and handled her doubles partner Sara Errani with ease. This match could develop some intrigue if the world No. 1 struggles with her timing on her return, which can happen on clay. But otherwise Serena should break serve too consistently and land too many punishing punches with her own serve to feel any serious pressure.
Carla Suarez Navarro vs. Sara Errani: The answer to Robredo vs. Almagro in the men’s draw features a contest between two clay specialists of the sort rarely witnessed in the WTA these days. Errani routed Suarez Navarro in the Acapulco final, which makes sense. In no area of her game is the tiny Spaniard better than the small Italian, who even aced her in Acapulco. On the other hand, Suarez Navarro scored a stunning upset over Errani in the first round of the last major, signaling an appropriate start to the best year of her career. The two women combined for just a handful of service holds in that match, a pattern that could resurface. Having conceded only nine games through three matches, barely more than Serena, Errani has looked as dominant as a woman without weapons other than drop shots ever will.
Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Ana Ivanovic: To state the obvious, the most important shots of a point are the first and the last. (If you’re Serena Williams, it’s often the same thing.) In the language of the WTA, that means penetrating first serves, aggressive returns, and the ability to finish points with clean winners. Ivanovic has struggled in both of those categories during her current six-match losing streak to Radwanska over the last three years. Earlier in her career, she controlled her matches with the Pole by excelling in both of them, but the tide turned in 2009 when the Serb let a 4-0 lead slip away in a third set. The pace of her serve and forehand has dwindled since she won Roland Garros five years ago, although Ivanovic has grown more comfortable in the forecourt with time. Beyond tactics and technique, though, her main challenge lies in believing that she can defeat a top-five woman at a major. The last time that Ivanovic did? Two days before she lifted the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.
Here are ten matches to note on Friday at Roland Garros, five from the men and five from the women. Roger Federer vs. Julien Benneteau makes a fine eleventh offering, but Yeshayahu Ginsburg gives you all of the details that you want to know about that pairing in another article on this site. (Also note that many of the postponed matches from Thursday feature in that day’s preview.)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Jeremy Chardy: This clash of January’s Australian Open quarterfinalists may divide the loyalties of the Paris crowd. The flamboyance on both sides should thrill spectators as both men aim to pummel with a forehand the first attackable ball that they see. While both Tsonga and Chardy easily lose focus, both have kept their eyes on the ball through two straight-sets victories. A quarterfinalist at Roland Garros last year, Tsonga rode his usual rollercoaster through a clay season with a semifinal in Monte Carlo and a second-round loss in Rome. The two Frenchmen rarely have clashed, splitting their two matches by identical 6-4 7-6 scores.
Gael Monfils vs. Tommy Robredo: After he slugged a path past two fellow shot-makers, the story of the men’s tournament faces a different challenge altogether. In a contrast of styles, Monfils will look to break through the defenses of a resilient veteran who has compiled his greatest successes on clay. For his part, Robredo will look to grind down his opponent and exploit any lingering fatigue from the Frenchman’s overstuffed recent schedule. If Monfils blows a massive lead, as he did against Berdych, Robredo probably will punish him.
Feliciano Lopez vs. David Ferrer: The second-ranked Spaniard has planted himself firmly in the driver’s seat of his quarter, although Monfils might beg to differ. With two comprehensive victories, Ferrer has looked more formidable than anyone here except Roger Federer. He often has found fellow Spaniards trickier than expected, though, even beyond the inexorable Rafael Nadal. Fortunately for him, Lopez poses a much greater threat on a faster court with his lefty net-rushing style. Their head-to-head illustrates this trend with Ferrer sweeping their clay matches and Lopez dominating on hard courts. Still, the latter held match point in Barcelona last year before Ferrer fastened his jaws around him.
Andreas Seppi vs. Nicolas Almagro: Few would have given Seppi much chance to reach the second week for the second straight week here, but he is a plausible upset from doing exactly that. Seppi had won only two matches at six clay tournaments entering Roland Garros, only to eke out consecutive five-set victories. Laboring through an equally poor season at clay Masters 1000 events, Almagro did reach the final in Barcelona and has dropped just one set through his first two matches here. The Italian has won both of their previous matches, although neither came on clay. Whoever wins will be favored to reach the quarterfinals against David Ferrer.
