(June 11, 2013) In celebration of the release of Athletic DNA‘s new Summer 2013 line, Tennis Grandstand has teamed up with the tennis brand to give away THREE tops from the new line to lucky fans, while getting to know one of their top tennis pros, Tim Smyczek!
Tim Smyczek, nickname “Smee,” is knocking on the doors of the top 100 as he reached his career-high ranking of 101 just earlier this year. He defeated world No. 24 Fernando Verdasco in straight sets in February and even took a set off of world No. 4 David Ferrer during the second round of this year’s Australian Open. He holds two Challenger titles.
Have a fun question you have always wanted to ask a tennis pro, or ever wondered what life is like on the ATP Tour? Well, this is your chance to ask Tim your most creative, intriguing and fun questions about him, tennis or the pro tour!
All you have to do to win an Athletic DNA top is comment below with the question you would most like to ask Tim! Only questions (and not comments) for Tim will qualify you to win a top, and please submit no more than two questions per person. The three winning questions will be chosen and Tim will answer them on video which will be posted at a later date. Winners may choose their favorite top from either the Summer 2013 Men’s or Women’s line.
The contest is open now and will run until Wednesday, June 19th at 6PM EST. Kindly remember to provide a contact email address with your comment as we will notify the three winners by email.
Get the word out and get thinking on what you most want to ask Tim!
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.
Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off the court.
Shot of the Day: After winning a record-breaking eighth Roland Garros title, and before making the media rounds, Rafael Nadal happily posed with the ball kids who worked the final. Perhaps there’s a future Roland Garros champ among them!
Elena Vesnina wins first grand slam title: It was seven times lucky for Elena Vesnina as she and countrywoman Ekaterina Makarova captured the French Open crown defeating the top seeded team of Sara Errani and Robert Vinci. As the WTA official website reports, “Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina upset the odds and the defending champions to win the doubles title.” The Russian pair were delighted with their victory which was their first over the Italian duo.
Vesnina told reporters “I think we’re extra happy because we beat them first time. We played a lot of times against them; they’re the best team in the world. They’re playing so good, so it’s really tough to play against them, especially on clay.”
French Open Flare: During the second set of the final between Spaniards Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer, as Tennis Grandstand reported earlier “a shirtless and masked protestor with the words ‘KIDS RIGHT’ written across his chest, ran onto Nadal’s side of the court, lighting a red flare.” Working quickly, “security tackled the man and threw him off the court as another personnel guarded Nadal.” Nadal was definitely frazzled by the incident as he proceeded to drop his next service game but was ultimately able to close out the set.
“Well I felt a little bit scared in the first moment,” said Nadal. “These kinds of things are impossible to predict. When these kind of things happen, we are very lucky that we have good security around. They managed very well to stop the situation.”
Roger Federer and Tommy Haas to team up in Halle: As the ATP World Tour reports, “Good friends Roger Federer and Tommy Haas will make their team debut at the Gerry Webber Open this week.” The pair is set to square off against the 2010 Wimbledon champs, Jurgen Melzer and Philipp Petzschner. Despite a tough draw, Haas spoke of his and Federer’s excitement in teaming up.
“It’s our first time playing together. It’s great to do this at this time in our careers. I hope we can focus, as we’ll probably have too much of a good time out there. It will be nice to play in front of some very enthusiastic fans and have a good doubles match, against Melzer and Petzschner.”
Five Classic Finals: While the men’s final between David Ferrer and Rafael Nadal certainly wasn’t a classic battle by any stretch of the imagination, Roland Garros has had no shortage of thrilling championship matches. Live Tennis has come up with their 5 best French Open finals of all time including Bjorn Borg’s first French Open title in 1974 when he came back from two sets to love down to beat Manuel Orantes in five sets and Andre Agassi’s 1999 French Open crown which proved to be his only title at Roland Garros.
Lessons from Serena Williams’s stellar French Open: Lindsay Gibbs of The Changeover wrote about Serena Williams’s victory over Maria Sharapova and the significance of her French Open title. Lindsay wrote about this being the best win of Serena’s career, her multi-dimensional game, and how impressive Serena’s win streak over Maria Sharapova is.
