French Open Day 7 Preview: Five Must-See Matches - UBITENNIS
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French Open Day 7 Preview: Five Must-See Matches

Saturday’s schedule may be the most appetizing yet of this fortnight, especially with two bonus matches to be completed from last night.

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Serena Williams (@RolandGarros - Twitter)

By Matthew Marolf

 

Both Stefanos Tsitsipas and Stan Wawrinka are up two sets, but their matches against Filip Krajinovic and Grigor Dimitrov were interrupted on Friday by darkness. And the rest of the third round singles matches are due to be decided on Day 7.  Major champions Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep, and Juan Martin Del Potro are just some of the top seeds who will play on Saturday.

Serena Williams (10) vs. Sofia Kenin

It’s easy for most players to be overwhelmed by the idea of playing the 23-time Major singles champion, especially when she is your countrywoman, and 17 years your senior. But I’m curious to see how Kenin reacts in this situation.  She’s proven herself to be a strong competitor on court: just look at her efforts in the Fed Cup final last year.

While she went down in defeat in both singles matches, she pushed two more experienced players for a total of over six hours on opposing soil. And she has some impressive wins this season over names like Victoria Azarenka, Madison Keys, and Caroline Garcia.  Of course Serena will be the favorite, but this is only her 12th match of the year, and could be prone to an upset if Kenin can stay aggressive and block out the weight of the occasion.

Simona Halep (3) vs. Lesia Tsurenko (27)

Coming off a back injury that ended her 2018 season early, and the loss of Darren Cahill from her coaching team, Halep has been underwhelming this year. While she has 25 match wins, she’s only reached two finals, and not won either. She was outplayed in the second set on Thursday by Magda Linette, but rebounded nicely to close out the match in three.

And this matchup plays heavily to Halep’s favour: she’s 7-0 against Tsurenko. And while the 30-year-old has made the fourth round or better at two of the last four Majors, she needed two days to finish her second round match, which went to 11-9 in the third. This should be a rather comfortable win for the defending champion.

Fabio Fognini (9) vs. Roberto Bautista Agut (18)

This has four or five sets written all over it. Extended matches at Majors are not foreign to either man. Fognini is the more accomplished clay court player, with eight titles on the surface in his career, the biggest one coming six weeks ago in Monte Carlo.

Bautista Agut is a rare Spaniard who does not excel on clay, with only one title on the terra baute. Both men have one Major quarterfinal on their resume: Fabio here eight years ago, and Roberto just earlier this year in Australia. Fognini leads their head-to-head 6-3, and 3-1 on clay. Fabio has admitted to his body being less than 100% of late, and Roberto is yet to drop a set this week, so I give the slight edge to Bautista Agut for the slight upset.

Sascha Zverev (5) vs. Dusan Lajovic (30)

This is a rematch from last year’s French Open, when Zverev needed five sets to overcome the Serbian. That’s the only time these two have faced. Sascha has experienced a disappointing 2019 coming off his ATP Finals victory, but finally lifted his first trophy of the year last week in Geneva.

Lajovic was the man Fognini defeated in the Monte Carlo final.  Dusan took out Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev, and David Goffin that week. He didn’t win another match coming into this tournament, with three opening round losses. But he easily won his first two rounds here, and obviously knows how to challenge Zverev’s game based on last year’s result. This could be a dangerous match for Sascha, who’s played a lot of tennis over the past 10 days.

Dominic Thiem (4) vs. Pablo Cuevas

Here we have two clay court experts, though Thiem’s the only one to have success at the Majors. Cuevas has never been farther than the third round at this level, a feat he’s achieved only here in Paris, in four of the last five years.  But Thiem only owns a 3-2 edge over the 33-year-old veteran, with one of Pablo’s victories coming at this tournament.

The last time Dominic lost early at Roland Garros was to Cuevas in the second round in 2015. However, it would be startling if that result repeated itself four years later, as Thiem is a different player now. Pablo may hang around for awhile in this match, but Dominic should advance to the round of 16.

Other notable matches on Day 7:

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Salvatore Caruso (Q), an Italian who had never won a match at a Major before this week.

Naomi Osaka (1) vs. Katerina Siniakova, the doubles world No.1. , Osaka will be eager for a comfortable win after two extremely complicated rounds.

Juan Martin Del Potro (8) vs. Jordan Thompson of Australia. How will Del Potro feel after playing five sets on a bum knee two days ago?

Australian No.1 Ash Barty (8) Andrea Petkovic, who won her first two matches 7-5 and 8-6 in the third.

Karen Khachanov (10), champion of the Paris Indoors six months ago, vs. Martin Klizan, who needed two days and five sets to take out Lucas Pouille.

Grand Slam

‘A Class Act’ – Players Hail Wimbledon Following Decision To Hand Out £10m From 2020 Championships

The All England Lawn Tennis Club has announced that players who would had qualified to play this year’s tournament will receive payouts of up to £25,000.

