COMMENT: The French Open Women's Finalists Are Worth Watching - UBITENNIS
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COMMENT: The French Open Women’s Finalists Are Worth Watching

Columnist James Beck reflects on what has been a very unpredictable women’s tournament at Roland Garros.

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Barbora Krejcikova - Roland Garros 2021 (via Twitter, @rolandgarros)

This French Open hasn’t looked like a Grand Slam women’s championship since the first couple of rounds.

 

At first glance, the final four players looked more like a low-level WTA Tour tournament semifinal field with only one top 30 player still around. And now Saturday’s final features No. 32-ranked Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia against No. 33-ranked Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic.

They aren’t household names yet.

The setting is pretty gloomy on the surface for the same court that will play host to maybe the most important and most intriguing meeting of the Rafa Nadal-Novak Djokovic long-running rivalry.

FROM OBSCURITY TO GRAND SLAM SINGLES CHAMPION

But there’s more to this women’s final than you might expect, considering the participants and their obscurity until the last few weeks.

Especially in the case of Krejcikova.

This 25-year-old who had never been heard from in singles until she won the WTA tournament  in Strasbourg, France, the week before the French Open.  She is a former world’s No. 1 doubles player, but as neat to watch as doubles are, doubles rankings are rather insignificant to the average tennis fan.

Not everyone keeps up with the doubles rankings except the players at/or near the top of the list.

Just the same, Krejcikova and long-time doubles partner Katerina Siniakova are in the French Open doubles semifinals. The pair won French Open and Wimbledon doubles titles back-to-back in 2018. They also teamed up as juniors to win three of the four junior Grand Slams in doubles — French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Krejcikova also has been part of the last three title-winning Australian Open mixed doubles teams.

KREJCIKOVA MASTER OF BACKHAND DOWN THE LINE

But watching Krejcikova score victories over 17-year-old want-to-be superstar Cori Gauff in the quarterfinals and then 25-year-old Greek Maria Sakkari in the semifinals was spine-tingling, keeping you on the edge of your seat. Ranked at No. 18 currently, Sakkari was the only top 30 player still playing when the semifinals rolled around.

Krejcikova can turn the simplest-looking shot into a nightmare. She is totally unpredictable . . . until the match is on the line. Then she often becomes sheer perfection. Her backhand down the line is one of the best-kept secrets in women’s tennis.

She treats the lob as a weapon, playing moon-ball tennis at times to get her opponent out of sync. And the tactic worked numerous times down the stretch in her amazing 7-5, 4-6, 9-7 win over Sakkari on Thursday.

CZECH STANDOUT WINS MATCH TWICE

The 5-9 Czech player had to win the match twice in the last game. That was the result of the chair umpire ruling on match point No. 4 that Sakkari had hit a winner, over-ruling Hawkeye and then ordering the point to be played over. Sakkari then won that point and the next one in a show of aggressiveness to move within one point of evening the score at 8-8.

But Sakkari then committed a pair of errors to give Krejcikova a fifth match point. This time, the Czech turned a Sakkari drop shot into a Krejcikova winner, naturally a backhand down the line, to complete the match in 198 minutes.

Of course, Krejcikova had to fight off one match point herself in the 10th game of the final set before evening the set at 5-5 by winning a moon-ball battle with one of her backhand winners.

WOMEN’S DRAW FELL APART EARLY

Among current top 10 players, 2020 French Open champion Iga Swiatek was the lone member left in the field before she lost to Sakkari in the quarterfinals. And Swiatek, Serena Williams and Sofia Kenin were the only top 10 players around for the round of 16.

With 1-2-3 Ashleigh Barty, Naomi Osaka and Simon Halep falling to injuries or personal decisions in the case of Osaka, the women’s draw started to fall apart by the second round and never let up.

All of that opened the doors for Krejcikova and Pavlyuchenkova to compete for the prize of their lifetimes Saturday morning on the red clay of Roland Garros.

See James Beck’s Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier columns at postandcourier.com (search on James Beck column). James Beck can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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Sebastian Korda sets up quarter final clash against Ugo Humbert in Halle

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Sebastian Korda came back from one set down to beat Kei Nishikori 2-6 6-3 7-5 at the NOVENTI Open in Halle setting up a quarter final match against Ugo Humbert, who upset Alexander Zverev 7-6 (7-4) 3-6 6-3 in 1 hour and 53 minutes 

 

Both players went on serve with no breaks of serve. Zverev won 84% of his first serve points. Humbert won the first set tie-break when Zverev netted a forehand. 

Zverev converted his first break point at the start of the second set to take a 2-0 lead, when Humbert sent his backhand long. Zverev held on his next service games to claim the second set 6-3. Humbert earned the break in the fourth game of the third set to close out the third set 6-3. 

“I don’t particularly know what I could have done differently. Ugo was serving incredibly well in the first set. We both barely won points on each other’s serve. Then in the third set, I think he found his rhythm from the baseline. He was outplaying me. It is not a great result for me, but I don’t know what I could have done differently”, said Zverev. 

Korda reached the first ATP Tour final of his first career at Delray Beach, the quarter final in Miami and won his firts ATP Tour title on clay at the Emilia Romagna Open in Parma. 

