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
The women’s US Open Series launches in California with one of the oldest tournaments in the WTA. In the tranquil setting of Stanford University, the Bank of the West Classic a particularly cozy and rewarding tournaments. Here is a look ahead at what to expect this week at Stanford and at the International event half a world away in Azerbaijan.
Top half: Rarely do Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, and Victoria Azarenka all spurn Stanford. Their absence this year offers world No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska an opportunity as the only top-10 player in the draw. The top seed probably still can taste the bitter disappointment of a greater opportunity squandered at Wimbledon. Radwanska will seek to bounce back on a relatively fast hard court, where she has reached the semifinals before. She should reach that stage again with no pre-semifinal opponent more formidable than Varvara Lepchenko, just 2-9 away from clay this year. A potentially intriguing first-round match between youthful energy and veteran cunning pits Stanford alum Mallory Burdette against Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone.
Sandwiched between two unimpressive seeds, Madison Keys should showcase her power on a court suited to it. American fans will enjoy their glimpse of the woman who could become their leading threat to win a major in a few years. Keys will look to deliver an opening upset over eighth seed Magdalena Rybarikova en route to a possible quarterfinal against compatriot Jamie Hampton. Climbing into relevance with an Eastbourne final, Hampton holds the fourth seed and may face another Stanford alum in Nicole Gibbs. Hampton stunned Radwanska at Eastbourne last month, while Keys took a set from her at Wimbledon.
Semifinal: Radwanska vs. Keys
Bottom half: The third quarter features another unseeded American hopeful—and another Radwanska. Stanford’s depleted field allowed Agnieszka’s younger sister, Urszula, to snag the seventh seed, while Christina McHale looks for momentum on the long road back from mononucleosis. Still elegant as she fades, Daniela Hantuchova brings a touch of grace that should contrast with the athleticism of first-round opponent Yanina Wickmayer. Often a presence but rarely a threat at Stanford, third seed Dominika Cibulkova has not won more than two matches at any tournament since January.
The only US Open champion in the draw, Samantha Stosur might face a challenging test against Julia Goerges. This enigmatic German has won three of their four meetings, including both on hard courts, although the last three all have reached a third set. Of course, a 14-17 record in 2013 does not bode well for her chances of surviving Olga Govortsova in the first round. The road might not get any easier for Stosur in the quarterfinals, though, where she could meet Sorana Cirstea. A product of the Adidas training program in Las Vegas, Cirstea upset Stosur at last year’s Australian Open. None of the women in the lower half ever has reached a final at Stanford.
Semifinal: Cibulkova vs. Stosur
Final: Radwanska vs. Stosur
Top half: Not one of these women will hold a seed at the US Open unless their rankings rise between now and then. Holding the top seed is Bojana Jovanovski, who owes many of her poitns to a second-week appearance at the Australian Open. Jovanovski has two victories over Caroline Wozniacki but few over anyone else since then. Former junior No. 1 Daria Gavrilova and fellow Serb Vesna Dolonc offer her most credible competition before the semifinals.
At that stage, Jovanovski might meet Andrea Hlavackova, the runner-up in a similarly weak draw at Bad Gastein a week ago. Although she has fallen outside the top 100, meanwhile, Shahar Peer will hope to rely on her experience to stop either Hlavackova or third seed Chanelle Scheepers. The speed of the surface may determine whether a counterpuncher like Peer or Scheepers overcomes the heavier serve of fifth seed Karolina Pliskova.
Bottom half: Unheralded players from the home nation often play above expectations at small tournaments like Baku. Wildcard Kamilla Farhad, an Azerbaijani citizen, will hope to echo Yvonne Meusberger’s astonishing title run in Bad Gastein. Surrounding her are clay specialist Alexandra Cadantu and the stagnating Polona Hercog. A tall Slovenian, the later woman seems the best equipped to win on hard courts from this section. Cadantu will need to blunt the explosive serve of Michaella Krajicek to survive her opener.
The 18-year-old Elina Svitolina showed promise in Bad Gastein by reaching the semifinals. That experience will have served her well heading into another International event with an open draw. She even holds a seed here, as does another rising star in Donna Vekic. Nearly two years younger than Svitolina, Vekic already has reached two WTA finals. A quarterfinal between the two teenagers might offer a preview of more momentous matches in the future.
Final: Pliskova vs. Vekic
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 Rewind: Wawrinka Wins Thriller; Djokovic Finishes Strong; Sharapova, Azarenka, Nadal Cruise on Monday
From 256 players to 16, the Roland Garros draws keep shrinking. We keep returning to keep you updated on the latest attrition.
Match of the day: After Richard Gasquet had won his first eleven sets of the tournament, he lost the plot just long enough for Stanislas Wawrinka to reset himself. Once again, Gasquet allowed a two-set lead to evaporate at a major. But he battled valiantly to the end, only succumbing 8-6 in the fifth as Wawrinka reached his first Roland Garros quarterfinal.