Rafael Nadal discusses French Open title: Rafael Nadal put forth an absolute master class in his straight sets victory over David Ferrer. The Spaniard was firing off all cylinders and pressured Ferrer into a plethora of errors. In his post-match press conference, Nadal talked about how the match was closer than what the score would seem to indicate, his extremely high level of play during certain points of the match, and how important this victory is to him. In addition, Nadal credited those who have helped him to make such a strong and successful comeback after his 7 month layoff.
Rafael Nadal may have lost his first set at Roland Garros 2013, but he won his last set. The King of Clay burnished his legend on the surface even further by securing an eighth Roland Garros title at the expense of fellow Spaniard David Ferrer. Here are some key things to know about the final and Nadal’s achievement more generally.
The superior Spaniard: Ferrer ends the tournament ranked higher than Nadal, but no human agrees with the computers on that opinion. He looked very much David to the Goliath across the net, understandable considering that he contested his first major final today against a career-long nemesis. A few exceptions like Francesca Schiavone aside, even weathered veterans do not excel in that situation.
Calm after the storm: After the dramatic sweep of the Djokovic-Nadal semifinal, the final’s relatively routine narrative came as the anticlimax that most envisioned. The match contained few turning points or real momentum shifts, not surprising for a rivalry in which one man had won 16 straight meetings on this surface.
Look out, Sampras: Nadal moves within two major titles of tying the American for second place on the all-time list. Surely he will bring his peak clay form to Paris at least two or three more times, which means that, with any luck at all, he ultimately should pass Sampras and perhaps even edge within range of a certain someone else.
Be jealous , Monte Carlo: You’re not alone anymore at the top of Rafa’s list. Nadal now has won as many titles at Roland Garros as he has at his Mediterranean fortress—or anywhere else. In fact, his eight titles here are the most that any man has won at any major.
21-1: That is Nadal’s record against top-ten opponents since losing to Roger Federer at Indian Wells last year. Djokovic predictably notched the “1,” handing the Spaniard his only defeat on European clay this season in Monte Carlo.
26-1: That is Nadal’s record in clay finals against opponents other than Federer and Djokovic. He also improves to 4-0 in major finals against opponents other than those two, Roland Garros hosting three of those wins. Horacio Zeballos recorded the “1” in the first tournament of Nadal’s comeback this year.
Uprooting top seeds: Only once in the last ten years (Nadal in 2011) and twice in the last twenty (Gustavo Kuerten in 2001) has the top seed won the Roland Garros men’s singles title. Nadal has held a seed lower than No. 1 seven times and won the tournament every time. Six times out of seven, he defeated the top seed en route to the title.
A breath of fresh air: Today was the first men’s major final since Wimbledon 2010 that featured someone from outside the Big Four. But Roland Garros 2013 became the 14th consecutive major won by one of them, and 32nd of the last 33.
The minimalist major: Only once since 2000 has the Roland Garros men’s final reached a fifth set. All of the other three majors have featured multiple five-set men’s finals during that span.
London calling: Is Nadal the favorite at Wimbledon? He’s certainly not the prohibitive favorite, as he was at Roland Garros, but once again Djokovic might be the only member of the Big Four who can stop him there. Nadal has dominated Murray on grass and crushed Federer twice this year, albeit on slower surfaces. Even Djokovic might have trouble bouncing back from Friday to reverse that result in a month. Nadal’s greatest challenge might come in the early rounds there, as it often has.
Au revoir, Paris: The bad news is that this article concludes the series of Rewinds and Fast Forwards from Roland Garros next year. The good news is that I have one last Roland Garros article appearing tomorrow on my favorite memories from the tournament overall. The best news is that Wimbledon Fast Forward starts two weeks from today.
Question of the day: How many Roland Garros titles will Nadal win in his career? I’m setting the over-under at 10.5.
(June 9, 2013) Fans at Philippe Chatrier Court had some unexpected and unwelcomed protectors inside the stadium during the men’s final between Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer on Sunday.
All was going according to plan for Nadal to capture his eighth Roland Garros title. Earlier in the second set, however, rambunctious protestors, in favor of children’s rights, in the last row of the stadium had to be escorted out by security.
Then at 6-3, 5-1 with Nadal ready to serve, a shirtless and masked protestor with the words “KIDS RIGHT” written across his chest, ran onto Nadal’s side of the court, lighting a red flare. Nadal’s instincts kicked in and he started to run toward the exit, but seemingly stopped when realizing the protestor had been contained.
Security tackled the man and threw him off the court as another security personnel guarded Nadal. The man was taken off the court while security worked on extinguishing the flame in the corridor.