Milos Raonic vs. Kevin Anderson: This match sounds more like Wimbledon than Roland Garros, and in fact their only previous meeting came on an indoor hard court. Each man has recorded one notable result on his least favorite surface, Raonic reaching the semifinals in Barcelona and Anderson reaching the final in Casablanca. Doubtless glad to see his perennial nemesis Tomas Berdych gone from this section, Anderson has produced somewhat more consistency on clay than Raonic with victories over Juan Monaco and Marin Cilic. But this match will hinge on a few key points, as it would elsewhere, and on the ability of both men to execute fundamentals while finding timely first serves.
Virginie Razzano vs. Ana Ivanovic: Much improved from the first round, Ivanovic started her second match with another flurry of winners and this time largely continued her dominance through the second set. She can take nothing for granted against a woman who refuses to go away when she falls behind here, no matter the opponent. Razzano will benefit from the support of those who remember last year’s miracle, which will encourage her to believe that anything is possible. As remarkable as Razzano’s repeat run is, however, her two victories came against Claire Feuerstein and Zuzana Kucova. And they were close, which this match will not be unless Ivanovic has a bad day, when anything can happen.
Bojana Jovanovski vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova: Some players specialize in clay, some players specialize in grass, and Bojana Jovanovski specializes in tormenting Caroline Wozniacki on clay. Jovanovski defeated the Dane twice this month while notching just one other victory since the Australian Open, where she reached the second week. One win from doing the same here, the Serb perhaps saves her best tennis for the biggest stages. While she went AWOL for a set in the second round, as she often does, Kuznetsova regrouped impressively to dictate play from there. She should have a decent chance to face Serena in the quarterfinals, not that anyone envies the honor.
Sabine Lisicki vs. Sara Errani: The greatest contrast of styles on the WTA schedule should test Errani much more than her first two opponents. Living up to her billing as a member of the top five, last year’s finalist has dropped just five games in the tournament, or one more than Serena Williams. A first meeting with Lisicki may require an adjustment period to the weight of the German’s explosive first serve, able to penetrate surfaces of any speed. Fans could see plenty of drop shots as both women love to use that gambit more often than most rivals. Very steady on outdoor clay this year, Errani has lost only to Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, and Petra Kvitova on her favorite surface. All of those women can and did pounce on her serve, which will be the key for Lisicki and her less lethal return.
Varvara Lepchenko vs. Angelique Kerber: Losing just ten games in two matches, Lepchenko owns three clay victories this year over the daunting Italian duo of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. This battle of lefties pits her against a woman at her least effective on clay, so the American should hold the surface edge. On the other hand, Kerber did reach the Roland Garros quarterfinals last year and has produced consistent if not outstanding results over the last few months. Perhaps her best performances of the year came in two three-set semifinal losses when she battled Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova to the finish. Kerber wins fewer of those epics now than she did last year, but she won’t play an epic if she brings that form here.
Monica Puig vs. Carla Suarez Navarro: Progressing by leaps and bounds, the charming Puig stands within range of the second week at a major. Puig did not reach this stage by feasting on cupcakes, upsetting top-15 opponent Nadia Petrova in three sets and winning a clash of future stars from Madison Keys. While Suarez Navarro should be favored with her superior clay prowess and overall experience, she has not looked this week like someone enjoying the best year of her career. The finalist in Acapulco and Portugal dropped the first set in both of her matches, including against anonymous American Shelby Rogers. Suarez Navarro can’t afford to overlook Puig, although she dismantled her in Portugal.
As Roland Garros gets underway, it’s time to dissect the Slam’s many fashion hits and misses, and assign grades. We cover Nike, adidas, Wilson Tennis, Asics, Fila, Uniqlo, Lotto, Lacoste and Under Armour, and include athletes such as Ana Ivanovic, Maria Sharapova, Rafael Nadal, Sloane Stephens, Dominika Cibulkova, Feliciano Lopez and many more.
