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Home   News   Tebbutt: RG is the place to be

Tebbutt: RG is the place to be

Jun 09, 2017
written by: Tom Tebbutt

The picture here shows how crowded things get at Roland Garros in the passageway behind the main Court Philippe Chatrier stadium. (Note the Canadian and American flags flying in the distance at the back of Court One.)

Until Friday, 362,161 spectators had attended the 2017 French Open and that will increase following the double-dip of two sessions for the men’s semifinals.

In the first of those, Stan Wawrinka peaked in spectacular fashion with a late-match flurry of ruthless hitting to essentially blow away Andy Murray.

The final score was 6-7(6), 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(3), 6-1. “He played too well at the end,” was Murray’s short but sweet wrap-up of the result.

Wawrinka’s explosive hitting was unanswerable even for a tireless retriever like Murray and it will have to be at least as good Sunday when he plays Rafael Nadal in the final. Nadal, who manhandled Dominic Thiem on Friday 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 will be playing his 10th Roland Garros final and he has yet to lose one. The so-called ‘La Decima’ of 10 titles at Stade Roland Garros is definitely still on the cards.

Nadal, 31, has a 15-3 record against Wawrinka and the only hopeful sign for the 32-year-old Swiss is that they are 3-3 in their last six encounters.

On the women’s side, with the outcome of Saturday’s final between No. 3 seed Simona Halep and the unseeded and No. 47-ranked Jelena Ostapenko there’s the possibility of bringing a semblance of order to the women’s hierarchy at the moment. No. 1-ranked Angelique Kerber has been playing anything but like the best woman in the world since the beginning of 2017 – in fact she’s No. 13 in the Race to Singapore based on results since the start of the year.

If Halep can beat Ostapenko, she would become No. 1 and make the case she’s the legitimate No. 1 after winning Roland Garros, being in the final of Rome and winning Madrid – the last three big events on the women’s tour.

The vacuum at the top has been caused by a pregnant Serena Williams being gone for the year and Kerber losing complete touch with the form that allowed her to be in three Grand Slam finals last year – winning the Australian Open and US Opens and losing the Wimbledon final to Williams.

Not right physically, the 25-year-old Halep (above pre-tournament at Roland Garros with Svetlana Kuznetsova) began the year 3-4 but since the Miami Open in March she’s 21-2. Surprisingly she’s apparently still feeling the right ankle injury she suffered while losing the Rome final to Elina Svitolina three weeks ago. “I don’t know how it stays okay there,” she said about the joint during a pre-final media conference on Friday. “I feel during the match the pain, but I don’t care. I’m not thinking about that.”

Having been in the Roland Garros final in 2014 – a 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-4 loss to Maria Sharapova – Halep has more experience than Ostapenko, whose best Grand Slam finish before this year’s Roland Garros was a third round at the Australian Open in January where she lost 4-6, 6-0, 10-8 to fifth-seeded Karolina Pliskova.

At 5-foot-10, the Latvian has the long levers and easy hitting power to outhit the 5-foot-6 Halep. But to have a chance she will have to do it consistently and relentlessly somewhat like Wawrinka was able to do against Murray in the men’s semifinal on Friday.

Halep in her 28th Grand Slam singles draw, and Ostapenko in her eighth, are playing for the first time in what should be a compelling match-up that may help make more sense of the top rungs of the WTA rankings, or break things wide open if a fresh face like the Latvian pulls off the upset.

DABROWSKI HAS DOUBLES BREAKTHROUGH

Credit: Dabrowski Twitter

It didn’t come easily, especially after having to save two championship points trailing 9-7 in the decisive match tiebreak, but Gabriela Dabrowski and her Indian partner Rohan Bopanna combined to win the 2017 French Open mixed doubles title on Thursday with a 2-6, 6-2, [12-10] victory over Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany and Robert Farah of Colombia.

A quick summary of the match would be that Dabrowski and Bopanna struggled in the opening set and their opponents took advantage, with the reverse occurring in the second set. That meant the outcome would be decided by a match tiebreak, which turned out to have a life all of its own.

Dabrowski and Bopanna took a 3-0 lead only to have Groenefeld and Farah catch up to 3-all. Then Dabrowski and Bopanna went ahead 5-3 but soon were caught again at 5-5 before retaking the lead 6-5 when Farah, volleying, had the ball ricochet off his racquet into his eye area. He took a break to have the eye examined and drops put in before returning to win three points in a row as Dabrowski and Bopanna looked flat after an interruption that lasted about four minutes. Leading 8-6, the teams exchanged points and then it was 9-7, double championship point for the German/Colombian pair.

Dabrowski and Bopanna were teetering on the brink of defeat. Farah went for broke on the first championship point, crunching a backhand down-the-line that landed just inches wide. On the second, he served to Dabrowski and she whaled the shot of the match – a blistering backhand service return that Farrah couldn’t handle to make it 9-9.

