Sunday, July 3, 2022

The draw is chaotic, but the Minister of Happiness* prevails

*Ons Jabeur, seeded third at Wimbledon, won a high quality round of 16 match against 24th seed Elise Mertens today. Jabeur's 7-6( 9), 6-4 victory books her a spot against Marie Bouzkova, who defeated Caroline Garcia in straight sets. Bouzkova had already knocked out 7th seed Danielle Collins and talented grass competitorAlison Riske-Amritraj, in addition to delivering a bagel to Ann Li in the second round.

In the meantime, Germany's Jule Neimeier defeated Great Britain's Heather Watson. It was Neimeier, you'll recall who upset (while delivering a bagel) 2nd seed Anett Kontaveit in the second round. 

Finally, 12th seed Alona Ostapenko lost to Tatjana Maria, a 34-year-old mother of two who--well into her career--changed from a two-handed to a one-handed backhand. Maria saved two match points before defeating Ostapenko 5-7, 7-5, 7-5.

The remaining players in the round of 16 draw will compete tomorrow, with all eyes on the contest between 4th seed Paula Badosa and 2019 champion Simona Halep.

Two German and two French players wound up in the round of 16. One of the Frenchwomen, Garcia, is out now, but the two Germans--Neimeier and Maria--remain.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

All good things really do come to an end--sometimes with French flair

It had to happen some time, and why people think that the conclusion of Iga Swiatek's very long (37) match win streak wasn't likely to happen at a time when Alizé Cornet was on the other side of the net is a mystery to me. It may not have had "upset" written all over it, but it was definitely there in a good-sized, tasteful, watermark. Cornet loves grass; Swiatek is uncomfortable on it. The Frenchwoman remains, for me, the biggest underachiever on tour; when she's on--look out. The world number 1 found that out today in the third round when Cornet defeated her 6-4, 6-2.

To make matters even more awkward for the world number 1, she had never played Cornet before. The Frenchwoman entered the court bearing "the look," and she never backed down. She took advantage of Swiatek's discomfort in the usual Cornet way--by taking away Swiatek's rhythm, finding the angles, hitting expert drop shots, and occasionally displaying her Lenglen-like athleticism.  

"I'm like good wine," Cornet said after the match. "In France, good wine always ages well."

Paula Badosa, whose fortunes had turned downward a bit prior to Wimbledon, upset two-time champion Petra Kvitova 7-5, 7-6 in a closely contested match that could have certainly gone either way. Also losing in the third round was former champion Angie Kerber, who was defeated 6-4, 7-5 by Elise Mertens. Kerber reached the semifinals last year, in which she was defeated by eventual champion Ash Barty. 

Simona Halep is the only remaining former champion in the draw. Serena Williams was defeated by Harmony Tan (who just keeps winning) in the opening round, and 9th seed and former champion Garbine Muguruza melted down in the first round when she lost to Greet Minnen. Not for the first time, something troubling is going on with Muguruza, and it's sad to see the effects of whatever it is.

There were other upsets: 2nd seed Anett Kontaveit went out in the second round. Also gone are 5th seed Maria Sakkari, 6th seed Karolina Pliskova, 7th seed Danielle Collins, 8th seed Jessie Pegula, 10th seed Emma Raducanu, and 11th seed Coco Gauff. 

Fresh off of her Bad Homburg win, Caroline Garcia is still in the mix. Garcia, in fact, was the player who took Emma Raducanu out of competition with a straight sets victory. 3rd seed Ons Jabeur and the never-predictable Alona Ostapenko are still around, too. And then there's 2019 champion Simona Halep, who defeated the considerable Czech talent, Karolina Muchova, and who also defeated Kirsten Flipkens in the final singles match of her career.

