The US Open Series kicks off this week in the sweltering summer heat of Atlanta. Perhaps uninspired by those conditions, most of the leading ATP stars have spurned that stop on the road to New York. But Atlanta still offers glimpses of rising stars, distinctive characters, and diverse playing styles. For those who prefer familiar names, two tournaments on European clay offer more tantalizing fare.
Top half: The march toward the final major of the year starts with a whimper more than a roar, featuring only two men on track for a US Open seed and none in the top 20. Fresh from his exploits at home in Bogota, Alejandro Falla travels north for a meeting with Ryan Harrison’s younger brother, Christian Harrison. The winner of that match would face top seed John Isner, a former finalist in Atlanta. Isner, who once spearheaded the University of Georgia tennis team, can expect fervent support as he attempts to master the conditions. He towers over a section where the long goodbye of James Blake and the rise of Russian hope Evgeny Donskoy might collide.
Atlanta features plenty of young talent up and down its draw, not all of it American. Two wildcards from the host nation will vie for a berth in the second round, both Denis Kudla and Rhyne Williams having shown flashes of promise. On the other hand, Ricardas Berankis has shown more than just flashes of promise. Destined for a clash with third seed Ivan Dodig, the compact Latvian combines a deceptively powerful serve with smooth touch and a pinpoint two-handed backhand. His best result so far came on American soil last year, a runner-up appearance in Los Angeles. Berankis will struggle to echo that feat in a section that includes Lleyton Hewitt. A strong summer on grass, including a recent final in Newport, has infused the former US Open champion with plenty of momentum.
Semifinal: Isner vs. Hewitt
Bottom half: The older and more famous Harrison finds himself in a relatively soft section, important for a player who has reached just one quarterfinal in the last twelve months. Ryan Harrison’s disturbingly long slump included a first-round loss in Atlanta last year, something that he will look to avoid against Australian No. 3 Marinko Matosevic. Nearby looms Nebraska native Jack Sock, more explosive but also less reliable. The draw has placed Sock on a collision course with returning veteran Mardy Fish, the sixth seed and twice an Atlanta champion. Fish has played just one ATP tournament this year, Indian Wells, as he copes with physical issues. Less intriguing is fourth seed Igor Sijsling, who upset Milos Raonic at Wimbledon but has not sustained consistency long enough to impress.
Bombing their way through the Bogota draw last week, Ivo Karlovic and Kevin Anderson enjoyed that tournament’s altitude. They squared off in a three-set semifinal on Saturday but would meet as early as the second round in Atlanta. Few of the other names in this section jump out at first glance, so one of the Americans in the section above might need to cope with not just the mind-melting heat but a mind-melting serve.
Semifinal: Fish vs. Anderson
Final: Hewitt vs. Anderson
Top half: As fellow blogger Josh Meiseles (@TheSixthSet) observed, Roger Federer should feel grateful to see neither Sergei Stakhovsky nor Federico Delbonis in his half of the draw. Those last two nemeses of his will inspire other underdogs against the Swiss star in the weeks ahead, though. Second-round opponent Daniel Brands needs little inspiration from others, for he won the first set from Federer in Hamburg last week. Adjusting to his new racket, Federer will fancy his chances against the slow-footed Victor Hanescu if they meet in a quarterfinal. But Roberto Bautista Agut has played some eye-opening tennis recently, including a strong effort against David Ferrer at Wimbledon.
A season of disappointments continued for fourth seed Juan Monaco last week when he fell well short of defending his Hamburg title. The path looks a little easier for him at this lesser tournament, where relatively few clay specialists lurk in his half. Madrid surprise semifinalist Pablo Andujar has not accomplished much of note since then, and sixth seed Mikhail Youzhny lost his first match in Hamburg. Youzhny also lost his only previous meeting with Monaco, who may have more to fear from Bucharest finalist Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the second round.
Semifinal: Federer vs. Monaco
Bottom half: Welcome to the land of the giant-killers, spearheaded by seventh seed Lukas Rosol. Gone early in Hamburg, Rosol did win the first title of his career on clay this spring. But the surface seems poorly suited to his all-or-nothing style, and Marcel Granollers should have the patience to outlast him. The aforementioned Federico Delbonis faces an intriguing start against Thomaz Bellucci, a lefty who can shine on clay when healthy (not recently true) and disciplined (rarely true). Two of the ATP’s more notable headcases could collide as well. The reeling Janko Tipsarevic seeks to regain a modicum of confidence against Robin Haase, who set the ATP record for consecutive tiebreaks lost this year.
That other Federer-killer, Sergiy Stakhovsky, can look forward to a battle of similar styles against fellow serve-volleyer Feliciano Lopez. Neither man thrives on clay, so second seed Stanislas Wawrinka should advance comfortably through this section. Unexpectedly reaching the second week of Wimbledon, Kenny de Schepper looks to prove himself more than a one-hit wonder. Other than Wawrinka, the strongest clay credentials in this section belong to Daniel Gimeno-Traver.
Semifinal: Granollers vs. Wawrinka
Final: Federer vs. Wawrinka
Top half: Historically less than imposing in the role of the favorite, Richard Gasquet holds that role as the only top-20 man in the draw. He cannot count on too easy a route despite his ranking, for Nice champion Albert Montanes could await in his opener and resurgent compatriot Gael Monfils a round later. Gasquet has not played a single clay tournament this year below the Masters 1000 level, so his entry in Umag surprises. The presence of those players makes more sense, considering the clay expertise of Montanes and the cheap points available for Monfils to rebuild his ranking. Nearly able to upset Federer in Hamburg last week, seventh seed Florian Mayer will hope to make those points less cheap than Monfils expects.
