WTA Cincinnati: Ivanovic survives a Sharapova comeback to make the final
TENNIS WTA CINCINNATI – There was no doubt that this match was going to be a battle. However, no one expected a war for this win. Ivanovic took the early lead only to see Sharapova fight back hard to serve for the match in the third. However, Ivanovic would not be denied the victory as she finally seized the match 6-2 5-7 7-5. Cordell Hackshaw
Anytime Maria Sharapova (5) and Ana Ivanovic (9) play each other, the matchup always receive top billing as they are two of the tour’s top fan favourites. The rivalry has been somewhat one-sided with Sharapova leading 8-3 including a 7-match win streak. Their last two matches in recent months have been very competitive with Ivanovic finally snapping the Sharapova win streak to take the last match in straight sets. There was no doubt that this match was going to be a battle. However, no one expected a war for this win. Ivanovic raced out to an almost unsurmountable lead with a set and double breaks in hand, 6-2 4-0 in the second set, only to see Sharapova fight back hard to serve for the match in the third. However, Ivanovic would not be denied the victory as she finally seized the match 6-2 5-7 7-5 to face world’s number 1, Serena Williams in the final. “Just so, so thrilled and happy to stay composed and fight until the last moment,” Ivanovic said.
Ivanovic could not have asked for a better start to the match. She broke Sharapova for a 3-1 and consolidated to lead 4-1. She had another break point in the 6th game but Sharapova fought it off for 2-4. However, when Ivanovic got another break opportunity at 5-2, she converted to close out the set 6-2 in 40 minutes. “I was just trying to play my game. Trying to step up and be aggressive and don’t rush. Against Maria you really have to try and push her off the court. If you give her opportunity she’s going to dictate the points,” Ivanovic said after the match. Sharapova looked out of sorts but her fans were hardly concerned considering her track record. The Russian, particularly as of late, finds herself down a set and a break and then finds the will to win. These mighty comebacks were on full display at the recent French Open where she completed this feat three times in a row to get to the final where she won her 2nd French title. As a matter of fact, in her last match, she staged another comeback against Simona Halep (2) in a similar fashion.
True to form, in the 2nd set, Sharapova was soon down 0-2. Traditionally, it was at this point that Sharapova would make her charge to assert herself back into the match. However, she went down another break and saw Ivanovic serving for a 6-2 5-0 lead. Surely Sharapova could not pull off this Houdini-like escape. Sharapova would later explain her predicament, “I think it was a combination of flat, just not executing what I want to from the beginning of the match, making a few too many errors.” The chains were too tight as Ivanovic was in total control up to this point. The Serbian soon relinquished her strangle hold on the match when she got distracted by bad call from the umpire who allowed a 30-40 point to be replayed. Sharapova only needed that slight opening to break for 1-4. She held serve to lessen the lead to 2-4. Ivanovic was clearly rattled but she scraped through her next service game for a 5-2 lead. Sharapova held serve for 3-5 and forced Ivanovic to serve for the match. Ivanovic crumbled. She was now the erratic player on court as she could not put together several quality points in a row. Sharapova on the other hand was simply lethal off the ground. Her groundstrokes were firing on both wings and Ivanovic was left scrambling. That 5-2 lead quickly dissipated as Sharapova reeled off five consecutive games for the set 7-5.
Ivanovic had to regroup but history showed that Sharapova does not lose these types of matches. Once a player allows her back into the match, she quickly pounces and dismantles the opponent in the decisive set. The momentum was swinging all the Russian’s way. However, the momentum may have tempered as in the 3rd game of the set, a game apiece 15-15, Ivanovic inexplicably stopped play and laboured over to her chair in seemingly excruciating pain. It was later explained that her heart was beating at an alarming rate and she needed to a break. However, Ivanovic stated in the press conference that she was “nauseous.” The doctor was quickly ushered on court. Ivanovic took some medication and lied down on court for a bit. It all seemed bizarre but Sharapova was not bothered as she took an early break for 2-1. Ivanovic broke back for 2-2 but got broken again. Sharapova consolidated for 4-2. Ivanovic then came on strong aided by some untimely double faults from Sharapova to level the set again at 4-4. The Russian would not be denied as she broke to serve out the match at 5-4.
The momentum which had swung decisively in either player’s direction earlier in the match was now going back and forth between them at lightening pace. With the match squarely on her racquet, Sharapova buckled as she double faulted three times in the game giving Ivanovic the chance to break after saving two match points. It was now 5-5 in the set with Ivanovic serving just as she was in the 2nd set. Last time, Ivanovic was unable to hold her serve and nerves but this time around she withstood the Sharapova surge to gain the edge at 6-5. Now for the third time in the match, Sharapova was serving to stay alive. Ivanovic was not going to let a third chance for the match go by as she returned Sharapova’s serves with interest; deep and heavy to the baseline. Sharapova showed rare signs of nerves as she was unable to handle the pressure. Two match points were now against here. She saved one but on the other. Ivanovic unleashed a mighty backhand crosscourt that Sharapova could not get back into play. The 2 hours and 45 minutes battle was finally over with Ivanovic the winner 6-2 5-7 7-5.