In the video below, you can also see security escort another shirtless man just as the incident occurred.
It not only shoot up the fans, but also Nadal as he lost serve the next game, but was able to break back and take the second set 6-2.
In his interview with John McEnroe, Nadal gave his thought when asked about the on-court protestor.
“Well, I felt a little bit scared in the first moment,” said Nadal. “These kinds of things are impossible to predict. When these kinds of things happen, we are very lucky that we have good security around. They managed very well to stop the situation.”
On nearby Suzanne Lenglen court, the protesting continued.
(June 8, 2013) Ever since coming back from his injury layoff, it seems all that Rafael Nadal can do is chase records, whether consciously or not, and this year’s Roland Garros is no different. The Spaniard is looking for not only his eight Roland Garros title, but also to become the first man in history to win eight titles at the same Slam event. Nadal now holds a 58-1 record at Roland Garros, but Ferrer is the only player to not have dropped a set en route to the final this year.
The two have already played each other three times this year, with two of those matches going the distance, so clearly Ferrer is capable of pushing Nadal. But can he do it in a best-of-five? Tennis Grandstand writers Chris Skelton and Nick Nemeroff, and guest contributor Josh Meiseles weigh in and give their predictions.
Josh Meiseles (Blog, The Sixth Set; @TheSixthSet): I would be hard-pressed to remember the last time a player was so ruthlessly dominant throughout a Grand Slam, yet was as massive an underdog entering the final as Ferrer will be when he duels with Nadal on Sunday.
In Nadal, the elder Spaniard not only faces a seven-time French Open champion, he goes up against someone who has maintained a firm stranglehold on their rivalry for the past decade. The world number four’s 19-4 head-to-head edge is highly indicative of Ferrer’s perpetual mental block against him and lack of confidence. Additionally, while his combined 42 breaks of serve and 18-0 sets-won record this fortnight are Nadalian numbers at Roland Garros, they should largely be considered a product of his rather benign draw. That said, it would require a gargantuan effort from the elder Spaniard to suddenly discover the fortitude to outlast Nadal in five sets, in the king of clay’s playground and with the additional pressure of this being his maiden Grand Slam final.
The only chance Ferrer has to make this competitive is if the weather forecast does hold true and it rains before the match, meaning the clay is dampened and Nadal’s forehand loses much of its bite. Even then, it would be foolish to pick against him. Nadal claims his eighth Roland Garros title after four sets.
Winner: Rafael Nadal, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1
Chris Skelton (@ChrisSkelton87): David Ferrer must feel like laughing and crying at the same time. At the age of 31, he reached the first major final of his career just months after claiming his first Masters 1000 title. This milestone represents a fitting climax to his late-career surge over the last eighteen months and a well-deserved opportunity. On Sunday, though, Ferrer faces a man who has beaten him 16 straight times on clay in fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal, also a man who never has lost a final at Roland Garros and won the tournament a record seven times. When they met in a 2012 semifinal at this tournament, Nadal allowed him just five games.
So there’s that. On the bright side, Ferrer has defeated Nadal at two majors before and took sets off him at their two previous clay meetings this season. He came within two points of a stunning upset over his countryman in Madrid, but he faded sharply late in both matches. Ferrer has not lost a set this tournament, but he has faced a much easier draw than the defending champion. While some men might suffer a hangover after defeating the world No. 1, Nadal has too much discipline to use his epic semifinal victory over Novak Djokovic as anything but a confidence boost.
The seven-time Roland Garros champion is simply a better player in every area than Ferrer, who will struggle to rise to the occasion of his first major final. Expect him to start slowly, make his move in the second set, and crumble soon after it fails.
Winner: Rafael Nadal, 6-1, 7-5, 6-2
Nick Nemeroff (@NNemeroff): The French Open final truly presents a battle between David and Goliath. David Ferrer could not have asked for a more unwelcoming opponent to greet him in his grand slam final debut. The only time Ferrer has conquered Rafael Nadal on clay came in their first ever meeting in 2004. Since then, Nadal has taken out Ferrer 17 straight times on his beloved red dirt.
In order for Ferrer to flip the script and pull off what would undoubtedly be one of the greatest upsets in tennis history, he’ll have to do a lot of things right to say the least. Throughout his career, Nadal has won 95 percent of the matches where he captured the opening set so it’s safe to say the opening frame of the match could very well be do or die for Ferrer.