Most improved: The outlook is not bright for Wawrinka in the next round, however, for he faces a rejuvenated Rafael Nadal. The birthday boy celebrated turning 27 with his most emphatic win of the tournament, finally delivering sustained quality from start to finish. Nadal will have one more tune-up before the Friday battle with his archrival.
Least improved: That is, assuming that Novak Djokovic reaches that stage. The death of his former coach predictably took its toll on his game in a four-set victory over Philipp Kohlschreiber, who converted only two of thirteen break points. Djokovic asserted that his motivation to win here had risen rather than dulled, but he rarely has produced his best tennis in situations of personal turmoil.
Stat of the day: Not since 1971 had a man as old as Tommy Haas reached the quarterfinals of Roland Garros. But the German achieved that feat for the first time in 12 appearances, crushing Mikhail Youzhny in straight sets two days after saving a match point against John Isner.
Question of the day: Haas dominated Djokovic in Miami this spring. Can he repeat the feat when they meet in the quarterfinals?
Match of the day: None. All of the higher-ranked women won in straight sets to leave Svetlana Kuznetsova the only unseeded quarterfinalist in either draw.
Most improved: Into her third quarterfinal here, Victoria Azarenka improved to 11-0 at major this year by sweeping nine straight games from 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone. Azarenka had descended from second-round frailty to third-round fecklessness, so this authoritative fourth-round display came as a welcome relief to her fans. She will seek her first Roland Garros semifinal against Maria Kirilenko.
Americans in Paris: Down they went like dominoes, none able to win a set from their fourth-round opponents. Bethanie Mattek-Sands could solve Li Na but not Maria Kirilenko, while Jamie Hampton could solve Petra Kvitova but not Jelena Jankovic. When Tuesday dawns in Paris, Serena Williams will fly the stars and stripes all by herself. To be honest, though, nobody would have expected any Americans other than Serena to reach the middle weekend.
Stat of the day: Marching ever further into her title defense, Maria Sharapova recorded her 33rd consecutive victory on clay (and 43rd in her last 44 matches) against opponents other than Serena. The best clay winning percentage of any active woman got a little better when she swatted Sloane Stephens aside with a much stronger serving display than in her previous two matches.
Question of the day: All of the top four women have reached the quarterfinals, three without losing a set. Can any of their opponents forestall a semifinal convergence?
On the second Monday of Roland Garros, the remaining quarterfinal lineups take shape. We continue our comprehensive look at the round of 16.
Novak Djokovic vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber: Four long years ago, Kohlschreiber stunned the future No. 1 in the third round here, their only clay meeting. Never have they met since Djokovic became the Djuggernaut in 2011, so that history offers little guide. Growing more impressive with each round, he demolished Grigor Dimitrov to reach the second week without dropping a set. Kohlschreiber has played only two matches here, receiving a second-round walkover, but he too has shone in limited action and appears to have recovered from a recent injury. Highlighted by his elegant one-handed backhand, the German’s shot-making talent should produce flurries of winners and an ideal foil for Djokovic’s court coverage. But he lacks the consistent explosiveness to hit through the Serb from the baseline.
Tommy Haas vs. Mikhail Youzhny: Two veterans wield their one-handed backhands in hopes of a quarterfinal rendezvous with Djokovic. Far from a clay specialist, Youzhny may have surprised even himself by reaching the second week here, although he did win a set from the Serb in Monte Carlo and compiled a solid week in Madrid. A week later, he halted Haas routinely in Rome for his second win of the clay season over a top-20 opponent. Youzhny’s third such victory came over Janko Tipsarevic on Saturday, perhaps aided by the Serb’s fatigue in playing the day after a grueling five-setter. Meanwhile, Haas found the stamina to win a five-set epic from John Isner on Saturday without a day of rest, putting younger men to shame. Able to weather the adversity of twelve match points squandered, he looks as physically and mentally fit at age 35 as he ever has.
Rafael Nadal vs. Kei Nishikori: After Nadal lost a set to the Japanese star in their first meeting five years ago, he has swept their remaining three meetings without losing more than four games in any set. None of them has come on clay, which should tilt the balance of power even more clearly in Nadal’s favor. If he brings his flustered, disheveled form of the first week into the second week, however, Nishikori has the coolness, consistency, and belief to punish him. The last Asian player left in either draw recently defeated Federer on the Madrid clay, and he owns a victory over Djokovic as well. Nadal needs to start this match more solidly than he did his three previous matches, or he might dig an early hole for himself again. Even if he does, Nishikori’s vanilla baseline game should play into Rafa’s hands eventually.
Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Richard Gasquet: The Swiss No. 2 could have renamed himself “Wowrinka” after a clay season in which he surged back to the top 10. Just outside it now, he seeks to reach his first Roland Garros quarterfinal with a fifth victory over a top-ten opponent this spring. This match will feature a scintillating battle of the two finest backhands in the men’s game, Wawrinka’s the sturdiest and Gasquet’s the most aesthetically pleasing. A strong four-set victory over fellow dark horse Jerzy Janowicz will give the former man valuable momentum for tackling an opponent who did not lose a set in the first week. Once fallible when playing in or for France, Gasquet has improved in that area during this mature phase of his career. He remains highly unreliable when sustained adversity strikes or when a match grows tense, as this match should.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands vs. Maria Kirilenko: When they collided on hard courts this spring, the Russian prevailed uneventfully. That result captured the relative status of their games then, Mattek-Sands struggling to gain traction in the main draws of key tournaments and Kirilenko arriving from a semifinal at Indian Wells. The gap separating their trajectories has narrowed during the clay season, where Mattek-Sands suddenly has emerged as a credible threat. A victory over Sara Errani launched her toward a semifinal in Stuttgart, while an upset over Li Na here has catalyzed this second-week run. The American will dictate the terms of this engagement by attempting to bomb winners down the line before Kirilenko settles into the rallies. Against someone who defends as adeptly as the Russian, that tactic could reap mixed results for someone whose accuracy ebbs and flows.
Francesca Schiavone vs. Victoria Azarenka: In a bizarre head-to-head considering their histories, Azarenka has won both of their clay meetings and Schiavone their only match on hard courts. Those trends do not reflect the surface advantage that one would hand the Italian, once a champion and twice a finalist here. Azarenka never has ventured past the quarterfinals, by contrast, and has struggled both mentally and physically with the demands of clay. She may need more experience on it to solve its riddles, but Schiavone could confront her with an intriguing test. A player who prefers rhythmic exchanges from the baseline, Azarenka can expect to find herself stretched into uncomfortable positions and forced to contend with an array of spins and slices. If she serves as woefully as she did against Cornet a round ago, Schiavone might have a real chance at another miracle.
Jamie Hampton vs. Jelena Jankovic: It looks like a clear mismatch on paper, and it could prove a mismatch in reality. A three-time Roland Garros semifinalist and former No. 1 confronts an American who never has reached a major quarterfinal or the top 20. But Hampton will bring confidence from her upset of Petra Kvitova, an opponent with much more dangerous weapons than Jankovic can wield. The bad news for the underdog is that the Serb also will have brought confidence from her previous round, a three-set comeback against former Roland Garros finalist Samantha Stosur. Jankovic often follows an excellent performance with a clunker, though, as she showed in Rome when she collapsed against Simona Halep after upsetting Li Na. And Hampton won their only prior meeting last year at Indian Wells.
Maria Sharapova vs. Sloane Stephens: The defending champion looked a few degrees less than bulletproof in the second sets of her last two victories. Perhaps Sharapova relaxed her steeliness a bit in both when she won the first sets resoundingly from her overmatched prey. While she deserves credit for finishing both in style, future opponents may find hope in those lulls. On the other hand, Sharapova struggled on serve throughout her match against Stephens in Rome—and lost a whopping three games. Her experience buttressed her on the key deuce points, which she dominated, while her return devastated the Stephens serve. The 20-year-old American has surpassed expectations by reaching the second week here again, although she has benefited from a toothless draw. Needing help from Serena to stun the world in Melbourne, Stephens will need help from Sharapova to stun the world in Paris.
Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off the court.
Shot of the Day: Rafael Nadal sets up for a serve on Philippe Chatrier court as the crowd cheers him on. It may have been a straight set 7-6(5), 6-4, 6-4 victory, but the Spaniard allowed his opponent Fabio Fognini to get too comfortable, threatening each and every game from the first ball. Nadal will have to step up his game if he wishes to raise the trophy again.
ATP News: In this ATP World Tour article, Roger Federer discusses his life as a dad, Kevin Anderson talks about the future of tennis in Africa, John Isner reveals his increasingly healthy eating habits (sans beer), Grigor Dimitrov dresses up as a clown, Martin Klizan dishes on his calf tattoo, and Ryan Harrison explains his admiration of LeBron James. Who said the ATP is boring?
American women march on: Serena Williams, as comes to no surprise to anyone, will be sticking around for the second week in Paris. Joining her, less expectedly, are Sloane Stephens, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and Jamie Hampton. ESPN’s Tennis section discusses the victories of these three women in addition to the victories of Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka and Jelena Jankovic. Moving forward, things are only going to get tougher for the Americans to which Sloane Stephens stated, “This is my favorite tournament but winning it would be a long shot.”
Viktor Troicki looks back: After an impressive first week which included victories over James Blake, Daniel-Gimeno Traver, and Marin Cilic, Viktor Troick took time out with the Roland Garros team. In this video, Troicki talks about his first time playing tennis, his first match as a kid, his first tournament won, and several other firsts in his tennis career.
Sharapova, Bryans want Hawkeye at the French: Taking a position on a debate which I’m sure is going to be hotly contested in years to come, the Bryan Brothers and Maria Sharapova, as Douglas Robson of USA Today reports, “called for the use of Hawkeye after coming out on the losing end of calls.” Sharapova’s main concern was over “the fact that the umpire did not recognize that the mark he pointed out was about a foot away from the actually mark” in a dispute over a call during her third round match against Zheng Jie.