The match statistics were not pretty. Sharapova served at 63% winning 60% of her 1st serve points and 37% behind her 2nd serve. She was broken eight times and had nine double faults with seven of them coming in the 3rd set alone. Sharapova had 29 winners to 45 errors. Ivanovic numbers were hardly any better. She got 61% of her 1st serves in to win 62% of those points and only 47% on her 2nd serve. She had six double faults. The Serbian had 28 winners to 51 errors. However, a match like this is cannot be summed up by the number but by the intangibles. Who held it together when it really counted? Sharapova later noted, “I created myself a good position after having a slow start. I was down and out in the match and I found a way to get myself in a winning position. Today it didn’t work out for me. That’s really the headline of the whole story.” Ivanovic herself noted that she thought that she was going to lose the match after the lead but then “try to think fresh and have positive affirmations.” Ivanovic will face Williams for their 8th meeting. Williams is 6-1 head-to-head. Neither player has won this title before so there will be a lot of build up for this match.
Roland Garros Daily Preview: Teen Sensations Meet in the Third Round
Third round singles action concludes on Saturday in Paris.
In what could be the first of many battles between two of tennis’ most promising young stars, 19-year-old Coco Gauff will face 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva. And the top two American men, Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe, take on considerable opposition in Francisco Cerundolo and Sascha Zverev, respectively.
Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s four most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule. Saturday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.
Mirra Andreeva (Q) vs. Coco Gauff (6) – Second on Court Suzanne-Lenglen
Gauff is 21-8 on the year despite changes to her coaching team and some continued issues with the mechanics of her game, primarily her forehand and serve. She was the runner-up here a year ago, losing 6-1, 6-3 in the final to Iga Swiatek. Coco dropped the first set in her opener, but has easily secured her four sets played since.
Andreeva is ranked 143rd in the world, but she started the year 312th. She is an excellent 22-2 at all levels, including qualifying. Mirra has taken all 10 sets she’s played since the beginning of qualifying last week. The tennis world first took notice of her earlier this clay court season in Madrid, when she upset Leylah Fernandez, Beatriz Haddad Maia, and Magda Linette to reach the fourth round.
On Saturday, I would not be shocked to witness Andreeva upset Gauff. Coco has not been playing her best tennis of late, going just 3-3 on clay ahead of this fortnight. And she has the pressure of defending finalist points on her young shoulders. But Gauff has a big game, and certainly has a huge edge in experience, both of which should be enough to propel her to victory.
Francisco Cerundolo (23) vs. Taylor Fritz (9) – Third on Court Suzanne-Lenglen
It will be quite interesting to see and hear how the French crowd treats Fritz on Saturday after provoking, trolling, and shushing the audience on Thursday evening. Taylor may live to regret that decision, as the French tennis fans have long memories, and love to involve themselves in matches. Fritz is now a strong 31-11 this season, and looking to advance to the second week of this tournament for the first time.
Cerundolo is 22-14 this year, and 15-9 on clay. All three of his career ATP finals have come on this surface, including just last week in Lyon.
So what will prevail on Saturday: Taylor’s serving prowess, or Francisco’s formidable forehand? In another first career meeting on the day, I give the American the slight edge. While the crowd will be against him, he is much more experienced at this stage of a Major. Prior to this year, Cerundolo was 0-4 in the main draw at Slams.
Bianca Andreescu vs. Lesia Tsurenko – Third on Court Simonne-Mathieu
Andreescu’s victory over Victoria Azarenka in the first round was quite a surprise. Bianca was just 9-9 on the year, and 0-2 on clay, a surface where she only owns 14 career victories. She has unfortunately suffered setback after setback since her amazing 2019 season, yet continues to try to fight her way back to the top of the sport.
Tsurenko, a Ukrainian, has been open regarding how hard it has been to play on tour for the last year-and-a-half. She even withdrew from Indian Wells in March, after having a panic attack which she blamed on unsettling comments from WTA CEO Steve Simon regarding Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. But Lesia is now a superb 27-8 this season at all levels, and eliminated 2021 champion Barbora Krejcikova in the first round.
Their only prior encounter occurred earlier this year on a hard court in Hua Hin, when Tsurenko was leading 7-5, 4-0 in the semifinals before Andreescu retired from the match. And on Saturday, I lean towards Lesia to prevail again based on both players’ form this season.