Here is the round of 16 draw:

Alizé Cornet vs. Ajla Tomljanovic
Elena Rybakina (17) vs. Petra Martic
Paula Badosa (4) vs. Simona Halep (16)
Amanda Anisimova (20) vs. Harmony Tan
Marie Bouzkova vs. Caroline Garcia
Elise Mertens (24) vs. Ons Jabeur (3)
Tatjana Maria vs. Alona Ostapenko (12)
Heather Watson vs. Jule Niemeier

More than half of these players are unseeded, but that group includes former world number 4 Garcia. It's also no surprise to see Cornet and Martic in the final 16. As for Halep, in order to hold another Venus Rosewater Dish, she has to first get past Badosa--that's a match worth watching.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

My French Open top 10

Here are my top 10 French Open happenings, in ascending order:

10. This is the best they could do?: As someone who lives in the U.S. (and who cannot rise at the crack of dawn or before), I missed so many matches that I really wanted to see. And while I caught some of them on demand, it just isn't the same. The organization issue behind my problem was that almost all of the night matches were ATP matches. Tournament director Amelie Mauresmo got some pushback when she said that there was more appeal for men's matches. She later said that her words were taken out of context, and she apologized to WTA players. 

Mauresmo said that the length of matches was an important factor in making the night match decision, and men's matches at majors follow the best of five format. She also acknowledged that there were other ways that the schedule could have been organized, and that she will do better next year.

9. One of these things is not like the other: World number 1 Iga Swiatek posed for many photos with Original 9 member Billie Jean King, who was honored by the French Open because the 50th anniversary of her only French Open singles title win occurred during the tournament. Swiatek obviously looks up to King and has said so many times. Her idol, however, is a man who is opposed to the concept of equal prize money (he was also part of the Spanish Davis Cup team that, several years ago, lost its mind over the concept of having a female coach).Swiatek's cognitive dissonance is significant, in part, because it's a microcosm of tennis fandom (and--most important--female tennis fandom) in general.

8. There must be a factory in Prague: 17-year-old Lucie Havlickova, who trained with none other than Petra Kvitova, is the new French Open junior girls champion. The world number 9, seeded 9th at the tournament, defeated Argentina's Solana Sierra 6-3, 6-3 in the final. But that wasn't all. Havlickova and her Czech partner, Sara Bejlek, the top seeds in doubles, won the doubles title when they defeated 2nd seeds Nikola Bartunkova (also Czech!) and Celine Naef 6-3, 6-3 in the final. 

7. If there were a trophy for rudeness...: The French crowd would win it. Every year. All of the crowds at the majors behave badly, but the French crowds have turned it into an art form. If a player--who is, by the way, performing her job--questions a line call, she's booed and jeered. If a French player flubs a ball toss, there's silence, but the moment her opponent does it--boos and jeers. But that doesn't mean that the French won't turn on their own--just ask Alize Cornet.

When Cornet played 2017 champion Alona Ostapenko in the second round, the crowd was simply horrible to Ostapenko--one of their own champions. Ostapenko, at the end of the match, covered her ears so that she couldn't hear the boos and whistles. To her credit, Cornet made a point of applauding her opponent as she left the court. In the next round, the French star showed up heavily strapped, and--before long--she could hardly move. She was unable to win a game, but--warrior that she is--she just kept limping around the court. Until she couldn't. Down 0-6, 0-3 against Zheng Qinwen, Cornet was forced to retire, and she shook hands, packed her gear, and left the court--all to thunderous boos and jeers.

6. When you just can't catch a break: Karolina Muchova (who came out of that factory) is an extremely talented tennis player, and an extremely unlucky one. The Czech player has had her share of injuries, and she recently came back from a long layoff because of an elbow injury. She looked really good at Roland Garros, too, upsetting 4th Maria Sakkari in the second round, in two tiebreak sets. But in the third round, she rolled her ankle and had to retire against Amanda Anisimova. Everyone knows that sports like life) isn't fair, but this was just brutal.

5.  Wheels on fire: Defending champion and top seed Diede De Groot, aka Diede De Great, defended her title at the 2022 French Open when she defeated 2nd seed Yui Kamiji 6-4, 6-1 in the women's wheelchair singles final. There was a bigger draw this year, which made the event more competitive, but no worries for De Groot, who also defended--with partner Aniek Van Koot--her doubles title. De Groot and Van Koot defeated Kamigi and Kgothatso Montjane 7-6, 1-6, 1-0 (10-8).

