This week in Rome, four WTA players have made significant breakthroughs which could affect the rest of the year.
Two of them – Victoria Azarenka and Johanna Konta – have experienced life either near to or at the top of the rankings, while the other two – Maria Sakkari and Kristina Mladenovic – are less familiar with such lofty heights.
In the case of Azarenka, who is now 29, it had seemed possible that she would never again beat top players on a consistent basis.
However, the Belarussian’s performances at the Italian Open suggest that she can still beat the best. She got the better of World No.6 Elina Svitolina in an excellent three-set encounter. She was leading former World No.1 Garbine Muguruza 6-4 3-1 when the Spaniard was forced to retire with a thigh injury. And she provided a stern challenge for World No.7 Karolina Pliskova during a three-set defeat in the quarter-final.
“I feel like I keep improving from week to week,” Azarenka said in her press conference after beating Muguruza. “I’m able to check off some of those goals I set for myself.”
She continued, “Obviously, the match with Elina was very dramatic. It was really good quality. I’m really happy that I learned from last week in Madrid how to turn the things around and take more into my own hands.”
Konta rediscovers her best form
Konta is a different conundrum because it is difficult to be certain what the limits of her ability are. Was her run to the Wimbledon semi-final in 2017 an over-achievement, or is it a feat she could repeat?
Whatever the answer is to that question, the Brit has been undoubtedly impressive in recent weeks. She made a great start to the clay swing by reaching her first clay-court semi-final at WTA level in Rabat.
Konta then thrashed Alison Riske 6-4 6-1 in Madrid and pushed Simona Halep hard in the first set of their second-round meeting.
In Rome, the Brit demolished Riske by the same score for the second time in nine days and beat Sloane Stephens and Venus Williams in the same day to advance to the last eight.
Konta then dealt superbly with the unique challenges posed by Marketa Vondrousova as she beat the Czech 6-3 3-6 6-1 to advance to her biggest semi-final since Wimbledon 2017.
Konta shows she can thrive on clay
However, while the Brit’s form on clay may seem unusual to many observers, it has not come as a surprise to the World No.42, who will move up at least 11 places when the rankings are updated.
“I’ve always trusted my ability on the clay,” Konta said in her press conference after her win over Venus. “I think my weaker results on it compared to the other surfaces over the last couple years was mainly only an issue in the press room.”
She continued, “When I was a junior, and even as a young professional on the tour, I won most of my titles on the clay. I’m just pleased that (this year) I’ve been able to adapt and adjust. I feel I can be a bit more efficient on the surface, which has helped against the quality of opponents I’m coming up against.”
Konta’s current form bodes well for her chances of a good showing at the French Open. And, if she can carry it over into the grass season, perhaps another deep run at Wimbledon will also be on the cards.
Sakkari hits new heights on the WTA tour
Maria Sakkari enjoyed an even better week than the Brit in Rabat. She beat Konta in the final to claim her first ever WTA title.
And the Greek, 23, has used that confidence to thrive in Rome. She came through two rounds of qualifying and then beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Anett Kontaveit to set up a quarter-final against Petra Kvitova.
Most in the tennis world will have expected her run to end there. But Sakkari put the Czech under all sorts of pressure and she was leading 4-0 in the decider when Kvitova was forced to retire with a calf injury.
That win set up a quarter-final meeting with Kristina Mladenovic. She beat the Frenchwoman 5-7 6-3 6-0 to progress to only her second Premier 5 semi-final and move to a career-high ranking of 28.
Mladenovic returns to prominence
It has also been a big week for Mladenovic. She reached a career-high ranking of 10 in 2017 after the best six months of her career but has struggled ever since.
Now it looks like the Frenchwoman’s best tennis may be returning. Since she started working with Sascha Bajin, who is famous for his time with Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki and Naomi Osaka, her results have improved considerably.
First, she made it through qualifying in Madrid and beat Barbora Strycova in the first round. Then she came to Rome, qualified again, and recorded brilliant wins over Caroline Garcia, Belinda Bencic and Ashleigh Barty.