If Ferrer wants any chance of winning the first set or any set for that matter, it will be paramount for him to dictate and stretch Nadal with his forehand, neutralize Nadal’s vicious topspin by taking a proactive stance on the baseline, take advantage of Nadal’s distant return position, and attack the King of Clay’s second serve. Ultimately, I think the increasingly warm conditions, Nadal’s overwhelming pattern of plays, and the magnitude of the moment will be too much for Ferrer to overcome in the end.
Prediction: Rafael Nadal, 7-6(5) 4-6 6-3 6-3
Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off the court.
Shot of the Day: Despite losing to Rafael Nadal in the semifinals, Novak Djokovic played some inspired and acrobatic tennis as the match went on.
Bryan Brothers ready to capture French Open crown: David Cox of the New York Times writes that the “French Open has been a tough tournament for the otherwise all-conquering Bryan brothers as they last won the title in 2003.” The Bryans will surely not have the home crowd behind them as they face off against Frenchman Michael Llodra and Nicolas Mahut. Despite not being able to capture the title for over a decade, the Bryans remain confident in their chances to take down Roland Garros.
“It feels great to be back in the final. Obviously, this has been a sticky one over the last 10 years. We’ve come very close and haven’t got over the hump, but we’re coming in with a lot of confidence.”
Plane Cam: Those of you who watched Ryan Harrison take on John Isner last week may remember Harrison becoming irritated by the model airplane that makes constant trips between “a towering crane outside the Roland Garros grounds and a tower at Suzanne Lenglen” as Peter Bodo of Tennis.com reports. He goes on and describes the plane as being a “sky cam that has become a standard feature at most sporting events.” Bodo goes on to describe origination of the plane came but admits that “your kid would like it a lot more than Harrison did.”
Novak Djokovic frustrated over officiating: Following his five set semifinal defeat at the hands of Rafael Nadal in the Roland Garros semifinals, as Sport 360 tells us, Novak Djokovic was less than happy with what he thought was confusing and disorganized officiating. Djokovic was extremely displeased that the court was becoming too dry.
“Off the court I was told that it’s the groundstaff who make the final decision on watering the court. The supervisor said it was him who decides. It takes 30 seconds to one minute to water the court. It was too difficult to change direction. I think it was wrong what they did.”
Djokovic was also mad about being stripped a point at 4-3 40-40 in the fifth set where he touched the net after seemingly putting away an overhead for a winner.
“My argument was that the ball was already out of the court when I touched the net.”
Road to Roland Garros with David Ferrer: David Ferrer produced a thorough and comprehensive beat down of Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in their semifinal clash Friday. Ferrer’s reward for his victory is a date with Rafael Nadal Sunday in what is his inaugural grand slam final. The Spaniard took a ride to the French Open grounds in this edition of Road to Roland Garros and talked about his on court mentality, who he would be if he was an actor, his adoration of Novak Djokovic’s humor, and who his friends are on the tour.
Maria Sharapova on upcoming final: Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams are just hours away from squaring off in the French Open final. Sports Illustrated has an extensive preview of the match including insight from Sharapova as she attempts to overcome Serena for the first time since 2005.
“I have never really thought about going out on the court and just trying to be consistent, not playing my game and just getting the ball back. That hasn’t ever been my philosophy, because the way that I win matches is by being aggressive, by moving my power, by looking to move forward and playing that aggressive game.”
“Despite all those statistics, despite my unsuccessful record against her, it doesn’t matter because you’re at the French Open final. No matter how good she’s playing, you also have to give yourself a bit of credit for getting to that point and doing a few things right to be at that stage and giving yourself an opportunity.”
Venus Williams says Serena Williams is greatest she’s ever faced: In a question and answer session with Yes Network, Venus Williams talks about her most influential fashion designer, her favorite New York meal, her favorite city, her most memorable grand slam victory, her favorite career moment and more. Venus also talks about how Serena is undoubtedly the greatest player she has ever faced.
“Clearly Serena. No doubt. I’ve played most of the greats and she is definitely the best” Venus said in response to being asked who the best player she as ever seen or played against.