Sascha Zverev (22) vs. Frances Tiafoe (12) – Not Before 8:15pm on Court Philippe-Chatrier
Tiafoe is 23-8 in 2023, and while clay is not his strongest surface, he did win a 250-level title at the start of the clay season in Houston. Frances was just 1-7 lifetime at Roland Garros before this week, at the only Major where he’s yet to reach the second week.
Of course it was at this event a year ago when Zverev suffered that gruesome, upsetting ankle injury in the semifinals against Rafael Nadal, ending his 2022 season. He is yet to rediscover his top form this year, with a modest record of 18-14. But Sascha did claim his first two matches this week in straight sets.
Zverev has dominated their history, with a 6-1 edge. However, they haven’t played in over 18 months, and Tiafoe and Zverev are both different players than they were in 2021. Yet on this surface, Sascha should be favored to advance after an extended battle on Saturday night.
Other Notable Matches on Saturday:
Elena Rybakina (4) vs. Sara Sorribes Tormo – It’s hard to find two more polar opposite styles: the power of Rybakina, and the grinding defense of Sorribes Tormo. Neither player has dropped a set to this stage, and Sara took their only previous meeting, two years ago on a hard court in Miami.
Zhizhen Zhang vs. Casper Ruud (4) – Ruud has not repeated his great success from 2022 during 2023, with an 18-11 record to date. Zhizhen made his big breakthrough earlier this year in Madrid, where he won three consecutive third-set tiebreaks over Denis Shapovalov, Cam Norrie, and Taylor Fritz. He is the first Chinese man to win a match at the French Open in 86 years, as he and Wu Yibing continue to break new ground for Chinese tennis.
Ekaterina Alexandrova (23) vs. Beatriz Haddad Maia (14) – This is the farthest Haddad Maia has ever advanced at a Major. This is Alexandrova’s sixth time in the third round of a Slam, but she’s yet to go farther. They’ve played twice before in qualifying for events in 2017, with Beatriz winning both matches.
Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Xinyu Wang – Swiatek won her first two matches by the same score: 6-4, 6-0. And Iga is 4-0 in the third round of Roland Garros. Xinyu is also yet to lose a set, in her best performance at a Major to date.
Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.
Grand Slam Glory Is The Main Goal For America’s Coco Gauff
Coco Gauff has big aspirations and she isn’t afraid to speak openly about them.
Following her second round win over Julia Grabher at the French Open on Thursday, the 19-year-old played down the fixation on her current ranking which is No.6 in the world. Gauff admits that her position is something that doesn’t concern her in the sport unless she is sitting at the top of the world rankings.
“I’m not a ranking person at all. The goal is No.1, and I think that’s when I would care about the ranking,” she stated in her press conference.
“Anything in between two and 10, I mean, I’m going to be honest, it’s not that important to me.”
Gauff first broke into the world’s top 10 in September 2022 and has remained there ever since. At the time she was the youngest top 10 debutant on the WTA Tour since Nicole Vaidisova in 2006. She has been ranked as high as No.4 in the world.
“When I made the top 10, it was a cool accomplishment, but for me it was never about staying there. I only want to go upwards,” she said. “The biggest goal is to win Grand Slams, and I think the ranking will come with Grand Slams.”
It was 12 months ago at Roland Garros where Gauff achieved her best performance at a major by reaching the final before losing in straight sets to Iga Swiatek. The tournament is her best Grand Slam in terms of match wins (13) and is the only one where she has reached the quarter-finals or better on multiple occasions. Gauff also won the French Open girls’ title back in 2018 at the age of just 14.
Five years on from the junior triumph, she has become a regular fixture on the Tour. So much so, that there is already another generation of players on the rise. One of those includes Russia’s Mirra Andreeva who says her ultimate goal in tennis is to break Novak Djokovic’s all-time Grand Slam title record which currently stands at 22. Andreeva, who is only the seventh player under the age of 17 to reach the third round of Roland Garros since 1993, will be Gauff’s next opponent.
“I think she knows the game well, and she’s proved her position to be here and proved in her results in the past, so I don’t think the age thing matters,” Gauff commented on her next opponent.
“I’ve never thought about my age, to be honest. This will be my third time playing someone younger than me.
“Honestly, the first two times I didn’t even think about it because when you step on the court, you just see your opponent, and you don’t really think about the personal side of things. You just see forehand, backhand, serve, and all the same.”
Gauff will play Andreeva on Saturday.
Roland Garros Daily Preview: Alcaraz, Djokovic Face Seeded Opposition on Friday
Third round singles action commences on Friday in Paris.
In the top half of the ATP singles draw, which plays on Friday, 11 of 16 seeds have advanced to the third round, making for some blockbuster encounters. But in the bottom half of the WTA singles draw, which also plays on Friday, only six of 16 seeds remain after two rounds, leaving plenty of room for new names to break through to the second week of this Major.
Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s four most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule. Friday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.
Novak Djokovic (3) vs. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (29) – Court Philippe-Chatrier
Djokovic is now 22-4 on the year, despite his vaccination status and an elbow injury forcing him to miss multiple events. And despite whatever this thing is taped to his chest. Novak hasn’t dropped a set through two rounds, and hasn’t failed to advance beyond the third round of this tournament since 2009, when he lost to Philipp Kohlschreiber in straight sets.
Davidovich Fokina is 19-13 in 2023, and was a quarterfinalist here two years ago. The 23-year-old is a flashy, emotional, and inconsistent player. But he’s capable of defeating top players, as he did Djokovic last year in Monte Carlo.
Djokovic claimed their other two meetings easily in straight sets, back in 2021. And on Friday, the 22-time Major champion is a considerable favorite to prevail again, especially in the best-of-five format.
Lorenzo Musetti (17) vs. Cameron Norrie (14) – Third in Court Simonne-Mathieu
Like Alejandro, Lorenzo is a flashy, uber-talented young player. But his results are also up-and-down, with a record of 15-12 this season. The 21-year-old advanced to the round of 16 in Paris two years ago, when he was up two sets against Djokovic before succumbing and retiring two games from defeat.
Norrie is the opposite: a consistent, less glitzy performer. The British No.1 is 29-10 on the season, and has been one of the ATP’s winningest players the last two seasons. However, he is 0-2 in the third round of this event, losing to Rafael Nadal and Karen Khachanov the last two years.
Their only prior matchup took place earlier this clay court season in Barcelona, with Musetti coming from a set down to win 6-1 in the third. But this is another case where the best-of-five format favors the higher seed and more fit player in Norrie, while the slight upset by the Italian and his formidable backhand would not be shocking.
Diego Schwartzman vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (5) – Last on Court Suzanne-Lenglen
Tsitsipas is 27-8 this season, yet is 0-5 in his last five tournament finals, dating back nearly a year. That includes a straight-set loss to Djokovic in the championship match of January’s Australian Open.
Schwartzman has seriously struggled this year, with a record of 5-16 at all levels coming into this fortnight, arriving in Paris on a five-match losing streak. However, he has advanced to the fourth round or better at this tournament in four of the last five years, and remains a considerable threat on this surface.
Stefanos leads their head-to-head 4-2 overall, and 2-0 on clay. And based on recent form, the Greek is a significant favorite on Friday.
Carlos Alcaraz (1) vs. Denis Shapovalov (26) – Not Before 8:15pm on Court Philippe-Chatrier
Alcaraz is 32-3 in 2023, and 22-2 on clay. He’s accumulated four titles, three of which came on this surface. Carlitos was a quarterfinalist here a year ago, losing in four sets to Sascha Zverev.
It’s been a really rough season for Shapovalov. The Canadian was 7-9 on the year coming into the French Open, and 1-2 on clay. And this easily remains his worst Major, with a lifetime record of 4-4, and this third round appearance being his best result to date.
In their first career meeting, the 20-year-old Spaniard is a strong favorite to prevail.
Other Notable Matches on Friday:
Elise Mertens (28) vs. Jessica Pegula (3) – Both players are yet to drop a set, though Pegula received a retirement from Camila Giorgi after one set on Wednesday. Mertens leads their head-to-head 2-0, with both matches taking place a few years ago on hard courts.
Karen Khachanov (11) vs. Thanasi Kokkinakis (WC) – Khachanov came back from two sets down in his opening round contest against Constant Lestienne of France, while Kokkinakis survived a grueling five-setter in the last round against Stan Wawrinka. When they played five years ago on clay in Monte Carlo, Karen prevailed in straight sets.
Kamilla Rakhimova vs. Aryna Sabalenka (2) – Sabalenka is now 31-5 on the year, but is vying to reach the round of 16 in Paris for the first time. Rakhimova is a 21-year-old who has never advanced to the round of 16 at any Major. This is a first career meeting between two more players who have not dropped a set.
Lorenzo Sonego vs. Andrey Rublev (7) – Rublev has won consecutive four-setters to reach this stage. Sonego already took out another seed, Ben Shelton. These players have split two prior tour-level meetings, with Lorenzo claiming the one contested on clay.
Friday’s full Order of Play is here.
Coco Gauff Overcomes Opening Set Blip To Reach Second Week At Roland Garros
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Roland Garros Daily Preview: Teen Sensations Meet in the Third Round
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Aryna Sabalenka Rejects ‘Open’ Press Conference Request Citing Mental Health
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Novak Djokovic Denies Being Roland Garros Favourite, Praises Alcaraz
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