In pursuit of his third straight title, Fabio Fognini sweeps from Stuttgart and Hamburg south to Gstaad. This surprise story of the month will write its next chapter against men less dangerous on clay, such as recent Berdych nemesis Thiemo de Bakker. An exception to that trend, Albert Ramos has reached two clay quarterfinals this year. Martin Klizan, Fognini’s main threat, prefers hard courts despite winning a set from Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.
Semifinal: Gasquet vs. Fognini
Bottom half: Although he shone on clay at Roland Garros, Tommy Robredo could not recapture his mastery on the surface when he returned there after Wimbledon. Early exits in each of the last two weeks leave him searching for answers as the fifth seed in Bastad. A clash of steadiness against stylishness awaits in the quarterfinals if Robredo meets Alexandr Dolgopolov there. The mercurial Dolgopolov has regressed this year from a breakthrough season in 2012.
The surprise champion in Bastad, Carlos Berlocq, may regret a draw that places him near compatriot Horacio Zeballos. While he defeated Berlocq in Vina del Mar this February, Zeballos has won only a handful of matches since upsetting Nadal there. Neither Argentine bore heavy expectations to start the season, unlike second seed Andreas Seppi. On his best surface, Seppi has a losing record this year with first-round losses at six of eight clay tournaments.
Semifinal: Robredo vs. Berlocq
Final: Fognini vs. Robredo
(July 13, 2013) Four of the five top seeds, including three Germans, were in action at Friday’s quarterfinals at the 35th edition of the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart.
In the first match of a beautiful sunny day at the Weissenhof Club, two unseeded players met each other for the first time. Roberto Bautista-Agut faced Michael Berrer, who was born in Stuttgart and entered the tournament by a wild card. The German played aggressively right from the beginning and tried to find his way to the net as often as possible. The Spaniard needed some time to respond to the attacking style of his opponent.
In the sixth game Bautista broke Berrer’s serve for the first time when he hit some nice passing shots. With another break in the eighth game, the Spaniard took the opening set 6-2 after just 29 minutes. During the changeover, Berrer took a medical time-out and received some treatment to his left elbow and arm. This seemed to help the German break serve in the first game of the second set, but that’s where his luck ended.
After this short feeling of success, however, Berrer was forced to retire.
“I felt pain in my elbow when I was serving and so it was useless to go on,” explained Berrer in his press conference. “Yesterday, I noticed it for the first time and I got treatment but this morning I could hardly brush my teeth.”
For the tournament’s local player, it was bitter decision.
“There were so many people here in Stuttgart who wanted to see me play,” Berrer continued. “I could have given at least seventeen tickets away to friends. This also means that I’m out for the qualification in Hamburg but I hope that it will be better in four to five days.”
Berrer also had to withdraw from his scheduled doubles semifinal with his partner Andreas Beck thereby giving their opponents, Tomasz Bednarek and Mateusz Kowalczyk, a walkover into the final on Sunday.
In the second match of the day, Victor Hanescu extended his head-to-head advantage against tournament No. 4 seed, Benoit Paire to 4-0. The Romanian won the encounter after 71 minutes with a score of 7-5, 6-2.
The Frenchman lost an even opening set when he faced his first break points of the match, and let it get away from him. As a consequence and in typical Paire style, the Frenchman hit the ball clear out of center court, also giving him an expected warning by the chair umpire.
Paire never really recovered from that and lost his service in the fourth game of the second set with a double fault. From then on the “Big Paire-show” began in terms of moaning, complaining and even smashing his racket, which meant the 24-year-old was given a point penalty.
After the match, Hanescu admitted that it might have been the key to his win that he stayed focused during Paire’s tantrums — when he wasn’t really sure about what was going on, on the other side of the net. The Romanian added: “Sometimes I wasn’t really sure if he was playing on or just making show.”
In the afternoon, it was time for the marquee match of the day which featured top seed Tommy Haas against No. 5 seed Fabio Fognini.
Given that Tommy Haas’ manager, Edwin Weindorfer, is also the Mercedes Cup’s tournament director, it was no surprise to find the German’s face plastered on every poster, t-shirt and cap.
On an almost fully packed center court, the 35-year-old Haas appeared in his ninth ATP World Tour quarterfinal of the year facing Fognini for the first time. The Italian had a great start and began to hit some nice backhand winners. The German veteran was under pressure in every service game. Consequently, he lost his serve in the third and seventh games, allowing Fognini to close the set out in only 31 minutes.
Seven minutes later Haas gained his first break point of the match but couldn’t capitalize on it. So it was the fifth-seeded Italian again who got the break in the seventh game. Fognini served the match out 6-2, 6-4 after 74 minutes and finished the “Haas-hype” in Stuttgart.
“It wasn’t my best day for sure,” said a calm Haas after the encounter. “I tried to find a rhythm and I fought for that. There were also some unlucky calls today. It is always difficult with the umpires on clay. I’m disappointed that it doesn’t go on for me here in Stuttgart.”
Haas will next play at the German Open in Hamburg and also revealed what he did with the car he won earlier this year at the BMW Open in Munich: “I sold it!” Luckily for Haas, he won’t have the problem of finding a buyer for the tournament winner’s car this time, a Mercedes.
All the German hopes have now switched to Philipp Kohlschreiber, the last remaining German left. The second-seed held a 1-8 career head-to-head disadvantage against Gael Monfils, but today the German was able to improve this stat.
Kohlschreiber gained two breaks in the third and seventh games of the first set, and Monfils could only get one back. The Frenchman then had the chance to even the set at 5-5, but the German ended up serving out the set after 38 minutes.
The second set became a copy of the first, with Kohlschreiber again up two breaks up. He eventually sealed victory after 70 minutes, 6-4, 6-4 to reach his first ever semifinal in Stuttgart.
Check back Saturday and Sunday for full semifinal and final coverage from Stuttgart!
A day after the dust settled on the Wimbledon final, several notable men launch back into action at tournaments on clay and grass.