Bob Bryan pulls a Stakhovsky: As a corollary to the USA Today article and as Courtney Nguyen of Sports Illustrated reports, Bob Bryan took a page out of Serigy Stakhovsky’s book during his second-round doubles match Saturday. Bob felt the chair umpire missed a call and was so irritated that he took it upon himself to take out his cell-phone and take a picture of the disputed mark. Not sure if this trend will continue, but the debate over using Hawkeye on clay, as clearly demonstrated, certainly will.
French Fury: After being issued a point penalty for coaching on set point in the second set of his third round match with Kei Nishikori, Benoit Paire began to angrily argue with chair umpire Enric Molina of Spain. This came after Paire had already received a code violation for breaking a racket. Following the match, which Paire lost in four sets, the Frenchman further ripped into Molina as Sports Illustrated reports.
“I think that the chair umpire wanted to be a promotion. I think if Rafael Nadal or some good player do the same thing, for sure he doesn’t put warning [penalty point].”
Francesca Schiavone dashes French hopes: In a marvelously played match against Marion Bartoli, Francesca Schiavone eliminated the final Frenchwoman from the tournament. Bartoli applauded the efforts of her Italian opponent stating, “On clay she is a terrific opponent. On clay this is a player who is very, very dangerous.”
Tommy Haas discusses victory: German Tommy Haas was unable to convert any of the 12 match points he had in the fourth set in his third round match against American John Isner. After falling behind a break in the fifth set, Haas rallied, saved a match point, and took out the American on his 13th match point. In his press conference, Haas commented on the fourth set match points asserting, “The way he was saving those match points, serving the way he did there’s really nothing I could have done.”
Angelique Kerber delighted to advance: David Cox of the New York Times described Angelique Kerber’s reaction after defeating Varvara Lepchenko in the third round as a “primal scream” in which “relief, joy, and pure adrenaline combined to create a spine-tingling moment.” Kerber attested to the thrill this victory gave her saying, “It meant a lot. It was very tough and close match and I had a lot of up and downs so I was so happy to win.”
Jelena Genic passes: In extremely sad news, Novak Djokovic’s childhood coach, the first coach of his tennis career, Jelena Gencic, passed away at the age of 76 as USA Today reports. After crushing Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov in his third round match Saturday, the Serb cancelled his post-match interview.
“After his victory over Grigor Dimitrov, Novak Djokovic learned of the death of his first coach, Jelena Gencic, who passed away today in Belgrade,” a statement released by French Open officials said. “Clearly affected by this sad news, Novak Djokovic feels unable to give a press conference this evening. He would like to send his apologies to the media.”
The remaining second-week lineups fell into place on Saturday at Roland Garros. Here’s a look back at the studs and duds.
Match of the day: Returning to the battlefield after playing an 8-6 fifth set yesterday, John Isner outdid himself in the effort department. The American giant rallied from two sets down against Tommy Haas, saving twelve match points in the fourth set. Isner even claimed a 4-1 lead in the fifth set as a second comeback in two days from losing the first two sets loomed. Somehow managing to break and saving a match point at 4-5, Haas hung on until Isner finally cracked at 8-8. The thirteenth match point proved the charm.
Unsurprising surprise of the day: Also back in action a day after an 8-6 fifth set, Janko Tipsarevic predictably responded less impressively than Isner did. The eighth seed fell to Mikhail Youzhny in straight sets. Whoever thought that Youzhny would reach the second week of Roland Garros and have a real chance at a quarterfinal berth deserves a glass of Champagne’s finest.
Nice story of the day: Overshadowed this tournament by someone else from Switzerland, as he usually is, Stanislas Wawrinka posted a solid four-set win over the dangerous Jerzy Janowicz. Wawrinka had not known whether he would participate in Roland Garros this year because of a leg injury, so he will feel confident that he made the right decision.
Scandal of the day: A set point against Kei Nishikori awaited Benoit Paire—or so it seemed. Umpire Enric Molina took away the opportunity with a coaching code violation, resulting in a point penalty. An infuriated Paire argued his case at length, but Molina appeared to have ruled correctly. Probably spurred by the incident, Paire bludgeoned his way to win the set anyway, although he lost the match.
Gold star: Like fellow Head endorser Maria Sharapova, Novak Djokovic always fancies a taste of revenge. He ravaged Grigor Dimitrov’s serve without mercy just weeks after finding it nearly invulnerable in Madrid. Toppled in three sets that time, Djokovic lost just seven games here.
Silver star: Baby steps for Rafael Nadal, who looked far from his overwhelming King of Clay self again but at least advanced in straight sets. Nadal had thrashed third-round opponent Fabio Fognini in Rome. This match proved much more competitive but never really in doubt once he survived a slow start to win a first-set tiebreak.
Stat of the day: The twelve match points saved by Isner were the most ever saved by any man in a match at a major.
American men in Paris: None reach the second week. RIP, this category.
Question of the day: Djokovic’s fourth-round opponent, Philipp Kohlschreiber has advanced routinely to this stage and upset the Serb here in 2009. Can he make things interesting on Monday?