“I’m definitely satisfied (with my form),” Mladenovic said in her press conference after her win over Barty. “Tennis is funny – it will forever be ups and downs. When I was losing matches, I wondered what was missing. I didn’t feel like I was playing so bad, but it just didn’t click.”
She continued, “If you work hard, eventually success comes. Clay helps me. I feel like I have more time to produce my game.”
The Frenchwoman also credited her new coach. She said, “I’m loving what I’m working on with Sascha. He helps me a lot because he likes to spend hours and hours on court with me. We have the same vision of my tennis and he has brought new exercises to (help me achieve) this same vision and goal. That’s helped with my consistency and I think it’s making the difference right now.”
Roland Garros: Novak Djokovic Dealt Thiem Challenge As Nadal Starts Against Qualifier
Novak Djokovic has been set a trickier draw than Rafael Nadal as they look to meet each other in this year’s final.
Novak Djokovic could face last year’s finalist Dominic Thiem in the semi-finals at Roland Garros as Rafael Nadal begins against a couple of qualifiers.
This year’s draw is set to be the most competitive in a while on the men’s side as there has been a lack of dominance from Rafael Nadal in the lead up, having only won Rome.
Despite this, the Spaniard is will still be favourite to win his 12th title in Paris after what looks to be a fairly routine draw.
Meanwhile Novak Djokovic will be looking to hold all four grand slams at the same time for the second time in his career as he looks for a second Roland Garros title.
However standing in his way will be the likes of Borna Coric, Alexander Zverev and more notably last year’s finalist Dominic Thiem.
So with that being said, lets look at the men’s draw in closer detail:
1st Quarter – Djokovic’s Section
World number one Novak Djokovic will start his bid for a second Roland Garros title against Polish rising star Hubert Hurkacz. The Pole made his first Masters 100 quarter-final in Indian Wells and made his breakthrough in Paris last year, so this will be no easy for the Serb.
A match against Sam Querrey could then await in round two, with Gilles Simon being the projected round three. There is also the likelihood of playing Borna Coric in the second week, who will begin against Aljaz Bedene.
In the bottom half of this quarter, out-of-form Alexander Zverev will face John Millman in the first round, with Monte-Carlo runner-up Dusan Lajovic in round three. However a major roadblock could await the German in the last 16 as Fabio Fognini is in his section of the draw. The Italian will play compatriot Andreas Seppi in round one.
Shapovalov v Struff
Fognini v Seppi
Johnson v Bautista Agut
Second Quarter – Thiem’s Section.
Last year’s finalist, Dominic Thiem starts his bid for a first grand slam title against American wildcard Tommy Paul, with a potential round three meeting against Kyle Edmund.
The Brit will begin his campaign against Jeremy Chardy in a tough first match. Thiem’s potential quarter-final is Juan Martin Del Potro, who begins against powerful Chilean Nicolas Jarry. Talented Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime also appears in this quarter and is a potential third round for the powerful Argentinian.
Other potential seeds for Del Potro include Karen Khachanov and Lucas Pouille, while Gael Monfils is a dangerous floater in Thiem’s section.
Chardy v Edmund
Verdasco v Evans
Jarry v Del Potro
Third Quarter – Federer’s Section
Roger Federer’s return to Roland Garros will begin against natural clay-courter Lorenzo Sonego. A third round match against in-form Matteo Berrettini could also await the 20 time grand slam champion, while Marco Cecchinato and Diego Schwartzman also lurk in Federer’s part of this quarter.
The Swiss’ potential quarter-final is Stefanos Tsitsipas, who starts against Maximillian Marterer. There is also a potential fourth round match against Stan Wawrinka or Marin Cilic for the Madrid finalist.
Opelka v Garin
Tipsarevic v Dimitrov
Fucsovics v Schwartzman
Fourth Quarter – Nadal’s Section
Defending champion Rafael Nadal is looking for a remarkable 12th title in Paris and will begin against two qualifiers. A great draw gets better for the Spaniard, who will play David Goffin in his third round and also has Nikoloz Basilashvili in the last 16, a man he beat in Rome last week.