Top half: The apparently indefatigable Tomas Berdych surges into Sweden just days after his appearance in the Wimbledon quarterfinals. This spring, Berdych complained of fatigue caused by an overstuffed schedule, but a substantial appearance fee probably persuaded him to enter this small clay tournament. Not at his best on clay this year, the top seed should cruise to the quarterfinals with no surface specialist in his area. Viktor Troicki, his projected quarterfinal opponent, produced some encouraging results at Wimbledon but lacks meaningful clay credentials.
Much more compelling is the section from which Berdych’s semifinal opponent will emerge. The fourth-seeded Tommy Robredo, a surprise quarterfinalist at Roland Garros, will hope to repeat his victory over the Czech in Barcelona. On the other hand, Robredo cannot afford to dig the same early holes for himself in a best-of-three format that he did in Paris. A first-round skirmish between fellow Argentines Carlos Berlocq and Horacio Zeballos features two thorns in Rafael Nadal’s side this year. While Zeballos defeated the Spaniard to win Vina del Mar in February, Berlocq extended him deep into a third set soon afterward in Sao Paulo.
Bottom half: The most famous tennis player to visit Stockholm this month will not appear in the Swedish Open. Following her second-round exit at Wimbledon, Maria Sharapova accompanied boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov on a brief summer vacation before his appearance here. Dimitrov holds the fifth seed in a wide-open quarter as he aims to thrust an epic Wimbledon loss behind him. The man who stunned Novak Djokovic on Madrid clay this year has receded in recent weeks, and dirt devil Juan Monaco may test his questionable stamina in the quarterfinals. Two Italian journeymen, Filippo Volandri and Paolo Lorenzi, look to squeeze out all that they can from their best surface.
Probably the most compelling quarterfinal would emerge in the lowest section of the draw between Spaniards Nicolas Almagro and Fernando Verdasco. Like Berdych, Verdasco travels to Sweden on short rest after reaching the Wimbledon quarterfinals. Unlike Berdych, his result there astonished as he suddenly rediscovered his form in a dismal 2013, even extending Andy Murray to five sets. Verdasco can resuscitate his ranking during the weeks ahead if he builds on that breakthrough, and he has won five of seven meetings from Almagro on clay. Slumping recently after a fine start to the year, Almagro faces a potential early challenge against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.
Final: Robredo vs. Verdasco
Top half: Often at his best on home soil, the top-seeded Tommy Haas eyes a rematch of his meeting in Munich this spring with Ernests Gulbis. The veteran needed three sets to halt the Latvian firecracker that time. But Marcel Granollers might intercept Gulbis in the first round, relying on his superior clay prowess. In fact, plenty of quality clay tennis could await in a section that includes Monte Carlo semifinalist Fabio Fognini and Madrid semifinalist Pablo Andujar. All of these men will have felt grateful to leave the brief grass season behind them as they return to the foundation of their success.
Much less deep in surface skills is the second quarter, headlined by Jeremy Chardy and Martin Klizan. Despite his Australian Open quarterfinal when the season started, Chardy continues to languish below the elite level, which leaves this section ripe for surprises. Granted, Klizan took a set from Nadal at Roland Garros, an achievement impressive under any circumstances. He opens against Nice champion Albert Montanes, who once defeated Roger Federer on clay with a quintessential grinder’s game. Perhaps Roberto Bautista-Agut will have gained confidence from his four-set tussle with David Ferrer at Wimbledon, or Daniel Gimeno-Traver from his upset of Richard Gasquet in Madrid.
Bottom half: Never a threat at Wimbledon, Nikolay Davydenko chose to skip the third major this year to preserve his energy for more profitable surfaces. Davydenko will begin to find out whether that decision made sense in Stuttgart, where he could face fourth seed Benoit Paire in the second round. Both Paire and the other seed in this quarter, Lukas Rosol, seek to make amends for disappointing efforts at Wimbledon. Each of them failed to capitalize on the Federer-Nadal quarter that imploded around them. Another Russian seeking to make a comeback this year, Dmitry Tursunov, hopes to prove that February was no fluke. Surprising successes at small tournaments that month have not led to anything greater for Tursunov so far, other than an odd upset of Ferrer.
Another player who skipped Wimbledon, Gael Monfils looks to extend a clay resurgence from his Nice final and a five-set thriller at Roland Garros against Berdych. Two enigmatic Germans surround the even more enigmatic Frenchman, creating a section of unpredictability. Philipp Kohlschreiber returns to action soon after he retired from a Wimbledon fifth set with alleged fatigue. While compatriot Florian Mayer also fell in the first round, he had the much sturdier alibi of drawing Novak Djokovic.
Final: Haas vs. Paire
Top half: Not part of the US Open Series, this cozy grass event at the Tennis Hall of Fame gives grass specialists one last opportunity to collect some victories. Wildcard Nicolas Mahut could meet top seed Sam Querrey in round two, hoping that the American continues to stumble after an opening-round loss at Wimbledon. But Querrey usually shines much more brightly on home soil, winning all but one of his career titles there. A rising American star, Rhyne Williams, and doubles specialist Rajeev Ram look to pose his main pre-semifinal tests. Ram has shone in Newport before, defeating Querrey in the 2009 final and reaching the semifinals last year with a victory over Kei Nishikori.
Among the most surprising names to reach the second week of Wimbledon was Kenny De Schepper, who outlasted fellow Frenchmen Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet. De Schepper will try to exploit a section without any man in the top 50, but Igor Sijsling has played better than his ranking recently. The Australian Open doubles finalist defeated Milos Raonic and won a set from Tsonga on grass this year, while extending Robredo to five sets at Roland Garros. But Sijsling retired from Wimbledon with the flu, leaving his fitness in doubt.