Match of the day: Just like Monfils-Berdych, the Stosur-Jankovic duel of veteran clay specialists lived up to its billing. Jankovic repeated her Stuttgart upset of the world No. 9 after losing the first set and closing out a long, tight decider. Her clay revival this year should lead to her first major quarterfinal in recent memory,…
Surprise of the day: …although Jamie Hampton might have something to say about it. The small American who gave Victoria Azarenka a scare in Melbourne bundled Petra Kvitova out of the tournament. Facing little resistance early, Hampton needed to navigate a long second-set tiebreak to prevent the advantage shifting back to the favorite in the third set. Kvitova has lost before the quarterfinals at three straight majors.
Nice story of the day: Perhaps the nicest story of the tournament, in fact. 2010 champion and 2011 finalist Francesca Schiavone returns to the second week in Paris despite a disappointing season, finishing off top-ranked Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli without much ado.
Top seeds show frailty…: Victoria Azarenka barely could hold serve at all for a set-plus against Alize Cornet, dropping a break at love to concede the first set to someone with a 24-match losing streak against top-30 opponents. After an emphatic first set, Maria Sharapova suddenly lost the plot and fell behind by a double break to the persistent but faded Zheng Jie amid serving struggles.
…but finish strong: Once adversity struck, both top women showed their spine. World No. 3 Azarenka raced through a 6-1 third set, while world No. 2 Sharapova swept six of the last seven games. If you want to score a huge upset, you cannot afford to labor as consistently on serve as Cornet and Zheng did. That is too much additional pressure stacked on top of the pressure created by the circumstances.
Adieu, les bleues: Barely wobbling through her two previous matches, Bartoli followed Cornet to the exit as the last Frenchwomen faded from the draw in the first week. Credit to each of them for fighting bard, but France simply is not a first-tier tennis power in the women’s game.
Stat of the day: Sharapova converted all eight of her break points against Zheng, who held serve exactly once in the match.
Americans in Paris: Who would have thought that the stars and stripes would supply a quarter of the women’s final sixteen on the clay of Roland Garros? In addition to Hampton and Serena Williams, Bethanie Mattek-Sands rallied from losing the first set for the second straight match to dominate clay specialist Paula Ormaechea late. Sloane Stephens took advantage of a soft draw to repeat her second-week result here from last year. Now 8-1 at majors and 11-1 at non-majors, Stephens saves her best for when it means the most.
Questions of the day: Can Schiavone flap the visibly flappable Azarenka on Monday? And how many women’s quarterfinalists will the USA produce? All but Serena will be underdogs next round.
While Yeshayahu Ginsburg focuses his spotlight on the marquee clash between Novak Djokovic and Grigor Dimitrov, this article focuses on nine other matches to watch as the first week concludes in Paris.
Alize Cornet vs. Victoria Azarenka: The champion in Strasbourg last week, Cornet has won seven straight matches in her home nation on her favorite surface. She faces a daunting test against a woman whom she lacks the power to hit through her with either serve or groundstrokes. Simple and steady should suffice for Azarenka, who looked crisp in her first round and shaky in her second. The wildcard in this match could consist of the French crowd, likely to try anything possible to fluster her. If Vika can keep her composure and perhaps draw energy from the hostility, she should reach the second week in a feisty mood.
Maria Sharapova vs. Zheng Jie: A massive height advantage should help the defending champion collect some free points against the last Chinese woman left in the draw. Zheng has a winning record against top-10 opponents this year and a victory over Sharapova at Indian Wells in 2010, but her meek serve will cause the WTA’s most vicious returner to salivate. If she can dig herself into some rallies, her groundstroke depth could make this match competitive, like their other meetings. Sharapova fell a few notches short of flawless in the second round, wobbling slightly near the finish line, and Zheng owns a reputation for never going away.
Marion Bartoli vs. Francesca Schiavone: The top-ranked Frenchwoman probably should consider herself fortunate to have reached this stage. Bartoli saved two match points in a three-hour match to start the tournament and came from behind in both sets of her second-round match after her opponent served for both. While she has underachieved for her ranking, Schiavone has overachieved in upsetting top-30 player Kirsten Flipkens. She holds a clear surface edge over Bartoli, whom she defeated in a 2011 semifinal here. Less clear is whether her serve can withstand the double-fister’s return well enough to secure the holds that eluded Bartoli’s previous challengers at key moments.