4. The big ones aren't always the best ones: It's easy to look forward to the quarterfinals, semifinals, and final of a major tournament. But often, the most thrilling matches take place earlier in the tournament. There were two matches that really stood out for me, One was contested in the opening round, when Angie Kerber had to fight like mad to overcome Magdalena Frech in a match that lasted two and half hours, and which featured every amazing Kerberism known to the tennis world. Sadly, the German star would go out in the third round, but that match against Frech was outstanding.

The other real thriller was played in the third round between Vika Azarenka and Jil Teichmann. The match lasted three hours and 18 minutes, and Teichmann kept raising her level and raising her level until she defeated Azarenka 4-6, 7-5, 7-6.

3. Hot Coco in Paris: She didn't win the tournament, but Coco Gauff announced herself in a big way. not dropping a set until she reached the final. Not that it was a surprise--Gauff is talented, hard-working, and possessed of a rare on- and off-court poise for someone who is just 18 years old. Gauff, with partner Jessie Pegula, was also the runner-up in the doubles championship--quite a tournament for her.

2. Allez!....again: Frenchwomen Caroline Garcia and Kiki Mladenovic won the French Open in 2016, and now they're the 2022 champions, too. The French pair, playing with a wild card, defeated 8th seeds Coco Gauff and Jessie Pegula 2-6, 6-3, 6-2. Mladenovic has two other French Open titles, which she won with Timea Babos, who has been her most consistent partner during her career.

1. Iga the Dominator: Someone please make an action figure of Iga Swiatek. She won the French Open (for the second time), won her sixth title of the season (including the Sunshine Double), and today, she won her 35th straight match. Her dominance is awe-inspiring, and Swiatek herself is a breath of fresh air. Tuning in to Led Zeppelin before a match, reading Wuthering Heights during a changeover, and swatting away gifted opponents with ease--that's Iga. 

The new champion did have some tough times in the course of the French Open, but she did what champions do--she found a way to win. Finding a way to win becomes the Polish star; the season isn't half over, and she's clearly the one to beat, everywhere she goes.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Le numéro 1 mondial, le numéro 1 à Paris!

When Iga Swiatek won the French Open in 2020, there were people (some of whom should have known better) who said that she "came out of nowhere." While she certainly wasn't favored to win the title, she was far from being an "out of nowhere" competitor.

In 2021, Swiatek lost to Maria Sakkari in the quarterfinals, but her year was quite notable--she reached at least the fourth round of every major, and won two titles, including Rome, a 1000 level event. And in 2022, the Polish star went on a tear not often seen on the tour. So far, she has won six straight titles--including the rare Sunshine Double--and has now won 35 straight matches.

The 35th match occurred today, when Swiatek defeated Coco Gauff in straight sets in the final of the 2022 French Open. Gauff, a clear talent with a bright future, was clearly anxious playing in her first major final, and wasn't able to do much to stop the force that is Swiatek. 

Prior to losing the final, Gauff had not dropped a set at Roland Garros (even Swiatek gave up a tiebreak set against Zheng Qinwen in the fourth round).  However, Swiatek's 6-1, 6-3 victory today underscores her current dominance in women's tennis. 

And that brings me to another subject: For a while now--since Serena Williams began her fade from the tour--many tennis fans have complained that there is no dominant player on the tour. (This never bothered me--I don't need a dominant player.) But now fans are complaining that Swiatek is too dominant and they are bored with it all. 

For those of you who are bored, better find some outside interests--Iga Swiatek, your world number 1 and 2022 French Open champion, isn't going anywhere. It will be interesting, by the way, to watch her at Wimbledon; Swiatek has not played many matches on grass. Her only Wimbledon appearance occurred last year, and she lost to Ons Jabeur in the round of 16.

