As the Premier Five tournament in Canada looms, four of the top ten women hone their skills at tournaments on opposite coasts. The resort atmosphere at Carlsbad, long a player favorite, contrasts with the urban surroundings of the national capital.
Top half: World No. 3 Victoria Azarenka has not lost a match away from clay all season. Of course, Azarenka has played only four matches away from clay since winning the Doha title in February. Walkovers and withdrawals ended her campaigns at Indian Wells, Miami, and Wimbledon, so attention will hover around her battered knee this week. Azarenka’s health may attract even more attention than it would otherwise because she faces a relatively mild early slate of opponents. An all-Italian battle between Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone tantalizes only for nostalgic reasons, and Urszula Radwanska seems little more likely than her elder sister to vanquish Vika. Among the surprises of the spring was Jelena Jankovic, a semifinalist in Miami and quarterfinalist at Roland Garros. Jankovic troubled Azarenka in her prime, but the momentum has shifted in that rivalry to reflect their divergent career arcs
The most compelling first-round match in Carlsbad will pit defending champion Dominika Cibulkova against former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic. Defeating Bartoli to win last year’s title, Cibulkova exploited a much weaker draw in the week of the Olympics. Still, she will bring plenty of confidence from her title at Stanford, whereas coaching turmoil once again enshrouds the Serb. The route will not grow much smoother for whoever survives that early test. Although the second round looks uneventful, Roberta Vinci could await in the quarterfinals. This crafty Italian has domianted Cibulkova on all surfaces, winning five straight from her, and she has taken her last three outdoor matches from Ivanovic. The relatively slow surface in San Diego should help Vinci outlast the heavy serve of Bethanie Mattek-Sands before then.
Semifinal: Azarenka vs. Vinci
Bottom half: Around this time last year, Petra Kvitova caught fire with a Premier Five title at the Rogers Cup and a semifinal in Cincinnati. The somewhat slower surface in San Diego may suit her game less well than those events, and North America historically has not brought out her best tennis. A rematch of her epic Australian Open loss to Laura Robson might await in the second round. Both women have oscillated wildly in their results this year, suggesting another rollercoaster ahead. A former Carlsbad champion lurks unobtrusively near eighth seed Carla Suarez Navarro, enjoying her best season so far. That former champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, has revived her career with two major quarterfinals in 2013. An abdominal injury has sidelined Kuznetsova since Roland Garros, but she should have time to play herself into the tournament.
The fourth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska reached finals in each of her last two Carlsbad appearances. Disappointed at Stanford on Sunday, Radwanska wil aim to erase that memory with her second title here. She should outmaneuver Daniela Hantuchova, whom she has defeated here before, and may not have much to fear from Samantha Stosur unless the Aussie’s form improves dramatically. Little in Stosur’s dismal performance at Stanford boded well for her chances of escaping a challenging opener against Varvara Lepchenko. That 27-year-old American lefty could meet Radwanska in a quarterfinal for the second straight week.
Semifinal: Kuznetsova vs. Radwanska
Final: Azarenka vs. Radwanska
Top half: Overshadowed by the men’s event at the same tournament, this WTA International event did succeed in luring a top-10 player as a wildcard. World No. 9 Angelique Kerber has fallen on hard times over the last few months, so a dip in the quality of opposition could prove just what the doctor ordered. Some of the women who might face her in the quarterfinals exited early at Stanford. Formerly promising American Christina McHale continues a rebuilding campaign in 2013 against Magdalena Rybarikova. Her period of promise long behind her, Melanie Oudin hopes to stay somewhat relevant nearly four years after her illusory surge at the US Open.
Like McHale, Rybarikova, and Kiki Bertens in the top quarter, Madison Keys looks to bounce back from a disappointing Stanford loss. Anchoring the second quarter, she might meet star junior Taylor Townsend in a second-round preview of future matches on more momentous stages. The reeling but canny Monica Niculescu hopes to fluster Townsend with her distinctive style before then. More young talent stands atop the section in Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard and France’s Caroline Garcia. These impressive phenoms must navigate around Australian Open quarterfinalist Ekaterina Makarova, a lefty like Townsend. Plenty of storylines and suspense will unfold in a very short time.
Bottom half: Building on her momentum from Stanford, Sorana Cirstea eyes one of the draw’s softer sections. Home hope Alison Riske looks to prove herself as a threat outside the small grass event in Birmingham, while Heather Watson traces the same trajectory as McHale on the long, slow road back from mononucleosis. Ending her clay season on a high note, Alize Cornet won an International title in May. But she threatens much less on hard courts and might well fall victim to the enigmatic Yanina Wickmayer at the outset.
