Roland Garros Day 14 Preview: The Women’s Championship - UBITENNIS
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Roland Garros Day 14 Preview: The Women’s Championship

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With a win today, Sofia Kenin would become the first woman to win two Majors in a calendar year since Angelique Kerber in 2016 (rolandgarros.com)

Sofia Kenin goes for her second Major of the year, while Iga Swiatek is playing in her first Slam final.

 

A year ago at this event, Sofia Kenin reached the second week of a Major for the first time.  A victory over Serena Williams highlighted that run.  She accumulated 49 match wins and three titles in 2019.  In January of this year, she surprised the tennis world by capturing the Australian Open, with wins over world No.1 Ash Barty and two-time Major champion Garbine Muguruza.  Kenin went on to claim another title in Lyon right before the tour shutdown, though was just 3-3 between the restart and this event.  In her last match before this tournament, she was routed by Victoria Azarenka 6-0, 6-0.  While Sofia hasn’t always played her best this fortnight, her grit has again been on full display, leading her to a second Slam final this year.  If she wins today, she’ll easily be the WTA’s best player of this abbreviated year, with two Majors and three titles overall.

A year ago at this event, Iga Swiatek reached the second week of a Major for the time time.  In the fourth round last year, she was soundly defeated by Simona Halep 6-1, 6-0 in just 45 minutes.  But in a rematch this year in the same round, it was Swiatek who soundly defeated Halep 6-1, 6-2.  And that’s how all six of her singles matches have played out during this fortnight, averaging less than four games lost per contest.  The 19-year-old’s mix of power, guile, and poise have forced the tennis world to take notice, and have put her one match away from her first Major title.  If she does so, she would do exactly what Jelena Ostapenko accomplished here three years ago: winning a Major without a previous WTA title.

Sofia Kenin (4) vs. Iga Swiatek

This is a rare case where a Major final is also the first career tour-level meeting between the combatants, though that also happened last year in Australia, when Naomi Osaka defeated Petra Kvitova.  Kenin and Swiatek did play in the 2016 French Open junior event, with Iga winning in straight sets.  In this tournament, Swiatek has clearly been the more impressive player.  Through six rounds, she’s struck 150 winners, and only 110 unforced errors, despite playing in cool conditions on this slow surface.  And she’s won 77% of points at net.  To be blunt, she has decimated the competition.

Sofia Kenin’s path to this championship match has been much tougher, going three sets in four of her six matches.  But in her semifinal against Petra Kvitova, she took out another player who had not dropped a set before facing her.  Sofia’s returning skills were on full display against the big-serving, two-time Wimbledon champion.  Kenin won four of five break points in that match, and consistently returned Kvitova’s serve deep in the court.  Sofia’s court smarts are impressive, as she knows what shots to play when, and how to take control away from her opponent.

The difference today will be which player can better embrace the pressure.  Kenin’s experience as a Major champion will be crucial.  But how will she react to the expectation to win as a champion facing an unseeded player who has never won a title?  And while nerves have not yet rattled Swiatek this fortnight, some tension seem inevitable playing in her first Slam final.  However, considering how comfortably Iga has been winning, she can endure a slight dip in play and still prevail.  With that in mind, today’s most likely outcome may just be the crowning of the sport’s newest teenage champion.

Other Notable Matches on Day 14:

In the men’s doubles championship, US Open champions Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares (7) vs. Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies (8), the defending champions of this event.

Saturday’s full schedule is here.

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Crunch Time Beckons For 2021 Australian Tennis Season, Warns Tiley

The tennis chief speaks out about the challenges he faces in the coming weeks ahead of the start of the new tennis season.

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The head of Tennis Australia admits that plans for tournaments at the start of next year are still up in the air as he waits to hear back from local government officials.

 

Craig Tiley will be overseeing the string of events which also include the premier Australian Open. Prior to the Grand Slam officials are hoping to stage a series of tournaments around the country like it has done in previous years. Although due to the COVID-19 pandemic some states still have border restrictions which makes travelling more challenging.

The ongoing restrictions will be the most troublesome for the ATP Cup which is a multi-team men’s event that took place across three cities this year with Novak Djokovic guiding Serbia to the title. Tiley remains optimistic that everything can go ahead as planned but admits the decision is out of his hands.

“We’re getting to crunch time now. We need commitments from the governments and the health officers,” he told the Australian Associated Press (AAP).
“We need to kind of know in the next two weeks, maybe a month, that this is what can happen: borders are going to open and then we can have a multi-city event.
“If we cannot have a multi-city event, we’ve got to reconsider everything.”

Another key issue will be the 14-day quarantine process players will have to go through. Something they didn’t have at either the US Open or French Open. The hope is local authorities will relax their rules and allow players to train during this period. Enabling Tennis Australia to create a ‘bubble’ for them to live within.

“Right now the challenge we have is the borders are still closed,” he said.
“So we’ve got a plan on the basis that there will be all open borders.
“So we’re working with all state governments. We completely accept that everyone coming from overseas has got to have two weeks in quarantine.
“What we are negotiating, or what we’re trying to have an agreement on, is that we set up a quarantine environment where they can train and go between the hotel and the courts in those two weeks.
“That’s similar to the AFL.
“The difference we have with the AFL is we are bringing in players from overseas so the stakes are higher.”