By Maud Watson
Vying for No. 2
On Saturday, the top two women’s seeds will be battling each other to try and claim a second title at Roland Garros. Serena’s first title came over ten years ago in 2002, while Sharapova tasted sweet success last year. Serena has a lot more going for her heading into this final. She’s yet to lose on the clay this season, and with the exception of her quarterfinal match against Kuznetsova, she’s reached the final with minimal fuss. Then there’s that dominating head-to-head record she owns against Sharapova. That record alone makes Saturday’s match an uphill battle for Sharapova. But the Russian is a fierce competitor who lets very little faze her, as evidenced by the way she fought through both her quarterfinal and semifinal matches. Sharapova has also been the second best player on the dirt in 2013, so she shouldn’t be too far behind Serena in the confidence department as far as her clay-court game goes. In short, the blatant favorite in this final is Serena, but she can’t psyche herself out like she very nearly did during a brilliant patch of play from Kuznetsova in the quarters. For her own part, Sharapova has to believe and work hard to keep things close early if she’s to stand a prayer. It’s a big match for both, and it will ultimately come down to who’s stronger mentally.
Two intriguing men’s semifinals are set to be contested, and the blockbuster matchup in the eyes of many will pit Novak Djokovic against Rafael Nadal. It’s another classic case of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, and a win in Paris for either one would be of great historical significance. Nadal is going for an astonishing record eighth title in the French capital. He has managed to overcome a rocky start to the tournament but now appears to be firing on all cylinders. His form has been stellar virtually all season, making the finals of every tournament he has entered and winning all but two of them. He went on his usual tear through the clay court season, and capping off his comeback with yet another French Open title looks almost inevitable. But one of the men to have defeated Nadal this season is Novak Djokovic. Djokovic’s victory put a blemish on Nadal’s clay court season as he earned a key victory over the Spaniard in Monte-Carlo. Many feel he’s the one guy who has the necessary tools to defeat Nadal at his best, but Djokovic will have to work hard to keep the nerves in check. He’s never won the French, but if he were to do so, he would complete the career Grand Slam. He’s also likely to want it more for his first coach, Jelena Gencic, who passed away earlier this week. It’s a match that has instant classic written all over it and will likely be decided by only a few points, but edge to the Spaniard.
Though it isn’t receiving nearly the same amount of promotion, the other men’s semi is intriguing in its own right. It features two players who couldn’t be more opposite. On one side there is Ferrer. He’s tennis’ ultimate warrior. Nobody works harder. He’s not flashy, but he’s a dogged competitor who is as steady as they come. He might just feel that Lady Luck is sitting in his corner as he’ll find Tsonga, not Federer, on the other side of the net as he competes to book his first major final berth. Of course, Tsonga has plenty of reason to feel good about his own chances of going all the way, too. He’s a flashy, charismatic competitor embraced by the French crowd. Like Ferrer, he has moved through the tournament without the loss of a set, which includes blitzing Federer in the quarters. He’s been to a major final before, and he’ll have an entire nation behind him as he aims to become the first native son since Yannick Noah to lift the trophy. The fact that he’s playing a guy who has admitted he doesn’t think he can win a slam could also work in his favor. If it were on any other clay court, or even earlier in this event, Ferrer’s consistency might edge out Tsonga. But in the semis with virtually all of France behind him, you have to like Tsonga’s chances to reach his second major final.
Ups and Downs
It’s never too soon to be looking forward to the grass court season, which kicks off with Queen’s next week. The Brits will be happy that Andy Murray, who pulled out of Roland Garros with a bad back, is planning to test the waters at the Wimbledon tune-up. He’s always enjoyed plenty of the success there, so hopefully he’ll be able to get his grass court season off on a good note. Unfortunately, that’s not a possibility for Mardy Fish. The American is suffering from the flu and has already announced he won’t be in Queen’s. He’s also doubtful for Wimbledon and will be making a decision on his participation in that event next week. At least Brian Baker, who won’t be competing at all on the grass this year, has set a return date of July 22. With the results he was pulling last year, he deserves another crack at it.
When the Roland Garros draw first appeared, all of us felt virtually certain that we would see Roger Federer on the second Sunday. His greatest obstacle, fourth-seeded David Ferrer, never had defeated him in 14 attempts, while Federer’s early rounds looked especially forgiving. Things did not turn out that way when an especially unforgiving Jo-Wilfried Tsonga hammered the Swiss star into straight-sets submission to reach his first Roland Garros semifinal.