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There has been an outpouring of praise from the world of tennis after the Wimbledon Championships announced they will hand out prize money to those who would have played in this year’s championships.

 

620 players are set to benefit from a prize money pool of £10M despite the event being cancelled for the first time since 1945 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike the other Grand Slams, Wimbledon was covered by pandemic insurance. The payments from players ranges from £5000 for those who would have played in the quad wheelchair events to £25,000 for those who would have played in the singles main draw (based on their current ranking).

“Immediately following the cancellation of The Championships, we turned our attention to how we could assist those who help make Wimbledon happen,” AELTC chairman Richard Lewis said in a statement.
“We know these months of uncertainty have been very worrying for these groups, including the players, many of whom have faced financial difficulty during this period and who would have quite rightly anticipated the opportunity to earn prize money at Wimbledon based on their world ranking.’
“We are pleased that our insurance policy has allowed us to recognise the impact of the cancellation on the players and that we are now in a position to offer this payment as a reward for the hard work they have invested in building their ranking to a point where they would have gained direct entry into The Championships 2020.”

The move comes after other governing bodies of the sport created their own funds to help support players during the pandemic. Unlike team sports, those on the Tour rely on prize money to fund their careers unless they have any sponsorship deals. For those lower ranked players, they have been unable to earn an income since March.

In the wake of the announcement, many top names in the sport praised Wimbledon for their gesture. Kim Clijsters, who played her first Grand Slam main draw match at the Wimbledon back in 1999, describes the move as a ‘class act.’

“Amazing news — always a class act and leader of our sport !! Well done Wimbledon – can’t wait to be back next year!” She wrote on Twitter.

Others to speak out from the WTA Tour includes Kristina Mladenovic, who wrote on social media ‘Amazing gesture Wimbledon, you have always been classy.’ Sachia Vickery said the donation shows the grass-court event is ‘leading by an amazing example’ by supporting all players. Meanwhile, Kirsten Flipkens called it a ‘nice gesture.

On the men’s Tour, Slovakia’s Lukas Lacko made a jibe at the US Open during his response to the news. The US Open is still going ahead as planned amid a rise in COVID-19 in some areas of the country. The event will be held behind closed doors for the first time in history.

“Hats off to Wimbledon. This is how you take care of your players. US Open should follow instead of pushing this nonsense. We can resume the tour later when conditions are better,” Lacko wrote.

Feliciano Lopez, who is also the tournament director of the Madrid Open, was another to pay tribute.

“Incredible gesture from Wimbledon with the players. We appreciate this comprehension and generosity in these times of uncertainty. Hats off to you once again,” he said.

Players are not the only group to receive charitable donations from the All England Lawn Tennis Club. In recent weeks they have also donated £1.2M to charities and organisations supporting vulnerable people during the pandemic.

The 134th Wimbledon Championships are expected to be held from 28 June to 11 July next year.

Breakdown of payouts

  • £25,000 for the 256 players in the singles main draws
  • £12,500 for the 224 players in singles qualifying
  • £6,250 for the 120 players in main draw doubles
  • £6,000 for the 16 players in the wheelchair events
  • £5,000 for four players in the quad wheelchair events

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Grand Slam

Wimbledon Throwback: Fairytale Triumph For Maria Sharapova

Before Wimbledon 2004, Maria Sharapova was virtually unknown. Over the next two weeks, her life changed, and so did women’s tennis.

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Maria Sharapova (foto FABRIZIO MACCANI)

One day in June 2004, I came home from school, switched on the Wimbledon coverage and was transfixed by Maria Sharapova – a 17-year-old Russian who played tennis with an intensity I had never seen before.

 

Unfortunately I don’t remember which of her matches I saw first – her second-round win over Anne Keothavong or her third-round victory over Daniela Hantuchova – but I do remember that she blew away her opponent (and me) with her sublime ball-striking ability.

Sharapova’s serene progress continued until the quarter-final, when she faced her first real test against Ai Sugiyama. At the time, the Japanese player was a top-20 player. And she had plenty of experience to draw on after over a decade on tour.

Initially, Sugiyama’s maturity shone through as she won a tight opening set 7-5. However, her young Russian opponent gave many people their first glimpse of one of her defining qualities – fighting spirit. She clawed her way back into the match by coming out on top in an equally close second set. Having broken through the Japanese player’s resistance, Sharapova romped through the decider 6-2 to reach the semi-final.

Against All Odds

Despite her exceptional run to the last four, many observers believed it would come to an end when she faced Lindsay Davenport. It is clear from Sharapova’s autobiography that she agreed.

“I was a kid. Lindsay was a woman. I was weak. Lindsay was strong. I was stringy and narrow. Lindsay was powerful and solid. As I said, in many ways our games were alike. We went by power, played from the baseline, hit flat and low, without much spin, a style that both of us learned from Robert Lansdrop.

“She was twenty-eight years old, so far along there was talk of her retirement. She was not number one just then – that was Serena – but had been number one, off and on, for ninety-eight weeks. So she was one of the greatest tennis players in the world.

