by Ashley Brownstein
With the clay season complete and another French Open in the books we get that rare time to reflect on the two weeks in Paris before we start up again with a new major. We now know the obvious headlines, Serena Williams falling short again of slam twenty-two and Novak Djokovic completing his career grand slam. But for American tennis it was especially exciting as one of our own, whose name wasn’t Williams, made it to the quarterfinals. Shelby Rogers, 23, was the American that cemented herself as the one making a lasting impression. Rogers entered the French Open ranked 108 in the world but took out three seeded players before falling to Garbine Muguruza who became the eventual champion.
Now we turn our attention to grass as we prepare for the road to Wimbledon. Shelby is looking to expand on her success from Paris while in Mallorca, Spain as she tunes up on grass. With the change of scenery (not just sunny skies rather than consistent rain) comes the switch to a new surface. But that doesn’t seem to faze Shelby; rather she finds that grass is better suited to her game. With a big serve and powerful groundstrokes she feels she can carry the success from clay to grass.
“I served especially well in Paris so that’s definitely a positive,” she said. “It gives me pretty high confidence to take from the French that I can carry over here.”
Confidence she has but what about pressure?
“No I don’t really feel any right now,” she said. “Especially being in Europe it’s not as big of a deal. Maybe if I was in the states I’d feel it more but I’m really enjoying being here. You see different players and feel a different dynamic with the grass but I’m just trying to push myself and also be realistic. My goal at the beginning of the year was to make it into the slams this summer, which I’ve already achieved so I’m proud of that. I want to finish the year definitely in the top seventy-five so again realistic but there are always things I can improve on.”
Shelby seems to possess the type of realistic stamina that will keep her in the game for some time. And while she “of course” wants to reach number one in the world one day she does find this time for women’s tennis very exciting. Who wouldn’t? The past three slam winners have all been first time champions. Add to that the support coming from the locker room itself. As Shelby describes “it’s really an amazing thing to be a part of American tennis. We’re all cordial, all friends and give each other friendly competition. We genuinely want each other to do well, I’m so happy to be a part of that.”
Of course it is too soon to tell and no one really knows what will happen in the future. But if I had to guess Shelby Rogers is going to do everything she can to make sure that she is a part of the future of American tennis. Even though we were gifted with one “Cinderella story” perhaps we can get a second at Wimbledon. Shelby even said “on any given day it could be your time in women’s tennis” so why not hers?
by Kevin Craig
Novak Djokovic was able to complete the “Novak Slam” on Sunday as he defeated Andy Murray for his first French Open title after four runs to the final, and he now has won all four major titles consecutively.
The Serb was able to withstand an early onslaught from the Brit, who many believed to be the favorite in the match, and eventually won in four sets by a score of 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, giving Djokovic his 12th major title and making him the first player to simultaneously own all four major titles since Rod Laver in 1969.
“It was flawless tennis. I really felt like I played on a high quality,” said Djokovic.
The Serb, so excited to win that one major title that had remained out of his grasp throughout his career, called it “a thrilling moment. One of the most beautiful I have had in my career.”
Djokovic, who had beaten Murray in 12 of their past 14 matches, attacked first, breaking at love to open up the match before Murray turned the tables. Two breaks in a row with a hold at love in between gave Murray a 3-1 lead, and he didn’t look back from there as not much went against serve from that moment on. Three holds later and Murray was two sets away from his third major title.
“Nerves kicked in. I needed a little bit of time to really find the right rhythm and start to play the way I intended,” said Djokovic.
The No. 1 player in the world wasn’t going to go down that easy, though, and the second set was all his as he was able to find that right rhythm. After saving a break point in the first game of the set, Djokovic completely dominated. Murray was broken in two of his three service games, and the one in which he was not broken he fought off a break point and was taken to deuce. The Serb also only lost three points total in his last three service games, completing the recipe of how to win a set 6-1.
