There are lots of ways to try to explain tennis matches, particularly in mixed doubles with no-ad scoring and match tiebreaks instead of a final set, but the bottom line is that the margins of victory are extremely thin.
After several remarkable comebacks from precarious positions in the second set, the second-set tiebreak and the eventual match-deciding tiebreak, Gabriela Dabrowski and Mate Pavic, the top seeds, were even at 8-all against second-seeded Latisha Chan and Ivan Dodig in the match tiebreak of the French Open mixed doubles final on Thursday.
And then the No. 1-ranked men’s doubles player, Pavic, was serving and seemed destined to win the 8-all point and set up championship point for a second Grand Slam mixed doubles title (after the Australian Open in January) for the Canadian/Croatian duo.
Incredibly, the 6-foot-4 power-serving Pavic double-faulted and then Dodig blasted a serve at Dabrowski and her forehand return went well out of court. The 2018 French Open mixed doubles title belonged to the second-seeded Chinese Taipei/Croatian pair by a somewhat meandering score of 6-1, 6-7(5), [10-8.]
“It definitely sucks, wish I could have hit a couple of shots better,” Dabrowski said about the disappointment of the loss, at an event where she was defending a title she won a year ago with Rohan Bopanna of India. “But in Australia we were down match point [trailing 9-8 in the final (match tiebreak) against Bopanna and Timea Babos of Hungary] and Mate came up with two aces and then I hit a return winner to win it.”
There can hardly be a better example of you win some and you lose some than Pavic coming through with those two key aces in Australia but double-faulting at the most critical of junctures on Court Suzanne Lenglen on Thursday.
“That’s tennis,” Dabrowski said philosophically in her post-match interview, “unfortunately the beauty of it is that one week it’ll go in your favour and the next week it might not. It was too bad to have come back and not been able to close it out. But the other team played really well and I did feel that they deserved it in the end. Latisha was returning Mate’s serve well and Ivan was doing good things at the net. His presence was known. I found it really hard to read his serve so I couldn’t really get a clean hit and any rhythm on the return to win a couple of points and make him feel nervous.”
As for Pavic, he had a similar comment afterward. “With the no-ad and the match tiebreak,” he said, “it always comes up to the important points that you play and today they played them better obviously.”
Scott Davidoff, Dabrowski’s regular tour coach, had interesting insight into what happened on Pavic’s fateful double fault. “In the previous games when he held serve,” said Davidoff, an American, “Mate used a little more spin and was a little more relaxed. On the 8-all point it was definitely a hard first serve. He tried to over-power it and missed it. Then it’s a pressure situation. It was a kind of a change of tactics from previous points when he’d been serving.”
As for the ultimate point after the double fault, Davidoff said, “Gaby gave it her best (returning serve). She knew where it was going but Ivan just over-powered it – a good first serve.”
The very beginning of the match started poorly for Dabrowski and Pavic when the 24-year-old Croat lost his serve, with the last point being a clever winning lob by Chan, who probably deserved to be the first star of the match. That service loss had a ripple effect has Chan and Dodig sprinted to a 4-0 lead and soon wrapped up the set in 28 minutes.
It looked to be all over when Chan and Dodig broke Dabrowski to lead 5-3 in the second set. But just when things looked bleakest, Dabrowski and Pavic broke Dodig as the obviously nervous Croat got tight – double-faulting on the final point.
Pavic then held to 5-all and the set went to a tiebreak. Again Chan and Dodig looked home-free ahead 5-1 but once more strange things were happening. Dabrowski and Pavic ran off six points in a row to take the tiebreak 7-5.
In the decisive match tiebreak, Dabrowski and Pavic led 3-2 but from then on were always behind until Pavic played a brilliant but risky drop shot to end a rally with Chan to make it 8-all. Sadly for Dabrowski and Pavic…the rest is history.
As for Chan and Dodig, it was the first ever mixed title for either – and only the second Grand Slam doubles title for either. Chan won the US Open last September with Martina Hingis.
Both teams fell victim to the pressure of the occasion, making for some awkward tennis at times but also for some compelling drama. Dodig spoke about things from winning team’s perspective afterward. “I think we were the much better team, like in the first and second,” said the 33-year-old, No. 18-ranked doubles player, “like in the first and second sets we were leading all the time. We had control. Then suddenly you’re in situation where you’re fighting for every point. The match tiebreak is sometimes one or two balls that can decide the winner. It was not easy. Actually in the end was very stressful. Even though we said we had fun, but you could see in the end was stressful. We both wanted to win.”