Nishikori broke twice in the first set to open up a 4-1 lead. The Japanese player won 67% of his second serve points and saved two break points in the eighth game to close out the first set 6-2 in 31 minutes. Korda broke serve in the sixth game after seven deuces and held serve in another hard-fought game to race out to a 5-2 lead. The US player served out the second set 6-3 to force the match to the third set. 

Nishikori saved three break points in a nine-minute first game. The decider went on serve until the 11th game, when Korda broke Nishikori with a lob. Korda fended off a break point as he served out the match at deuce in the 12th game. “I would say it was good level from both of us. I think I played almost too good in the first set. He then started making more balls and changed his position. He started playing better in the second set.I think the third set could go both ways. I had many chances, but he played good points and he deserved to win as he took risks”, said Korda. 

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Matteo Berrettini beats Andy Murray to reach the quarter finals in his debut at the Queen’s

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Top seed Matteo Berrettini beat former Wimbledon champion Andy Murray 6-3 6-3 after 1 hour and 25 minutes at the cinch Championships to reach the quarter final at the Queen’s Club in London without dropping a set in his debut at this event. 

 

Berrettini won his fourth ATP Tour at the Serbian Open in Belgrade, reaached the final at the Madrid Mutua Open and the quarter final at Roland Garros. 

Murray, who won the Queen’s title five times in 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2016, has made his come-back from a groin injury with a wild-card in his first ATP Tour level tournament since March. He was seeking his seventh quarter final at the Queen’s tournament and his first since lifting this title in 2016.

Berrettini fended off all three break points and his 28 winners to just seven unforced errors. The Italian top 10 player broke twic in the fifth and ninth games to close out the first set 6-3. He earned an early break in the second game of the second set and held his next service games to close out the second set 6-3. 

“This was really hard. We all know who Andy is, he is a great player and he was always there even until the last point. I am really happy for my performance. I know how tough it is to come back from an injury, so I wish him the best of luck. I played better. I am just happy that he is back. I have worked really hard on my serve in my career since I was a kid. I grew up on clay, so I waas serving more kick serves, but we figured that I had to hit hard like this. Today it worked really well”, said Berrettini. 

Murray is unlikely to play in Eastbourne next week because of the logistics around the tournament bubble. 

“I made some good moves on court but my tennis was not very good. That’s the thing I will need most rather than the movement. There are some slight niggles in the groin and I will have to try and get rid of between now and Wimbledon. I need matches and I need to practise with top players over the next ten days”, said Murray. 

Berrettini set up a quarter final match against British player Daniel Evans, who beat Adrian Mannarino 6-4 7-6 (9-7) in 1 hour and 43 minutes. Evans won 81% of his first serve points and fended off five of the six break points. 

“I am just pleased to come through. I knew that he was good on grass. I knew that it was going to be a difficult match, but I didn’t envision it being that tight and obviously I did not want it that tight either. It was a tough match, mentally more than anything, trying to hold my serve when I was a set down”, said Evans. 

Denis Shapovalov cruised past Feliciano Lopez 6-2 6-3 with two breaks in the sixth and eighth games of the first set and in the fourth game of the second set. 

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Dominic Thiem Signs Up To New Athlete Management Agency Launched By Kosmos

The world No.5 has become the first athlete to ever be represented by Kosmos.

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Dominic Thiem says he is ‘proud’ to be joining a new agency that has been launched by Kosmos which specialises in athlete management.

 

Kosmos, which was founded by Barcelona F.C star Gerard Pique, says their venture is aimed at supporting those in the world of sport. In a statement issued on Thursday, their objective is to provide ‘comprehensive service to athletes where, in addition to representation, commercial and public relations, it will also provide sports, legal and financial advice.’ The new division will be headed by Galo Blanco who is a former player and coach. Blanco previously served as the Competition Director of Kosmos.

“We are very excited about this project. Many people who have been linked to sport for many years and specialise in different key areas in the development of an athlete’s career work at Kosmos. We know what is important for the active player and for their future, because many of us are or have been professional players,” says Gerard Piqué, President of Kosmos.

27-year-old Thiem is the first athlete to have signed up to the agency. Coincidentally the Austrian was co-coached by Blanco on the Tour between 2017-2018. Blanco ended their collaboration in order to focus on the redevelopment of the Davis Cup. Thiem is now coached on the Tour by Nicolas Massu, as well as his father Wolfgang.

“I am very happy that Galo is part of the team again. He has been very close to me and my family, even when he stopped being my coach,” said Thiem.
“The season has not started as I would have liked, I am working very hard to get back to the level of the end of 2020, and adding Galo and the rest of the Kosmos team can bring a lot of positive things.”

Kosmos has become a growingly influential business in tennis since its launch. The company are the financial masterminds behind transforming the Davis Cup and have pledged to invest $3bn into the competition over a 25-year period.

This year’s Davis Cup finals have been spread across three cities in Madrid, Innsbruck and Turin over 11 days. Pique said the decision to use multiple cities is to prevent late-night finishes in the competition which was a problem back in 2019. Two year’s ago, Italy’s clash with the USA concluded at 4am.

“Some of the matches ended very late, so we made the decision to go to other cities and to play in 11 days instead of seven,” he said at the event’s official launch earlier this year. “The event has been evolving, maturing.”

Albert Costa, who is currently the Davis Cup Finals Director, will also take on the role of Competition Director for Kosmos.

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