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Tebbutt: Mixing it up in Paris

Jun 06, 2018
written by: Tom Tebbutt
written by: Tom Tebbutt

The 2018 French Open mixed doubles final is set – Gabriela Dabrowski and her Croatian partner Mate Pavic will play Latisha Chan of Taiwan and Ivan Dodig of Croatia after the No. 2-seeded pair defeated Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany and Robert Farrah of Colombia 4-6, 7-5, [10-8] on Wednesday.

So it will be the top-seeded Dabrowski and Pavic facing the No. 2 seeds on Court Suzanne Lenglen on Thursday after the Juan Martin del Potro – Marin Cilic match resumes at noon (6 a.m. ET in Canada) with the score knotted at 6-all and five points apiece in the first-set tiebreak.

A year ago Dabrowski and Rohan Bopanna of India defeated Groenefeld and Farrah in the Roland Garros final 2-6, 6-2, [12-10] and the 2018 final could be just as close.

Chan rose to No. 1 in the WTA doubles rankings playing with the now-retired, and incomparable doubles wonder, Martina Hingis and is a solid competitor.

Dodig is a gritty battler who some Canadians may recall as the guy who upset Rafael Nadal in a 1-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(5) thriller at the 2011 Rogers Cup in Montreal.

He’s probably tougher mentally than Farah who can be temperamental and on Wednesday began berating himself early in the second set despite him and Groenefeld having a one-set lead.

The 28-year-old Chan, who won nine titles, including the US Open with Hingis in 2017, is enjoying having the 33-year-old Dodig as a partner. “This is our first time playing together and he’s a very solid player and aggressive,” she said. “And he also makes me smile during the matches. That’s a very important point to have fun. Once you feel relaxed you can play your best tennis.

“He has a big serve and that helps when it comes to big points. I just do whatever I can to help him. He can do whatever he wants to do and I’ll cover him from the back.”

As for her history with Dabrowski, who currently ranks No. 11 in the WTA doubles rankings, Chan said, “I’ve played against Gaby a few times, but in women’s doubles. I always think that mixed doubles is a little different. The way we play can be a little different. They won this year in Melbourne so obviously they’re a very strong team.”

With Chan being the No. 1 in women’s doubles, she will be across the net from the men’s top-ranking doubles player in Pavic. Since last September, Pavic has been coached by John Farrington, a former player from the Bahamas. Speaking on Wednesday, Farrington said the key to Pavic’s success in doubles was a decision 18 months ago to forego singles and just concentrate on doubles. It has been a remarkable rise for the 24-year-old to the No. 1 spot and Farrington attributes his success to “hard work.” It also helps that he’s 6-foot-4 and possesses all the ingredients needed for doubles, a terrific serve, good volleys and sound (service) returns.

Pavic has a residence in the Bahamas, as does his compatriot Dodig, so they are obviously familiar with each other. Pavic’s main partners have been Michael Venus of New Zealand in 2016 and Oliver Marach of Austria beginning in 2017. But he did play with Dodig twice last year – they won in Hamburg in July and later that month reached the quarter-finals in Washington.

Chan has won only a single Grand Slam title, the 2017 US Open with Hingis, and has only been to one Grand Slam mixed doubles final – 2011 Australian Open as well as to five other semi-finals. Dodig has just two significant Grand Slam mixed doubles results – reaching the final of French Open in 2016 and the Australian Open in 2017.

So Dabrowski and Pavic have them beat because both have a pair of mixed doubles titles – Pavic with Laura Siegemund of Germany at the 2016 US Open and with Dabrowski in Australia in January. While Dabrowski also won the French Open a year ago with Bopanna.

On a nine-match mixed doubles Grand Slam winning streak going back to her first round at Melbourne Park in January, Dabrowski suggests she has another persona in the mixed event. ‘Sometimes a different Gaby comes out in the mixed,” she said earlier this week. “I feel like the mixed is very like systematic because with the guys playing you kind of know what’s going to happen. They’ll hit at you – well towards you – at the net because that’s the right thing to do. So I feel like I’m on high alert, I’m really ready. I know I have to serve really well or I’m going to be on my back feet all the time. I try to read the guy’s serve as best I can so we can maybe scrap a few points here and there to give us a little bit of momentum. It’s just a different vibe and obviously my partner is playing amazing too, so that helps kind of relax everything.”

Pavic is the wild card in Thursday’s final. He’s playing superbly – as well as anyone in their 20s has played doubles in at least a decade. If he brings his best game, and Dabrowski remains as solid as she has been, it could be 10 wins in a row for them as a team and the titles at the first two Grand Slam mixed events of the 2018 year.

Fernandez a hit in Paris

Quickly becoming the revelation of the 2018 French Open junior girls event, 15-year-old Leylah Annie Fernandez from Montreal reached the quarter-finals on Wednesday with a 6-4, 6-4 victory in 78 minutes over third-seeded Maria Camila Osorio Serrano of Colombia.

She was clearly the superior player from the start against her 16-year-old opponent and by the end Osorio Serrano was close to tears – and tears did flow as she approached Fernandez for the post-match handshake.

“She lost so I understand that she wasn’t very happy,” Fernandez said. “It was a tough match and her family is here from Colombia.”

An enthused Louis Borfiga, vice-president for elite athlete development at Tennis Canada, said about Fernandez, “I think she played an almost perfect match. It was a huge improvement from her first two matches. She really went after it and showed some great stuff.

“She dominated and wasn’t affected by the occasion. She was really attacking.”

When the subject of Fernandez’s willpower was brought up, Borfiga paused and declared, “her willpower is her greatest shot.”

When Fernandez herself was asked if she could have played any better, she quickly replied, “yes, I can always play better. I played well. I attacked and imposed my game. I’m pleased about that.”

Fernandez, who has lived in Vaudreuil/Dorion just outside Montreal and in the Town of Mount Royal, now resides in Laval just north of the city.

Her family roots on her mother’s side are from the Philippines via Toronto and her father is from Ecuador. She speaks, English, Spanish and French.

In Thursday’s quarter-finals, she will face unseeded Joanna Garland of Chinese Taipei – a 6-0, 4-6, 6-4 winner in two hours and two minutes on Wednesday over No. 11 seed Zheng Qinwen of China.

Neither Fernandez, nor several other people questioned about Garland, seemed to know much about her. She’s 16 (turning 17 next month), lists her favourite surface as clay and was born in Stevenage in the UK. Her current combined (singles and doubles) ITF ranking is No. 23, while Fernandez is No. 19.

The Fernandez – Garland match is third on Court 18 after two veterans doubles matches that begin at 11 a.m. (5 a.m. ET in Canada).

Paris post card

The photographer here was taking a picture of the building at the end of the street with a French flag flying on top of it. Then suddenly a woman on a bicycle appeared riding away with friends watching her intently from the sidewalk.