Jelena Jankovic vs. Samantha Stosur: Also a rematch of a Roland Garros semifinal, this match offers Jankovic the opportunity to avenge a rout at the Australian’s hands here in 2010. On the other hand, it offers Stosur a chance to secure retribution for a loss to the Serb in Stuttgart this spring. These two women wield weapons almost mirror images of each other, from Stosur’s forehand to Jankovic’s backhand and Stosur’s serving power to Jankovic’s movement. Both have found contrasting ways to shine on clay, the Aussie utilizing heavy topspin and a kick serve while the Serb bolsters her counterpunching with sliding retrievals. Both have looked especially crisp this tournament by advancing in straight sets, Stosur more convincingly but Jankovic against stronger opposition.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands vs. Paula Ormaechea: Both women enter this match riding a wave of momentum from upsetting a seeded opponent. While the Argentine clay specialist bounced Yaroslava Shvedova, one of last year’s quarterfinalists, the American power-hitter knocked off 2011 champion Li Na in the surprise of the tournament so far. This match will come down to whether Mattek-Sands can continue to strike her targets relentlessly or whether Ormaechea can find ways to survive her opponent’s first strikes and lengthen the points. Almost nobody would have expected either to reach the second week of a major when the season began.
Petra Kvitova vs. Jamie Hampton: The American’s two victories could not have differed much more from each other. First winning a three-set thriller from the 25th-seeded Lucie Safarova, Hampton then eased past a qualifier comfortably. She may or may not have a chance to affect the outcome of this match, depending on which Kvitova shows up. The bad Petra flirted with first-round disaster by spraying groundstrokes aimlessly midway through the match, while the disciplined and focused Petra returned for a victory over Peng Shuai. Kvitova’s weapons will overwhelm Hampton if she sustains her accuracy, but this underdog has the talent to exploit one of her feckless days.
Rafael Nadal vs. Fabio Fognini: Never having faced the Italian before this month, Nadal now will meet him for the second time in two tournaments. His Rome rout of Fognini mutes the intrigue of this match despite the short rest for Rafa, forced to play best-of-five matches on consecutive days. Fognini maintained his regular schedule and will need all of the rest to prepare for a competitor in some ways the antithesis of him. While both men play their best tennis on clay, Nadal views it as trench warfare and Fognini as art form.
Benoit Paire vs. Kei Nishikori: Outside a wobble late in the second set of his second match, Nishikori has not defeated his opponents so much as annihilated them. While he stunned Roger Federer in Madrid, this imposing form still surprises from someone who has accomplished little on clay, losing to Jeremy Chardy and Albert Ramos this spring. Barely ten ranking slots behind Nishikori, Paire had not loomed any larger in more extensive clay action—until he suddenly reached the semifinals in Rome. He has won nine of his last ten matches against opponents other than Federer and Rafael Nadal, although he never has reached the second week at a major. Nishikori won their only meeting last fall, also in Paris, but the indoor hard courts of Bercy bear scant resemblance to the terre battue of Roland Garros.
Nikolay Davydenko vs. Richard Gasquet: While Davydenko holds the stronger career record at Roland Garros, having reached the semifinals here before, Gasquet has found much stronger form this year. Among his more notable accomplishments was a Doha final in which he rallied from within a tiebreak of defeat to overcome Davydenko. They have not met on clay since 2005, but both have advanced convincingly so far. In contrast to the earlier stages of his career, Gasquet has won most of the matches that he should win over the past twelve months. This match belongs in that category, although the contrast between the elongated one-handed swing of the Frenchman’s backhand and the streamlined two-hander of the Russian merits watching alone.
Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Jerzy Janowicz: After he played four sets on Friday, Janowicz finds himself at a fitness disadvantage against one of the ATP’s premier grinders. Wawrinka brought some physical issues of his own into the tournament with a muscle tear in his leg, issues that have receded as he has settled into the tournament. These men number among the leading dark horses in the men’s field, and the winner would stay on track to meet a fallible Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. Janowicz’s heavy serve and flat groundstrokes should allow him to take the initiative in most points, which he will want to finish quickly before fatigue descends.
A sweeping slate of second-round and third-round matches filled the slate on Friday as the tournament caught up from a rainy Thursday. Here is a look back at the rapidly unfolding action.
Match of the day: Banished from the televised courts, Fernando Verdasco and Janko Tipsarevic continued their history of fascinating meetings with a five-set sequence of twists and turns. Tipsarevic appeared to have seized control for good when he dominated the second set after winning a tight first-set tiebreak. To his credit, Verdasco battled all the way back and took the eighth seed to 8-6 in the fifth. Vulnerable all year, Tipsarevic found just enough courage to ward off the massive collapse:
Comeback of the day. Tommy Robredo did it again. Not known for flamboyance or drama, the Spanish veteran did what his compatriot Verdasco could not and charged back from two sets down to halt home hero Gael Monfils. Fatigue from an overstuffed schedule may have hampered Monfils late in the match, for Robredo closed out the fifth set with surprising ease.
Surprise of the day: Third-ranked Serb Viktor Troicki had struggled to string together victories all season, so an upset of the tenth-seeded Marin Cilic on Troicki’s worst surface raised eyebrows. (Of course, clay is Cilic’s worst surface as well.) The key to this match may have come as early as the first-set tiebreak, which Troicki saved multiple set points to win 14-12 before dominating thereafter.
Tale of two Spaniards: Nine sets played, nine sets won for—not Rafael Nadal, but David Ferrer. None of his first three opponents have tested the second-ranked Spaniard, whereas his top-ranked countryman has dropped the first set in both of his first two matches. Nadal, who comes back to face Fabio Fognini tomorrow, looked strangely uncomfortable for much for his four-set victory against Martin Klizan despite his outstanding clay campaign.