Bottom half: Currently more dangerous on grass than anywhere else, Lleyton Hewitt reached the Newport final in his first appearance at the tournament last year. The former Wimbledon champion more recently upset No. 11 seed Stanislas Wawrinka at Wimbledon after defeating Querrey, Dimitrov, and Juan Martin Del Potro at Queen’s Club. Hewitt holds the fourth seed in Newport, where an all-Australian quarterfinal against Marinko Matosevic could unfold. A former Newport runner-up in Prakash Amritraj and yet another Aussie in Matthew Ebden add their serve-volley repertoire to a section of contrasting playing styles.
Meeting for the fourth time this year are two struggling Americans, Ryan Harrison and the second-seeded John Isner. The latter man aims to defend his Newport title as he regroups from a knee injury at the All England Club, but fellow giant Ivo Karlovic could loom in the quarterfinals. Just back from a serious medical issue, Karlovic opens against Wimbledon doubles semifinalist Edouard Roger-Vasselin. Potential talents Denis Kudla and Vasek Pospisil also square off, while Adrian Mannarino looks to recapture the form that took him to the brink of a Wimbledon quarterfinal.
Final: Querrey vs. Hewitt
By Maud Watson
Race for No. 1
After a record-setting eighth Roland Garros title, Rafael Nadal has put himself in a prime position to finish as the year-end No. 1 for the second time in his career. Though Nadal typically doesn’t perform as strongly in the second half of the season as he does in the first, he usually performs well at the key events like Wimbledon, the US Open, and at least one or two of the Masters events. Then there’s the defending points factor. Nadal may stand nearly 5,000 points behind current No. 1 Djokovic, but the Spaniard only has 90 to defend from here on out compared to 6,800 for the Serb. Couple that with the way Nadal has dominated the courts since his return in February, and reaching the pinnacle of the rankings looks like a distinct possibility. The pressure is on Djokovic to defend what he did in 2012 by shaking off the disappointment of losing such a close semifinal against Nadal a week ago in Paris. It’s a subplot to keep an eye on throughout the remainder of 2013.
Chalk another one of the veterans against the next generation, as Lleyton Hewitt has played some inspiring and gritty tennis to book a spot in the quarterfinals of Queen’s. The Aussie had to come from behind in his opener against American Michael Russell, but since then, he’s taken out both upstart Dimitrov and big-hitting Sam Querrey. Hewitt has won the title in London on multiple occasions, so he’s no stranger to the lawns. But given the amount of injuries he’s had to overcome, this has to qualify as a pretty satisfying start to his grass court campaign. Juan Martin del Potro may prove a tough out, but with the Argentine still looking rusty after his own recent layoff, Hewitt has a good look at going even deeper and setting himself up nicely for not only the remainder of the all-too-short grass court season, but the upcoming summer hard court series as well.
Over and Out
A couple of popular ATP favorites are already out of Wimbledon, with reports that Fish is planning to skip and Monfils is a definite no-show. Fish’s withdrawal isn’t a shocker given that the American had already pulled out of Queen’s and has played so little this season. He has reportedly been in contact with the folks in Atlanta and confirmed to them that they will be his first event since playing earlier this spring. Monfils’ withdrawal is a little more mysterious. He’s playing this week in Halle and has already caused an upset by upending Ranoic. Despite his good start in Halle and decent run in Paris, however, the Frenchman has been forced to withdraw from SW19 due to a personal problem. He didn’t elaborate on what that problem is, but it is serious enough for him to skip the year’s third major. Hopefully we’ll see both men back soon, as they’re still capable of producing some eye-catching tennis.
Two players who will be in Wimbledon thanks to a couple of wildcards are Andrea Petkovic and Nicolas Mahut. The German woman is a former Top 10 player, and though she’s been struggling in her comeback due to a litany of injuries, she still has plenty of potential. With any luck, the generosity of Wimbledon will spark a deep run so that she isn’t reduced to applying for wildcards or playing qualies in the months to come. That’s a scenario that’s a little less likely with Mahut. The Frenchman is definitely closer to the end of his career and never enjoyed the same kind of singles success as Petkovic. But he is part of Wimbledon history as one of the two men to contest the longest match as the Championships when he lost 68-70 to John Isner in 2010. Mahut also recently reached the doubles final at Roland Garros, and he does have a nice grass court game. If ever there was place where he might be able to produce a bit of a magic from the kindness of a wildcard, it would be on the lawns of Wimbledon.
Making the Cut
Forbes recently released its annual list of 100 highest-paid athletes and tennis impressively supplied its fair share of members. The list looks at revenue earned from June 1, 2012 – June 1, 2013, which is generated from prize money, endorsements, and appearance fees. Not surprisingly, Roger Federer was the top among tennis players, and he was very nearly the top banana overall. The Swiss finished second behind golf’s Tiger Woods with $71.5 million. His fellow ATP pros Djokovic and Nadal also made the list at 28 and 30 respectively (which in Nadal’s case is particularly impressive given that he missed the second half of 2013). There were only three women to even appear on the list, and tennis swept those spots, with Sharapova (22), Serena Williams (68), and Li Na (85) all posting hefty incomes the previous year. It’s once again wonderful to see an individual sport like tennis so well represented on the list and hats off to the six who made the cut.
With the Wimbledon draw just a week ahead, the time has arrived to scan the ATP and WTA rankings in search of dark horses who could grab some unexpected attention. This survey features only players outside the top 20 at the start of the grass season, likely to meet an opponent of greater note in the first week. On any given day, these snakes in the grass could strike for an upset or two.
John Isner: Forever famous for his Wimbledon epic against Nicolas Mahut, Isner never has fared as well there as top-ranked compatriot Sam Querrey. His lack of impact surprises, considering a playing style that should flourish on grass with a nearly impenetrable serve and a preference for short points. Isner has languished in a slump for most of 2013, but he nearly reached the second week at Roland Garros with another valiant run. The American would benefit from exchanging his pattern of endless epics for some more efficient first-week victories, conserving his energy early in the fortnight.