By far the most established of the home threats, second seed Sloane Stephens faces high expectations this summer. American fans know much more about the Australian Open semifinalist, Wimbledon quarterfinalist, and conqueror of Serena Williams than they did a year ago. The 15th-ranked Stephens has produced much more convincing tennis at majors than at non-majors, where she barely has cracked the .500 threshold in 2013. Her sturdiest pre-semifinal obstacle could come in the form of Andrea Petkovic, still producing results more disappointing than encouraging in her comeback from serious injuries. A relatively minor illness may blunt Petkovic’s injuries this week, though, while compatriot Mona Barthel retired from her last tournament with a sore shoulder.
Final: Makarova vs. Stephens
The women’s US Open Series launches in California with one of the oldest tournaments in the WTA. In the tranquil setting of Stanford University, the Bank of the West Classic a particularly cozy and rewarding tournaments. Here is a look ahead at what to expect this week at Stanford and at the International event half a world away in Azerbaijan.
Top half: Rarely do Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, and Victoria Azarenka all spurn Stanford. Their absence this year offers world No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska an opportunity as the only top-10 player in the draw. The top seed probably still can taste the bitter disappointment of a greater opportunity squandered at Wimbledon. Radwanska will seek to bounce back on a relatively fast hard court, where she has reached the semifinals before. She should reach that stage again with no pre-semifinal opponent more formidable than Varvara Lepchenko, just 2-9 away from clay this year. A potentially intriguing first-round match between youthful energy and veteran cunning pits Stanford alum Mallory Burdette against Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone.
Sandwiched between two unimpressive seeds, Madison Keys should showcase her power on a court suited to it. American fans will enjoy their glimpse of the woman who could become their leading threat to win a major in a few years. Keys will look to deliver an opening upset over eighth seed Magdalena Rybarikova en route to a possible quarterfinal against compatriot Jamie Hampton. Climbing into relevance with an Eastbourne final, Hampton holds the fourth seed and may face another Stanford alum in Nicole Gibbs. Hampton stunned Radwanska at Eastbourne last month, while Keys took a set from her at Wimbledon.
Semifinal: Radwanska vs. Keys
Bottom half: The third quarter features another unseeded American hopeful—and another Radwanska. Stanford’s depleted field allowed Agnieszka’s younger sister, Urszula, to snag the seventh seed, while Christina McHale looks for momentum on the long road back from mononucleosis. Still elegant as she fades, Daniela Hantuchova brings a touch of grace that should contrast with the athleticism of first-round opponent Yanina Wickmayer. Often a presence but rarely a threat at Stanford, third seed Dominika Cibulkova has not won more than two matches at any tournament since January.
The only US Open champion in the draw, Samantha Stosur might face a challenging test against Julia Goerges. This enigmatic German has won three of their four meetings, including both on hard courts, although the last three all have reached a third set. Of course, a 14-17 record in 2013 does not bode well for her chances of surviving Olga Govortsova in the first round. The road might not get any easier for Stosur in the quarterfinals, though, where she could meet Sorana Cirstea. A product of the Adidas training program in Las Vegas, Cirstea upset Stosur at last year’s Australian Open. None of the women in the lower half ever has reached a final at Stanford.
Semifinal: Cibulkova vs. Stosur
Final: Radwanska vs. Stosur
Top half: Not one of these women will hold a seed at the US Open unless their rankings rise between now and then. Holding the top seed is Bojana Jovanovski, who owes many of her poitns to a second-week appearance at the Australian Open. Jovanovski has two victories over Caroline Wozniacki but few over anyone else since then. Former junior No. 1 Daria Gavrilova and fellow Serb Vesna Dolonc offer her most credible competition before the semifinals.
At that stage, Jovanovski might meet Andrea Hlavackova, the runner-up in a similarly weak draw at Bad Gastein a week ago. Although she has fallen outside the top 100, meanwhile, Shahar Peer will hope to rely on her experience to stop either Hlavackova or third seed Chanelle Scheepers. The speed of the surface may determine whether a counterpuncher like Peer or Scheepers overcomes the heavier serve of fifth seed Karolina Pliskova.
Bottom half: Unheralded players from the home nation often play above expectations at small tournaments like Baku. Wildcard Kamilla Farhad, an Azerbaijani citizen, will hope to echo Yvonne Meusberger’s astonishing title run in Bad Gastein. Surrounding her are clay specialist Alexandra Cadantu and the stagnating Polona Hercog. A tall Slovenian, the later woman seems the best equipped to win on hard courts from this section. Cadantu will need to blunt the explosive serve of Michaella Krajicek to survive her opener.