The third set was more of the same as Djokovic broke Murray twice. There was more difficulty on serve in the set for the Serb as he lost at least two points in each of his service games, while being taken to deuce twice. In one of those deuce games, Djokovic staved off four break points, making the statement that he would not be missing out on another opportunity to win his first French Open.
With a break to open up the fourth set, Djokovic had all but finished off the No. 2 player in the world. After losing only one point on serve total in his next three service games and taking Murray to deuce twice, Djokovic earned a 0-40 lead at 4-2 and capitalized on his first opportunity to break and set up a chance to serve for the title.
The Brit was able to show some signs of life as he broke Djokovic and consolidated his serve to extend the match, but it just delayed the inevitable. In the next game, Djokovic was able to hold to close out the match, finally earning the right to call himself a French Open champion.
“In the last point, I don’t even remember what happened…it’s like my spirit left my body” said Djokovic.
With this title, the 29-year old has become just the eighth man in history to complete the career grand slam, solidifying his right to be in the conversation of the greatest tennis players of all time.
by Kevin Craig
Andy Murray dethroned the defending French Open champion Stan Wawrinka on Friday with a 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 win.
Murray, who became the first player from Great Britain to reach the French Open in 79 years after Bunny Austin did so in 1937, played an almost perfect match as he reached his first French Open final and his 10th major final overall.
“I played one of my best matches here today,” said Murray in his post-match interview on court.
The No. 2 seed Murray, who had to battle from a two sets to love deficit in the first round against Radek Stepanek and a two sets to one deficit to a French wild card in the second round, has been able to gain confidence throughout his run to the final and return to the form that saw him win the title in Rome just before the French Open began.
That form from Murray was at peak levels on Friday against a player who reached his own peak levels of form in the French Open final in 2015 as Wawrinka put on a masterclass performance to snatch the title and the calendar grand slam from Novak Djokovic last year.
When Wawrinka, who was on a 12-match win streak at Roland Garros, held at love and forced Murray to take 11 minutes to hold his first service game, it looked like things may very well be in the favor of the Suisse in the early stages. This may not have been surprising at all to fans of Wawrinka as he had won his last three matches against Murray and had never lost a set to him on clay.
That feeling quickly changed though as Murray was able to save a break point before breaking Wawrinka in the next game, eventually leading 3-1.
The rest of the set was pretty straight forward until Murray served to close out the set as he was forced to fend off three break points before taking the one set lead.
It was all Murray in the second set as he broke Wawrinka at love for a 2-1 lead before breaking again two games later, eventually closing out the set 6-2, losing just three points on serve in the set that lasted only 27 minutes.
Murray continued to roll on serve in the third set, holding at love in his first three service games. The problem for the Brit was he was unable to convert the one break point he saw in the set, and Wawrinka was able to take advantage of the first poor service game Murray played since the beginning of the match, fighting back from 40-15 and winning four points in a row to break and win the set.
Wawrinka stealing the third set just delayed the inevitable as Murray’s roll went right over that minor speed bump as he was able to break in the first game of the fourth set. Murray had zero trouble on serve in the fourth set, losing just four points in four games, including a hold at love to close out the match and clinch his spot in the final.
“Stan has been unbelievable the last two years. I’ve played one of my best matches today…I’m just really proud. I never expected to reach the final here…Hopefully I can put up a good match in the final,” said Murray.
Murray’s impressive fitness level and ability to hit effective groundstrokes from anywhere on the court were on full display, as he looks like he can pose a very dangerous threat to Djokovic in this year’s final.
by Kevin Craig
Serena Williams reached the semifinals of the French Open on Thursday after battling back from a set and a break down against Yulia Putintseva, winning 5-7, 6-4, 6-1.
Putintseva, who represents Kazakhstan and is currently the No. 60 player in the world, had been on a great run to reach the quarterfinals, beating the No. 12 seed Carla Suarez Navarro and the No. 28 seed Andrea Petkovic along the way.
This run may have been rather unexpected for the 21-year old Putintseva as she had lost three of her four previous matches coming into the tournament, including one to a player ranked outside of the Top 100.