Grigor Dimitrov: Reaching the third round of a major for the first time at Roland Garros, the Bulgarian rising star tends to perform better at non-majors than majors. But Dimitrov took Tsonga to the brink of a final set at Wimbledon two years ago, and he has threatened every member of the Big Four this year except Roger Federer, whom he has not faced. His combination of an explosive first serve with dexterity around the net could shine on the grass. Less impressive is his movement and his ability to convincingly take care of business against overmatched opposition.
Julien Benneteau: He came closer than anyone last year to knocking off eventual champion Roger Federer at Wimbledon, snatching the first two sets before the match slipped away. Benneteau has struggled to win any matches at all in singles since March, not long after he upset Federer in Rotterdam. His doubles expertise could help on a court that rewards net-rushers, and he reached the second week in 2010. Formidable early draws have stunted his progress in most Wimbledon appearances, but Benneteau has lost to only one opponent outside the top eight there since 2005.
Lukas Rosol: His presence on this list should need little explanation. Had Rosol won no matches at all after defeating Rafael Nadal in the second round last year, he still would merit a mention. As it stands, he built upon that upset to rise from the edge of the top 100 to well inside the top 50. Rosol faces the pressure of defending something meaningful for the first time, and he will need to insulate himself from the inevitable media scrutiny. He often brings out his best tennis against the best while growing careless or unfocused against the journeymen of the Tour.
Ernests Gulbis: Slinging ferocious forehands and controversial comments indiscriminately, the Latvian shot-maker once again has become someone intriguing to watch. Gulbis upset Tomas Berdych in the first round of Wimbledon last year, and he twice has won sets from Nadal this year. More distant achievements include victories over Federer and Novak Djokovic, showing that no elite opponent can feel safe when Gulbis finds his groove. He may struggle to stay in that groove in the best-of-five format, perhaps a reason why his greatest headlines have come at Masters 1000 events. Still, grass usually rewards the Jekyll-and-Hyde mixture of overwhelming power and deft finesse that Gulbis can wield.
Feliciano Lopez: The Spaniard’s best tennis lies well behind him, and he accumulated a losing record this season through the end of Roland Garros. Lopez has reached three Wimbledon quarterfinals behind his lefty serve-volley style, though, the rarity of which can unsettle younger opponents. His notable victims there include Andy Roddick and Marat Safin, as well as Tim Henman in his last match on home soil. Keep an eye on Lopez if he draws a relatively passive baseliner or grinder such as David Ferrer, who long has struggled against him on fast surfaces.
Daniel Brands: Like Rosol, Brands typically plays to the level of the competition. He lost resoundingly to Jan Hajek one week before he thrust Nadal to the brink of a two-set deficit at Roland Garros. Wimbledon marks the scene of his greatest accomplishment, a second-week appearance in 2010, although he lost in the first round of qualifying each of the two subsequent years. Beware of getting into a fifth set against Brands, who shares Isner’s asymmetry between a massive serve and a woeful return. That stark contrast leaves him vulnerable against anyone and dangerous to everyone.
Ekaterina Makarova: Only one woman has defeated both Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka in 2012-13: not Maria Sharapova, not Li Na, not Petra Kvitova, but Ekaterina Makarova. This fiery Russian also won Eastbourne on grass as a qualifier in 2010, her only title to date. Her lefty serve swings wide in the ad court effectively on this surface, a valuable asset on break points. Makarova’s doubles expertise has honed her net talents to a higher level than most of the women ranked near her, and she has proved that she can excel at majors by reaching two Australian Open quarterfinals.
Sabine Lisicki: Four or five years ago, Lisicki looked like a future Wimbledon champion. She honed the best serve in the women’s game outside the Williams sisters, even outdueling Venus to win a Charleston title. In three Wimbledon appearances from 2009-12, Lisicki reached the quarterfinals or better every time and even notched her first major semifinal there in 2011. An impressive list of marquee upsets in those appearances includes Maria Sharapova, Li Na, Caroline Wozniacki, and Marion Bartoli. Somewhat like Gulbis in her ability to combine first-strike power with the finesse of delicate drop shots, Lisicki has struggled to stay healthy long enough to develop momentum and consistency.
Tamira Paszek: A hideous 1-12 this season, Paszek has won barely any matches since last August but still held a seed at Roland Garros. She defends the majority of her total rankings points during the short grass season, when she won Eastbourne and reached a second straight Wimbledon quarterfinal last year. The good news is that Paszek rebounded from a similar sequence of futility at this time in 2012 to record those excellent results. The bad news is that the pressure will lie heavily on her with the penalty so great for a misstep at either event.
Venus Williams: Once a champion, always a champion, and never more so than at the greatest bastion of tennis tradition. Venus will appear in this type of article before every Wimbledon that she plays, no matter her current form. To be sure, that current form is far from impressive with losses this spring to Olga Puckhova, Laura Robson, and Urszula Radwanska. Venus wins many fewer matches than she once did on her poise and experience alone, and she probably cannot ration her energy efficiently enough to survive deep into the fortnight. But nobody wants to face that serve or that wingspan on grass, for one never knows when an aging champion will catch fire.
Laura Robson: Combined with a junior Wimbledon title, two compelling efforts against Maria Sharapova on home soil suggest that the top British women’s talent could rise to the occasion. Robson has proved twice in the last twelve months that she can shine at majors, upsetting Kim Clijsters to reach the second week of the US Open and outlasting Petra Kvitova in a nail-biting if ugly epic in Melbourne. Since the serve plays a heightened role on grass, she must limit the double faults that have grown too frequent this year. Robson never lacks for courage or belief, often aggressive to the point of reckless.