The 18-year-old Elina Svitolina showed promise in Bad Gastein by reaching the semifinals. That experience will have served her well heading into another International event with an open draw. She even holds a seed here, as does another rising star in Donna Vekic. Nearly two years younger than Svitolina, Vekic already has reached two WTA finals. A quarterfinal between the two teenagers might offer a preview of more momentous matches in the future.
Final: Pliskova vs. Vekic
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.
Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off the court.
Shot of the Day: Novak Djokovic was among the lucky ones to finish his match before the rain called it a day on Thursday. He defeated Argentine Guido Pella in just under an hour-and-a-half and a score of 6-2, 6-0, 6-2. He next faces Grigor Dimitrov and is seeking to avenge his loss to him from Madrid just earlier this month.
Vavara Lepchenko soaring but under the radar: Vavara Lepchenko was not only the last American woman standing in the French Open last year but she has ascended the WTA rankings and is now the third highest ranked American women. But, as Lepchenko told Ravi Ubha in his piece for the New York Times, “It seems like I’m in the shadow.” She continued on to say, “I follow a few journalists on Twitter from the United States, and I always see they post once someone loses or wins from the United States, and I never get mentioned until I win a few rounds…” Ubha also discussed Lepchenko’s difficulties in terms of gaining notoriety and how this has impacted her ability to attract sponsors.
Marion Bartoli explains and reveals on court eccentricities: In this Roland Garros feature video, Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli explains why she turns her back in between points, her flexing and jump prior to returning, and the “air shots” or shadow swings she takes in between points. Bartoli also discussed how as she puts it, “having a song in her head” helps her concentrate during matches.
Steve Tignor’s take on Ernests Gulbis: After calling Big 4 “boring,” talking more specifically in regards to their interviews, Ernests Gublis is receiving an onslaught of criticism for his negative critique of Djokovic, Murray, Federer, and Nadal. But not all is criticism. While Steve Tignor of Tennis.com doesn’t necessarily assent with Gulbis’s assessment of the big four, he appreciates how straightforward the Latvian is.
“As a fan and reporter, I want every player to be as honest as possible. I want to know what they really think; I want to know who I’m writing about and who I’m rooting for. In this sense, I like Gulbis’ honesty—the guy is a journalist’s dream.”
Taking down the King of Clay: Rafael Nadal has won 93 percent of clay courtn matches he has contested in his career and has only lost 21 matches total. Beating the Spaniard on this surface has required nothing short of herculean efforts. Kamakshi Tandon of ESPN believes several ingredients necessary in concocting a recipe to defeat Nadal on clay include winning in three sets, having a lot of power, and rushing Nadal.
Jelena Jankovic praises Gabrine Muguruza: After her comprehensive 6-3 6-0 defeat of 19-year-old Gabrine Muguruza of Spain, a match in which the Serb won the final 12 games of the match, Jelena Jankovic touted her younger foe.
“She’s a great up and coming player. She hits the ball very hard, very flat. And especially in the beginning of the match she gave me a lot of trouble. I figured out the way to play against her, and I think I did pretty well.”
Candid Kevin Anderson car interview: In this edition of Road to Roland Garros, South African Kevin Anderson discusses his favorite district in Paris, his best experience in Paris, who he thinks the best player of all time is and more.
Federer applauds Nadal’s growth: As the ATP reports, Roger Federer believes “Nadal is more or less still the same player” but that “his strengths and his weaknesses are even better now.” Federer also discussed Nadal’s physical growth in specificity stating, “Of course also he’s fitter. He’s no longer a young boy. He’s a man now. He has experience on top of that. So he’s really improved. It’s spectacular and the results are there to show, to prove it.”
Bethanie-Mattek Sands shocks Li Na: Bethanie-Mattek Sands of the United States scored a career best victory over 2011 French Open champion, Li Na by a score of 5-7 6-3 6-2. This is a remarkable victory for Mattek Sands considering where she was just a year ago when she was contemplating retirement as Jim Caple of ESPN reports.
“I got to the point where I couldn’t even play my game. I couldn’t even work out. That’s the reason I was thinking I didn’t want to play tennis. It’s too frustrating.”
Sam Stosur anticipates Jankovic match: After displacing Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic in straight sets, Sam Stosur will face Jelena Jankovic in a match that pits a grand slam champion against a former world No. 1. Stosur realizes a victory against Jankovic will be a big win, especially considering her recent setback to Jankovic in Stuttgart.
“It’s always tough playing Jelena. We played about four or five weeks ago in Stuttgart and she beat me there. I’m certainly expecting a tough match—I have to be ready to work hard, and hopefully play as well than I have so far this week.”