On a chilly day with difficult conditions, Putintseva was able to put that to the side and continue her confident play in Paris, not letting the task of facing the 21-time major champion in Williams get to her.
“I feel like she gives 200 percent on every single point…she’s a fighter,” said Williams of Putintseva before the match began, and she was spot on with her statement.
In the early goings, the Kazakh looked confident and in charge as she fought through a deuce game in her first service game of the match before having a look at two break points in the next game. Putintseva capitalized on the second and held at love to consolidate for a 3-1 lead early on.
Williams was able to break back and appear to kill off the challenge from her opponent, as we have seen so many times before from Williams with her killer instinct, but this match was different. Putintseva fought hard, losing only one point in her next three service games, and broke in the 11th game of the set after fighting back from a 40-0 deficit before holding at love to close out the set.
The first set saw an enormous difference in the unforced error tally, as Williams hit 24 while Putinsteva only hit two.
The charge continued early in the second set as Putintseva was able to break in the first game, sending major warning bells throughout the tennis world that the No. 1 player was in trouble.
Those alarms were quickly silenced, however, as Williams rattled off the next four games to jump out to a 4-1 lead. Putintseva continued her tenacious fight, though, breaking back and getting the set to 4-4, where she had a look at two break points for a chance to serve for the match.
Williams was able to fight those off and used her experience and overall advantage in the skill department to break in the next game, completely diminishing the confidence of the 21-year old as she levelled the match at a set apiece, the dagger coming on a double fault from Putintseva while down set point.
The third set was a breeze for Williams as she felt little resistance from Putintseva, racing out to a 5-0 lead before eventually closing out the match with a 6-1 third set win.
Putintseva, despite the loss, was able to remain positive and is looking forward to the future.
“I had some great wins here. I won some really good matches. I’m really happy with that. I’m really happy with the level that I was playing during all of this tournament…I got a lot of experience now,” said Putintseva.
Williams, who always seems to be due for one massive scare during her journey to the final of a major, showed just how she has been able to rack up 21 major titles and hold on to the No. 1 ranking for 295 weeks.
“At one point I didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel…She played unbelievable. I honestly didn’t think I was going to win, but somehow I did,” said Williams.
Her opponent in the semifinals will be the Cinderella story Kiki Bertens, who is making a lot of personal history this fortnight in Paris.
The Dutchwoman has been able to not only reach her first semifinal at a major, but also her first quarterfinal, will reach a new career high ranking of at least No. 27, and has clinched her spot on the Dutch team at the summer Olympics in Rio this summer.
Bertens has defeated the No. 3 seed Angelique Kerber, the No. 15 seed Madison Keys, the No. 29 seed Daria Kasatkina, and now the No. 8 seed Timea Bacsinsky after her straight sets win on Thursday.
Bertens, who is now on a 12-match win streak, was able to dispatch Bacsinsky 7-5, 6-2.
by Kevin Craig
Dominic Thiem of Austria and David Goffin both reached their first major quarterfinal and have even higher stakes to play for when they meet up on Thursday.
In Wednesday’s fourth round action, Thiem dispatched Marcel Granollers in four sets, 6-2, 6-7(2), 6-1, 6-4, while Goffin upended Ernests Gulbis, also in four sets, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3. Both matches were completions of matches that had begun on Tuesday.
Goffin, 25-years old, and Thiem, 22-years old, will now play with the winner reaching their first semifinal in a major, as well as reaching the Top 10 of the ATP World Tour rankings for the first time in their career.
Thiem, the No. 13 seed, resumed his match at the very beginning of the third set, so he was essentially playing a best-of-three set match with Granollers. Three sets were not needed, though, as Thiem, who has been in impressive form in 2016, was able to continue his great run of play.
With three clay court titles already in his pocket, as well as having the most wins of any player on the ATP World Tour this year, Thiem raced through his first set hitting winner after winner. The rain may have been a blessing in disguise for him, though, as it slowed down the roll of Granollers who was able to take advantage of an increased error count in the second set from Thiem and rattle off the set in a tiebreak to make things more interesting.