Zheng Jie: If she had finished off Serena Williams in the first week of Wimbledon last year, the trajectory of women’s tennis since then would have followed a completely different course. As it was, Zheng took Serena to 8-6 in the final set, displaying how well her compact swings and crisp footwork suit the low, variable bounces of the grass. This less intuitive model for surface success than heavy serves and first strikes carried her to the Wimbledon semifinals in 2008. Like Benneteau, Zheng has found herself saddled with some extremely challenging draws and has lost to few sub-elite opponents there.
Tsvetana Pironkova: Two years ago, it seemed that Pironkova existed solely to prevent Venus Williams from winning another Wimbledon title. The willowy Bulgarian defeated Venus in consecutive Wimbledons by identical scores, and she even came within a set of the final in 2010. Proving that success no anomaly, Pironkova extended Sharapova to a final set last year. A glance at her game reveals no clear reason why she enjoys grass so much. Pironkova owns a vulnerable serve and little baseline firepower, earning her living with court coverage and touch. Her Wimbledon feats show that counterpunchers can find ways to thrive on an offensively oriented surface.
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.
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?
Here are ten matches to note on Friday at Roland Garros, five from the men and five from the women. Roger Federer vs. Julien Benneteau makes a fine eleventh offering, but Yeshayahu Ginsburg gives you all of the details that you want to know about that pairing in another article on this site. (Also note that many of the postponed matches from Thursday feature in that day’s preview.)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Jeremy Chardy: This clash of January’s Australian Open quarterfinalists may divide the loyalties of the Paris crowd. The flamboyance on both sides should thrill spectators as both men aim to pummel with a forehand the first attackable ball that they see. While both Tsonga and Chardy easily lose focus, both have kept their eyes on the ball through two straight-sets victories. A quarterfinalist at Roland Garros last year, Tsonga rode his usual rollercoaster through a clay season with a semifinal in Monte Carlo and a second-round loss in Rome. The two Frenchmen rarely have clashed, splitting their two matches by identical 6-4 7-6 scores.
Gael Monfils vs. Tommy Robredo: After he slugged a path past two fellow shot-makers, the story of the men’s tournament faces a different challenge altogether. In a contrast of styles, Monfils will look to break through the defenses of a resilient veteran who has compiled his greatest successes on clay. For his part, Robredo will look to grind down his opponent and exploit any lingering fatigue from the Frenchman’s overstuffed recent schedule. If Monfils blows a massive lead, as he did against Berdych, Robredo probably will punish him.
Feliciano Lopez vs. David Ferrer: The second-ranked Spaniard has planted himself firmly in the driver’s seat of his quarter, although Monfils might beg to differ. With two comprehensive victories, Ferrer has looked more formidable than anyone here except Roger Federer. He often has found fellow Spaniards trickier than expected, though, even beyond the inexorable Rafael Nadal. Fortunately for him, Lopez poses a much greater threat on a faster court with his lefty net-rushing style. Their head-to-head illustrates this trend with Ferrer sweeping their clay matches and Lopez dominating on hard courts. Still, the latter held match point in Barcelona last year before Ferrer fastened his jaws around him.
Andreas Seppi vs. Nicolas Almagro: Few would have given Seppi much chance to reach the second week for the second straight week here, but he is a plausible upset from doing exactly that. Seppi had won only two matches at six clay tournaments entering Roland Garros, only to eke out consecutive five-set victories. Laboring through an equally poor season at clay Masters 1000 events, Almagro did reach the final in Barcelona and has dropped just one set through his first two matches here. The Italian has won both of their previous matches, although neither came on clay. Whoever wins will be favored to reach the quarterfinals against David Ferrer.
Milos Raonic vs. Kevin Anderson: This match sounds more like Wimbledon than Roland Garros, and in fact their only previous meeting came on an indoor hard court. Each man has recorded one notable result on his least favorite surface, Raonic reaching the semifinals in Barcelona and Anderson reaching the final in Casablanca. Doubtless glad to see his perennial nemesis Tomas Berdych gone from this section, Anderson has produced somewhat more consistency on clay than Raonic with victories over Juan Monaco and Marin Cilic. But this match will hinge on a few key points, as it would elsewhere, and on the ability of both men to execute fundamentals while finding timely first serves.
Virginie Razzano vs. Ana Ivanovic: Much improved from the first round, Ivanovic started her second match with another flurry of winners and this time largely continued her dominance through the second set. She can take nothing for granted against a woman who refuses to go away when she falls behind here, no matter the opponent. Razzano will benefit from the support of those who remember last year’s miracle, which will encourage her to believe that anything is possible. As remarkable as Razzano’s repeat run is, however, her two victories came against Claire Feuerstein and Zuzana Kucova. And they were close, which this match will not be unless Ivanovic has a bad day, when anything can happen.
Bojana Jovanovski vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova: Some players specialize in clay, some players specialize in grass, and Bojana Jovanovski specializes in tormenting Caroline Wozniacki on clay. Jovanovski defeated the Dane twice this month while notching just one other victory since the Australian Open, where she reached the second week. One win from doing the same here, the Serb perhaps saves her best tennis for the biggest stages. While she went AWOL for a set in the second round, as she often does, Kuznetsova regrouped impressively to dictate play from there. She should have a decent chance to face Serena in the quarterfinals, not that anyone envies the honor.
Sabine Lisicki vs. Sara Errani: The greatest contrast of styles on the WTA schedule should test Errani much more than her first two opponents. Living up to her billing as a member of the top five, last year’s finalist has dropped just five games in the tournament, or one more than Serena Williams. A first meeting with Lisicki may require an adjustment period to the weight of the German’s explosive first serve, able to penetrate surfaces of any speed. Fans could see plenty of drop shots as both women love to use that gambit more often than most rivals. Very steady on outdoor clay this year, Errani has lost only to Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, and Petra Kvitova on her favorite surface. All of those women can and did pounce on her serve, which will be the key for Lisicki and her less lethal return.