Tennis View Magazine Giveaway: Our friends at Tennis View Magazine have launched a great contest, giving fans the chance to win one of 12 daily Babolat prize packages during Roland Garros, that includes a Roland Garros Aeropro Drive tennis racket plus a six-pack racquet bag and accessories. To enter, follow steps at the following link: http://www.tennisviewmag.com/promotions
Welcome back to your daily review of the studs and duds at Roland Garros 2013.
Match of the day: Five sets and four hours. Three tiebreaks and a 7-5 final set. A two-set lead squandered by the man who eventually won—after saving triple break point midway through the fifth. A home underdog firing 26 aces and 66 winners on his nation’s biggest stage to upset a top-eight seed who hit 72 winners of his own. Rarely is the match that looks like the best of the day in the first round actually the best of the day, but Gael Monfils and Tomas Berdych put on perhaps the best show of any men’s match that we will see all week. The section has opened a bit for Monfils if he can defuse the equally dangerous dark horse Ernests Gulbis in the second round. That match looks like the highlight of Thursday, although it has a hard act to follow.
Comeback of the day: Last week’s Dusseldorf champion Juan Monaco looked well on his way to a routine victory when he won the first two sets by single-break margins and reached a tiebreak in the third. Perhaps aided by his opponent’s fatigue, Daniel Gimeno-Traver thrust himself back into the match by snatching that tiebreak and stormed all the way back to an upset over the seventeenth seed.
Surprise of the day: It was not an upset in the end, but Daniel Brands surely turned more heads than anyone when he came within a tiebreak of leading Rafael Nadal by two sets to love. The master of Roland Garros had not lost the first set in a first-week match there since 2006, although he once survived a five-setter against John Isner. Brands channeled his inner Soderling in explosive serving and bullet forehands that thrust Nadal on his heels for far longer than anyone could have expected.
Gold star: Australian youngster Nick Kyrgios gave his nation something to cheer amid the latest Bernard Tomic controversy. Kyrgios defeated veteran Radek Stepanek in three tiebreaks, saving several set points in each of the last two. The 53 total tiebreak points played might survive as a tournament record.
Silver star: Allez les bleus. While Nadal battled with Brands on Philippe Chatrier, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga rolled through in straight sets on Suzanne Lenglen. Later in the day, second-ranked Frenchman Richard Gasquet did the same, and even Julien Benneteau won a match on clay for just the second time this year. Combined with the Monfils upset, these victories added up to an excellent day for the hosts.
Wooden spoon: When Andy Murray withdrew, Marcel Granollers moved up from unseeded to seeded position. That promotion served him no benefit as he lost his first match to countryman Feliciano Lopez in five sets and two days. By contrast, Tommy Robredo profited from the seed that he received with Juan Martin Del Potro’s withdrawal by advancing further into the section vacated by Berdych.
Americans in Paris: John Isner and Ryan Harrison, both of whom have struggled for most of the year, each notched comfortable straight-sets victories. Assigned Nice champion Albert Montanes, Steve Johnson battled gallantly into a fifth set as he had against Nicolas Almagro at the Australian Open. American men have no reason to feel shame so far at historically their worst major.
Question of the day: Who comes out of Berdych’s section of the draw to reach the quarterfinals?
Question of the day, II: Does Nadal’s first-round frailty reduce your confidence in him as a title threat?
Match of the day: None could compete with Berdych-Monfils or with Urszula-Venus the day before. This award goes to a battle between two clay-courters who have produced outstanding recent results. Rome semifinalist Simona Halep won the first set from world No. 20 Carla Suarez Navarro, but the Spaniard rallied with the form that brought her to two clay finals this year. A pity that the draw forced them to meet in the first round, and a pity that the match was not scheduled on a televised court.
Comeback of the day: Channeling a little of her inner Monfils, Garbine Muguruza scorched 46 winners and dropped serve just twice in three sets to ambush fellow power-hitter Karolina Pliskova. The Venezuelan-born citizen of Spain recorded her first career win at Roland Garros barely a year after her first appearance in a WTA main draw.
Statements of the day: Although they fell a bit short of Serena’s suffocating brilliance, top-four seeds Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska started the tournament in emphatic style. Defending champion Sharapova conceded just three games to top-50 opponent Hsieh Su-wei, while Radwanska yielded just two games to former top-15 player Shahar Peer. The latter result came as a mild surprise because of the newly blonde Pole’s struggles on clay this year.
Gold star: Everyone thought that Laura Robson would knock off world No. 10 Caroline Wozniacki in the first round, and everyone thought very wrong. Wozniacki ended a five-match losing streak by dominating the British teenager from start to finish. Perhaps a movie night with Rory McIlroy the day before (they saw Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained) allowed her to forget her recent futility.