Dabrowski and Bopanna then had a championship point themselves leading 10-9 but Groenefeld slipped a forehand volley winner between them. However, that was the last of heroics from the 32-year-old German. She missed a forehand service return into the net to give Dabrowski and Boponna a second championship point at 11-10 and then gifted them the title with a feeble double-fault into the net.

Dabrowski and Bopanna immediately shared a heartfelt hug as they celebrated.

Photo by: Peter Figura

It was a first Grand Slam victory for the 37-year-old Indian, who reached the US Open men’s doubles final with Aisam Ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan in 2010.

It was also a first Grand Slam victory for the 25-year-old Dabrowski, who became the first Canadian woman to win a Grand Slam title. For those who may not remember – the first Canadian male to do the same was Montreal’s Sébastien Lareau (with American Alex O’Brien) at the 1999 US Open in the doubles.

“It’s something that you always dream about as a kid,” Dabrowski said about the win during her post-match media conference. “It’s kind of funny, because you never know where the journey is going to take you – singles, doubles, now mixed doubles. I couldn’t be more happy. It feels amazing.”

Talking about how she and Bopanna originally hooked up for mixed doubles, she said, “it was the (2016) US Open. I put my name on the looking list and Rohan texted me. I think it was the morning of the sign-in. Luckily for where my ranking was at the time, and him being No. 17, of course I said yes immediately. We had a good run there (quarter-finals). Then we played in Australia.”

Bopanna spoke about their two previous events together, noting, “we lost a close match to Farah and Groenefeld at the US Open, had match points in the quarters (to second seeds Sania Mirza of India and Croat Ivan Dodig) in Australia and lost. Today were match points down and came through. That’s how it is.”

Besides their status as Grand Slam champions and receiving the Coupe Marcel Bernard (named after the 1946 men’s singles winner), Dabrowski and Bopanna received 140,000 euros as a team – and that translates to a share of over $106,000 in Canadian dollars for Dabrowski .

Putting the French Open mixed and her Miami Open (with Xu Yifan of China) titles together – Dabrowski has earned over $221,000 (US) from those two events alone in a little over two months.

ANDREESCU OUT IN QUARTERS

After reaching the semifinals of her two previous junior Grand Slam singles events at the US and Australian Opens, 16-year-old Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., had high hopes for the 2017 French Open.

But, seeded third, she was beaten 6-3, 6-3 in the Roland Garros quarter-finals by sixth-seeded Claire Liu of the U.S. on Wednesday.

It’s been a topsy-turvy event with top seeded Anastasia Potapova of Russia ousted in the third round and second seed Amanda Anisimova of the U.S. beaten in the quarter-finals.

Liu has been the revelation of the event, going on after beating Andreescu to defeat Russian Marta Paigina, who upset Potapova, by the score of 6-2, 6-0 in the semifinals.

In the final she will face fellow American Whitney Osuigwe who beat Elena Rybakina, who had ousted Anisimova, by the score of 6-4, 6-4 in the semifinals.

So it’s an all-American final on the red clay with Lui, from Thousand Oaks, Calif., taking on Osuigwe, just 15, from Bradenton, Fla.

Andreescu, who turns 17 in a week, is still in the doubles and on Friday she and partner Carson Branstine of Montreal reached the final with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Maria Lourdes Carle of Argentina and Francesca Jones of Britain.

As the top seeds, Andreescu and Branstine, 16, will face second-seeded Russians Olesya Pervushina and Potapova in the final in a bid to be halfway to winning a calendar Grand Slam of the junior girls doubles titles in 2017.

 RAONIC SPLITS WITH KRAJICEK

Milos Raonic is on the lookout for a new (consulting) coach to add to his support group that includes long-time coach Riccardo Piatti of Italy.

He announced Thursday that he and Krajicek, the 1996 Wimbledon champion, will no longer be working together after only having one actual tournament experience together – at the Australian Open in January.

Here’s the Raonic statement on Twitter: “My coach, Richard Krajicek, and I have decided to part ways. This decision has been a mutual one. I would like to thank Richard for his help with my game, his dedication and his professionalism. I wish him all the best.”

PARIS POST CARD

Beside the door on this pre-Columbian (before Christopher Columbus) dwelling in the old Le Marais part of Paris is a plaque that reads “thanks for not allowing animals to do their business in front of this house.” The actual street is short and narrow but some types might be tempted to allow their pets to ‘deposit’ just to spite whoever went to all the trouble of putting up the sign.

NOTE: For diehard Roger Federer fans, the great Swiss returns to action next week at the ATP 250 event on grass in Stuttgart. The draw will be done at 4 p.m. in Stuttgart on Saturday – which would be 10 a.m. ET in Canada.