Happy birthday Serena, a really happy birthday to the greatest player of the new millennium and perhaps of all time (although Italian Hall-of-Famer Gianni Clerici would say that the GOAT is actually Suzanne Lenglen, La Divine, The Goddess). Yesterday, Serena Williams turned 39 and said, not for the first time, “I never thought I’d find myself still playing at 39. And now I don’t know when I’ll quit. I still enjoy it, and as long as I enjoy it …” It seemed to hear echoing the words spoken so many times by one of her peers, Roger Federer.
Surely, this is the first time Serena celebrates her birthday in Paris. And, just as surely, it is also the first time in many years that, at the beginning of a Grand Slam tournament, she is not considered among the top favourites, despite the absence of the defending champion, Ashleigh Barty, and of the last two winners of the US Open, Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu (who aren’t outstanding clay-courters).
While it is true that clay has never been Williams’ favourite surface – it tones down the otherwise deadly weapon that is her serve – it is also true that many others have had the same issue, like Sampras. Pistol Pete has never been past the semifinals in Paris, which he reached just once (1996). Serena has won at the Stade-Roland Garros three times (2002, 2013, 2015) and was the runner-up in 2016, a semifinalist in 2003, and a quarterfinals another five times. Her three triumphs at the Port d’Auteuil aside, she has won 10 more titles won on the dirt – it’s far from an inconsiderable amount.
However, besides having to point out that Serena hasn’t won the French Open in five years – becoming the oldest winner of the tournament at 34 and a half – in 2020 there seems to be a favourite who is touted as being head and shoulder above the competition, i.e. Simona Halep, and various others, such as Svitolina and Azarenka, who is in William’s quarter of the draw (Vika beat her in New York), plus Muguruza and Kenin in the other half who seem to have the same chances as Serena if not more, especially after witnessing Serena get carried to a decider by almost each of her opponents in Kentucky and at the US Open before she succumbed.
For whom might be interested, you could listen to the reasons why Steve Flink and I said during the draw that it seems highly unlikely that Serena will be able to conquer his fourth Roland Garros and the coveted 24th Major – she is no doubt weighed down by the years and with the handicap of an ultra-heavy surface due to the pressing humidity and Wilson balls that even Nadal struggles to push.
Winning the tournament would allow her to equal Margaret Court’s record and squash the nightmare that haunts her by now from nine failed attempts, including the four Grand Slam finals lost without winning a set after the birth of her child. She’s been training in France, since Monday, at the tennis Academy of her coach Patrick Mouratoglou (close to Nice on the Cote d’Azur), but has not played on clay for a year and a half, since the third round of Roland Garros in May 2019, when she lost to Sofia Kenin (her earliest defeat at a Grand Slam since 2014). For any other player, reaching four Grand Slam finals while losing only in the semifinals at the last US Open would have been a dream result. But not for her. She’s won 23 Grand Slams out of the 75 she’s played in, so her goals are accordingly set.
“Should a semifinal be a good result for me? Absolutely not! I find myself in a position in my career where I cannot be satisfied! I don’t want to sit here and say, ‘Oh, I’m happy! No, because I’m not!’ Serena will face Kristie Ahn in the first round, the American who particularly distinguished herself in the Covid-19 season for her ability to engage on social media. “I haven’t played any tournament in preparation for this, which is unusual for me – said Serena yesterday in Paris under a seemingly recently created cascade of blond curls – but this was a very unusual, unique year. I tried to recover as much as possible with Patrick after the ankle issue I suffered in New York. Am I 100% in physical condition now? No, but I’m healthy enough to try. I wouldn’t play if I didn’t think I could be competitive. I don’t know any athletes who don’t compete if they are not 100%. If I play well, I can still beat anyone and the more I play, the better I should be able to play.”
In short, Serena’s hunt continues, even though she has never played in the Parisian cold. “Between California and Florida, and in the various tournaments, it’s never happened to me. I hate the cold; I’ve seen snowing for the first time halfway through my life!” The weather, which should feature constant showers, will not be her ally… unless she gets to perform most of the time under the roof of the Philippe Chatrier stadium (albeit with a leaking roof…), and that could be a critical advantage.
Article translated by Andrea Ferrero; edited by Tommaso Villa
COMMENT: Rafa At His Best Was Way Too Much For Novak To Handle
The long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper, James Beck, gives his take on the French Open men’s final.
This French Open was all about Rafa Nadal.
Even the new women’s French Open champion, 19-year-old Iga Swiatek, is one of his fans.
Matching Roger Federer’s record 20 Grand Slam singles titles was pretty special in a year filled with the deadly coronavirus. The fact that possibly the sweetest victory of his long career came against longtime rival Novak Djokovic made it even more special.
Djokovic still stands three Grand Slam singles titles shy of the record number of 20. Only now, Novak has to chase both Nadal and Federer for the all-time record.