“In other words, I’d hung on and hung on till I’d advanced myself right out of my league. I mean, how was I supposed to beat Lindsay Davenport? She was just like me, only bigger, stronger, older, and more experienced. She was just like me, only way more.”

As if that was not already enough to make Sharapova’s task extremely difficult, she also found herself a bit overwhelmed by the occasion. She said she felt as though the crowd would see she was a kid “who did not belong there”, and that the first serve she hit “fluttered over the net like a butterfly”.

Rain Saves Sharapova

Maria Sharapova (foto ART SEITZ)

Just as the Russian expected, Davenport overwhelmed her to begin with. She won the first set 6-2 in just 26 minutes and then went up a break in the second. But just when it seemed like all hope was lost, fate intervened. Rain came pouring down and Sharapova retreated to the locker room to regroup.

Not that the Russian saw it that way. “In my mind, I was already on the plane, heading home,” she said. Thankfully, her father Yuri had other ideas. He told her he had seen it in a dream that she would turn this match around and go on to win the tournament.

And he seemed so certain that Sharapova believed him. It had a strong effect on her. She explained, “In that minute, I went from feeling like I had absolutely no chance, being beaten before I even went back out on the court, to believing I would have the prize if only I could summon the will to take it.”

To her immense credit, that is exactly what the Russian did. She came out after the delay and played exceptionally well. She returned well, drilled her trademark, flat groundstrokes into the corners for seemingly countless winners and even came to the net sometimes to finish points. It was a remarkable turnaround.

Showdown with Serena

I do not have many clear memories of Sharapova’s run to the championship match of Wimbledon 2004. But the final itself will stay in my mind forever.

I remember sitting down to watch it with my mother and thinking, I really hope this spirited Russian underdog can win, but I don’t really believe it. I mean, this is Serena Williams she is facing after all.

If Sharapova had any doubts, they did not show. She came out onto Centre Court and demolished the best female tennis player on the planet. She sent down ace after ace when she served and hit a thrilling succession of winners to finish rallies when they had scarcely begun. And the Russian attacked Serena’s serve in a way I had never seen before and remained calm and focused throughout.

Consequently, the match was over in about 70 minutes and Maria Sharapova – the 17-year-old Russian who most viewers barely knew before the tournament – was the Wimbledon champion. She had produced an extraordinary performance that stunned the sporting world and changed her life forever.

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French Open Chief Hoping To Ease COVID-19 Related Restrictions In Coming Weeks

Former world No.4 Guy Forget says he hopes to learn from the controversy caused by the recently cancelled Adria Tour.

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The man in charge of organising this year’s French Open has said he is optimistic that there will be more flexibility in the restrictions placed upon his event as it nears its launch.

 

Guy Forget has told Reuters News Agency that he believes the clay-court major will be nowhere as strict as the US Open, which will take place a couple weeks prior. The US Open is taking place behind closed doors for the first time in history and players will be subjected to various measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Including regular temperature checks and being limited to how many members of their team they can bring with them. It comes as parts of America reports a rapid rise in cases of the virus.

However, Forget believes that the COVID-19 restrictions set to be implemented in New York will not apply to his tournament because the current situation in his country is not as bad. According to the BBC, more than 29,000 people have died from COVID-19 in France compared to an estimated 132,000 in America.

“Luckily things are a bit more flexible in Europe and in France, especially,” Forget told Reuters. “Hopefully, what we’re going to announce will probably be even more flexible than what we did.”

Despite Forget’s optimism, there is also a lot of caution given recent events that have happened in the sport. The Adria Tour, which was founded by world No.1 Novak Djokovic, was cancelled after an outbreak of the virus among players. Djokovic, Grigor Dimitrov, Viktor Troicki and Borna Coric all tested positive, as well as some coaching staff. The event was criticised for a lack of social distancing with players attending parties, however it all took place in accordance with local government rules. Meanwhile, at the DraftKings All-American Team Cup in Atalanta Frances Tiafoe withdrew due to testing positive for the virus, but the event continued.

“Maybe some people were overconfident there,” Forget commented on the Adria Tour.
“Luckily no one got hurt really bad but even a few cases is too much and we want to avoid that as much as we can.
“We want to reassure everyone that having people getting ill will be terrible for us. Let’s be really careful, really cautious.”

At present, the French Tennis Federation plans to allow up to 20,000 people to attend the French Open daily with 10,000 on the final day. Equating to roughly 60% of its maximum capacity which is a figure based on ‘health-related information and the projected guidelines.’ Those attending will be required to wear masks whilst walking around the venue but not when sitting courtside.

“We all see soccer on television, it’s wonderful but something is missing without the crowds,” Forget said about the importance of a crowd.
“We are working closely with the administration, the government, to make sure we can provide some crowd while still following very strict security measures.”

The French Open is set to get underway on September 27th. Ash Barty and Rafael Nadal are the defending champions.

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