As ecstatic as he must have felt to achieve that breakthrough, Tsonga cannot bask in its glow too long. He may have reached the semifinals without losing a set, but so has his opponent. Handed less daunting opposition than Tsonga, Ferrer has shown even greater efficiency in hurling four breadsticks at his last two opponents. At age 31, he will not see many more opportunities to reach his first major final without defeating any of his elite nemeses. That pressure on Ferrer may counterbalance the pressure on Tsonga as he aims to move onto the threshold of becoming the first French champion at Roland Garros since Yannick Noah thirty years ago.
While this match lacks star power compared to the other semifinal, it will present a more intriguing contrast of styles and greater uncertainty about how the matchup will unfold. Tsonga certainly will need to impose himself behind an excellent first-serve percentage, an area where he always has shone at his best. Looking to pin Ferrer behind the baseline, he will seek to capitalize on short balls by showing off his crisp forecourt skills. Directly pitted against the Frenchman’s greatest weapons are the Spaniard’s sharpest tools, however. For every massive serve that Tsonga strikes, Ferrer can reply with a pinpoint return. For every delicately carved drop volley that delights the French crowd, a scorching passing shot can silence them.
These two semifinalists from opposite sides of the Pyrenees have met only once on clay, three years ago in Rome. Ferrer won routinely, as he did again last fall in Paris, while Tsonga won their only meeting at a major. The Spaniard has gained repeated success in their matches by pounding his inside-out forehand into Tsonga’s vulnerable backhand, but that weakness has held firm so far this tournament. During the course of five sets, the home hope should produce just enough bursts of explosive shot-making to preserve his dream at the cost of another.
That dream could turn into a nightmare, though, against the man who has annexed this tournament for nearly a decade with the exception of a brief insurrection in 2009. Or against the man who defeated Tsonga in his only major final to date, at the 2008 Australian Open. Pick your poison.
Starkly divergent from the other semifinal, whose protagonists have met only three times, is the latest collision between two men on track to meet more than any other pair of champions in history. Djokovic and Nadal already have shared the court a staggering 34 times, 11 of those in a 15-month span from Indian Wells 2011 to Roland Garros 2012. But they have not met before a final since 2009, the year-end championships aside, so Rafole XXXV will end without the usual fanfare of a championship celebration and a dual trip to the podium.
Not that it could end much more limply than the 2012 Roland Garros final, the latest notch in Nadal’s perfect record here against both of his archrivals. With a double fault down championship point, Djokovic showed his unreadiness to handle the pressure of the circumstances. At stake was only a first title in Paris but a career Grand Slam and the rare feat of holding all four major titles simultaneously. All of that history created a burden too onerous even for the valiant Serb when combined with Nadal’s career-long mastery over this surface.
Hearkening back to his 2011 clay success, Djokovic snapped his archrival’s winning streak earlier this year in Monte Carlo. Nadal had grasped that tournament in a record-breaking stranglehold even more oppressive than his dominance in Paris. A runner-up to Rafa there last year, Djokovic avenged that loss by controlling this year’s final nearly from start to finish. When Nadal threatened to turn the match around, the world No. 1 responded vigorously to adversity. He will need to bring that attitude from Monte Carlo to Paris, where he should know that he will face repeated spans of adversity. After his first-week struggles, Nadal has rounded into his usual impressive Roland Garros form during the last two rounds. Djokovic can expect to face a more confident version of his rival than he did in Monte Carlo, for the Spaniard’s confidence has mounted following subsequent titles in Barcelona, Madrid, and Rome.
The two men hold no secrets from each other, their games having crystallized into essentially fixed cores. As he usually does, Djokovic will look to drive his two-handed backhand toward Nadal’s forehand corner before pouncing on opportunities to rip his signature shot up the line. Nadal will look to neutralize his rival’s dangerous return by varying the placement on his serve and directing it into the body at times, while he will try to keep Djokovic honest by mixing flat down-the-line forehands with his usual topspin cross-court forehand. The unprecedented and unparalleled levels of fitness and mobility on both sides will encourage the two men to settle into long, grinding rallies rather than pulling the trigger early. Whoever does find the courage to seize opportunity when it knocks, however, will strike the latest blow in the game’s greatest rivalry.
Plenty of fascinating events unfolded on the first day of quarterfinal action in Paris. Here are my thoughts on what happened.
