Thursday, June 8, 2017

Can the final possibly top what we saw today?

I think not. Ostapenko, Bacsinszky, Halep, and Pliskova were so inspired in today's semifinals, it's hard to imagine that we'll see greater, more exciting tennis on Saturday. It was a joy to watch both matches, in which the players displayed remarkable athleticism, amazing speed and stunning shot-making. Unfortunately, two of them had to lose.

Those two would be Timea Bacsinszky and Karolina Pliskova, each of whom had great Paris runs, and who would have made equally great finalists. But it wasn't to be. What we will get is pretty great, too: 3rd seed and former French Open runner-up Simona Halep and the unseeded, never-won-a-WTA- tournament Jelena Ostapenko.

Though none of us can know how the finalists feel (it's easier to figure out how Bacsinszky and Pliskova probably feel), it's not making much of a stretch to conclude that most of the pressure is on Halep. A win would make her the world number 1, but I doubt that her ranking is a major source of pressure.

When Halep broke through in 2013 (going from number 47 in the world to number11), she set her own bar very high. Since then, she has struggled with many things--injuries (especially to her feet and ankles), coaching changes, players who know her game and form strategies to defeat her, and--most significant of all--her own piercing self-judgment. Cursed with perfectionism, Halep has often responded to her own mistakes by just giving up, which has served as her form of self-punishment.

That she has changed her ways was dramatically evident when she won her semifinal match against Elina Svitolina, who was dominating Halep, and who was on the brink of upsetting her.

Today's challenge was different. Karolina Pliskova, who sort of sneaked into the semifinals when no one was paying attention, didn't know what to do about Halep during the first set. Clay isn't exactly where the Czech star feels at home; her huge serve and big, flat groundstrokes are her bread and butter on hard and grass courts. But by the middle of the second set, Pliskova found a rhythm against Halep, and forced a deciding set. Each woman played some beautiful tennis, but in the end, Halep's extraordinary clay court athleticism--and her opponent's less than her usual high standard-serve--led her to a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 victory.

The other match also went to three sets. Bacsinszky and Ostapenko broke each other 16 times, Ostapenko hit 50 winners, it was Bacsinszky's birthday, it was Ostapenko's birthday, and a good time was had by all. It was really a very entertaining match, with the Swiss player's speed and cleverness on display throughout; she wound up winning just one less point than her opponent. Had there been an évier de cuisine handy, I'm sure Bacsinszky would have thrown it at Ostapenko--she threw everything else.

But it wasn't quite enough. Ostapenko (somewhat like the young Kvitova) gives new meaning to "swinging freely." The average speed of her explosive forehand was 76 mph. Ostapenko is a grinning, grimacing, bending, missile-tossing phenomenon who--when she can keep the errors in check--is kind of scary. (On the court--otherwise, she's quite charming.) And as if that weren't enough, all that ballroom dancing has undoubtedly given her a superb sense of her own body, as well as a keen sense of balance.

The young (20 today) Latvian defeated Bacsinszky 7-6, 3-6, 6-3. She is the first Latvian player to ever reach the final of a major, and she's the first unseeded player in 34 years to reach the final of the French Open. Ostapenko is also the lowest-ranked player (47) to reach the French Open final since the advent of computerized rankings in 1975. This blasting through the numbers and the expectations is pure Ostapenko.

The Latvina's coach for the clay season, at least, is former WTA player Anabel Medina-Garrigues, who won the French Open doubles title twice.

However, as free and hard-hitting as Ostapenko may be, she's never been in a huge final before. She has been in three regular WTA finals, and she lost all of them. The most recent loss occurred in Charleston, when she was defeated in straight sets by Daria Kasatkina.

Halep, on the other hand, has been here before. In 2014, she took Maria Sharapova to the brink, prompting Sharapova--after she defeated Halep and won her second French Open title--to say that the match against the Romanian was the toughest final she had ever played.

But today's action wasn't all about the aforementioned players. Gabriela Dabrowski and her partner, Rohan Bopanna, won the mixed doubles title when they defeated Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Robert Farah 2-6, 6-2, 12-10. Dabrowski is the first Canadian woman to win any kind of major title.

The women's wheelchair competition began today, with top seed Jiske Griffioen getting knocked out by Aniek Van Koot. 2nd seed Yui Kamiji survived and advanced to the semifinals.

Here are the singles finalists paths to the final:


round 1--def. Louisa Chirico
round 2--def. Monica Puig
round 3--def. Lesia Tsurenko
round of 16--def. Sam Stosur (23)
quarterfinals--def. Caroline Wozniacki (11)
semifinals--def. Timea Bacsinszky (30)

round 1--def. Jana Cepelova
round 2--def. Tatijana Maria
round 3--def. Daria Kasatkina (26)
round of 16--def. Carla Suarez Navarro (21)
quarterfinals--def. Elina Svitolina (5)
semifinals--def. Karolina Pliskova (2)


colt13 said...

So Stosur has now lost here to the eventual finalist seven times.

Diane said...

Well, that has to be the stat of all stats, French Open-wise. Perhaps handy for the odds-makers?