French Open Day 4 Preview: Five Must-See Matches - UBITENNIS
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French Open Day 4 Preview: Five Must-See Matches

On Wednesday in Paris, the singles players begin the second round, on a day highlighted by the names Rafa and Roger.

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Marin Cilic (photo by Gianni Ciaccia)

With both of those all-time greats being heavy favorites against relatively unknown Germans, let’s turn our attention to what look to be the more competitive matches on the schedule. Two former world No.3’s will meet, both of whom are struggling to find their form. The 2015 men’s singles champion goes up against one of 2019’s fastest-rising players. And two of France’s most popular players will face tough, seeded opposition. Another rather chilly forecast in Paris could enable some prolonged battles on Wednesday.

 

Marin Cilic (11) vs. Grigor Dimitrov

Both men arrived at Roland Garros with nearly as many defeats this season as wins. Since winning the Davis Cup to end 2018, Cilic has battled injury and illness. He’s yet to get past the quarterfinals at any tournament played this year, and hasn’t beaten a seeded player either. Dimitrov’s woes have been going on for much longer. Since winning the biggest title of his career at 2017’s ATP Finals, he’s won no titles, and only reached one final. Grigor recently split with his longtime coach, Dani Vallverdu, though Andre Agassi and Radek Stepanek remain a part of his team. Dimitrov is barely ranked inside the top 50, and is only 8-8 lifetime at the French Open. Cilic has achieved more much success here, reaching the quarterfinals in each of the last two years. Marin won easily on Sunday, while Grigor needed five sets to put away Janko Tipsarevic after having a two-set lead. Cilic has won four of their five meetings, though they’ve all taken place on hard courts. All of this makes Cilic feel like the favorite, but when you consider how little confidence he currently possesses, a Dimitrov upset would not be shocking.

Stan Wawrinka (24) vs. Cristian Garin

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The winner between Cilic and Dimitrov will face the winner here. Wawrinka has worked his way back up to be a seeded player, but this is one of the toughest unseeded opponents he could draw in the second round. Chilean Cristian Garin, who turns 23 tomorrow, already has 20 wins on clay this season. That includes two titles (Houston, Munich) as well as being a finalist in Sao Paulo. But is Garin ready to upset the former champion on this Major stage? This is a considerable step up from the smaller events Cristian has thrived at. However, Wawrinka is not exactly brimming with confidence right now. Since March, he went just 6-6 heading into this tournament, and arrived here on a three-match losing streak. That includes an opening round loss last at his home tournament of Geneva last week. In their first career meeting, I actually give the slight edge to Garin, the player who’s done a lot more winning of late.

Kei Nishikori (7) vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

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Over the past 18 months, Tsonga has only played a total of 40 matches. He’s another former top five player who’s career has been derailed by injuries, something Nishikori can definitely sympathize with. Jo is currently ranked outside the top 80, though in recent months has been using wild cards and his protected ranking to gain some wins at smaller tournaments. Nishikori meanwhile did not have a strong clay court season, winning just six matches in four tournaments. Kei holds a 5-3 edge over Jo, but Tsonga won their only match on clay. That was in the quarterfinals of this tournament four years ago, a match decided in five sets. With the French fans on Court Philippe-Chatrier firmly behind him, Jo may just rise to the occasion again on this day.

Petra Martic (31) vs. Kiki Mladenovic

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Similarly, the Court Suzanne-Lenglen crowd will be loud in their support of Mladenovic. It was two years ago in Paris when Kiki made a thrilling run to the quarterfinals. But since that time, she’s struggled mightily in singles, while maintaining some strong results in doubles. She recently hired Sascha Bajin, the former coach of Naomi Osaka, and her singles results have immediately rebounded. Including qualifying rounds, Mladenovic has garnered 10 match wins over the past six weeks. Just two weeks ago in Rome, she beat three top 25 players: Ash Barty, Belinda Bencic, and Caroline Garcia. Petra though got the better of Kiki last month in the quarterfinals of Istanbul, in a clay court quarterfinal decided by a third set tiebreak. Martic went on to win that title, and has quietly become a consistent performer on tour. She has twice reached the fourth round here, as recently as 2017. But this is another case where the Parisians could play a crucial role in the match outcome. I expect Mladenovic to recapture some of the magic of two years ago and prevail.