The winning team shared the equivalent of $180,000 Canadian while Dabrowski and Pavic received half of that – $90,000.
Going forward, Dabrowski, after returning to Tampa, Florida for a week, will play the doubles with Chan, the current WTA world No. 1, at the Premier event in Birmingham, England, in two weeks.
Dabrowski’s regular partner, Xu Yifan of China, is obligated by Chinese tennis officials to play competitions in her homeland in the next few weeks.
That created the opportunity to play with Chan. “Her and Martina (Hingis) did so well last year (winning nine titles),” Dabrowski said about Chan. “So for her to want to play with me – I feel really honoured for her to ask.”
At Eastbourne and Wimbledon, the No. 11-ranked Dabrowski will re-unit with Xu.
Leylah Annie Fernandez continued her surprising run in the French Open junior girls event on Thursday – reaching the semi-finals with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over unseeded Joanna Garland of Chinese Taipei.
It was a pretty straight-forward contest after the 15-year-old Montrealer took a 3-0 lead in the opening set.
Garland has had ongoing problems with foot blisters all tournament long and received treatment in the first set. But Fernandez kept her mind on the matter at hand and was ruthless in pursuing her fourth straight victory.
“I was nervous at the beginning but I knew that opponent was also nervous so I just had to manage it well and be better than her today,” No. 15-seeded Fernandez said about her one hour and 30-minute win over the 16-year-old Garland.
“I expected it would be a tough match and I knew she was going to attack a lot and hit very hard – my coach told that she had a lot of power and that I just had to be ready and stick in every point.”
“It was a very mental match,” said Fernandez’s coach Francisco Sanchez of Montreal (above middle with Tennis Canada’s Louis Borfiga on left and Eugene Lapierre on right). “It wasn’t easy for her. But she really stayed in there mentally and I’m very pleased.
“We’ve been in Europe for two weeks – started out in Charleroi (Belgium) and it went really badly (Fernandez lost in the third round to unheralded Diana Khodan of Ukraine). She just wasn’t feeling good. Then we got here and she started to get into the tournament – it was the first time she played a Grand Slam. She started to be much more serious and attentive – she’s been getting better with every round.”
The win Thursday sets up a fascinating match with American prodigy Cori Gauff in the semi-finals on Friday (third match on Court 11 after an 11 a.m. start – 5 a.m. ET in Canada). The No. 16 seed, Gauff, just 14, was runner-up in the US Open junior event last September at 13. She’s already 5-foot-10 and highly-hyped in tennis circles.
“It will be a very good match,” Sanchez said somewhat philosophically. “If Leylah is having a good day, it will go well – if she does what she knows how to do it will go well. If not it won’t go well.”
When asked about Gauff, the 5-foot-5 Fernandez said, “I know that she’s a very tough player – strong mentally. She’s younger, she doesn’t have a lot of pressure. It will be a good match and hopefully I can play well like today.”
It’s rare that Fernandez, who turns 16 in September, gets to play an opponent like Gauff, who turned 14 in March. “I do practice with my younger sister,” Fernandez said, “she hits really well and that will prepare me for tomorrow.”
Fernandez added about 14-year-old her sister (Bianca Jolie), sounding a lot like she was describing herself, “she’s very good. She attacks a lot, hits the ball early and she prepares me for these kinds of tournaments.”
Neither Fernandez nor Gauff have lost a set so far in the girls singles event.
“I played her once,” Fernandez said about Gauff, “it was like five years ago. It was the Orange Bowl under-12s and I played her in the quarter-finals. It was a very tough match –three sets – and I lost 6-3, or 6-4 in the third set. Hopefully tomorrow it will be better.”
Being in the situation of being the older player doesn’t seem to faze Fernandez. “There’s no pressure,” she said. “I know there’s pressure for everyone, we all want to do well. But tomorrow I’ve just got to play free like I’ve been doing the other days and play my game.”
The Les Deux Magots is a legendary café in Paris, fancying itself a “CAFE Littéraire” as can be seen on the right.
Nearly a century ago famous writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway and James Baldwin frequented its tables but nowadays it’s more likely to be plumber Jean-Paul from Joliette (Québec), insurance agent Ernest from Eugene (Oregon) or hairstylist James from Jacksonville (Florida).