Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Sakkari upsets French Open defending champion Swiatek

It's bad enough to sustain a leg injury during one's quarterfinal match; it's even worse when your opponent is playing lights-out. That was the situation that defending French Open champion Iga Swiatek found herself in today when she played her practice partner, Maria Sakkari, for a spot in the semifinals. Last year, Swiatek won the tournament without dropping a set, and--up to the quarterfinals--she hadn't dropped a set this year.

Swiatek broke right away, but it wasn't long before her usual blend of fluid power and strategy turned into a rush to get things done, and a rush to get things done almost always ends badly. It was the Polish player's right thigh that was giving her trouble, and she had it tended to in the first set, which she lost, 4-6. And while she had moments of Swiatek-like greatness in the next set, she ultimately couldn't move that well. And on the other side of the net, Sakkari was putting on a service clinic and generally controlling points left and right.

Swiatek acknowledged, after the match, that she was also experiencing some mental fatigue. Among that, the injured leg, and Sakkari's outstanding performance, it was a perfect storm to carry off the defending champion.

Sakkari, seeded 17th, is the highest-ranked player left in the draw.

As of this writing, Swiatek and her partner, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, are still in the doubles draw, in which they have reached the semifinals.

Sakkari's 6-4, 6-4 victory pits her against Barbora Krejcikova in the semifinals. The Czech player, known for her outstanding doubles skills, has been on a singles roll for the last year--she reached the round of 16 in the 2020 French Open, and this year, she reached the Dubai final and won the event in Strasbourg. Today, Krejcikova defeated Coco Gauff 7-6, 6-3, saving five set points in the first set. 

Krejcikova and her partner, Katerina Siniakova, are also still in the doubles draw, in which they are seeded second.

Yesterday, Tamara Zidansek defeated Paula Badosa 7-5, 4-6, 8-6 in their quarterfinal match. Badosa said in her press conference that she had been nervous throughout the match. My guess is that high a level of anxiety won't be a factor the next time that the Spanish player is on a big stage; she has nowhere to go but up. In the meantime, the tennis world has gotten a good look at Zidansek, who also took out Bianca Andreescu (in the opening round), Katerina Siniakova and Sorana Cirstea.

Also yesterday, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova defeated Elena Rybakina (Pavlyuchenkova's doubles partner at the French Open) 6-7, 6-2, 9-7, marking a huge breakthrough in the Russian's career. A junior world number 1, Pavlyuchenkova is a talented player who showed great promise for many years, and whose career has been a good one--just not as good as many expected it to be. And now, after fourteen years on the tour, she has finally reached a major semifinal.

It's certainly worth noting that Elena Vesnina, who just recently returned to the tour, has advanced (with partner Aslan Karatsev) to the mixed doubles final.

Here is the singles semifinal draw:

Barbora Krejcikova vs. Maria Sakkari (17)
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (31) vs. Tamara Zidansek

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