Gold star: Tremors rippled through Court Philippe Chatrier when Roger Federer lost his opening service game, a departure from his routs in the first two rounds. Against chronic nemesis Julien Benneteau, however, Federer swiftly buckled down to business and never looked seriously troubled thereafter.
Silver star: Top-ranked Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga continued his bulletproof progress with a surprisingly routine dismissal of compatriot Jeremy Chardy. Tsonga lost only eight games in staying on track to meet Federer in the quarterfinals, a rematch of their Australian Open meeting.
Americans in Paris: Winless in five-set matches, Ryan Harrison let a two-set lead escape him as his 2013 woes persist. At least his disintegration benefited fellow American John Isner, who snapped his own four-match losing streak in final frames. Less fortunate was the top-ranked American Sam Querrey, falling in five sets to Gilles Simon after coming within a tiebreak of victory. Also gone on Friday was Jack Sock, overmatched by Tommy Haas in a competitive but rarely suspenseful straight-setter.
Question of the day: Does the impressive form displayed by Tsonga and Ferrer suggest that they can challenge Federer more than they usually do?
Match of the day: Overcoming an 0-4 record against Varvara Lepchenko, Angelique Kerber withstood 46 winners from her fellow lefty to prevail 6-4 in the third. Lepchenko’s history of strong results on clay underscores the significance of Kerber’s victory as she reached the second week for the fifth straight major. Up next for her is 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who recently played a thriller against her in Madrid.
Comeback of the day: Pounding more winners in two sets than Lepchenko did in three, Mariana Duque-Marino served for both sets against Marion Bartoli. The top-ranked Frenchwoman spent much of the match with her back to the wall, as she did in the first round, but she edged through a first-set tiebreak and swept the last four games of the second set to survive.
Surprise of the day: In a day with no notable upsets, a match between two unseeded players produced the greatest surprise. Brussels champion Kaia Kanepi failed to exploit a crumbling section of the draw, instead adding to the uncertainty caused by the exits of Li Na and Yaroslava Shvedova. Having won barely a single match on red clay this year, Stefanie Voegele ousted last year’s quarterfinalist 8-6 in the third as part of an excellent day for Swiss players.
Gold star: Top seed Serena Williams has dropped just six game in six sets here, extending the longest winning streak of her career. Her momentum and aura has built to the point where many opponents seem to lose hope before they even take the court. What a difference a year makes.
Silver star: All three Italian women in action today prevailed. Only slightly authoritative than Serena here, Sara Errani bageled imposing server Sabine Lisicki in a demonstration of how her clay-court skills can compensate for immense gaps in power. Less persuasive was second-ranked Italian Roberta Vinci, who weathered a second-set lull to survive in three. But the brightest headline of the day came from 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone, able to edge seeded opponent Kirsten Flipkens to reach the brink of the second week.
Most improved: After she had lost the first set in each of her first two matches, Carla Suarez Navarro navigated through her third more routinely. Perhaps Nadal should take a page from his countrywoman’s book.
Fastest finish: Defending champion Maria Sharapova seemed to spend more time warming up before and interviewing after the completion of her second-round match than she needed to play the match itself. About ten minutes of live action sufficed to move Sharapova past Eugenie Bouchard, although she needed a massive second serve to save a break point that would have leveled the second set.
Question of the day: Which former champion has a better chance to upset a top-eight seed, Kuznetsova against Kerber or Ana Ivanovic against Agnieszka Radwanska?
Our Thursday preview discusses eight matches from each singles draw, starting this time with the WTA.
Kristina Mladenovic vs. Samantha Stosur: Her opening victory over Kimiko Date-Krumm looked impressive on paper with the loss of just two games. Now, however, Stosur must face a Frenchwoman much more worthy of her steel. Mladenovic caught fire on home soil in February when she reached the semifinals of the Paris Indoors, although she faces an uphill battle against an opponent more accomplished on clay and much more experienced at this level.
Maria Sharapova vs. Eugenie Bouchard: Teenagers have troubled Sharapova in the first week of majors before, from the Melanie Oudin catastrophe at the US Open to a hard-fought encounter with Laura Robson at Wimbledon and a narrowly avoided stumble against Caroline Garcia here. Bouchard reached the semifinals of Strasbourg last week, where she threatened eventual champion Alize Cornet. On the other hand, the 19-year-old Canadian eked out only two games from the woman who designs her Nike outfits when they met in Miami this spring.
Francesca Schiavone vs. Kirsten Flipkens: Logic suggests that the second round marks the end of the road for Schiavone, who faces a seeded opponent there. Her history at this tournament suggests that we should not lean too heavily on logic and give her a fighting chance against a young Belgian more successful on faster surfaces.
