Sunday, October 11, 2020

My French Open top 10

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

10. How quickly a bubble bursts: Though a good example was set in New York, players in Paris complained that the so-called bubble really wasn’t a bubble at all. The player hotel housekeeping staff was described as cleaning players’ rooms while not wearing masks, and there were reports that people who had nothing to do with the tournament were allowed to enter the building. Then there was the ATP player who failed to tell the tournament that he was very ill, and played his match, anyway. Clearly, those in charge failed to take their responsibilities seriously.

9. Look who’s back!: Anna Karolina Schmiedlova has had a hard time catching a break, but—back from having knee surgery and playing with a protected ranking—she made herself known again in Paris. Schmiedlova began her campaign by defeating Venus Williams (for the third consecutive time), and then she upset U.S. Open finalist Vika Azarenka in the next round. She lost in the third round when she came up against Nadia Podoroska, but it was a very good—though sadly, too brief—run.

8. Numéro Quatre!: There were a couple of big stories in wheelchair singles competition. The biggest one belongs to 2nd seed Yui Kamiji, who won her fourth French Open title when she defeated Momoto Ohtani 6-2, 6-1 in the final. But Ohtani had a story too: Playing in only her second major, she reached the final by upsetting top seed and defending champion Diede De Groot.

7. Carrying the flag: There were undoubtedly high French hopes for Kiki Mladenovic (who would go on to make her country very proud), Alize Cornet and Caroline Garcia. Cornet went out in the second round, Mladenovic in the first. Caroline Garcia, whose fortunes have gone up and down in recent years, was unseeded. She did well, making it to the round of 16, in which she lost to 3rd seed Elina Svitolina. Prior to that, she had a couple of excellent wins, beating Anett Kontaveit in the first round, and coming back from a 1-6 first set to defeat Elise Mertens.

In the meantime, world number 49 Fiona Ferro beat young sensation Elena Rybakina, and then—in the round of 16—took 4th seed and eventual finalist Sofia Kenin to three sets before falling to her. Another bonus: 17-year-old Elsa Jacquemot of France, seeded 3rd, won the junior singles championship. (And wild card Clara Burel made it to the third round.)

6. She loves Paris in the fall: No true tennis fan will ever forget Petra Kvitova’s triumphant (and earlier than expected) return to the tour in 2017, after having had her racket hand brutally slashed in a home invasion. Her first match was the opening round of the French Open, which she won, despite having limited sensation in her hand. The crowd went crazy.

Roland Garros has never been the Czech star’s idea of fun, but this year, she showed up with more variety in her game, and—for a while—even looked like a contender. She beat talented newcomer Leylah Fernandez, and then she beat clay specialist Laura Siegemund. Kvitova made it all the way to the semifinals, and then—apparently nervous—she rushed her shots, made several unforced errors, and lost to Sofia Kenin. It was a match that 2020 French Open Kvitova should have won. At any rate, it was a stellar run, and one hopes that it will give her confidence.

5. French toast: Top seed Simona Halep was the heavy favorite to win the tournament. She allowed Amanda Anisimova, who upset Halep at the 2019 French Open, only one game. She looked, for all the world, like she was soon going to hold another Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.

Then, in the round of 16, the 2018 champion ran into Iga Swiatek, and she might as well have run into a buzz saw. It was one of those matches that—even while you were watching it—you weren’t quite sure you were really seeing what you were seeing.

Last year, in the same round, Halep had obliterated Swiatek, 6-1, 6-0. The young Polish player obviously made a note of that, and she returned the favor by upsetting Halep 6-1, 6-2 in just over an hour. The top seed did not play badly at all—she was simply outclassed by a big-serving, ball-spinning, winner-smacking teen phenom.

4. Please refrain from using the “f” word: There are certain words that fans use that I don’t like. One of them is “over-achiever.” Another is “fluke.” Winning seven matches in a row on a huge stage—even if a player does it only once—is a huge achievement. Sofia Kenin did it this year in Australia. And while she’s had some stumbles since then, she made it all the way to the final in Paris. Like so many others, she lost to Swiatek, but clearly, she’s someone who should be taken quite seriously.

