It’s always amazing at two-week Grand Slam tournaments how quickly the number of players dwindles. Even last Friday the order of play was looking a little thin for singles at Roland Garros with 96 of the original 128 players already eliminated in both the women’s and men’s events.
This being Tuesday, and the 10th day of the tournament because of the Sunday start on May 26th, there will only be six players left in both the women’s and men’s singles by day’s end.
And there will now hardly be a feverish pace for Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer because they have two days off before playing their semi-final on Friday. In total they will play a maximum of two matches over the last five days.
A women’s Saturday final means one fewer day and back-to-back quarter-finals and semi-finals on Wednesday and Thursday for two of the following four quarter-finalists – Amanda Anisimova (above), Madison Keys, Ashleigh Barty and Simona Halep, all in the top half.
The show must go on so the winners among those four have to play on consecutive days. It can become tricky if for some reason matches get postponed or extended to a second day.
Something like that happened for the men at the 2015 French Open when the Novak Djokovic – Andy Murray semi-final from Friday had to be completed with one and a half sets played on Saturday. There’s no question that Djokovic, who had beaten Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals, was diminished playing the final on Sunday without a day’s rest and lost 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 to Stan Wawrinka.
That was an unfair situation that could happen again this year. But it will not be possible next year and going forward because there will be a retractable roof on Court Philippe Chatrier and lighting to enable late-tournament matches to be completed as scheduled.
Looking at this year’s women’s singles, there have been a lot of top players eliminated and, heading into the final four days, the only top-10 seeds remaining are No. 3 Halep and No. 8 Barty. The most likely final now would be Halep vs. No. 26 Johanna Konta (above), who was impressive in a 6-1, 6-4 romp over No. 7 Sloane Stephens on Tuesday.
Unlike the women, the men’s event has gone remarkably according to form. Seven of the top-10 seeds reached the final eight – with the only exception being No. 24 Wawrinka, a former champion who was beaten 7-6(4), 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-4 by Federer on Tuesday.
Picking winners is a fool’s game, especially if it’s remembered that the Roland Garros champion two years ago – Jelena Ostapenko – is now ranked No. 39. After winning seven matches in her run to the title in 2017, the Latvian, almost 22 years old (June 8), is now 0-2 after losing in the first round the past two years. The only players left with Grand Slam final experience are defending champion Halep (four times) and Madison Keys (once – 2017 US Open runner-up).
Among the men, on paper it’s definitely pointing toward a (1) Novak Djokovic vs. (2) Rafael Nadal final, which would follow Friday’s Nadal – Federer semi-final. The latter could be a fascinating match-up considering Federer has won their last five encounters, with all of them being on hard courts – and with Nadal’s last win coming more than a full five years ago in the Australian Open semi-finals.
Federer fans will be hoping their man can win or at least keep it close on the red clay against the 11-time champion – as in their last Roland Garros meeting in the 2011 final when Nadal won 7-5, 7-6(3), 5-7, 6-1. The one result they recall with nightmarish dread was clay-monster Nadal’s ruthless demolition of Federer – 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 – in the 2008 final.
It appears unlikely an outsider – with due respect to players such as Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Karen Khachanov – is going to interrupt the dominance of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer who have won the past nine Grand Slam singles titles. They have a grand total of 52 Grand Slam wins between them at the previous 63 Grand Slam events. It certainly looks like one of them will make it 53 out of 64.
Most tennis event programmes lack really creative and varied content.
This year’s French Open programme is an exception – it’s full of gems of information about current and past players. Here are some names and the interesting facts that are revealed in the articles written about them in “ROLAND – magazine avec les pieds sur terre” (magazine with its feet on the ‘ground’ – the double entendre there being ‘terre’ as in the ‘terre battue’ surface:
MICHAEL CHANG (USA): It’s the 30th anniversary of Michael Chang’s 1989 victory at Roland Garros at 17 years old and three months. He remains the youngest-ever Grand Slam singles winner. Chang tells of how – in his famous round-of-16 match against Ivan Lendl when he hit an underhand serve – he was cramping and had decided to retire trailing 2-1 in the fifth set. “I started to walk toward the umpire to say I was quitting. Then I had a change of heart. It was as if a voice said to me: ‘c’mon Michael, what are you doing?'”
DOMINIC THIEM (Austria): On being friends with other players on tour: “It’s tough because the first thing you want to do is beat them on court. We’re opponents. But sometimes it works out. For example I’m very close to Diego Schwartzman – we often go to dinner together, and we play Playstation.”