NOVAK DIDN’T LOOK HIMSELF
Of course, Djokovic didn’t look himself in his 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 loss to Nadal on Sunday on the red clay of Roland Garros, especially in the first set and maybe the second one, too.
Nadal obviously had something to do with that. Rafa played one of his best Grand Slam matches ever. He humbled Djokovic in much the same way he has totally dominated Federer in a couple of Grand Slam finals.
Nadal would not surrender even a point without a fight as he wore down the Serbian Wonder. Nadal actually out-moved and out-hit Djokovic. Nadal always seemed to be one move ahead of Djokovic, even during Novak’s usually dominant drop-shot attack.
DJOKOVIC’S DROP-SHOT ATTACK APPEARED TO SET RAFA ON FIRE
Djokovic came out drop-shotting as he attempted to frustrate the Spanish left-hander one more time with his deft drop shots. But Djokovic’s early strategy backfired as the strategy appeared to put even more fire into Nadal’s veins.
Nadal was ready for the drop shots this time, moving in quickly to repeatedly pass Djokovic down the backhand line or executing perfect slice backhands almost directly cross-court that Djokovic had no chance to return.
Obviously Nadal has been seriously practicing on his drop-shot returns. He also seemed to concentrate on hitting baseline shots with more air than usual, making them drop down closer to the baseline. He also used a heavily sliced backhand on balls near the surface line that hugged the net and stayed low, causing Djokovic to get low and to hit up on balls just off the clay surface.
But at any time, at the slightest opening, Nadal turned his forehands and backhands into weapons of power.
NADAL’S TOUGHEST FINAL BECAME ONE OF HIS EASIEST
Yes, this was supposed to be Nadal’s toughest French Open to win, due to the cooler weather this time of the year in Paris and slower court conditions. And there also was the added pressure of going for Grand Slam title No. 20.
But the heavy court conditions seemed to be in Rafa’s favor, not Novak’s. And Nadal handled the pressure situation as if it was a walk in the park..
Nadal repeatedly pounded outright winners off both wings as Djokovic could only watch.
THE CLOSED ROOF MIGHT HAVE EVEN HELPED RAFA
Rain was in the forecast, so the new Philippe Chatrier Stadium roof was closed this time for its first men’s final. That solved the problem of heavy shadows that seemed to frustrate Sofia Kenin a day earlier in her one-sided women’s final loss to Swiatek.
Everything was perfectly aligned for Rafa on this day.
Even usual Djokovic fan John McEnroe was chatting from Los Angeles on the TV telecast that “Rafa is in the zone.” In the second set, McEnroe referred to the match as not even being competitive at the time.
Johnny Mac was simply telling it like it was. Nadal simply was the far superior player on this day.
James Beck has been the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.
Rafael Nadal Excels Once Again At His Beloved French Open
The king of clay dominated his match against world No.1 Djokovic to continue what will perhaps be the most dominant run at a Grand Slam tournament in history.
Records are meant to be broken, and almost all existing ones will indeed be broken over the next century.
All but one, though, because no one will ever win the French Open 13 times or amass 100 victories with just a pair of defeats over a 15-year span like Rafa Nadal has done. The Spaniard thoroughly and utterly dominated Djokovic, even from a tactical perspective, a feat that could be hardly predicted. As a matter of fact, the Eurosport crew, made of full-on or borderline Hall-of-Famers like McEnroe, Wilander, Courier and Henman, foresaw that the Serbian, who has a more complete and varied repertoire of shots, would have finally dethroned Nadal in Paris, aided by the perks of a heavy court to counter his opponent’s vaunted-and-yet-blunted topspin groundstrokes. Moreover, the final was played under the roof of the Philip Chatrier stadium, another element that was thought to work in the world number one’s favour, since he usually annihilates the competition when playing indoors.
Well, they were all wrong, we were all wrong, especially vis-à-vis the proportions of the scoreline. Djokovic had never been beaten so harshly in a Major final; what’s more is that Nadal could have actually trundled his way to an even bigger triumph, since he was leading 3-2 with a break in the third set before losing his serve for the sole time – he also had a break point at 4-4 to serve the match out a few minutes earlier than he ended up doing, when Djokovic double faulted at 5-5 to concede for good. Up 6-5 40-0, the King of Clay aced out the tournament in style with a typical southpaw slice serve, leaving Djokovic agape once more before falling to his knees – he would later give way to tears during the Spanish national anthem.
What are the reasons behind such a blowout, aside from journalistic clichés such as “Rafa was at his best, and it just wasn’t Novak’s day”?