When play resumed on Wednesday, the Austrian raced out to win the third set in less than half an hour before going on to break late in the fourth set, accentuating the win with a hold at love to close out the match.
While Thiem has played well in recent months, even he is slightly surprised with the success that he has been able to have.
“Two years ago I was here with Gulbis and he played semifinals, and back then I couldn’t really imagine that I’d go this far myself one day…it feels really good,” said Thiem.
In Goffin’s fourth round match with Gulbis, who reached the French Open semifinals in 2014 but is now ranked No. 80 in the world, the Latvian was playing with house money to begin with, as he was only able to advance to the fourth round when his third round opponent, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, retired with an injury while leading in the first set.
That “nothing to lose” mentality helped the Gulbis in the early stages as he was able to spray winners all over the court and play confidently, as he always does in these big stages.
Goffin, though, had confidence in this matchup as he had won their two previous encounters, and used that to start his comeback journey when play resumed on Wednesday.
The winners turned into errors for Gulbis allowing Goffin to capitalize on his opportunity to take the third set before easily closing out the match in the fourth, thanks, in part to a double fault from Gulbis on match point.
“It’s not easy to wait for three days for your match…the stress level if pretty high for everybody. So it takes a lot of energy in the end. I think he dealt with it better,” said Gulbis of how Goffin was able to close out the match.
Goffin and Thiem will now meet up for the eighth time in their careers, with the Belgian currently holding a 5-2 record. That record on clay courts is an even 1-1, while Goffin won the only match they played in a major, beating Thiem in four sets at the Australian Open this year.
“We practice a lot together and hang around a little bit outside the court. I think it’s going to be a very nice match,” said Thiem of his relationship with Goffin.
“That’s going to be a tough match,” said Goffin. “He can play all types of shots from the baseline…He serves really well…Physically he can play many tournaments and the big matches. He has everything it takes to play well on clay, and mentally, I have the impression he feels good.”
by Kevin Craig
Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria had the biggest upset of the French Open so far as she downed the No. 2 seed Agnieszka Radwanska on Tuesday, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.
The match, which started on Sunday but was delayed due to weather, resumed with Radwanska leading comfortably at 6-3, 3-0. After a 39 hour delay, though, Pironkova took complete control of the match, reeling off six games in a row to come back and win the set, losing only one point in her last two service games, to force a decider.
The third set was more of the same as the Bulgarian was able to win four more games in a row to start out, running her game streak to 10 overall. That 4-0 lead was cut to 4-2 as Radwanska got one of the breaks back, but that was all she could salvage out of the match as Pironkova was too good and closed out the match comfortably.
Pironkova, currently ranked No. 102 in the world, has been known as a grass court specialist as she made the semifinals of Wimbledon in 2010 and the quarterfinals in 2011, but has also showed her prowess on the clay courts, winning two titles.
That clay court skill was on display as she was able to take advantage of a distracted Radwanska, who seemed to be disinterested in being on the court. Pironkova made sure to not let the poor conditions get to her and just focus on what was happening on the court.
“Today I tried to leave the fact that it was raining out of my mind and just focus on each and every point. Obviously that worked. If the court is not fit for play…they would cancel the match right away. But today the court was okay, we could have played, and so we did,” said Pironkova, the former No. 31 player in the world.
Pironkova has now beaten the No. 2, No. 19, and No. 22 seeds in her run to the quarterfinals in Paris and is not done yet.
The French Open continues to be a site of struggle for Radwanska. Aside from making the quarterfinals in 2013, the Pole has lost in the first three rounds of the tournament in six out of her 10 appearances, including in 2015 when she lost in the first round to the No. 83 player in the world.
Radwanska made clear that she was happy with the court conditions.
“I’m just so surprised and angry that we have to play in the rain…it’s a grand slam. How can you allow players to play in the rain? I cannot play in these conditions,” said Radwanska. “I don’t think they really care what we think. I think they care about other things.”
