French Open Day 8 Preview: Five Must-See Matches - UBITENNIS
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Grand Slam

French Open Day 8 Preview: Five Must-See Matches

Today begins the second week of the fortnight, with 16 men and 16 women remaining in the singles draws.

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Garbine Muguruza (photo by :Gianni Ciaccia)

On the men’s side, the three most prolific male champions of the Open Era all remain. Roger, Rafa, and Novak will all be heavy favorites in their fourth round matches, but the other five men’s contests are blockbusters. On the women’s side, we’re in the midst of a youth movement. As per WTA Insider, this is the first Grand Slam event in a decade where three teenagers advanced to the round of 16. And despite the exits yesterday of Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, Major champions Garbine Muguruza, Sloane Stephens, and Simona Halep are still here.

 

Sloane Stephens (7) vs. Garbine Muguruza (19)

It’s the 2016 champion facing the 2018 finalist. These two streaky players have only met twice before, splitting two matches played on hard courts. Stephens was certainly the player with more momentum at the start of this tournament, as Muguruza arrived in Paris with a 2-2 clay record on the year. But Muguruza has looked sharper with every round in the past week, and she has reached the quarters or better here in four of the last five years. Both women should be feeling a lot of pressure today, as the winner will be a strong favorite to go all the way to the final in an open half of the draw. This surface would assumedly favor Sloane, who moves better and has stronger defense than Garbine. I like Stephens’s chances to advance here, and favor her to return to the finals for the second straight year.

Stefanos Tsitsipas (6) vs. Stan Wawrinka (24)

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This will be their first meeting, and should be a good one. Both men needed two days to finish their third round matches due to darkness, though they should be pretty fresh after playing for only about an hour yesterday. The 20-year-old has easily been the better player over the past year, with nearly twice as many wins as the 2015 champion. Wawrinka though played extremely well in week 1, and seems primed to legitimately challenge Tsitsipas. The winner here will likely face Roger Federer on Tuesday, and either man will have a good chance against the 20-time Major champion.

Donna Vekic (23) vs. Johanna Konta (26)

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This is a rematch from a classic these two played at Wimbledon in 2017, where Konta prevailed 10-8 in the third. That was just a few weeks after Vekic had defeated Konta 7-5 in the third in the final of Nottingham. Overall they’re 3-3 lifetime, and have never played on clay. Johanna had never won a match at this tournament prior to this year, but she gained a lot of confidence on this surface in the month prior, with 10 clay court wins. The 22-year-old Vekic has seemed ready for a breakthrough for some time now, but it’s yet to materialize. This is only her second appearance in the fourth round of a Major. While Vekic impressed by easily dispatching of Belinda Bencic on Friday, Konta is the more proven big match player, and is the favorite here.

Kei Nishikori (7) vs. Benoit Paire

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As Ravi Ubha outlined on Twitter, Nishikori said of Paire, “For me he has the best backhand on the tour.” That’s a startling statement, but shows the respect Kei has for Benoit’s game. Nishikori leads their head-to-head 6-2, with Paire’s two wins coming in 2015 on hard courts. They also played in the second round of this event last year, when Kei survived a five-setter. Nishikori also prevailed in their other clay court meeting. The 29-year-old barely got to this point, as he was down two breaks in the fifth to Laslo Djere two days ago. Paire also survived an extended five-setter this past week, but got a break in his last round when Pablo Carreno Busta retired after the third set. With this being the last match of the day on Court Suzanne-Lenglen, the French crowd will be boisterously behind Paire as he vies to reach his first Major quarterfinal. But Kei remains a tough out even when he’s tired, and I suspect he’ll find a way through this one.

Anastasija Sevastova (12) vs. Marketa Vondrousova

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Speaking of extended matches, Sevastova endured a thrilling one on Friday. The 29-year-old from Latvia saved five match points before prevailing 11-9 in the third over Elise Mertens. She’s now advanced to the fourth round or better at each of the last three Majors. Her 19-year-old opponent has now equaled her best result at a Slam from last year’s US Open, and continues to make a definitive impression on tour. Vondrousova already owns two wins this year over Simona Halep, and was a finalist at the clay event in Istanbul back in April. With her run here, she’s projected to debut in the top 30 next Monday. The left-hander possesses a lot of variety in her game, though not quite the variety of the unique Sevastova. In their first career meeting, I give the slight edge to better-rested Vondrousova to reach her first Major quarterfinal.

Other notable matches on Day 8:

  • Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Juan Ignacio Londero, a 25-year-old from Argentina who was winless at Slams prior to this event.
  • Roger Federer (3) vs. Leonardo Mayer, a more accomplished Argentine who owns two clay court titles. But as reported by Enrique Quique Cano, Mayer is dealing with a left leg tear.
  • Petra Martic (31) vs. Kaia Kanepi. Kanepi is a six-time Major quarterfinalist, while Martic is 0-4 in the round of 16 at Grand Slam events.

Order of play

Court Philippe-Chatrier (10am BST)

Kaia Kanepi (EST) vs [31] Petra Martic (CRO)

Leonardo Mayer (ARG) vs [3] Roger Federer (SWI)

Juan Ignacio Londero (ARG) vs [2] Rafael Nadal (SPA)

Sloane Stephens (USA) [7] vs [19] Garbine Muguruza (ESP)

Court Suzanne-Lenglen (10am BST)

Markets Vondrousova (CZE) vs [12] Anastasia Sevastova (LAT)

Donna Vekic (CRO) [23] vs [26] Johanna Konta (GBR)

Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) [6] vs [24] Stan Wawrinka (SWI)

Kei Nishikori (JPN) [7] vs Benoit Paire (FRA)

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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