- Djokovic’s serve was appalling. He seldom put a first serve in play. The first two times he got broken, he was 2 out of 8 and 1 out of 6, respectively. He fought valiantly for 33 minutes, but after falling 4-0 behind he managed to lose his serve again after springing to a 40-0 lead…
- He got a little too enamoured of the drop shot (he hit 35 against Tsitsipas, about 30 against Nadal), failing to realise that the quick nature of those points doesn’t give him enough rhythm and control with his groundstrokes. If a player like him, who thrives in long and asphyxiating exchanges based on moving the opponent, loses the habit to go over nine shots, he will end up suffering against Nadal, a player who pretty much never misses – just three unforced errors in the opening two sets.
- While the Spaniard’s signature shot is his forehand, during the final he wreaked havoc with the slice backhand as well. The shot landed low and short, forcing Djokovic to take a few steps forward in no-man’s land (the area between the service line and the baseline), offering him an uncomfortable look on which it was very difficult to inject pace.
The outcome was that Rafa won his favourite tournament without dropping a set for the fourth time after already doing so in 2008, 2010, and 2017. Jannik Sinner was the only one who got to at least try serve out a set against him – if the Italian was able to do that at 19, who knows how good he’ll become in the next few years, since his performance didn’t happen by chance.
Roger Federer, who was in Milan during the weekend when his frenemy equaled his record tally of 20 Majors (Djokovic is at 17), immediately took to social media to comment on Nadal’s win: “I have always had the utmost respect for my friend Rafa as a person and as a champion. As my greatest rival over many years, I believe we have pushed each other to become better players […]. I hope 20 is just another step on the continuing journey for both of us. Well done, Rafa. You deserve it.”
Nadal replied during his press conference: “I think, as everybody know, we have a very, very good relationship. We respect each other a lot. At the same time in some way I think he’s happy when I’m winning and I’m happy when he’s doing the things well. I never hide that for me, I always say the same, that I would love to finish my career being the player with more Grand Slams. But in the other hand I say, okay, I have to do it my way. I did my way during all my career. In terms of these records, of course that I care. I am a big fan of the history of sport in general. I respect a lot that. For me means a lot to share this number with Roger, no? But let’s see what’s going on when we finish our careers.”
In 1930, Italian cyclist Alfredo Binda was offered a huge sum to withdraw from the Giro d’Italia after winning it for five years in a row. Will it happen to Rafa Nadal in Paris too? It looks like the only way to stop him.
The Man-Machine? Djokovic wants Hawk-Eye to replace line judges for good
Sixteen unseeded players will feature in the singles draw at the French Open – however, the Big Three (Djokovic, Nadal and… Thiem) have been gliding past the competition. The Serbian (just 15 games lost, and no sets) would do away with linesmen and lineswomen in the name of technological progress. I agree with Muguruza though – Hawk-eye on clay is necessary, but not for every single call.
Ten out of sixteen players in the women’s draw are not seeded, a huge number for a tournament with 32 seeds: Collins, Ferro, Zhang, Siegemund, Badosa, Swiatek, Trevisan, Garcia, Podoroska, and Krejcikova. This means that at least two matchups, Siegemund-Badosa and Podoroska Krejcikova, will beget a surprise guest in the list of Final Eight invitees. It’s not something that happens at every Major – one Cinderella story, perhaps, but not two.
In the men’s draw, the dark horses amount to six: Sinner, Sonego, Altmaier, Korda, and Gaston. However, there is no match slated between two of them, so they could theoretically all bow out between today and tomorrow – it is a statistically more conventional amount, and, at any rate, it was widely anticipated that this would be a peculiar Slam. The favourites in the men’s draw, however, are still competing, with Djokovic losing no sets and 15 games, Nadal zero and 19, Thiem nil and 28, probably due to a much tougher draw (Cilic, Sock and Ruud are all better than Ymer, Berankis, Galan, Gerasimov, McDonald and Travaglia).
THE REASONS BEHIND SO MANY UPSETS
According to Garbine Muguruza, who had just lost to Collins and was therefore quite sensitive on this theme (especially because she has actually won a “normal” French Open in the past), the singular conditions of the fortnight are levelling the competition, allowing for more shakeups. It is indeed a good point, although it doesn’t seem to apply to those who are literally off the charts like the aforementioned three krakens of the men’s draw, although it should be highlighted that four more players haven’t lost a single set so far – Schwartzman, Dimitrov, Altmaier, and Sinner.
WHO LOST THE FEWEST SETS AND GAMES (MEN’S EDITION)
As already mentioned, Djokovic has dropped a meagre 15 games in three matches, followed by Nadal with 19, Dimitrov and Schwartzman with 22 (the Bulgarian has played one fewer set due to Carballes Baena retiring), Thiem with 28, Sinner with 31, and Altmaier with 38. Carreno (34 games) and Fucsovics (31) have dropped one set. Tsitsipas (32), Korda (40), Zverev (46), Khachanov (also 46) and Sonego (51) have conceded a couple. Rublev lost three sets (48), and Gaston four (49).