Simona Halep, who lost to Sam Stosur on Tuesday, was also displeased with the court conditions.
“It was impossible to play in my opinion…no one cares about the players in my opinion,” said Halep. “I don’t care that I lost the match today, but I was close to getting injured with my back, that’s a big problem.”
Pironkova’s opponent in the quarterfinals will be Stosur, a former French Open finalist.
by Kevin Craig
Shelby Rogers, the 23-year-old American ranked No. 108 in the world, reached her first major quarterfinal at Roland Garros Sunday as she dispatched the No. 25 seed Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4.
Rogers, the second-to-last directly accepted player into the tournament, is making the most of her opportunity as she has now defeated her third seeded opponent in four rounds.
After defeating the No. 17 seed Karolina Pliskova in the first round and the No. 10 seed Petra Kvitova in the third round, Rogers went into her fourth round encounter with Begu brimming with confidence.
“I have done that pretty much this whole tournament, starting with the first round” said Rogers of backing up a big win with another stellar performance. “That was a huge upset for me and kind of set the tone for the last few matches I have played.”
Rogers, who made the final of a clay court tournament in Rio in February of this year, got off to a good start on Sunday, breaking Begu in just the third game of the match to get out to an early lead. That lead would be backed up by a strong serving performance in the first set, as Rogers didn’t face a single break point and only lost one point in her last two service games before grabbing another break at 5-3 to close out the set.
Rogers ensured that she kept playing with the aggressive mindset that she had used to get her to this stage and it was paying dividends so far in the fourth round.
“Keep your game plan and your strategy and keep doing what you have been doing…just keep going after it…It was working in the first, it’s going to work again. So keep doing it,” said Rogers.
After Begu was able to break in the first game of the second set and jump out to a 2-0 lead, Rogers was able to turn the momentum back in her favor with that same strategy, allowing herself to reel off four games in a row, including two breaks and two holds at love, putting herself just two games from the quarterfinals.
The Romanian did not go away, though, breaking Begu back and taking the set to 4-4. Rogers was able to restore order with a hold to go up 5-4, before quickly going up 15-40 and capitalizing on her first break point of the game, getting an unforced error from Begu that gave her the win.
Rogers, who will now take on the No. 4 seed Garbine Muguruza in the quarterfinals, has to keep reminding herself that this isn’t a dream.
“I’m definitely outside of my comfort zone already and I keep telling myself you belong here,” said Rogers. “I’m ready to step up the challenge. I have nothing to lose. I have no pressure. It’s just been a great experience here and I want to keep enjoying it and keep pushing myself.”
Richard Gasquet also had an emotional win on Sunday as he was able to reach his first quarterfinal at the French Open with a four set win over Kei Nishikori, 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2.
When the rain came and delayed play for a couple hours, Gasquet found himself down a break in the first set. However, once he and Nishikori returned to the court, the Frenchman had everything going his way, and, before he could even realize it, found himself up two sets to love.
“I think this rain interruption did me a world of good because we had a very good chat,” said Gasquet of utilizing his time off the court to discuss strategy with his coach Sergi Bruguera.
Gasquet closed out the second set with a winner off of his majestic one-handed backhand wing and sent the French crowd into a frenzy. That French crowd has been looking for a home champion since Yannick Noah won the title in 1983.
Gasquet, of course, still has three more matches to win, the first of which will be against Andy Murray in the quarterfinals, but reaching the quarterfinals is an achievement in itself for him.
Calling Court Philippe-Chatrier the “biggest stage in the world for a French player,” Gasquet had more than enough motivation to get himself through the match and earn the win.
The match felt like “a Davis Cup match for me today,” said Gasquet. “I admit it made a big difference for me and of course it will be the same on Tuesday, but for sure I need to play a big match.”
by Kevin Craig
Serena Williams was able to fight off a spirited attack from Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic on Saturday at the French Open as she won their third round encounter, 6-4, 7-6(10).