Silver star: The most unsurprising surprise of the day came when the 2009 Roland Garros champion dispatched compatriot Ekaterina Makarova. In Serena’s quarter, Kuznetsova could meet Wozniacki in a rematch of their Australian Open three-set thriller. Sveta bounced back impressively from one of the worst losses of her career in Rome.
Wooden spoon: Outstanding performances on grass last year meant that Tamira Paszek received a seed at Roland Garros despite winning only one match in 2013. When the slightly less moribund Melanie Oudin dispatched her with ease, Paszek will head to the grass season with the vast majority of points at stake. Early losses at Eastbourne and Wimbledon will push her ranking down an elevator shaft.
Americans in Paris: In addition to the aforementioned Oudin, several other women from the United States fared well on Day 2. Bethanie Mattek-Sands set up a second-round meeting with Li Na, while newer talents Varvara Lepchenko and Madison Keys cruised. Vania King also advanced in straight sets to complete a perfect record today for the USA.
Question of the day: Which American woman of those who won day will go furthest?
Question of the day, II: Should we feel more impressed by Wozniacki or more disappointed by Robson?
One Premier tournament and one International tournament complete the Road to Roland Garros within striking distance of Paris. None of the women involved are in serious contention for the clay season’s ultimate prize, but the absence of those elite names could lead to some tightly contested matches in playing fields without clear favorites. I forwent predictions this time because your guess is as good as mine. (Feel free to opine in the comments, as always.)
Top half: Seven of the Brussels seeds will receive seeds in Paris next week, a strong statement considering the tournament’s placement on the eve of Roland Garros. In need of a strong statement herself is top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki, who took a wildcard into the tournament following opening-round losses in Madrid and Rome. Wozniacki has struggled on clay for most of her career but should aim to halt her skid before dropping outside the top ten. Unfortunately for her, recurrent nemesis Julia Goerges lurks in the quarterfinals. This German notably defeated Wozniacki to win the Stuttgart clay title two years ago, and she has added two more victories over the Dane since then. Since she has impressed hardly more than Wozniacki has recently, though, one can’t entirely discount Swiss clay specialist Romina Oprandi or the qualifiers who litter this section.
None of the women in the second quarter has distinguished herself consistently on clay, although Arantxa Rus does own a Roland Garros victory over Kim Clijsters. Having reached the second week of Roland Garros last year, the fourth-seeded Sloane Stephens looks to build upon her modestly encouraging effort in Rome. There, Stephens won consecutive matches for the first time since defeating Serena Williams at the Australian Open. Her depleted confidence resurfaced in a lopsided loss to Maria Sharapova, but a small tournament like Brussels offers a useful venue to rebuild that strength. With fast-court specialists like Tsvetana Pironkova and Magdalena Rybarikova around her, Stephens might face her stiffest resistance from Peng Shuai. The Chinese double-fister won their only previous meeting, also on clay, but Stephens has improved markedly in the two years since then.
Bottom half: By far the most intriguing first-round match of the draw pits third-seeded Dominika Cibulkova against Kaia Kanepi. This battle of 2012 Roland Garros quarterfinalists will feature a contrast of styles between the compact, agile Slovak and the robust, heavy-hitting Estonian. Never have they met on clay, while Kanepi has won two of three matches overall. Of some lesser note is a potential second-round clash between Varvara Lepchenko and Stefanie Voegele. The American upset Schiavone at Roland Garros last year and has continued the clay success atypical among her compatriots this year with two victories over Roberta Vinci. For her part, Voegele reached the semifinals of Charleston on green clay, although she has won only one match on red clay. Kanepi defeated Lepchenko last fall before the injuries that sidelined her for several months, so an upset of Cibulkova could open her draw.
Probably disappointing many Belgian fans, their two leading women would meet as early as the second round in their home tournament. Both have achieved more success on grass and hard courts than on clay, and both open against rising American stars. Having upset Li Na in Madrid as a lucky loser, Madison Keys will aim to snuff out home hope Kirsten Flipkens in a match of baseline first strikes against all-court craft. Belgian No. 2 Yanina Wickmayer faces a somewhat easier assignment in the form of Jamie Hampton, who has not won a match in a clay main draw this year. Awaiting one of the Belgians in the quarterfinals is second-seeded Roberta Vinci, an artisan of traditional clay-court tennis. Vinci has not found her best form for much of the spring but did win a small event in Katowice, Poland.