Varvara Lepchenko vs. Angelique Kerber: Losing just ten games in two matches, Lepchenko owns three clay victories this year over the daunting Italian duo of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. This battle of lefties pits her against a woman at her least effective on clay, so the American should hold the surface edge. On the other hand, Kerber did reach the Roland Garros quarterfinals last year and has produced consistent if not outstanding results over the last few months. Perhaps her best performances of the year came in two three-set semifinal losses when she battled Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova to the finish. Kerber wins fewer of those epics now than she did last year, but she won’t play an epic if she brings that form here.
Monica Puig vs. Carla Suarez Navarro: Progressing by leaps and bounds, the charming Puig stands within range of the second week at a major. Puig did not reach this stage by feasting on cupcakes, upsetting top-15 opponent Nadia Petrova in three sets and winning a clash of future stars from Madison Keys. While Suarez Navarro should be favored with her superior clay prowess and overall experience, she has not looked this week like someone enjoying the best year of her career. The finalist in Acapulco and Portugal dropped the first set in both of her matches, including against anonymous American Shelby Rogers. Suarez Navarro can’t afford to overlook Puig, although she dismantled her in Portugal.
Profiting from more cooperative weather, Roland Garros produced a Day 4 replete with action. Here’s the review of how it all went down.
Match of the day: Ah, the French in Paris. Sometimes they dazzle, sometimes they implode, sometimes they puzzle, and sometimes they do all three. Julien Benneteau achieved the trifecta in a five-set victory over Tobias Kamke, completing his first pair of consecutive victories since February. En route to the third round, Benneteau a) won a 20-point tiebreak b) blew a two-set lead c) ate a bagel in the fourth set and d) won anyway. Richard Gasquet, it’s your move.
Worth the wait: After a 14-game fifth set, the epic between Horacio Zeballos and Vasek Pospisil finally ended a day and two sets after Zeballos could have ended it in a third-set tiebreak. A young Canadian talent, Pospisil showed grit by rallying from the brink of a straight-sets loss to the brink of a five-set victory. But Zeballos, who defeated Rafael Nadal to win a South American clay title this spring, relied on his greater experience to get the last word.
Comeback of the day: Dutch heavy hitter Igor Sijsling looked ready to knock off the lowest men’s seed when he swept two tight sets. Continuing a surprisingly solid clay campaign, Tommy Robredo surged through the next three sets for the loss of five total games. The pattern of the scores recalled Roger Federer’s comeback over Juan Martin Del Potro here last year.
Surprise of the day: Surely elated by his upset over Berdych in a first-round epic, Gael Monfils might have fallen victim to a hangover against the dangerous Ernests Gulbis. Although he dropped the first set for the second straight match, Monfils outlasted his fellow erratic shot-maker for another quality win that jangled the nerves of his compatriots a bit less. Up next is a more compelling test of his consistency against Robredo. Check out the more detailed recap of Gael’s win on this site by colleague Yeshayahu Ginsburg.
Gold star: A few of the less notable home hopes fell today, but all of the leading French men prevailed. Like Monfils, Benoit Paire completed a comeback from losing the first set to win in four. Gilles Simon hurled three consecutive breadsticks at clay specialist Pablo Cuevas after he too spotted his opponent a one-set lead. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga roared through in straight sets for the second consecutive match, as did Jeremy Chardy. And don’t forget the wacky win by Benneteau explored above. Plenty of reason remains for French patriots to return as the third round unfolds.
Silver star: Struggling to win matches this year, Janko Tipsarevic and Viktor Troicki both survived potentially tricky encounters. Tipsarevic cruised past local hero Nicolas Mahut, perhaps helped by the schedule shift away from Court Philippe Chatrier after the rain. Troicki weathered five taxing sets and two tiebreaks against clay specialist Daniel Gimeno-Traver, who had upset 17th seed Juan Monaco.
Marathon man: For the second straight round, Andreas Seppi prevailed in five sets. Halfway to defending his fourth-round points from last year, Seppi seemed to have a stranglehold when he bageled Blaz Kavcic in the first set. He later would allow a two-set lead to escape before regrouping when the match hung in the balance.
Stat of the day: All 15 men’s seeds in action today advanced, eight in straight sets.
American in Paris: After winning just one match in his first six Roland Garros appearances, top-ranked man Sam Querrey has won two in his seventh trip here without losing a set.
Question of the day: Second seed Roger Federer entered this tournament as a distant third favorite for the title after Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Looking at least as sharp as either of them, Federer now has lost just 12 games in two matches, albeit against weak competition from two qualifiers. Should we start taking his title hopes more seriously?
Match of the day: After Victoria Azarenka outlasted her in a long match at the Australian Open, Jamie Hampton secured a happier ending to another three-setter at a major. Hampton stunned 25th seed Lucie Safarova after winning the first set in a tiebreak, withstanding Safarova’s second-set surge, and closing out a 9-7 final set. That 16-game affair was the longest set of the women’s tournament so far.
Worth the wait: Delayed by rain, world No. 3 Azarenka did not start her Roland Garros campaign until Wednesday. Needing to issue a strong statement, as all of her rivals had, Azarenka delivered with a resounding victory over former doubles partner Elena Vesnina. None of the top four women has lost more than five games in a match so far.
Comeback of the day: For the second straight tournament, Svetlana Kuznetsova ate a first-set breadstick from an unseeded opponent. Whereas the Rome breadstick from Simona Halep preceded another breadstick, the Roland Garros breadstick from Magdalena Rybarikova spurred the 2009 champion into action. Kuznetsova dropped just four games over the next two sets, responding much more forcefully to adversity.
Surprise of the day: Surviving a first-round flirtation with disaster boded well for Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova’s chances here. She almost always has ventured deep into draws this year when passing her first test. This time, though, Pavlyuchenkova fell short in the second round to Petra Cetkovska in another tight three-setter. The victim of painful losses here as well, coach Martina Hingis can empathize.