Williams, who has been the No. 1 player in the world for the past 172 weeks, got the match started in a manner that most of her matches go, holding at love and forcing her opponent to stress in her first service game, winning the first six points of the match. Mladenovic, though, was able to fight for the hold and quickly turned the first set in her favor as she became the aggressor and was dominating the majority of the points, bringing the French crowd to life.
“I had not been playing my game. I was playing really defensive. It’s not me,” said Williams.
Mladenovic was able to take Williams to deuce in three of her last four service games in the set, having a look at four break points in that span.
Williams, being the fierce warrior that the tennis world has come to know, fought off all of that pressure and quickly applied it to Mladenovic as she served to stay in the first set at 4-5. Williams raced out to a 0-40 lead in the game, eventually converting on her third break point to close out the set with the only break of the match.
In the second set, Williams carried the momentum and played dominantly as she never fell behind in any of her service games. Playing so freely on her own serve, Williams continuously had looks to break Mladenovic’s serve, seeing nine in total in the set, but was unable to take advantage of any of them and was forced to play an epic tiebreak that lasted 19 minutes.
That tiebreak was put on hold for more than two and a half hours as a massive thunderstorm passed over Paris and delayed all play at Roland Garros. But once the rain had subsided and the courts were prepared for play again, the level of play from Williams and Mladenovic was just as high as it was before the rain came.
Mladenovic, the No. 26 seed, held leads at 3-0 and 5-2 in the tiebreak, but Williams was able to win four points in a row for a 6-5 lead and a match point. Mladenovic was able to save four match points, and had a set point of her own, but in the end, the 21-time major champion was too good and capitalized on her fifth match point to close out the two set win in over two and a half hours.
“I think she played well. I feel like I made a tremendous amount of errors, but I feel like she kind of forced me to,” said Williams, praising Mladenovic’s play.
Williams’ win sees her move into the fourth round of the French Open where only 16 women are left, and she will take on Elina Svitolina, the No. 18 seed.
by Kevin Craig
The biggest news of the day at the French Open on Friday wasn’t caused by something that happened on the court, rather by a decision made by nine-time champion Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard, who was the No. 4 seed in the event this year, announced that he had withdrawn himself from the tournament.
“This is one of the toughest press conferences of my career…If it wasn’t Roland Garros, I probably wouldn’t have taken the risks (of playing with an injury). It’s the most important event of the year for me,” said Nadal.
The cause of Nadal’s surprising decision was a left wrist injury that the Spaniard has been dealing with for the past “couple of weeks”, just another bullet point on a long list of injuries that have hindered his success in the past few years.
Nadal first felt pain in his wrist three weeks ago when he played in the quarterfinals of Madrid, but attempted to play through the pain in Rome, and then in Paris.
After beating Sam Groth and Facundo Bagnis in his first two matches in Paris, losing only nine games in the process, many began to believe that Nadal would be able to provide a tough challenge to Novak Djokovic in the latter stages of the tournament.
Unfortunately for Nadal and fans of tennis, there will not be a 50th meeting between the two great champions, as the pain in Nadal’s wrist continued to grow.
“I arrived here with a little bit of pain but I thought it was something I would be able to manage, but every day it got a bit worse,” said Nadal.
While many will be disappointed with his decision to leave the tournament, Nadal is doing what is best for him and his career as he is weary of the potential problems that would come from playing with his injured wrist.
“It’s not broken, but if I keep playing it’s going to be broken in the next couple of days,” said Nadal.
“To have won the tournament I would have had to play five more matches and the doctor told me that was 100 percent impossible,” said Nadal.
Nadal and his team hope that he will be able to play in Wimbledon and are taking all the necessary steps to ensure that happens.
“I need a couple of weeks with the immobilization. Then we’re going to do the treatment and we hope the treatment works well. We expect to recover quick,” said Nadal.
Nadal’s withdrawal grants fellow Spaniard Marcel Granollers a walkover into the fourth round.
On the court, headlines were made by 23-year old American Shelby Rogers as she upset two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova by a 6-0, 6-7(3), 6-0 score line.