Top half: Atop the draw is French No. 1 Marion Bartoli, who has emitted the occasional burst of inspiration on home soil. The eccentric double-fister reached the Roland Garros semifinals two years ago, although clay usually hampers her style of staccato points and quick strikes. Two rising stars could challenge her in this section, compatriot Caroline Garcia and Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard. The former just won a clay challenger at Cagnes-sur-Mer, while the latter notched a significant victory over Laura Robson on the green clay of Charleston. First-time champions in 2013, Memphis titlist Marina Erakovic and Florianopolis titlist Monica Niculescu will seek to end spring losing streaks when they meet in the first round. Neither can match Bartoli’s talent, but either could befuddle one of the youngsters.
Another Frenchwoman holds the highest seed in the second quarter, and world No. 30 Alize Cornet’s game suits clay more effectively than Bartoli’s style. The mixture of qualifiers and fellow Frenchwomen surrounding her will turn few heads, while Chanelle Scheepers will not overpower Cornet. The latter two women bring similar patterns of results to Strasbourg. Before she fell to Melanie Oudin in Rome qualifying, though, Scheepers did reach a clay semifinal in Marrakech and upset Jelena Jankovic on the surface in Madrid. Last year’s runner-up here, Cornet reached a somewhat more significant clay semifinal in Acapulco this February but suffered a loss to an Italian wildcard in Rome.
Bottom half: Following a mid-career surge, Hsieh Su-Wei has embedded herself within the top 50 and holds the fourth seed here. An opening match against promising German talent Annika Beck intrigues, as does a possible quarterfinal meeting with the elegant Daniela Hantuchova. Handed a wildcard into Madrid, Hantuchova made the most of the opportunity by upsetting Petra Kvitova en route to the final 16. Also in this section is Karolina Pliskova, a heavy server who nearly won her first title this year at Kuala Lumpur and defeated Kanepi on the clay of Portugal.
Perhaps worth more attention than the seeds in the lowest quarter, some of the unseeded entrants could score an upset or two. For the rest of her career, Virginie Razzano will struggle to trump the achievement of defeating Serena Williams at Roland Garros, which probably resulted in her wildcard here. Aligned against Czech doubles specialist Lucie Hradecka in a first-round match to watch, Garbine Muguruza aims to notch her first clay main-draw win in a season when she has reached the fourth round at both Indian Wells and Miami. In the shadow of compatriots like Stephens and Keys, sixth-seeded Christina McHale continues to seek traction in her comeback from mononucleosis. Second-seeded Tamira Paszek has lost 11 of her last 12 matches and seems unlikely to increase that total suddenly here.
Capsules on the Roland Garros contenders will follow this week before the draws appear on Friday.
Rare is the non-major that features every woman in the WTA top 10, but Madrid can lay claim to that honor this year. In another rare quirk, all of the top three women arrive there on winning streaks. Only one of those streaks can survive Madrid. Whose will it be? Or none of the above? We take a look at each quarter of the draw.
First quarter: Clearly the best women’s player of the last decade, Serena Williams won this title on blue clay last year but has not reached a final on red clay since she completed the career Grand Slam in 2002. With her world No. 1 ranking somewhat at stake, Serena has landed in the more challenging half of the draw. Her first two rounds should allow her to find some rhythm on the surface, for the green clay of Charleston offers only partial preparation for the European terre battue. Seeking her third straight title, Serena could meet Maria Kirilenko in the third round, or perhaps Klara Zakopalova. Both of those counterpunchers have troubled her on clay before, each extending her to three sets at Roland Garros. Stiffer competition will arrive in the quarterfinals, though, where the draw has projected her to meet Stuttgart finalist and 2011 Roland Garros champion Li Na.
The fifth seed must overcome a few notable obstacles of her own to reach that stage, such as a second-round match with Serena’s sister. Not at her best on clay, Venus Williams still should have plenty of energy at that stage, but she has lost all three of her career meetings with Li. Surrounding world No. 10 Caroline Wozniacki are heavy hitters Yaroslava Shvedova and Mona Barthel. If neither of those knocks off the Dane, who lost her Stuttgart opener, she could attempt to build on her victory over Li last fall. While Serena has dominated her head-to-head meetings with both Wozniacki and Li overall, she often has found them foes worthy of her steel. On red clay, Li’s counterpunching talents and ability to transition from defense to offense could prove especially dangerous.
Second quarter: Returning from yet another of her injury absences, Victoria Azarenka barely has played since winning the Doha title from Serena in a memorable three-set final. That February achievement preceded a shaky effort at Indian Wells curtailed by a sore ankle, so Vika enters Madrid with less match play than most other contenders. Her bid for a third straight final here will take her through the teeth of some formidable early tests, including Portugal Open finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in her opener. The Russian took sets from Azarenka in two of their three previous meetings, while second-round opponent Lucie Safarova took her the distance here two years ago and impressed in a three-hour loss to Sharapova at Stuttgart. Twice a finalist and once a champion at Roland Garros, Francesca Schiavone should pose less resistance to the third seed as her consistency has dwindled. Nevertheless, an unexpected title in Marrakech might carry Schiavone to their projected clash in the fourth round, for the higher-ranked Marion Bartoli tends to struggle on clay.