SERENA WILLIAMS (USA): In 1998 Williams, wearing multi-coloured dreadlocks, made her Roland Garros debut at 16 years old. She won two rounds easily against Corina Morariu and Dominique Monami before losing 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 to fourth seed and three-time champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. Several years later she told Sports Illustrated: “I would have won Roland Garros if I’d beaten Sanchez that day. I’m sure of that.”
ROGER FEDERER (Switzerland): Roland Garros tournament director Guy Forget, (ATP career best No. 4 ranking in 1991), about Roger Federer: “I believe that Roland Garros in 2009 was the greatest victory of his career – the one that he waited longest time for.”
BUDGE PATTY (USA): The American, now 95, won the French Championships and Wimbledon in 1950. But in 1958 at Roland Garros he led Frenchman Robert Haillet 5-0, 40-love in the final set and lost. “I didn’t know it was possible to lose a match like that one,” he once told Tennis de France magazine.
ANNA WINTOUR (Britain/USA): The famous editor of American Vogue magazine plays tennis at the Midtown Tennis Club in New York City early before the sun comes up almost every day. One time in August, 2018, Roger Federer surprised her and arrived with his family at her 40-hectare home on Long Island. The two, who have known each other since 2005, played a little mixed doubles. Wintour, who claims to have been watching tennis matches since she was four years old, is one of Federer’s biggest fans and has travelled the world to see him play.
DENIS SHAPOVALOV (Canada): In a piece entitled “Sous Le Shapo,” a word play on ‘sous le chapeau’ (‘under the hat’), Shapovalov talked about his final at the Gatineau Challenger in the summer of 2017 and being 3-all in the third set against compatriot Peter Polansky. “Then I knew I had to push myself, give it all I had right to the end. There’s the good life – the life of the top players (on tour) and great hotels. That’s the main reason I won.”
The article notes that Gatineau and the Granby Challenger the following week were the last two Challenger events he played before becoming a regular on the ATP tour.
DANIELLE COLLINS (USA): “I’ve studied a lot of art history. I’m fascinated by Salvador Dali and generally by the surrealists.
“My guilty pleasure is jewellery. I’ve always bought too many. A friend and I are going to launch a website with our line of jewellery. The next jewellery we’re going to bring out is inspired by Dali’s fascination with the eye. They’ll be creations that are a little disturbing.”
ROBERTO BAUTISTA AGUT (Spain): “I grew up in Castelleon de la Plana, a little town near Valencia. My parents worked with horses and I got a horse when I was 10 years old. I’ve had five more – so six in all. We have some racehorses that we’re raising for racing. We work on the aesthetics of the horses and genealogy is very important. My horses are almost in a five-star hotel – they’re very relaxed with no stress. Someday I’d like to have my own stable.”
ALEXANDRA KRUNIC (Serbia): The 26-year-old Serb is obsessed with commercial aviation. “I read a lot to know what’s going on in the cockpit. I’m connected all day to FlightRadar24, a website that has information in real time on all commercial airline flights. When I get on a plane I like to listen to the motors and I can spend a day near an airport watching take-offs and landings.
“Do you know the show TV Aircraft Investigation? – I’ve seen each episode 200 times. I feel right at home in a Fokker 100 and sometimes, if I don’t have an (Airbus) A380 for long distance flights, I might cancel my ticket.”
Gabriela Dabrowski and her Chinese partner Xu Yifan were upset in the quarter-finals of the women’s doubles on Tuesday – beaten 6-2, 5-7, 7-5 by Duan Yingying and Zheng Shuai of China. They were the fourth seeds.
In mixed doubles, Dabrowski and Mate Pavic, seeded No. 2, were winners. They defeated fifth-seeded Zhang Shuai of China and John Peers of Australia 1-6, 7-5, [10-8] to reach the semi-finals.
Leylah Annie Fernandez is the top seed in the junior girls draw. On Tuesday, the 16 year old from Montreal moved into the third round with a 6-0, 6-3 victory over Marta Custic of Spain. A semi-finalist a year ago in Paris and runner-up in the 2019 Australian Open junior girls event, Fernandez also won her opening doubles match alongside fellow-Quebecer Mélodie Collard. Seeded eighth, they defeated Bai Zhuoxuan of China and Annerly Poulos of Australia 6-3, 7-5.
In a third-round junior boys singles on Wednesday, Taha Baadi, 17, of Laval, Que., will play Keisuke Saitoh of Japan in a match-up of unseeded players.
Tuesday in junior boys doubles, the seventh-seeded pairing of Liam Draxl of Newmarket, Ont., and Govind Nanda of the U.S. were beaten 6-4, 1-6, [10-8] by the all-American duo of Martin Damm (Jr.) and Toby Alex Kodat.
(Feature Photo: Mauricio Paiz)