Adidas: Same Styles, New Colors, Two Exceptions
Ana Ivanovic: I cannot get enough of this dress. This is my favorite dress that adidas has put on Ivanovic in recent years. Yes, years. The creative directors finally put down the highlighter and Jackson Pollock filter, and created an exquisite dress with a feminine skirt fringe and just the right amount of red-pink lining to complement the navy. The continuation of the diagonals around the shoulders and back is also nicely implemented on her wristbands. My only issue with this look? The fact that Ivanovic is clad in a BLACK visor with a NAVY dress. Did adidas forget she loves visors?
Grade: A+ (for the dress sans visor)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Adidas’ second new style adorns the top Frenchman, and boy did they deliver. In contrast to the asymmetrical lines seen on Monaco (further down), designers opted for balance with grey and white, splashed with sometimes deep yellow accents. The ever so subtle ribbing seen near the thigh of the shorts give it some spunk. There is also a black-and-yellow version instead of this grey-and-white version available, but I hope they keep this color palette on Tsonga.
Caroline Wozniacki: Stella McCartney is finally doing Wozniacki right this season. It’s the same dress she’s been in since January, but why change something that ain’t broke? The details seen on the lining add dimension, the illusion of a higher feminine waistline are a nod to couture, and the color balance is near perfection for her athletic body.
Other Women: Nearly every other adidas female is wearing the two-piece set below, including *deep breath* Sorana Cirstea, Shelby Rogers, Angelique Kerber, Christina McHale, Bojana Jovanovski, Paula Ormaechea, Flavia Pennetta, Arantxa Rus, and Monica Puig, and several others are wearing the capped-sleeved version. Ana Ivanovic was also on this list as recently as last week, and it’s the same style we’ve seen from adidas since January as well. Next, please.
Juan Monaco, Fabio Fognini, Daniel Brands: Last December in my 2013 preview, I mentioned that I couldn’t wait to see the blue version in action, and I wasn’t disappointed. There is something wonderfully retro about the color blocks and asymmetrical lines that just works. The white version on Fognini is a bit simple, but the white (as with black) is a nice contrast to the background of Roland Garros.
Viktor Troicki: Oh, adidas. I guess you can’t get them all right at the same time. This shirt is a strain to look at and just a complete fail. Andy Murray sported a similar style recently that saw many polarizing opinions, but even his colors were more toned-down than this.
Nike: Back to (Too Plain) Basics
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer: Rarely does Nike get both of their top players wrong at the same time, but they have achieved the impossible and Just (Did Not) Do It this time. The accents are too subtle, the shirts too neutral and the shorts too plain, though the color of Nadal’s shorts could look great on a different colored surface. These kits are meant for players outside of the top 100, not those in the top 5.
Maria Sharapova: Did Nike and Stella McCartney get together to collaborate on Sharapova’s and Wozniacki’s dresses? Regardless, the silhouette is slim and lightweight but I don’t think many others can pull it off. Though it looks great on Sharapova, the double straps at the bustline are completely unflattering even on the modelesque Russian.
Serena Williams: We’re used to seeing Serena in all sorts of colors, so putting her in a deep rich navy and an orange that camouflages into the clay was a risk, but luckily it paid off. The dress hangs off her body perfectly and they have kept her in her signature higher waistline. However, much like with Sharapova, the bustline is drawing my attention for all the wrong reasons. It seems Nike forgot that Serena was voluptuous and had to sew her up (bottom picture). Other than that small mixup, it’s Nike’s best look this Slam.
Sabine Lisicki, Petra Martic, Li Na: See note for Nadal and Federer above. The colder weather brought out some longer sleeves, but the kits are just too conservative for one of tennis’ biggest stages.