Kiki Bertens (4) vs. Viktoria Kuzmova

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Speaking of Kikis, one of the tournament favorites will end the day’s play on Court Philippe-Chatrier. Bertens is one of three players, along with Naomi Osaka and Karolina Pliskova, who can leave Paris as the world No.1. It was three years ago at Roland Garros when Kiki first broke through at a Major, with a surprising run to the semifinals. But at the 11 Majors since, Bertens has only once advanced out of the first week. Kiki has flourished outside of the Majors, most recently raising the trophy in Madrid, where she took out three top 10 players in as many days. She has already faced Kuzmova twice this year. The 21-year-old from Slovankia prevailed in a third set tiebreak in Dubai, with Bertens getting revenge a month later in Miami in another three-setter. Viktoria is fully capable of taking advantage if Kiki repeats her history of not playing her best at the Majors. Despite the newfound pressure of being one of the favorites, I still see Bertens finding a way through an opponent she knows very well.

Other notable matches on Day 4:

  • In a rare appearance on Court Suzanne-Lenglen, 11-Time champion Rafael Nadal (2) vs. 29-year-old Yannick Maden (Q), who just got his first-ever Grand Slam win on Monday.
    2009 champion Roger Federer (3) vs. Oscar Otte (LL), who was also winless at Majors prior to this tournament.
  • Estoril champion Stefanos Tsitsipas (6) vs. Hugo Dellien, a 25-year-old from Bolivia, and another man who just got his first Grand Slam victory.
  • Sloane Stephens (7), a finalist last year, vs. Sara Sorribes Tormo. Sloane defeated Sara in two tiebreak sets earlier this year on the clay of Charleston.
  • Rome champion Karolina Pliskova (2) vs. Kristina Kucova (Q), who is ranked outside the top 200.

Order of play

Court Philippe-Chatrier – 10:00 BST start

[7] Sloane Stephens v Sara Sorribes Tormo
[7] Kei Nishikori v Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Oscar Otte v [3] Roger Federer
Viktoria Kuzmova v [4] Kiki Bertens

Court Suzanne-Lenglen – 10:00 BST start

Kateryna Kozlova v [9] Elina Svitolina
Yannick Maden v [2] Rafa Nadal
[31] Petra Martic v Kristina Mladenovic
Benoit Paire v Pierre-Hugues Herbert

Court Simonne-Mathieu – 10:00 BST start

[6] Stefanos Tsitsipas v Hugo Dellien
Kristina Kucova v [2] Karolina Pliskova
Grigor Dimitrov v [11] Marin Cilic
[15] Belinda Bencic v Laura Siegemund

Court 1 – 10:00 BST start

Garbiñe Muguruza [19] vs Johanna Larsson
Richard Gasquet vs Juan Ignacio Londero
[24] Stan Wawrinka vs Cristian Garin
Johanna Konta [26] vs Lauren Davis

Court 7 – 10:00 BST start

[19] Guido Pella vs Corentin Moutet
Mandy Minella vs Anastasija Sevastova [12]
Anastasia Potapova vs Marketa Vondrousova
[21] Alex de Minaur vs Pablo Carreno Busta

Court 6 – 10:00 BST start

Zhang Shuai vs Kaia Kanepi
Filip Krajinovic vs Roberto Carballes Baena
[17] Diego Schwartzman vs Leonardo Mayer
Rebecca Peterson vs Donna Vekic [23]

Court 14 – 10:00 BST start

Elise Mertens [20] vs Diane Parry
[27] David Goffin v Miomir Kecmanovic
Nicolas Mahut v Philipp Kohlschreiber

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EXCLUSIVE: The Reality Of Life As A Tennis Journalist Living In War-Torn Ukraine

UbiTennis is the first media outlet to speak with Sergey Kontorchik about his experiences of the war and the reaction of the tennis community.

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Sometimes I had to write news while sitting in a shelter, especially during the first months. The alarm sirens were buzzing very, very often. Often there are also sounds of aircrafts, fighting jets, ambulances or fire trucks’ sirens, sounds of explosions, whether a missile hits something or the air defense systems working.”

 

Sergey Kontorchik is like any other tennis journalist around the world. He follows the sport religiously to keep up to date with the latest developments. The Ukrainian is the founder of website Великий теніс України or as it is commonly known in English BTU. In 2012 he decided to set up a Facebook page to promote tennis in his country. Three years later a website was launched and last year it received more than a million unique visitors for the first time.

I was inspired by tennis itself and also had this desire to be closer to the tennis world and maybe to attract more Ukrainians into the sport I love,” he tells UbiTennis.