Relatively open is the lower area of this quarter, where Sara Errani looks to rebound from an early Stuttgart exit. Last year’s Roland Garros finalist will appreciate the absence of a powerful shot-maker in her vicinity, allowing her to slowly grind down opponents vulnerable to erratic stretches. Rising stars Urszula Radwanska and Sorana Cirstea fit in that category, as does enigmatic German Julia Goerges. Eranni has faced doubles partner Roberta Vinci in two key matches over the past several months, a US Open quarterfinal and a Dubai semifinal, emerging victories both times on those hard courts. Clay could prove a different story, especially with Vinci’s recent fine form. But Errani’s veteran compatriot will meet last year’s Madrid quarterfinalist Varvara Lepchenko in the first round a few months after losing to her in Fed Cup.
Third quarter: In the section without any of the WTA’s three leading ladies, the eye pauses on two unseeded figures who could produce deep runs. One of them, 2009 Roland Garros champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, submitted indifferent results in Portugal last week and has played little since a strong start to the year. This Russian has collected many of her best victories on clay, including Roland Garros upsets of Serena and Radwanska, building on the affinity of her athletic, forehand-centered game for the surface. Less impressive is Kuznetsova’s focus, which undermined her in a fourth-round match in Paris against Errani last year and could cost her in a third-round meeting with Angelique Kerber. While the indoor clay of Stuttgart differs significantly from outdoor clay conditions, the world No. 6 still may have gained confidence from nearly reaching a final on her worst surface. The eleventh-seeded Nadia Petrova has generated few headlines of late, and slow-court specialist Alize Cornet rarely makes a statement in a draw of this magnitude.
The other unseeded player of note here, former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic, burst back into prominence when she reached the Miami semifinals this spring and backed it up with a finals appearance in Charleston. Jankovic defeated no opponent of note there or in her Bogota title run a month before, but she did win a set from Serena and generally looked at ease on her favorite surface. Looming for her is yet another clash with her compatriot and fellow former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic, who also showed encouraging recent form by defeating Kerber in Fed Cup and testing Sharapova in a Stuttgart quarterfinal. The Serbs have split their two meetings on red clay, both of which lasted three sets, but Ivanovic prevailed comfortably in their only encounter from the past two years. Scant reward awaits the winner, aligned to face fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska in a matchup that has befuddled both of them through long losing streaks to the Pole. Like Kerber, Radwanska would consider clay her worst surface, so a quarterfinal between them could tilt either way.
Fourth quarter: The majors, Premier Mandatory tournaments, Premier Five tournaments, and year-end championships form a group of fourteen elite events that overshadow the WTA calendar. Accustomed to (literally) overshadowing her opponents, Maria Sharapova has reached the final at thirteen of those—all but Madrid. This year’s draw offers the world No. 2 some assistance in correcting that omission, for only one player who has defeated her in the last twelve months appears in her half. And that player, grass specialist Sabine Lisicki, hardly poses a formidable threat on clay. By contrast, potential third-round opponent Dominika Cibulkova has defeated Sharapova on this surface before and seems a more plausible candidate to end her red-clay streak. Injuries have troubled Cibulkova during her most productive time of the year, however, whereas Sharapova has evolved into a far more dangerous clay threat since that 2009 loss.
One of two one-time major champions stands poised to meet Sharapova in the quarterfinals, but their uneven form this year opens this section for one of its several unseeded talents. A champion here two years, eighth seed Petra Kvitova could meet ninth seed and 2010 Roland Garros finalist Samantha Stosur in the third round. Troubled by a leg injury in recent weeks, though, the latter faces a difficult opening assignment in rising Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro. This clay specialist with an Henin-esque one-handed backhand will bring momentum from reaching the Portugal Open final, while Stosur fell to Jankovic in her Stuttgart opener. Mounting a comeback from injury is 2012 Roland Garros quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi, who also produced solid results last week. Flavia Pennetta’s comeback has progressed less promisingly, but she too has plenty of clay skills. Meanwhile, can Sloane Stephens rediscover some of the form that took her to the second week in Paris last year? Many questions arise from this section that only matches can answer.
Final: Li vs. Sharapova
Champion: Li Na
Check back tomorrow for a preview of the ATP draw in Madrid.