3. You know their names now: The names Martina Trevisan and Nadia Podoroska were not very well known before the French Open began. Trevisan got everyone’s attention in the second round, however, when she defeated Coco Gauff. The Italian then proceeded to take out 20th seed Maria Sakkari, and—in the round of 16—she upset 5th seed, and clay court star, Kiki Bertens. In the quarterfinals, Trevisan lost in straight sets to—all together now: Iga Swiatek.

Podoroska, the 131st-ranked player from Argentina, was a qualifier, which means that she won three matches before the main draw even began. It’s unusual for qualifiers to get very far in a major draw—not only because they are often outplayed, but also because they are exhausted. Not so Podoroska, who took out the likes of 23rd seed Yulia Putintseva, Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, and—in the quarterfinals—3rd seed Elina Svitolina. Her glorious run ended in the semifinals when she lost in straight sets to you-know-who.

2. Better together: Kiki Mladenovic has a lovely, but maddeningly inconsistent, singles game. One hopes that, some day, she will meet her considerable potential. In the meantime, she continues to shine in doubles, as does her partner, Timea Babos. The French Open defending champions did it again this year. Babos and Mladenovic defeated 14h seeds Alexa Guarachi and Desirae Krawczyk 6-4, 7-5 in the final. Guarachi and Krawczyk had upset top seeds Hsieh Su Wei and Barbora Strycova. This is the Frenchwoman’s third Roland Garros doubles title—she and Caroline Garcia won the title in 2016.

1. I came in like a wrecking ball
: We all knew that Iga Swiatek was talented and that she had a lot of potential. What we didn’t know was that all that potential would explode during a two-week siege in Paris, where the Polish teen would lose only 28 games and not drop a set. (Though I consider them both to be wildly talented—in one interesting way, Swiatek is the anti-Andreescu. The Canadian star thrives on using her creativity to solve problems, whereas Swiatek appears to thrive on preventing problems from occurring. It’s great fun to watch both styles of approaching the game, and I can’t wait to see them compete against each other.)

Swiatek’s demolition of Simona Halep stunned tennis fans around the world, but the first hint of what was to come occurred in the opening round when she defeated last year’s finalist, Marketa Vondrousova. Swiatek never looked nervous, never looked tight, never looked like anything less than a star athlete with a firm grasp of what she needed to do tactically. Her on-court poise was notable as she swatted away one opponent after the other, and left two of the top five seeds with no answers. 

Iga has arrived--and what a debut it was.


Todd.Spiker said...

The French had Elsa Jacquemot win the juniors, too. The first girl since '09. Overall, it was quite a good collective rebound after no French women even reached the 3rd Round last year.

It says something about the high standards of de Groot that, even taking away the AO shocker, her *Restart* seems disappointing after what she did in 2019... but she just won a singles *and* doubles slam title in just a month and a half's time.

The FFT would be very upset that you didn't mention the brand-new roof. Ha. :P

Diane said...

Oh, I went to edit Elsa into the text and forgot to do it! Thanks for the reminder--I'll do it now.

De Groot's serve is a mess. If she can get that straightened out, I think she'll be okay.

When that roof closes properly, I might mention it :)

Todd.Spiker said...

Burel made the 3rd Round as a wild card, too. ;)

Haha, yes, the roof isn't exactly an engineering masterpiece, is it? Also, I worry they're going to totally ruin the look of Lenglen when they put a roof on it in the next year or two.

De Groot's "off" year, I think, has maybe been the most surprising tennis story of 2020. It looks like she's still #1 in the rankings, though. Not sure if they're playing the WC Masters or not. I don't see it on the schedule.

Diane said...

I forgot all about Burel--will add her, too.

De Groot's situation is perplexing--all those double faults. I surely hope she gets it straightened out soon.

colt13 said...

French toast? I like it.

The level Swiatek played at all tournament was impressive.

Cold weather, heavy balls, lights, etc, made this a one to remember.

Diane said...