At first the website was quite small, because I didn’t have any sponsors or team and paid for everything from my own pocket.’

I began to communicate more with our players, whenever there was a chance, I tried to visit (Davis Cup/Billie Jean King Cup) ties of the national team and other tournaments, take photos and talk to players, to look more into the history of Ukrainian tennis. Since 2015 two more people, as enthusiastic as I am, joined me and BTU. I am very lucky with the team, because without them it wouldn’t be possible to run this project so actively.”

It is hard to fault Kontorcvhik’s commitment as he covers the latest developments occurring at the French Open from his war-stricken homeland. Ukraine has been engaged in a military conflict with Russia since February 24th after they launched a so-called ‘special operation.’ As of May 24th the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has been able to verify that 3,942 civilians have been killed and another 4,591 injured. Although it is feared that the toll is significantly higher and the tally doesn’t take into account army deaths.

Kontorchik lives in Dnipro, a city located in the center of the Dnipropetrovsk Region which borders Donetsk. One of the two areas controlled by Moscow-backed separatists and goes by the name Donetsk People’s Republic. According to international law the region is part of Ukraine but Russia recognizes it as an independent nation. It is one of the areas which triggered the war.

I woke up at 6 am because of the terrible crash sounds – our airport was hit with several missiles. I checked my phone and already saw dozens of messages about Putin launching a war and Russian troops moving into our country from multiple directions, that Kyiv and north of Ukraine were attacked from the Belarus’ side. It was terrifying,” Kontorchik said of the moment he found out the war had begun.

Dnipro was always close to the frontline in Ukraine’s southeast. It has become a hub for war efforts – both humanitarian and military. Dnipro has become a place where the wounded and injured arrive from the front lines, and displaced people come as they flee the war. The same is happening now, only on a much larger scale.” He added.

UbiTennis is the first outlet to give Kontorchik a platform for him to speak about his experiences as a tennis journalist living in a war zone. Due to language barriers we interacted via a translator in order to get accurate accounts. In total more than 6000 words were spoken by him during our interview which covered a whole range of subjects.

In a way tennis has created a small sense of escapism for BTU’s writers and their owner. They have participated in various fundraising events to help support those affected by the war. One of their readers based in Italy sent ‘several pallets’ of medicine to them.

It takes away time from focusing on this horror going all around. It’s not a relaxation. Yes, it’s a distraction and it reminds you that life must go on, but it’s wrong to view it as a “now I can enjoy my time and get all excited because of tennis” mood,” Kontorchik explains.

We found out it’s really tough to watch tennis matches for us. You can’t keep your focus or interest. I’ve tried to follow some big matches and couldn’t watch for long. I was losing attention quickly. Imagine when you were so interested in something your whole life and the war makes you almost indifferent to it. Many Ukrainians say it’s tough to watch movies or read books right now. Like your brain resisted it. But it’s important to do something to not lose your head totally.”

Trying to promote tennis in a country stricken by conflict is a tough task. According to one recent report, Russian forces are said to have destroyed at least 130 educational facilities and damaged a further 1500 in Ukraine. Inevitably this will also have an impact on access to sports facilities. As for BTU they have lost all their income from advertisements. Now they rely on donations from their readers to survive.

Dealing with a new reality

Sergey has been to Roland Garros six times but not this year

Ever since the conflict started, BTU felt the need to give a voice to those in the sport who may not be able to speak with international media. One example is that of Viacheslav Bielinskyi. A 18-year-old who reached a ranking high of No.5 in the juniors last December who says players from Russia have spoken with him about their opposition to the war but they are scared to do so publicly. Those conversations were between players playing on the ITF circuit.

We have been in touch with our tennis players since the first day of the war,” Kontorchik replied when asked about his bond with his country’s tennis stars.

Right now we also try to collect their stories on dealing with a new reality, maybe to talk to those, who didn’t have a chance to talk to international media, but want to share their story with us. There are those who want to open up, there are those who want to move forward and maybe leave some horror incidents in the past.”

It seems bizarre in 2022 that some of these interviews were conducted whilst tennis players were hiding in bomb shelters. Those who managed to escape the conflict continue to voice their stance whilst playing. Elina Svitolina has previously spoken about the mental toll the war is taking on her and has raised money for her homeland. Dayana Yastremska donated her prize money won from claiming the Lyon Open title. Meanwhile, former players Alexandr Dolgopolov and Sergiy Stakhovsky have joined their country’s armed forces.