One final note: Both Billie Jean King and 2008 champion Ana Ivanovic were in the stands today, yet the trophies were awarded by Mats Wilander, and I'm tempted to say, "Well, this is the French Open," but I also find myself saying that about the Australian Open, and--of course--the backward oddity known as Wimbledon.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Down to two

She had a couple of blips along the way, but world number 1 Iga Swiatek advanced to the French Open final today when she easily defeated Daria Kasatkina 6-2, 6-1 in the semifinals. Her opponent in the final will be Coco Gauff, who defeated Martina Trevisan 6-3, 6- in the second semifinal of the day. Gauff has yet to drop a set (even Swiatek dropped a set, in the round of 16), and has used her matches at Roland Garros to announce that all of that talk about potential was right on target.


Here are the players' paths to the final:

IGA SWIATEK (1)

round 1--def. Lesia Tsurenko (Q) *
round 2--def. Alison Riske*
round 3--def. Danka Kovinic
round of 16--def. Qinwen Zheng*
quarterfinals--def. Jessica Pegula (11)
semifinals--def. Daria Kasatkina (20)

COCO GAUFF (18)

round 1--def. Rebecca Marino*
round 2--Alison Van Uytvanck
round 3--def. Kaia Kanepi
round of 16--def. Elise Mertens (31)*
quarterfinals--def. Sloane Stephens
semifinals--def. Martina Trevisan

*bagel set served by winner

Also today, the first trophy was awarded. 2nd seeds Ena Shibahara (who finished the match with an ace) and Wesley Koolhof won the mixed doubles championship when they defeated Ulrikke Eikeri and Joran Vliegen 7-6, 6-2.

Billie Jean King was also honored today, the 50th anniversary of her having won the French Open. She defeated Evonne Goolagong 6-3, 6-3 in 1972 to win her only French Open title.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Swiatek proves the anxiom

It's a well-accepted reality that champions find a way to win even when they aren't playing well. Iga Swiatek, during her last two French Open matches, has proven that axiom. In her round of 16 match against Zheng Qinwen, the 2020 French Open champion and top seed dropped her first set (5-7, in a tiebreak). She then won the next two sets 6-0 and 6-2. On paper, that looks like the result of a really solid performance, but that first set exposed a more vulnerable Swiatek than we saw in earlier matches.

Today, in the quarterfinals, Swiatek faced Jessie Pegula, whom she had defeated earlier this year in Miami. Again, the Polish star was more prone to error that she was in the first week of the tournament, and some of her shots lacked the commitment that we expect from her. Nevertheless, she defeated Pegula 6-3, 6-2, and in doing so, won her thirty-third straight match.

Swiatek's recent total domination of her opponents has probably warped our ability to look at her objectively: 6-3, 6-2 in a major quarterfinal is a great score! Iga Swiatek is, after all, human. She may be tired, both physically and mentally. The most important element in this story is that she won both matches. 

Next for Swiatek, in the semifinals, is Dasha Kasatkina, who--having an endured a lengthy slump--has yet to drop a set, and who is on fire at Roland Garros. Today, she defeated countrywoman Veronka Kudermetova 6-4, 7-6 in the quarterfinals. Down 1-5 in the second set tiebreak, Kudermetova won four straight points, and--for a while--it looked like we might get a third set, but Kasatkina came through.

Yesterday, Martina Trevisan won her quarterfinal match against Leylah Fernandez, who struggled with a foot issue throughout the match, yet was still able to challenge Trevisan quite a bit, and to take her to three sets. Trevisan was a quarterfinalist in 2020, but failed to advance when she was defeated by--all together now!--Iga Swiatek.

Finally, Coco Gauff defeated 2018 runner-up Sloane Stephens 7-5, 6-2.

Here is the semifinal draw:

Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Daria Kasatkina (20)
Martina Trevisan vs. Coco Gauff (18)

In women's doubles, an all-USA semifinal will be played. 8th seeds Coco Gauff and Jessie Pegula will play Madison Keys and Taylor Townsend. In the other match, 14th seeds Lyudmyla Kichenok and Alona Ostapenko will play Caroline Garcia and Kiki Mladenovic.

In wheelchair singles (with a bigger draw this year), top seed and defending champion Diede De Groot has advanced to the semifinals, in which she will play 4th seed Kgothatso Montjane. In the other semifinal, 3rd seed Aniek Van Koot will compete against 2nd seed Yui Kamiji.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

One former champion standing--guess who?

