TEBBUTT: DOUBLE DISAPPOINTMENT
There would have been sizeable celebrations if Aleksandra Wozniak and Sharon Fichman had been able to upset their seeded opponents on Tuesday in first round action at the French Open. Both came close, but it was not to be.
Wozniak was defeated 6-7(3), 7-5, 6-2 by No. 26 seed Sorana Cirstea after holding a match point and Fichman had a point to lead 4-3 in the final set against No. 6 seed Jelena Jankovic before finally being beaten 5-7, 6-1, 6-3 in a match resumed from Monday.
The Wozniak loss was particularly rough for the 26-year-old from Blainville, Que. She was the better player for most of the first two sets and hit a spectacular backhand cross-court winner to set up match point at 4-5, 30-40 with Cirstea serving in the second set.
The logical outcome on the day, up to that point, would have been a Wozniak victory. And that vital match point even came down to a second serve.
“She served a second serve high kicker,” Wozniak would explain later. “I didn’t expect it. It surprised me.”
Cirstea had not won a match in her three clay-court tournaments in 2014, and probably was not in the most positive of spirits. She had hit three double faults in the first-set tiebreak – including two in a row with Wozniak ahead 4-3. But fate would have it that she made a fine second serve in the ultimate moment of crisis, and Wozniak could only get enough racquet on it to hit a backhand return into the net.
The match was played on Court 8 on a day when the weather was a long way from being pleasant – about 10 degrees at its chilliest. The picture above is of Mauricio Paiz, a photographer who frequently contributes to this blog, with his hood in place as protection against the cold wind.
“It’s been a long time since I was in a situation like that on my comeback (from a shoulder ailment),” Wozniak said about failing to convert the match point. “To be within a hair of winning and then not to – for sure that hurts.”
It hurt so much that she couldn’t really put it behind her – especially in the final set. She later spoke about the much less competitive third set, noting, “I think it was nerves a little bit. I let myself be distracted by that match point. Usually I’m good at putting things like that behind me. But I let it distract me. It was in the back of my mind.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve had a match point and not won the match.”
Wozniak, ranked No. 149 after being as high as No. 21 in 2009, maintained an impressive level over the first two sets. She matched Cirstea, runner-up at Rogers Cup in Toronto last summer, low-trajectory stroke for low-trajectory stroke. Her immaculate two-handed backhand was particularly reliable and deadly.
“Both of us hit pretty solid from the back of the court,” Wozniak said. “It shows that I’m close to that level and I can compete with those girls again since my (shoulder) injury.”
The 24-year-old Cirstea has the same career-high No. 21 ranking as Wozniak, attained in August last year right after Rogers Cup.
Wozniak will now try to put the discouraging loss behind her as she moves on to England for the grass court season.
She has made significant progress working with 1998 Wimbledon finalist Nathalie Tauziat, who was formerly with Eugenie Bouchard. Though devastated by the outcome of the match, Wozniak, who qualified for Roland Garros, should be encouraged by her progress from a ranking of No. 280 at the start of the year. She has also scored wins over two Top 25 players ranked higher than Cirstea – beating Sabine Lisicki and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in Indian Wells in March.
Fichman’s loss was equally tough. She even described it as gut-wrenching. It was a roller coaster affair because the match began about 8 p.m. on Monday evening before being postponed by darkness with her leading by a set but with Jankovic 5-1 ahead in the second.
Jankovic quickly finished off the second set upon resumption on Tuesday and was soon in front 3-1 in the third. It looked like Fichman might be overwhelmed but she rallied to 3-all with Jankovic suddenly looking vulnerable – making unforced errors and being completely fooled by a series of deft Fichman drop shots.
On break point for a 4-3 lead, Fichman, faithful to her strategy of really going for her shots, hit out on a forehand service return but the Jankovic serve was just too good.
Here is Fichman’s analysis of what happened in the fateful final three games of an extremely competitive match. “The biggest difference was that she made her shots, and made good shots at the right moments from 3-all onward. I think that I had the right intentions – had the objective of taking my destiny into my own hands. I was trying to go for my shots and take control of the points. I think overall I did a good job of stepping in and taking the ball early and changing directions. I just felt that there were a handful of points that I had the upper hand – to put it away or finish it off. I missed or she came up with something because I didn’t go for it as much. It came down to a few points just like every close match does, and that’s why she’s a top player. She doesn’t win every match 0, 0 and 0. She stays solid and runs everything down. That’s what she did today. Next time I have to be ready and just go for the lines and make more shots.”