Li Na vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands: When they met in Stuttgart this spring, the 2011 Roland Garros champion eased past her fellow veteran. Mattek-Sands pulled off a series of impressive victories that week, reaching the semifinals as a qualifier. The indoor conditions in Stuttgart fit her game better than the outdoor terre battue here, and Li looked much crisper in her opener against Anabel Medina Garrigues than she had earlier this clay season.
Marion Bartoli vs. Mariana Duque-Marino: Surviving the grueling three-hour trainwreck in her first-round match may have liberated Bartoli to swing more boldly henceforth. Or Colombian clay specialist Duque-Marino might finish what Govortsova started, capitalizng on the double faults that continue to flow. Bartoli cannot count on the Chatrier crowd to rescue her this time.
Ashleigh Barty vs. Maria Kirilenko: Both women enter this match in excellent form, the Australian teenager having scored her first career victory at a major and the Russian having yielded just a single game. This tournament has offered a fine showcase for some of the WTA’s rising stars, although Kirilenko’s consistency should leave Barty few options.
Jelena Jankovic vs. Garbine Muguruza: Continuing her clay success this spring, Jankovic won more of the key points than she often does in fending off occasional nemesis Daniela Hantuchova. A heavy-hitting Spaniard awaits in Muguruza, who knocked off another Slam-less No. 1 this year in Caroline Woznacki. Consecutive fourth-round appearances at Indian Wells and Miami suggested Muguruza’s readiness to take the next step forward on a hard court, but her clay results have lagged behind.
Petra Kvitova vs. Peng Shuai: Yet another three-set rollercoaster defined Kvitova’s path to the second round. While she looks invincible at her best, seemingly anyone will have a chance against her on her vulnerable days. Far from just anyone, Peng won a set from Kvitova on a hard court this year and another set on grass last year. Last week, she reached a Premier final in Brussels, by far her most notable result since her career year in 2011.
Lucas Pouille vs. Grigor Dimitrov: Never has Dimitrov advanced past the second round of a major. Barring unforeseen circumstances, that streak of futility should end here. Ranked outside the top 300, Pouille has spent most of his limited career at the challenger level, although he did win his first match in straight sets. Dimitrov aims to set up a third-round rematch of his Madrid meeting with Novak Djokovic.
Rafael Nadal vs. Martin Klizan: Unable to deliver a strong opening statement in his first match, Nadal instead revealed some notable signs of frailty. He should settle into a groove more smoothly against a less explosive opponent, using the opportunity to reassert his clay supremacy. Few players bounce back from a shaky effort better than Nadal.
Fernando Verdasco vs. Janko Tipsarevic: In their most significant match to date, Tipsarevic held match points against Verdasco at the 2011 Australian Open before tanking the fifth set when the fourth slipped away. The Serb remains an enigmatic competitor who has struggled through a barren season, but he did win their two meetings since then. Also in dismal form for most of 2013, Verdasco appeared to raise his confidence over the last month. He demolished his first opponent and should hold a clear surface edge.
Tommy Haas vs. Jack Sock: The raw American won his first main-draw match at Roland Garros in scintillaing fashion after notching three wins in qualifying just as easily. Fourteen years his senior, Haas shares Sock’s preference for faster surfaces. He has produced some solid clay results this year, though, whereas his opponent lost five straight matches before arriving in Paris. If Sock maintains a high first-serve percentage, this match could become very competitive but still probably not an upset.
Lukas Rosol vs. Fabio Fognini: With the winner almost certianly destined to face Rafael Nadal, this match bears the whiff of intrigue over the possibility of a Wimbledon rematch. Fognini’s superior clay game should snuff out Rosol’s hopes for another chance at the Spaniard, especially across a best-of-five match. The Italian reached a Masters 1000 semifinal in Monte Carlo, although his results have tapered since then. For his part, Rosol won his first career title in Bucharest, defeating Gilles Simon en route.
Ryan Harrison vs. John Isner: Rare is the all-American match in the second round of Roland Garros, created this time by an odd quirk of the draw. Harrison defeated Isner at Sydney just before the older American withdrew from the Australian Open, the start of a disastrous season for him outside a small title in Houston. Nor did the upset launch Harrison’s season in style, for he fell outside the top 100 this spring and has won just two main-draw matches since that January victory over Isner. The latter can draw inspiration from his five-setter here against Rafael Nadal in 2010.
Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Horacio Zeballos: One of these men barely finished off his match on Tuesday, while the other needed to return on Wednesday for two more sets. Both Wawrinka and Zeballos defeated marquee Spaniards to win clay titles this spring, Zeballos stunning Nadal in Vina del Mar and Wawrinka dominating Ferrer in Portugal. The Swiss No. 2’s achievement marked merely one episode in a general upward trend, though, whereas the Argentine’s breakthrough has remained an anomaly.
Robin Haase vs. Jerzy Janowicz: Haase recently collected the ATP record for consecutive tiebreaks lost, halting at the same number as Roger Federer’s record of major titles won. The floundering Dutchman might play a few more tiebreaks against a man who can match him hold for hold. The clay-court savvy of both men languishes relatively low, causing them to battle the surface as well as each other.