Today’s matchups are, in the bottom half of the draw:
- Sonego vs Schwartzman
- Gaston vs Thiem
- Zverev vs Sinner
- Korda vs Nadal.
And here’s tomorrow’s fourth rounds:
- Carreno Busta-Altmaier
My predictions for the quarter finals are:
- Schwartzman vs Thiem (I hope to be wrong for chauvinistic reasons)
- Zverev vs Nadal (Ibid.)
- Djokovic-Carreno (what a rematch, after what happened last time)
The 16 survivors spring from 12 countries (Italy, Spain, Russia and Germany have two representatives, Serbia, Austria, Greece, Hungary, Bulgaria, the US and Argentina have one each) – 14 of them are Europeans, two are from the Americas.
WHO LOST THE FEWEST SETS AND GAMES (WOMEN’S EDITION)
Four ladies are still perfect in terms of sets lost, and will square off in the fourth round: Halep (12 games lost) and Swiatek (13) will meet today, while Kvitova (22) and Zhang (30) will do it tomorrow. Svitolina (21) and Podoroska (19) have dropped one set. Everyone else is at two sets lost: Garcia (37), Krejcikova (35), Jabeur (35), Ferro (33), Badosa (30) Collins (29), Trevisan (28), Siegemund (28) Bertens (27), and Kenin (26).
Today’s matches are will involve the top half of the draw:
As for the bottom half, the bouts are:
The Europeans will be 11 (France and Czechia have two players each, while Italy, Germany, Spain, Romania, Poland, Ukraine, and the Netherlands have one). The rest of the world is represented by the US with two, and by Argentina, China and Tunisia with one. No country has four players left, with four European nations sporting three – Italy, France, Spain and Germany.
HAWK-EYE VS HUMANITY
A common theme of Week 1 has been the players collectively calling for the use of Hawk-Eye on clay. Several have been hurt by wrong calls, like Mladenovic, Shapovalov, Trevisan, Sonego, Fritz, and more. Djokovic has been the most outspoken: he wants to get rid of human linesmen and lineswomen – “That way, I won’t risk striking anybody else,” he humorously and self-deprecatingly said before adding, “I understand that this is a supplementary cost for the organisers, but the progress in modern technology should allow to do it.” To be fair, a mistake at a crucial moment can cost millions to the victim.
Garbine Muguruza is in favour of the use of Hawk-Eye, but not of the riddance of linespeople. “I’m traditional, I like having human beings around me and not just machines – tennis courts would have no atmosphere left.” For what it’s worth, I tend to agree with her, especially because of the tens of thousands of umpires, linesmen and lineswomen who volunteer all around the world in junior events, Futures and Challengers (and would continue to do so, not every tournament can afford to pay for electronic judges), hoping perhaps to one day reach the big leagues. Nole’s idea would deprive the game of so many impassioned enlistees and valuable professionals who wouldn’t even get into the game, since their dream career wouldn’t exist anymore. This also means the definitive loss of many jobs in each country, and that the quality of professionals would go down.
My impression is that the Co-President of the PTPA hasn’t really thought through the practical consequences of the choice he’s advocating for. I will tell him that the first chance I get. At the same time, I would like to remind the French Open officials that they do have the money to implement the Hawk-Eye technology on each court, although perhaps that’s a conversation for a time when more than a thousand daily fans will be allowed through the turnstiles. Not all events, even on hardcourts, have the same fortune, for instance those who don’t even refund the people who had already bought the tickets for an event that was played behind closed doors…
Article originally published on Ubitennis.com and translated by Tommaso Villa.
Daniel Evans saves a match point to beat Karen Khachanov in Antwerp
Alexander Zverev moves one step closer to win his second Cologne title
Maria Sakkari fights from a set and a break down to reach her second semifinal of the season in Ostrava
Jannik Sinner digs deep to beat Gilles Simon in the Cologne quarter finals
Andy Murray’s ‘Tennis In 2020’ Caption Praised By Rising Star Gauff
French Open, Steve Flink: “Nadal is close to his best. Sinner will be in the Top 10 within a year”
Andy Murray Outlines Next Steps Following Cologne Defeat
Goran Ivanisevic Under Fire Over French Open Comment Involving Djokovic And Nadal
COMMENT: Rafa At His Best Was Way Too Much For Novak To Handle
‘Completely Sick’ Alexander Zverev Reveals He Had Been Suffering From A Fever After French Open Exit
French Open, Steve Flink: “Nadal is inhuman. He can play three or four more years and retire with Djokovic”
Scanagatta And Flink: “We Both Think Djokovic Will Win The French Open, So Nadal Will Definitely Pull It Off!”
Steve Flink: “Djokovic Will Be Happy About The French Open Draw”
Flink: “Zverev wasted the lead, but Thiem would have been more affected by a loss”
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