After racing out a hot start, converting on three out of four break points and saving the only one she faced in the first set, Rogers began to be challenged by Kvitova in the second set. The Czechwoman had a breakpoint in Rogers’ first service game of the second set but couldn’t convert, but did grab her first and only break of the match when Rogers was serving up a break at 4-3 and looked like it could be a turning point.
Kvitova went on to take the second set in a tiebreak, but was unable to carry the momentum over into the decider. Rogers stood strong and continued to play well as she had done all match, going up 0-40 in Kvitova’s first service game and breaking for an early lead. Kvitova had a look to break right back, but once again failed to convert on a break point, and that was ultimately where the match ended.
Rogers went on to break twice more, with a hold at love thrown in the middle, to close out the set and the match.
Rogers, the No. 108 player in the world, earned her first appearance in the fourth round of a major with her win over the No. 10 seed. The moment gave Rogers, and fans of American tennis, plenty to cheer for and be emotional about.
“It was incredible…I’m one that cries very easily and I think everyone saw that. I immediately started crying,” said Rogers.
Irina-Camelia Begu, the No. 25 seed from Romania, will be Rogers’ next opponent.
by Kevin Craig
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga earned his 100th win at a major and advanced to the third round of the French Open on Thursday in Paris after battling back from a two set deficit against Marcos Baghdatis, earning the 6-7(6), 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win.
Tsonga, who owned a 6-0 head-to-head record over Baghdatis, came into the match with plenty of confidence playing in front of his home crowd, but the experienced Cypriot was up to the task in the early stages.
In the battle of former Australian Open finalists, Baghdatis in 2006 and Tsonga in 2008, Baghdatis’ strategy was to utilize the drop shot as much as possible and make the Frenchman run all over the court. Throughout the first set, that gameplan worked perfectly for the Baghdatis, the former No. 8 player in the world, and it allowed him to have the confidence to go up an early break and eventually save a set point in the first set tiebreak before going on to win it.
The French faithful did not give up hope in the highest ranked French player as he showed signs of being able to battle back from the deficit, despite the fact that Baghdatis had been playing at such a high level. After going up a break early in the second set, all seemed to be right for Tsonga, but Baghdatis was able to break right back before going on to grab another break later in the set. A hold at love, including an ace at set point, gave the Cypriot a two sets to love lead, pulling him to within one set of his first third round appearance at the French Open since 2010.
“He just played perfectly, tactically in the first two, and he pushed me to give the best of myself,” said Tsonga of Baghdatis’ play.
The high quality play from Baghdatis in the first two sets was all for naught, however, as Tsonga was able to battle back, as the majority of the crowd on Court Philippe-Chatrier expected. Baghdatis, who has struggled with fitness before, including in his epic second round encounter with Andre Agassi at the 2006 US Open, Agassi’s final professional tournament, began to show signs of decreasing energy as he began to make too many errors and relied on his drop shot too much to shorten points.
After dropping the third set, Baghdatis had a chance in the fourth to go up a break again, but Tsonga came up clutch and did not look back from there. Two breaks in the fourth and fifth sets came easily to Tsonga as he was able to eventually pull out the five-set win and advance to the third round where he will take on 2014 French Open semifinalist Ernests Gulbis.
Baghdatis never gave up on the drop shot throughout the match, finishing up by hitting 68 total. “Over five sets that’s a lot of running to the net, very tiring,” said Tsonga, who successfully came back from two sets to love down for the third time in his career.
On the women’s side, both Williams sisters won their matches easily with 6-2, 6-1 score lines. Serena beat Teliana Pereira of Brazil, while Venus defeated fellow American Louisa Chirico.
Venus, who is 15 years older than her opponent on Thursday, cited experience as the deciding factor over the young and talented Chirico. “Louisa has a lot of talent but I think I had the experience. Today, I was lucky that I’ve played 20 years here at Roland Garros…It’s not as much fun when you have to meet an American early on, but the best part is an American will go through,” said Venus.