Sandwiched between busy weeks in Stuttgart and Madrid is a lovely smaller event between Lisbon and the ocean. Formerly known as the Estoril tournament, the Portugal Open has moved to nearby Oeiras and a location more convenient for those traveling from the capital. It lacks top-ten entrants or other names familiar to the casual fan, but the tennis aficionado will appreciate the mixture of clay specialists and rising stars on display.
Top half: Least comfortable on clay among all surfaces, the top-seeded Marion Bartoli seems ripe for an upset in view of her recent struggles. Bartoli fell in her first match at each of her last two tournaments and has lost five of her last six matches on clay. Opening against fellow double-fister Peng Shuai, she could face a compelling in the quarterfinals against the winner of an intriguing first-round encounter. Varvara Lepchenko, the sixth seed, achieved her breakthrough on clay last year with a Madrid quarterfinal and an upset over Francesca Schiavone at Roland Garros. Continuing that trend for her in an otherwise poor 2013 were victories in Fed Cup over both Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, two of the WTA’s leading clay specialists. But Lepchenko faces the most dangerous unseeded player in the draw to start the week in 2009 Roland Garros champion Svetlana Kuznetsova. Although she has cooled over her last few events, Kuznetsova signaled a resurgence with an outstanding start to the season that included an Australian Open quarterfinal. She also reached the second week of Roland Garros in her last tournament on the terre battue.
Less intriguing is a second quarter stacked with three qualifiers, grass-court specialist Tamira Paszek, and two inconsistent Russian seeds. A champion in Monterrey and a finalist in Brisbane, the third-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has wobbled through five first-round losses as well. This former Roland Garros quarterfinalist has lost two of three on clay this year. Perhaps buoyed by Russia’s Fed Cup comeback, to which Pavlyuchenkova did not contribute, compatriot and fellow seed Elena Vesnina looks to exploit this soft section. Vesnina raced to a 10-1 start this year, including her first career title, but she won just four games in her first-round Stuttgart loss and has struggled overall since that initial spurt. Also winning her first career title this year, Romanian junkballer Monica Niculescu rounds out this section.
Semifinal: Kuznetsova vs. Pavlyuchenkova
Bottom half: Scoring a mini-upset over Caroline Wozniacki in Stuttgart, Carla Suarez Navarro started her favorite span of the year with modest success. With a ranking near its career high, the fourth seed will showcase her elegant one-handed backhand and agile defense against a group of heavier hitters. Foremost among them is Julia Goerges, who has proved that she can win on clay with a Stuttgart title two years ago. Those two years feel like an eternity ago sometimes, but Goerges did stir to life with a strong effort at that tournament against Petra Kvitova. She faces a challenging second-round match against one of the two Marrakech finalists. Having faced each other on Sunday, Francesca Schiavone and Lourdes Dominguez Lino will meet again on Tuesday or Wednesday. The 2010 Roland Garros champion and 2011 finalist, Schiavone seemed to hover near the verge of retirement when she struggled to win a match earlier this year. One wonders whether her week in Marrakech will have boosted her confidence a bit.
Initially projected as the top seed in that Moroccan event, Dominika Cibulkova withdrew from it in the wake of Slovakia’s Fed Cup catastrophe. Her team became the first in Fed Cup history to lose a World Group semifinal after leading 2-0, a collapse that began with her loss to Maria Kirilenko. Cibulkova owns the best clay skills of anyone in her immediate vicinity, for she upset Victoria Azarenka at Roland Garros last year en route to the quarterfinals and also reached the semifinals there four years ago. A pair of young players, Urszula Radwanska and Laura Robson, hope to gain traction at a small event without any notable names. Robson in particular could use an injection of morale after dropping six three-setters since the Australian Open, having won the first set in three. Elsewhere in this section, another 2012 Roland Garros quarterfinalist in Kaia Kanepi aims to accelerate a comeback in its third tournament. She might face the fifth-seeded Sorana Cirstea in the second round, or ageless Spanish clay specialist Anabel Medina Garrigues. Cirstea has trended upward recently and benefits from the extra time on the surface to prepare her savage forehand.
Semifinal: Suarez Navarro vs. Cirstea
Final: Kuznetsova vs. Suarez Navarro
Since Madrid starts on Saturday, May 4, my Friday article will preview the two draws rather than offering a viewpoint on a current issue. I might write that type of article for the following Monday, depending on whether something arises. Apologies for any confusion caused by the scheduling switch.
CHARLESTON, SC (April 6, 2013) – Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy was on hand Friday for all the action at the Family Circle Cup. Players on court that day included Serena and Venus Williams, Madison Keys, Mallory Burdette, Eugenie Bouchard, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Varvara Lepchenko and Sorana Cirstea.