If players are not allowed to train during this period, Tiley has reportedly ruled out staging the event all together.

“If a player has to quarantine and be stuck in a hotel for two weeks just before their season, that won’t happen,” he stated on Thursday.
“You can’t ask players to quarantine for two weeks and then step out and be ready to play a grand slam.”

According to the AAP, the Melbourne major is set to take place with 25% of its usual crowd capacity and players will be allowed to travel with three members of their team.

The Australian Open is set to get underway on January 18th. Djokovic and Sofia Kenin are the reigning champions.

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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.

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Rafael Nadal (image via https://twitter.com/rolandgarros)

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.

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Roland Garros Day 15 Preview: The Men’s Championship

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There will likely be less smiling between these two men on Sunday with so much on the line (rolandgarros.com)

Rafael Nadal vies for a record-tying 20th Major title, while Novak Djokovic looks to win his 18th.

 

The implications of this match are massive.  A Nadal win would tie him with Roger Federer for most men’s Major singles titles.  A Djokovic win would make the three-way race for the most Slams tighter than ever before.

In 2005, Rafael Nadal won his first Major title in his debut at this event.  15 years later, he is an unprecedented 99-2 at Roland Garros, and a 12-time champion.  The only two men he has ever lost to at the French Open are Robin Soderling and his opponent today.  Nadal and his team have spoken of the pandemic emotionally impacted Rafa, causing him to decline defending his title at last month’s US Open.  There was much speculation that Nadal was not as strong a favorite in this unique edition of Roland Garros.  He arrived with only three matches played in six months, and on the heels of a loss in Rome to Diego Schwartzman.  Then Rafa himself talked about his displeasure with the tournament’s change to a slower-playing Wilson ball.  And the cooler conditions in the October staging of this event are not to Nadal’s liking.  But none of that has deterred the King of Clay thus far.  As Simon Cambers highlighted, this is the sixth time he has reached the final here without dropping a set.  Rafa is 25-0 in semifinals and finals at Roland Garros.  With a loss today, this would become only the third year since 2005 that Nadal failed to win a Major.  With a victory today, he’ll win his record-extending 100th match and 13th title at the French Open.

In 2005, Novak Djokovic made his Major debut.  But unlike Nadal, he did not win his first Slam until 2008.  And then Djokovic went another three years until capturing his second.  And Novak did not win this event until 2016, in his twelfth attempt.  That was the year after he finally defeated Rafa at this event in his seventh try.  This is Novak’s first trip back to the championship match of Roland Garros since he won four years ago.  But Djokovic has dominated in 2020, with a record 37-1.  The only blemish to his record was the infamous default at the US Open, when he errantly hit a lines judge with a ball.  That’s one of many controversies Novak has been a part of this year.  They also include an exhibition tour utterly lacking of social distancing, which lead to many people, including himself and his wife, coming down with COVID-19.  And the forming of a new players’ association (PTPA), with its suspect timing and lack of female representation, drew much criticism.  But Djokovic has excelled on the court despite those off-court distractions.  He’s on an 11-match winning streak, going back to his title run in Rome last month.  However, his last two matches were concerning.  Novak was in obvious neck and arm pain in the quarterfinals.  And despite holding a match point in the third set of his semifinal, he failed to close it out, spending an additional two sets (and two hours) on court less than 48 hours ago.  With a win today, he’ll become to only man in the Open Era to win each Grand Slam event twice.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Rafael Nadal (2) – 3:00pm local time

This is the match the tennis world has been anticipating since this fortnight began.  It’s a showdown between two of the most prolific champions of all-time.  And it’s the most prolific rivalry of this generation.  Djokvoic leads their head-to-head 29-26.  At Majors, Nadal leads 9-6, and they’re tied 4-4 in Major finals.  On clay, Rafa leads 17-7.  In some startling symmetry, Nadal claimed 14 of their first 18 meetings, but Djokovic has now taken 14 of their most recent 18.  This is their first match at Roland Garros in five years, after meeting here seven out of ten years between 2006 and 2015.

Djokovic is attempting to do what no man has done before: defeat Nadal in the last two rounds of the French Open. But if Djokovic is ever going to defeat Nadal in a French Open final, this may be his best chance.  Rafa’s ball will not bounce as high or as far in these heavy conditions, with Sunday forecast to be rather cool.  And Nadal is lacking the amount of pre-event match play he usually requires to be at his best.  However, Djokovic’s hiccup in Friday’s semifinal may have been revealing.  Novak knew how important it was to put that match away quickly, so he’d be fully fresh for today.  But with the intimidating task of playing Rafa on his mind, he blinked.  Novak should still be relatively close to 100% physically, yet I wonder what that did to his psyche. 

Beating Rafa on clay in a best-of-five match remains the sport’s toughest task.  Novak has done it before, and in their most recent such meeting, yet only once out of seven times.  And never in the last two rounds of Roland Garros.  Until Djokovic proves otherwise, Nadal must be considered the favorite in a French Open final.

Other Notable Matches on Day 15:

In the women’s doubles championship at 11:30am Paris time, three-time Major champions Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic (2) vs. Alexa Guarachi and Desirae Krawczyk (14), the only players to notch a victory over Iga Swiatek this fortnight, defeating her and Nicole Melichar in the semifinals.

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