Unsurprising surprise of the day: Unseeded 2012 quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi continued her momentum from winning a Premier title in Brussels last week. Kanepi dispatched 23rd seed Klara Zakopalova in straight sets on a difficult day for Czechs.
Gold star: Famous forever after what happened last year, Virginie Razzano technically surpassed that performance this year. Razzano more than justified her wildcard by reaching the third round, perhaps bolstered by the memories of her landmark victory over Serena Williams.
Silver star: In the first match of her career at Roland Garros, promising Australian teenager Ashleigh Barty made her presence felt. Barty stunned last week’s Strasbourg runner-up Lucie Hradecka in three sets, overcoming dramatic disparities in power, experience, and clay expertise.
Marathon woman: Eight of Petra Kvitova’s last nine matches have reached a third set, the latest against the fossilized Aravane Rezai today. That recent capsule from clay reflects a trend typical for Kvitova overall, for she has played 18 three-setters this year and a staggering 39 in 2012-13. Whether caused by slow starts or mid-match hiccups, those rollercoasters illustrate her unreliability.
Stat of the day: Bojana Jovanovski has won three matches since January, two of which have come against Caroline Wozniacki. The Dane predictably became the first top-ten woman to lose at Roland Garros as Jovanovski accomplished what the more talented Laura Robson could not.
Americans in Paris: Blasting past Caroline Garcia today, Serena Williams has lost just four games in two matches and 18 games in seven matches since Rome started. While the top seed continues to look every inch the title favorite, several other American women acquitted themselves well. Varvara Lepchenko notched a second straight routine victory, while women’s wildcard Shelby Rogers swiped a set from 20th seed Carla Suarez Navarro despite the gap between their relative credentials. On the other hand, Madison Keys dropped a winnable match to Monica Puig, and Mallory Burdette could not find any answers to Agnieszka Radwanska.
Question of the day: All of the top four women have roared through their early matches, confirming their elite status. Outside that group, who has impressed you the most so far?
By Yeshayahu Ginsburg
There are two types of “tennis” that invariably never fail to draw our attention. The first is just plain good tennis. Watching the best players in the world compete at a high level is just difficult to turn away from. When players like Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, etc. step on to the court, you know that you will be in for a high-quality treat. No, none of them are perfect. But when their games are on — which is far more often than not — then missing out is not an option.
The second, though, is entertaining for an entirely different reason. This is what you get when players like Fabio Fognini step on the court. It is crowd-pandering, showmanship, joking around, and still good tennis while they’re at it. This keeps us ooh-ing and ahh-ing, but also laughing a bit while we watch too. So when two of the most talented showmen in tennis took the court in the second round of Roland Garros, we knew it would be a can’t-miss event.
Gael Monfils is an incredible talent. He was a top 10 player in 2011 before being sidelined with an injury for much of the past year. But he can be frustrating to watch for both fans and coaches alike. His decision-making on court can be questionable at times, to put it nicely. He is well-known for his showman-like slides and jumping backhand. He is fun to be a fan of, but you are left with disappointment more often than joy in the end of the day when he loses winnable matches. He has, not unfairly, been described as a “headcase”.
If that is the story of Gael Monfils, then Ernests Gulbis takes it to another level. Gulbis is one of the purest talents we’ve seen in a long time. And when he finds his game, it is a beauty. He burst onto the scene six years ago, challenging the top players in the world. Then he sort of stopped caring and disappeared from the stage of top-level tennis. He is now making a slow comeback and seems to be fixing his attitude, but he is very much a work in progress. And, like Monfils, his on-court decision-making can leave you scratching your head.
So tennis fans around the world set up to watch Monfils and Gulbis fight it out on Philippe Chatrier, not knowing what the outcome would be but knowing that it would be amusing getting there. And the match did not disappoint, not in the slightest.
I won’t go too much into specific points, other than noting that watching highlights of this match would be time well spent. For a while, it felt like every other point followed the same trajectory: strong baseline hitting with great defense, some crazy angle or drop shot that required lots of movement, amazing gets, only to be ended by a silly error when the court was wide open. The number of brilliant shots in this match was beyond counting. The number of terrible errors to end points was an equally astounding.
The match was entertainment at its finest. Gulbis’s offense was brilliant for long stretches of time. Monfils’s defense was impeccable, chasing down every ball and not letting up. Gulbis would have stretches of absolute offensive ineptitude, missing even the easiest of shots by wide margins. When Monfils would attack, his baseline game was strong as usual and Gulbis’s defense would be up to the task.
Both players ended up playing awkwardly around the net due to Gulbis’s penchant for well-timed but poorly-hit drop shots. Both players would scramble like crazy, making impossible returns in some of the situations set up by being at the net. Gulbis also seemed fond of hitting volleys on balls that are clearly going out. He lost half a dozen points by hitting errors on such shots or smashing them straight to Monfils.
But it’s not just the individual points that made this match so much fun to watch. The overall trajectory of the match was almost predictable in its insanity. No break could be consolidated. Monfils was serving for the third set at 5-3, had 40-0, and managed to squander 5 set points and get broken. This didn’t surprise anyone. Nothing in this match surprised anyone. It ended in four sets when Gulbis self-destructed a little, but the points were still fun then too.
And then there was the changeover prior to the fourth set. Waiting on Gulbis, Monfils whipped out his iPhone to pan the crowd doing the wave. Then, as Gulbis returned from his bathroom break, he walked past Monfils chatting and laughing with him. The friendly exchange continued as the Frenchman then walked by Gulbis on his way to the court and stopped for an extended laugh and chat. For a few moments, it felt more like a practice session between friends than the second round of a Slam.
Sometimes tennis entertains us because it’s a battle of the best in the world playing at their highest levels. And sometimes it’s just plain old fun. And Monfils against Gulbis was a bit of both.