Major breakthrough: Not since 2011 had Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeated a member of the ATP top eight, much less one of the Big Four. He had lost a five-set heartbreaker in the same round here last year to Novak Djokovic, and he had lost a five-setter in the same round at the Australian Open to the man whom he faced today. When Tsonga fell behind early in the first set, the narrative looked all too familiar. But the flamboyant French shot-maker has shown far more resilience this fortnight than he has in years, and he stormed back from early adversity to dominate Roger Federer as few men ever have at a major. Give the Paris crowd credit for abandoning their usual adulation of Federer and relentlessly exhorting their home hero to knock him off.
Pumpkin time for Cinderella Tommy: All of those grueling comebacks finally caught up with Tommy Robredo, who won just four games from David Ferrer in a listless quarterfinal. When he looks back at this tournament, though, Robredo will remember it as one of the highlights of his career. Normally a reserved, unassuming character, he stole the spotlight for several days on a grand stage for the first time. Nobody would have expected it of him a few months ago.
Crossroads for Federer: Despite the 36-quarterfinal streak at majors, one would have to rate the first half of 2013 a serious disappointment for the Swiss. Federer has no titles, one final, and one victory over a top-eight opponent (Tsonga at the Australian Open). Now, Federer must seek to defend his Wimbledon title or possibly face the prospect of dropping outside the top four. His occasional flickers of brilliance this spring simply will not suffice unless the draw implodes, which rarely happens at a major.
When David becomes Goliath: The fourth seed reached his second straight Roland Garros semifinal and fourth semifinal in five majors by losing just nine games in his last six sets. Tsonga cannot overlook the small Spaniard on the eve of a possible final against Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal. Granted a fine draw that placed him in the opposite half from both of those nemeses, Ferrer has made the most of it. He could reach his first major final without facing any of the Big Four, a golden opportunity.
All eyes on the top half: With Federer gone, the winner of the projected Novak Djokovic-Rafael Nadal semifinal blockbuster will be heavily favored against whomever he faces in the final. That match looms larger than ever, assuming that both men can take care of business tomorrow.
No time like the first time: Neither Tsonga nor Ferrer ever has reached the final here. Neither man even has lost a set in reaching this stage, a first for both. Who will handle the pressure better on Friday?
Forza Italia: For the fourth straight year, an Italian woman reaches the Roland Garros semifinals. Sara Errani hit neither an ace nor a double fault in a characteristically gritty win over Agnieszka Radwanska, concluding with a 67-minute second set. Defeating Radwanska in a WTA main-draw match for the first time, she exploited her much greater comfort on the surface but also beat the world No. 4 at her own game. A leisurely 11-break contest with long points and relatively few winners normally plays into Radwanska’s hands. Not this time.
No déjà vu, thank you: Facing Svetlana Kuznetsova on the same court where she lost to her in this round four years ago, Serena Williams seized control with an emphatic first set that extended her usual pattern this tournament. History then threatened to repeat itself when Kuznetsova rallied to take the second set and claimed an early break in the third. Struggling with both her serve and her groundstroke technique, Serena looked much less like the dominant contender of the early rounds than the woman who had not reached a Roland Garros semifinal for a decade. Sheer willpower finally ended that drought and a four-match losing streak in quarterfinals here as the world No. 1 forced herself to find her range in an unexpectedly hard-fought victory.
Crossroads for Radwanska: In some respects, the newly blonde world No. 4 has enjoyed a strong year, matching her best result ever at the Australian Open (quarterfinal) and achieving a new best result at Roland Garros (also quarterfinal). A few other results have impressed as well, including a Miami semifinal. But Radwanska has shown little real evolution this year that would encourage one to believe in her as anything more than a serial quarterfinalist at majors. She will defend finals points at Wimbledon, the only major where she has gone past that round. Like Federer, her top-four status might crumble if she falls well short there.
No eyes on the bottom half: With Serena still in the draw, the matches down there offer an entertaining diversion but lack real title implications. The top seed has bageled or breadsticked all four of the bottom-half quarterfinalists on clay this year and holds a 32-4 career record against the three not named Jelena Jankovic. When JJ holds your best hope for a competitive final, avert your eyes.
Rewind to Madrid: Nudged within two points of defeat by Anabel Medina Garrigues in a quarterfinal there, Serena escaped and then rocketed past her last two opponents to the title. She will face Errani in the semifinals here, as she did there. Will the parallels continue?