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

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Imagine, for a moment

Imagine, for a moment, that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had made comments about the inferiority of LGBTQ players.

Imagine, for a moment, that Giles Simon had insulted Jewish players.

Imagine, for a moment, that Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and John Isner had made "back door" derogatory comments about people of color.

Imagine, for a moment, that Roger Federer had defended someone accused of brutally beating a Mexican player.

Imagine, for a moment, that David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych, Toni Nadal, and the entire Spanish Fed Cup team had made insulting comments about gay players or black players. 

Sure, the bigots would have been down with it all, but there would also have been a huge uproar against such comments. 

But they didn't do that. They made insulting, derogatory, and sometimes sneakily offensive comments about women.

Furthermore, some of the same fans who push back against the campaign against equal pay, and who push back against the atrocious threats and insults directed at WTA players on social media, continue to idolize sexist--and sometimes misogynist (and really, does the difference even matter?)--ATP players. The double standard is breathtaking. 

Until sexism and misogyny are taken seriously by those who purport to disown all prejudice and bigotry, WTA players, and all female athletes (and all females, for that matter), will continue to be seen as not as good, not as worthy, not as human, as men.

Monday, May 23, 2022

French Open first round--big upsets, mighty German

There are some things you can always count on at the French Open: It will rain, the crowd will be even ruder than the crowds in Australia, London and the United States, Angie Kerber will act (at least for a while) like she's never won a clay tournament, and I will find it hard to do anything but watch the matches at my favorite major.

And of course, there will be upsets early on. The first to go this year was a surprise--yet, maybe not to the degree that people seem to think. It was a surprise because it was 6th seed Ons Jabeur, who has won more clay matches this year than any other player on the tour. Jabeur won Madrid, and was the runner-up in Charleston and Rome. The Tunisian star was the favorite of some to win the title, but she fell to Magda Linette in the opening round. Linette, while ranked number 52 in the world, is no slouch on a clay court, and she was able to get the best of an increasingly rattled Jabeur in three tough sets.

The next to go was 10th seed and former champion Garbine Muguruza, who was shown the exit in the first round by giant-slayer Kaia Kanepi. And while it's true that any giant can be taken out by Kanepi on a given day, the Spanish star may have been especially vulnerable. Muguruza's inconsistency and inability to close matches are no longer "new" problems; Muguruza just isn't herself anymore.

Another first-round upset--this one especially sad--was that of 2nd seed and defending champion Barbora Krejcikova. The Czech star has been out for a several months with an elbow injury, and no one who pays attention to the tour expected her to do that well--she has hardly played any matches in a while. Still, I hoped that she'd at least be able to go for a few rounds. But French teenager Diane Parry had other plans; she defeated Krejcikova 1-6, 6-2, 6-3, and thus marked her first victory over a top 10 player (and her first over a top 50 player, for that matter). 

Krejcikova said, after the match, that she was able to play pain-free, but that she "hit the wall" physically after going for so long without playing matches.

Also going out in the first round were Petra Martic, former world number 1 Naomi Osaka, Dayana Yastremska, 25th seed Liudmila Samsonova, Anett Kontaveit, and last year's junior champion, Linda Noskova, who took Emma Raducanu to three sets. 

And then there was this:

I don't know which is stronger--the legs or the fight--but Angie Kerber remains a force of nature. This match was stunning, and peak Kerber--as always--left me breathless.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Iga, Ons and ??--just add red clay and mix vigorously

The recipe for French Open deliciousness is a bit of a mystery--but not by too much. Now that world number 1 Iga Swiatek has won Stuttgart and defended her title in Rome, she is the stand-out favorite to again win at Roland Garros. In defending her Rome title, Swiatek didn't drop a set--and she delivered two bagel sets. In Stuttgart, she dropped only one set--to Liudmila Samsonova. 

The other strong contender is Madrid champion Ons Jabeur, whose climb up the rankings (she is currently number 6 in the world) has been dramatic. Both Jabeur and Swiatek (the finalists in Rome) are excellent examples of what happens when players make commitments to improve various parts of their games. Hard work really does pay off, and all eyes will be on both of these players in Paris.

Who else?

Six weeks ago, I would have said that the two to watch would be Swiatek and Paula Badosa, but the Spaniard's spark has dimmed since then. But that doesn't mean that it won't come back in time for the French Open; she definitely has the game to go far in my favorite major. Former champion Simona Halep is another question mark: Right now, she doesn't look like a top contender, but it would be unwise to rule her out.

Unfortunately, last year's champion, Barbora Krejcikova, has been injured for a while, and has withdrawn from the recent clay tournaments that she entered. It's questionable whether she'll even be competing in Paris, which is sad under any circumstance, but especially when I consider her unforgettable 2021 performances. The Czech star's overall dominance in Paris last year was unforgettable.

There are other contenders, of course. Dasha Kasatkina, once considered a potential clay court star (she did win Charleston in 2017) kind of dropped off for a long time, but she's back, and her considerable show-womanship has been augmented by more solid serving and hitting. The USA has two potential contenders--both Amanda Anisimova and Jessie Pegula (the runner-up in Madrid) have looked very good on red clay this year.

Maria Sakkari is always hovering in the "contender" area, and Bianca Andreescu is back (again), and looking better on clay than maybe some would have expected. My biggest hope for the Canadian star is that she stays healthy.

Of course, there are many players who may not be contenders but who can cause trouble on clay courts; the list is too long to publish. Last year, it was Maria Sakkari who took out Iga Swiatek in the quarterfinals. Sakkari has a 3-2 record against Swiatek, and none of their matches has ever gone past two sets. Their match in Paris last year was the only match they have ever played against each other on clay. However, the 2022 version of Swiatek is even more deadly than the 2020 version that swept through Roland Garros like a red dust storm.