When the 2022 French Open began, there were five former champions in the draw--Garbine Muguruza, Alona Ostapenko, Simona Halep, Iga Swiatek, and Barbora Krejcikova. The third round has come to a close, and we've already lost four of those players. 

To be fair, no one who follows tennis expected defending champion Krejcikova to get far. She has been out for a while with an elbow injury and has had no match practice. The good news is that Krejcikova played pain-free in Paris; however, she was physically spent after her first set and lost in the opening round. It's good that the Czech star gave herself plenty of time to heal, but it's sad that she couldn't stick around and go for a title defense.

Halep went out in the second round. After the first set, she received medical attention because she was having difficulty breathing, and she was clearly struggling for the remainder of the match, which she lost. She said in her press conference that she'd had a panic attack, but unless she has a diagnosis of panic disorder, I'm not going to go with that as fact. Halep is no stranger to anxiety, and she may well have had a panic attack, but that would require accompanying symptoms. It could also have been just a moment of anxiety, which is sometimes known as an anxiety attack.

Ostapenko, of course, is totally unpredictable. She could have gone out in the first round or won the tournament again. As it was, she went out in the second round, to Alize Cornet. The two played a topsy-turvy match, which Cornet won in the third. (Sadly, the Frenchwoman had to retire in her third round match, and her trashy, obnoxious countrypeople gave her the same horrible send-off that they had given Ostapenko. Ostapenko's "crime" was to question a call; Cornet's was to be suffering in obviously acute physical pain.)

And then there was Muguruza, who--just when she gets out of a slump--goes back into one. The very talented Spaniard had the bad luck of facing legendary giant-killer Kaia Kanepi in the first round. And while it's true that Kanepi can beat just about anyone on a given day, this was Garbine Muguruza, and this "should" have turned out differently. 

And so we are left with 2020 champion Iga Swiatek, and who could be surprised? Swiatek did meet a challenge in the third round, when she played Danka Kovinic, but she was up to it, and she has now won 31 straight matches. She's also the only player left among the top ten seeds. 

There have been some unfortunate withdrawals and retirements. Both Marie Bouzkova and Barbora Krejcikova (who was set to defend her doubles title with Katerina Siniakova) had to withdraw because they received positive Covid test results. Alize Cornet--who had shown up to play with both thighs tightly wrapped--had to retire, as noted above, and today, 3rd seed Paula Badosa retired because of a right calf injury in her match against Veronika Kudermetova. Also, Mayer Sherif retired in the second round because of a foot fracture.

While all withdrawals, retirements and losses that are caused by injury or illness are unfortunate, perhaps none is as unfortunate as the retirement of Karolina Muchova (really bad luck for Czechs at this tournament!). The talented Czech player has always been prone to injury in her career, and the last one--an elbow injury--kept her off of the tour for quite a while. She returned this spring, and re-announced herself at Roland Garros by upsetting 4th seed Maria Sakkari in the second round. But then she had to retire against Amanda Anisimova in the third round when she rolled her ankle.

I don't like to see any player injured, and I really don't like to see a player sustain consecutive injuries. In this case, it just feels especially unfair that someone with Muchova's considerable talent and potential just can't catch a break.

There were a couple of notable third round matches. Leylah Fernandez defeated Belinda Bencic in a high quality three-set match, and Jil Teichmann--rising to a scary high level--defeated Vika Azarenka, also in a three-set match, and this one lasted three hours and 18 minutes.

Here is the round of 16 draw:

Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Zheng Qinwen
Jessica Pegula (11) vs. Irina-Camelia Begu
Veronika Kudermetava (29) vs. Madison Keys (22)
Daria Kasatkina (20) vs. Camila Giorgi (28)
Martina Trevisan vs. Aliaksandra Sasnovich
Leylah Fernandez (17) vs. Amanda Anisimova (27)
Elise Mertens (31) cs. Coco Gauff (18)
Jil Teichmann (23) vs. Sloane Stephens