In the other section of this draw, Daniil Medvedev will look to take charge when he plays Pierre-Hughes Herbert in the first round. While Kei Nishikori is a potential fourth round match as he starts against French wildcard Quentin Halys.
Tsonga v Gojowczyk
Humbert v Popyrin
Herbert v Medvedev
Here is the full draw, with play starting on Sunday:
Roland Garros Men’s full draw pic.twitter.com/W4bd5rMnEk
— José Morgado (@josemorgado) May 23, 2019
Albert Ramos-Vinolas Reveals Best Moment Of Career Ahead Of Geneva Quarters
Albert Ramos-Vinolas reveals the best moment of his career ahead of his Quarter-Final at the Geneva Open.
Albert Ramos-Vinolas has revealed the best moment of his career ahead of his Geneva quarter-final with Federico Delbonis.
The Spaniard seems to have overcome a poor run of form lately after qualifying for Rome last week, he has now won back-to-back matches in Geneva.
A 6-0 6-3 win over Joao Sousa means he is into the last eight in Geneva to play Federico Delbonis as he looks to build momentum towards Roland Garros.
However before his quarter-final match, Ramos-Vinolas told atptour.com in a recent interview what the best moment of his career was, “The first time I won an ATP match in Barcelona in 2010,” The Spaniard said.
“It’s my home tournament… I passed the qualies and I won my first match and then I beat Fernando Gonzalez, who was No. 12 in the world. I was No. 161. It was maybe one of the best moments of my career. It was on Court 1, which is not the centre court, but it’s quite big.
“I still remember the feeling: I was really happy. Everybody was thinking that it was not possible. So they were supporting me like crazy, like when a big football team is playing against maybe one from the second division, and the second division team wins. Everyone was supporting me like crazy. It was a great atmosphere.”
It is no surprise that the moment came in front of his home fans as it is a moment that he will never forget. Since then the Spaniard’s biggest achievement came in 2017 when he reached his first masters 1000 final in Monte-Carlo.
The 31 year-old will look to recreate his form in Monte-Carlo a couple of years ago to Geneva this week as he looks to win his second career title.
However it won’t be easy for Ramos-Vinolas as top seed Alexander Zverev still remains the draw as players look to gain some momentum heading into Roland Garros, which starts on Sunday.
Tomas Berdych to Miss French Open For The First Time Since 2003
It will be the third grand slam the former top 10 player has missed within the past 12 months.
Former Wimbledon runner-up Tomas Berdych will not play any clay court tournaments in 2019 after withdrawing from the upcoming French Open.
The 33-year-old has been absent from the tour since his first round loss to Feliciano Lopez in Indian Wells. Berdych has been hampered by issues within his back in recent weeks. He has been hoping to be fit in time for Roland Garros, but made a decision to withdraw from the event on Wednesday.
“I am not 100% ready to play the way I want and need to be competitive on the courts I love so much,” Berdych wrote on social media.
“I came to Paris and I had to take a tough decision and want another few days to fully recover and be ready for the grass season.”
“I love this tournament so much but I have to make sure not to further injure myself,” he added.
The Czech had played at the tournament every year since making his debut back in 2004. However, the French Open is his worst performing grand slam in terms of wins. So far in his career, Berdych has won 25 out of 40 matches played at the French Open. His stand out performance occurred in 2010 when he reached the semi-finals before losing to Sweden’s Robin Soderling.
It is not the first time back issues have forced Berdych out of action. In 2017 he was advised by doctors to end his season early due to persistent ‘back pain.’ He was also forced to skip both Wimbledon and the US Open due to the same problem.
Berdych, who last won a title at the 2016 Shenzhen Open, has played six tournaments so far this year. His best result occurred in January with a run to the final of the Qatar Open. He also reached the fourth round of the Australian Open and was a semi-finalist in Montpellier.
As a result of his absence, Berdych is currently ranked 100th in the world rankings. He will be replaced in the French Open draw by a lucky loser.
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