Wilson: Orange Starbursts
Men: Wilson is not know for their clothes line. However, this is an exquisite exception. Normally, orange should not work on this red-orange clay, but it’s just warm enough to pull off, and the stripes on the top break the visual just enough to be flattering. The grey shorts (instead of black) keep it well away from Halloween, and actually balance the bright colored top. But what pulls this look together are the black-and-orange shoes. “More Win” indeed.
Women: As good as the men’s kit is, the women’s dress is the complete opposite. A full-bodied dress in this color — accented with an even brighter blue — won’t work on any skin tone, any body type, anybody, period.
Asics: Patterns In, Solids Out
Joao Sousa: Portuguese player Joao Sousa has been sporting this kit since the Australian Open on and off, but given his lower ranking, has often escaped visuals. It’s Asics best kit within the past two years, with just enough green set against the black base. Just a perfect kit and flattering on any surface.
Gael Monfils: Admittedly, Asics probably didn’t think that Monfils would wear that monstrosity of a combination with the sleeveless top and undershirt for the cold weather, but it’s how everyone remembers his impressive first round win over Tomas Berdych. Without that small hiccup though, it’s nice to see sleeveless back on tour.
Rest: While the black base works when strewn into a pattern as with Sousa, it doesn’t work in simple solids next to screaming yellows and blues as seen on Johnson/Pospisil and Montanes. The green is also the wrong shade on Matosevic. If his shirt were more the color of his wristband, it would be passable. And Montanes just looks like a crossing guard with those shoulder and cross-chest lines.
Fila: Pipping it up
Men: Fila has stayed with solids and eye-catching accents for its men this season, and it’s paying off. The lime tops worn by Bedene and Levine have just enough character, with the black and white stripes continuing into the shorts. Seppi’s grey polo holds well against the clay, and the lemon pipping moves with the body giving the kit a kick.
Uniqlo: Done Right
Novak Djokovic and Kei Nishikori: Uniqlo scores big with both kits. The pale teal top on Djokovic is finally not trying too hard — as some of his past Uniqlo kits have. And the red, white and blue palette for Nishikori has just enough kick and detail on the wings.
Lotto: Mixed Nuts
Women: Lotto has never shown much character in their dresses and separates due to poor color choice or lack of accents. However, this is a new beginning (I hope!) for the brand with two-toned kits and the peek-through colors at just the right places on the dress and skirt. It finally doesn’t look like hanging loose fabric, but actually has a bit of a waist.
Men: Suffice it to say, several of the Lotto men didn’t fare so well. Perhaps it’s because I can’t look at flaming colors anymore this year, but the orange and green shirts are even turning the player’s skin tone orange (Istomin and Almagro) and green (Ferrer).
Lacoste: Color and Style Confusion
Women: Dominika Cibulkova simply should not be put in sleeves. Her petite and curvy body construction beckons for skin exposure, and this … dress, two-piece? — What is it anyway? … makes her look like a 10-year-old who raided mom’s closet. The skirt runs up more awkwardly than is typical with Cibulkova, and the shirt is oversized and bunching in all the wrong places. Alternatively, the dress on Halep is what Cibulkova should have worn. I don’t mind this dress — in fact, the skirt is girly and fun — but the white line down the middle makes this nearly faultless dress less of a statement.
Grades: D; B
Men: I’ve been staring at this kit for several days now, and I still don’t know whether I like it or not. Guess that should already be enough of a sign. Depending on how the players’ bodies move and what angle the camera captures, the kit looks less and more flattering all at once. Though Lacoste usually does a good job in this line, the color blocks aren’t quite as charming this time around.
Under Armour: Highlighter Overload
Sloane Stephens: This is the highlighter to cap all highlighters (pun intended). Once again, Under Armour has over-styled her ensemble and made it too matchy-matchy. And don’t get me started on the actual color. Actually, if UA had flipped the accent jade color for the flaming hot yellow, it may have worked better — but she’s already sported that look, so nevermind. Ok, I give up.
Agree, disagree? Give us your take in the comments!
Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off the court.