As for the Russian and Belarussian players, some have voiced anti-war messages but none has gone as far as criticizing their own governments. The main reason for this is likely to be linked to their country’s strict laws which potentially punishes those who criticize the conflict. This is why Wimbledon has decided against putting in place a document players would have to sign condemning their governments in order to play.

However, this argument is one that strikes a nerve with Kontorchik who points out that Russia annexed Crimea back in 2014 but the anti-war laws in Russia didn’t come to publication until March 2022.

There was a very limited reaction from the famous Russian or Belorussian people in general. Even from those who spend most of their time abroad, even from those who live there with their families. Many tried to speak out only after the sanctions started to prevent them from leading their usual luxurious lifestyle,” he explains.

So for the Ukrainian players it is like a double-fault: first “out” is you don’t get the response you naturally expect from the friends or colleagues; second “out” is you feel like the entire community of tennis fans, media and authorities don’t get your point at all. If these guys remain silent, Ukranian players obviously keep wondering what they think: maybe they support Putin, maybe they think it’s all Ukraine’s fault, maybe they can’t see the difference between good and evil. It’s crazy. It’s really hard to keep playing and try to build your career, even if you consider solely those factors, not even mentioning about not having a home.”

Wimbledon

Wimbledon. Day 7 Monday 05/07/2021. Credit: AELTC/Joe Toth

The conflict has triggered action from the sporting world but in tennis it is also a very divisive subject. The ATP, WTA and ITF have all suspended Russian and Belarussian players from playing under their flag, as well as removing their national federations from team events. Wimbledon has gone a step further by banning them all together which has angered other governing bodies of the sport. Resulting in this year’s Grand Slam taking place without the awarding of ranking points for the first time since the ranking system was implemented nearly 50 years ago.

This ban was an unexpected, but a very important sign of support to Ukraine, even though some people keep reminding us, they did it solely for the public image,” Kontorchik commented. “But it was also a message to other big tournaments. Wimbledon is the biggest tennis event in history, people outside of tennis know about it and they pay attention to it. Tennis, like any other sport, is an important tool of Russian propaganda and they are milking from their sporting success to the maximum.”

If we look at it from the point of view of tennis leadership, it seems incomprehensible if they are seriously pushing for the stripping the points from everybody. Under the pretext of protecting the rights of all tennis players, essentially all of them will be punished, with nobody at all to have an opportunity to earn points at Wimbledon. And this is what we called protection of the rights?”

Given the fallout over Wimbledon it is likely the other tournaments will not follow the same precedent unless they are forced to do so.

Which raises the question as to what else could be done? Kontorchik pays tribute to those who have helped raise awareness of the crises, including world No.1 Iga Swiatek who has spoken out about the war multiple times. Andy Murray and Roger Federer are among the players who have made donations to humanitarian efforts. The Swiss tennis federation has hosted Ukrainian players. Finally, former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone held a charity event in aid of Svitolina’s foundation.

On the other hand, there is also a degree of disappointment. When fears emerged that Peng Shuai could be under censorship by Chinese authorities, the WTA was swift and decisive in their response by suspending all of their events in China which has cost them millions.

The actions of the tennis world, of the top players, of the management, have been extremely disappointing in general. Many Ukrainians left comments, they are losing or they’ve already lost a desire to follow this sport if this is its sincere reaction,” Kontorchik believes.

The war in Ukraine is a “No war” or “Stand for peace” slogans (used in the sport) – but let’s be honest – how can anyone, any sane person, to ever be pro-war and against peace in general?“

Kontorcvhik‘s account of what it is like living in Ukraine during these times really places things into perspective. Like millions of his compatriots, he is inevitably affected by the war. Yet, he still continues to dedicate his time to tennis. Although nobody knows how long for in a country with an uncertain future.

Let’s be clear, the future of tennis in Ukraine is very, very uncertain. Nobody will care about tennis, when people in Ukraine will not have where to live and what to eat. The UN says prolonged war will push 9 of 10 Ukrainians into poverty or near poverty. 50% of business were shut down already, the other 50% are struggling right now. Our new modern tennis center is destroyed, courts are in no condition for players to train. It’s just the tip of the iceberg.” He concludes.

BTU has set up their own fundraiser to support those who have been displaced in the Dnipropetrovsk Region as a result of the war. You can donate to their appeal by clinching HERE.