Fichman, who was once basically a relentless retriever with an aversion to going for aggressive shots, has done an admirable job of transforming to a much more aggressive competitor. She now consistently steps in and hits big to try to take control in a way she would never have done in the past.
The result has been a climb up the rankings from No. 106 at the start of 2014 to her current No. 77.
“I think it’s great to see that the hard work, and dedication and commitment to the plan that my coach (Larry Jurovich of Vancouver) and I have had for me for almost two years ago…how it’s taken off,” she said. “It’s nice to look back and say ‘we’re going in the right direction, things are good.’ It’s nice to play at a high level week in and week out. It’s very tough, it’s very demanding but that’s what I want – I’m just going to keep looking forward.”
Both Fichman and Jankovic struggled with a match in two acts over two days. Jankovic said that the long wait to play on Monday and the cold weather made it difficult to really find her rhythm. As for Fichman, she has poor vision at night and said she had difficulty with the fading light before the match was finally called on Monday evening after 9 p.m.
Jankovic later conceded that if Fichman won that point to lead 4-3 in the final set, the momentum would have been changing and it “wouldn’t be a good situation.”
The 29-year-old Serb had praise for the 23-year-old Fichman, calling her “a very solid player.” She also conceded that Fichman’s drop shots were special. “She did some really good drop shots,” Jankovic said. “You know I’m quite fast. I was not able to get them, so they were pretty good.”
Fichman is not finished at the 2014 French Open. She is entered in the women’s doubles event partnering Pavlyuchenkova. They tried to hook up for Indian Wells in March, but when that failed they agreed to play together at Roland Garros.
It is a reunion of sorts – they won the junior doubles titles together at the 2006 Australian and French Opens.
POSPISIL OUT IN DOUBLES
Vasek Pospisil, following a singles loss on Monday to Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia, was eliminated from the men’s doubles on Tuesday. He and partner Rajeev Ram of the U.S. were beaten 6-1, 4-6, 7-6(2) by Aussie-Brit pair John Peers and Jamie Murray.
Yours truly went out to watch the match after 6 p.m. on Court 14 – on the far side of Court Suzanne Lenglen at the very back of the grounds – and found that there was still a large line-up (see on left above) to get in the one entrance to the court. This picture helps show how crowds at Roland Garros are getting less and less manageable.
The good news in the loss was that Pospisil looked full of energy and wasn’t afraid to fling his body into the far reaches of the court trying to get to shots.
It did not appear that he was bothered in any way by his back woes.
An oddity of the match was that whenever the French umpire pronounced “Murray-Peers,” it sounded strangely like “Mary Pierce.”
A HEART-BREAKER FOR CAROLINE
The tennis world has rallied around Caroline Wozniacki after the news last week of her break-up with golfer Rory McIlroy after the invitations had been sent out for their planned November wedding.
Personally, I happened to walk by a wan-looking Wozniacki last week in a tunnel and heard a WTA official saying to her, “I can’t find the words to…” – obviously referring to the hard times for her at the moment.
On Tuesday, she lost her opening match at Roland Garros 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-2 to Yanina Wickmayer. There was a lot of interest in her post-match media conference. Here is how it began:
CAROLINE WOZNIACKI: Well, first of all, I just want to say that I’m happy to talk about the match today. I don’t really want to talk about my personal life. I hope that you all can understand that.
The only thing I really have to say is that, you know, thank everybody for their support and sweet messages. That’s really nice.
You know, what happens in my personal life, I just want to really keep that between my closest people around me. You know, I just have to move on.
So I’m happy to talk about the match if anyone has any questions.
Q. Can I ask how difficult was it to prepare for the match? How do you think you actually coped in the circumstances today?
CAROLINE WOZNIACKI: Obviously it’s always…you know, you’re not prepared for something like this, and it came a bit as a shock.
You know, I just tried to prepare the best that I could, and really tried to focus on my match and on what I had to do out there.
But, you know it doesn’t make it easier that I haven’t been able to play really that many matches because I have been injured (knee).
I felt a little bit rusty out there, and, you know, it wasn’t really a pretty match. But I tried.
PARIS POST CARD
Grigor Dimitrov was beaten 6-4, 7-5, 7-6(4) by serving maestro Ivo Karlovic in the first round on Tuesday.
Afterward, Dimitrov, the No. 11 seed, referred to not having the “best past couple of days.”
The most he clarified that vague utterance was the following, “it’s just gonna sound like an excuse, so I’d rather not talk about it. It’s just, you know, things that I had to go through…very simple.”
With Dimitrov out of the tournament, this is probably the last chance to use this picture of him practicing at Roland Garros last week wearing a rather cheeky T-shirt.