- Shot of the day: Gael Monfils’ surprise win over world No. 6 Tomas Berdych has been the result of the tournament so far. His four-hour, 7-6(8), 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-7(4), 7-5 win had the Parisian crowd on their feet, and commentators and fans alike dropping their jaws at the athleticism of both players, particularly the Frenchman.
- Li Na’s first round victory clouded by chaotic officiating: Serving a set down and 4-4 30-40 in the second set, Na’s opponent, Annabel Medina Garrigues hit a backhand down the line which was initially called out, overruled by umpire Louise Engzell, and then as Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times reports, “Engzell pivoted to face Medina Garrigues and told her she would lose the point because she softly said ‘no’ constituting hindrance” after Na argued with Engzell over the call. Medina Garrigues conceded the point and engaged Engzell in a lengthy debate over the hindrance rule on the changeover before losing the final game of the match. Oh, and she brought up Maria Sharapova’s grunting. Of course.
- Sergiy Stakhovsky moonlights as tennis’s newest photojournalist: Sergiy Stakhovsky was visibly frustrated over an out call in the first set of his opening match with Richard Gasquet so much so, that he took a picture of the mark in question and posted it for the twitter world to see. As Courtney Nguyen of Sports Illustrated points out, Stakhovsky’s photography prowess has precedent as the Ukranian took a photo of a disputed call several weeks ago also in Munich. Will this become a monthly occurrence by the Ukranian?
- Zuzana Kucova’s Cinderella story marches on: A miraculous, must read story by USA Today’s Douglas Robson about 30-year-old, unranked Zuzana Kucova whose “goodbye tour” marched on today as she took out No. 24 seed Julia Goerges in straight sets.
- Nicolas Almagro goes deep: In this edition of Road to Roland Garros, the third ranked Spaniard discusses his love life, on court rituals, and his plans for the future.
- John Tomic banned for good: Despite the International Tennis Federation permitting Bernard Tomic’s father from entering the French Open as paying spectator after he assaulted Bernard’s hitting partner in Madrid, the French Open organizers, as ESPN reports, “will not let Bernard Tomic’s father into Roland Garros, even as paying spectator.”
- Ana Ivanovic tells all: In an interview with the Roland Garros Quotidien daily magazine, the Serbian discussed her favorite music, what she looks for in guys, her biggest flaws, and much more. When asked what she wants to be remembered for, Ivanovic responded:
“That I was an honest person, that I always tried to look for the silver lining. And I hope people will say that I was a great tennis player, even if there are more important things in life.”
- Andy Murray does the WTA: At a time when Andy Murray’s greatest foes are clashing for a French Open crown, the sidelined Scot has turned his attention to the WTA. Murray clearly tuned in for the epic Venus Williams-Urszula Radwanska, commending the younger Radwanska on her fantastic lobs via Twitter.
- Laura Robson fails to impress: After a hotly-anticipated matchup, the British teenager was ousted in the opening round by Caroline Wozniacki. Peter Bodo of Tennis.Com was unimpressed with the lack of form and strategy Robson brought to the court against the struggling Dane criticizing Robson for “her catalog of transgressions including an erratic forehand, an ineffective and unsteady backhand, an unwillingness to attack.”
- American women flying high: Though Americans are usually not known for their clay court skills, the American woman had a stellar day at the French Open, going 6-1 on the day including wins by Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Melanie Oudin, who ousted 28th-seeded Tamira Paszek in straight sets. Lauren Davis, Coco Vandeweghe, and Jamie Hampton hope to repeat the success the American women had Monday as they take to the court for their opening round matches tomorrow.
- Junior World No. 1 upsets Radek Stepanek: In his Slam debut, 18-year-old Australian Nick Kyrgios took out 34-year-old veteran Radek Stepanek in three tiebreaks. Stepanek applauded his younger adversary following the match:
“When you’re good in the juniors, it doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to be good in men’s tennis,” Stepanek said. “But definitely he has some talent. He’s serving big and if he keeps working hard, he definitely has a chance.”
Check back on Wednesday for more “Roland Garros Roundup”!