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Iga Swiatek Reflects On Hard Work And Talks Nadal Inspiration After Dominant Win

Iga Swiatek dominated Alison Riske to reach the third round.

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Iga Swiatek (Roberto Dell'Olivo)

World number one Iga Swiatek reflects on her hard world and inspiration from Rafael Nadal after a dominant 6-0 6-2 win over Alison Riske.

 

Iga Swiatek is into the third round at Roland Garros after another dominant win this time over Alison Riske.

The Pole took four minutes longer than her opening round but still convincingly moved into the third round where she will play Danka Kovinic.

It’s clear that Swiatek’s confidence is sky high right now and the Pole spoke about how that comes about in her press conference, “I think it’s like a constant presence that I have since I started playing on the WTA, for sure,” Swiatek said.

“Just winning all these matches gave me a lot of confidence but I also knew that it could really press me down if I like don’t adjust to it well. I feel like I’m using my new position to put more pressure on my opponents. Yeah, I’m pretty happy that I could convert it to a way that is really helpful. I feel like my confidence is better.”

Swiatek’s confidence shows as the former Roland Garros champion is on a 30 match winning streak and has won five consecutive WTA titles.

It’s something that has been in the works since the end of last season for the Pole as she has proved that hard work and persistence pays.

In her press conference Swiatek elaborated on the reasoning on why this run is coming together now, “I think basically I changed some things, like I started being more aggressive and trying to be more proactive on court. That’s something that my coach really helped me to do,” Swiatek said.

“I think all the work we have been doing, even last season, it finally clicked somehow. You know, last season it was a year for me where I really gained so much experience. This year I feel like I’m using it the right way. I have this experience already, and I can just move forward.

“I think it’s, you know, the physical work I have been doing but also with my psychologist, I think it’s the work of the whole team as well. I’m pretty glad that it clicks right now.”

Swiatek’s form clicking into place is bad news for the rest of the tour as she looks to win her second Roland Garros and grand slam title.

Someone who inspired Swiatek to play tennis was 13-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal.

The Pole also spoke about how she takes inspiration for her and about her dream of one day playing mixed doubles with him, “Rafa, he’s a huge inspiration, but it’s not like I was writing in a notebook exactly how he’s playing and then trying to do the same, because, well, first of all, he’s a man,” Swiatek said.

“It’s pretty hard for us girls to play like men, because they have more power, for sure. But, you know, I always wanted to play topspin, so I think he influenced me in that way. Oh, my God. I would love to play mixed doubles with Rafa. I think it would be really great experience. But when was the last time he played mixed doubles?”

Swiatek’s dream of playing mixed doubles with Nadal might look unlikely but both of them may win Roland Garros in the same year like they did in 2020.

The Pole will play her third round clash against Danka Kovinic on Saturday.

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Amanda Anisimova continues impressive French Open form but Karolina Pliskova left stunned

Amanda Anisimova reached the third round of Roland Garros after a win over Donna Vekic.

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Amanda Anisimova (@thenet_m - Twitter)

American prodigy Amanda Anisimova moved into the third round of the French Open with another assured display.

 

After beating former world number one Naomi Osaka, the 27th seed overcame Croatian Donna Vekic 6-4, 6-1.

Having famously made the semi-finals three years ago as a 17-year-old, Anisimova will again fancy her chances of going far in this tournament.

She will next face Czech Karolina Muchova who shocked fourth seed Maria Sakkari 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-4).

However, another Czech with the same name was not so fortunate as former world number one Karolina Pliskova was beaten by home star Leolia Jeanjean.

The world number 227 winning comprehensively 6-2, 6-2 to achieve the biggest win of her career.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Cd_n1UsKHhv/?igshid=MDJmNzVkMjY=

Afterwards she had this to say.

“This match was full of emotions through and through. I managed to unroll my tactics to make her move back and forth, to put spin on my ball.

“I didn’t know it would happen this way. It’s incredible to think that I actually won in two sets against a top-10 player, a previous world number one. It’s incredible,” she added.

“I’m very happy with my match today.”

Pliskova congratulated her opponent.

“Well obviously, not great that I lost. I think she played a really good match, didn’t give me many same balls so I just couldn’t find my rhythm.”

Meanwhile, Olympic Champion Belinda Bencic dashed hopes of an all-Canadian clash as she downed former US Open Champion Bianca Andreescu 6-2, 6-4.

She will play last year’s finalist in New York, young star Leylah Fernandez who beat Katerina Siniakova 6-3, 6-2.

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