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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Ugo Humbert saves three match points to beat Hubert Hurkacz in Dubai

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Fifth-seed Ugo Humbert came back from one set down to beat Hubert Hurkacz 3-6 7-6 (10-8) 6-3. Humbert had beaten Hurkacz en route to his title in Marseille. 

Hurkacz converted his third break point in the fourth game to win the first set 6-3. Humbert saved three match points in the tie-break of the second set before converting his first set point to force the match to the decider. Humbert broke twice to seal the third set 6-3. 

“It was a great battle. I tried to battle for every point. In the tie-break I saved three match points, tried to do my best and thanks to those French fans for the amazing support”, said Humbert. 

Humbert set up a semifinal match against Danil Medvedev, who beats Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-2 6-3. Humbert leads 2-1 in their head-to-head matches, but Medvedev won their most recent match in three sets at the China Open in their most recent head-to-head match in Beijing last year.

“It’s going to be a great challenge against Danil tomorrow. We had a few great fights. Hopefully I will recover well to be ready for this match”, said Humbert. 

Aleksander Bublik was leading Jiri Lehecka 6-4 4-1 when the Czech player was forced to retire due to an injury. Bublik set up a match against Andrey Rublev, who was leading Sebastian Korda 6-4 4-3  when the Czech player withdrew due to injury. 

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Brazilian Rising Star Joao Fonseca Waives College Eligibility To Turn Pro

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Image via https://twitter.com/RioOpenOficial/

One of Brazil’s most promising young tennis players has made the bold decision to abandon a dream of his to play college tennis in America to turn pro. 

17-year-old Jaoao Fonseca was committed to playing college tennis at the University of Virginia but says professional tennis has called him in a way he couldn’t refuse. The rising star has played just two Tour-level events so far in his career and is currently ranked 343rd in the world. 

At last week’s Rio Open, he became the second-youngest player after Alexander Zverev to reach the quarter-finals of an ATP 500 event since the category was introduced. In his home tournament, the Brazillian beat Arthur Fils and Cristian Garin before losing to Mariano Navone.

“It was an incredibly tough decision for me and my family as I have been dreaming about living a college life in Charlottesville, playing the sport that l love with a wonderful team and coach, but, in the last months, professional tennis called me in a way that I simply couldn’t say no,” Fonseca wrote in a statement published on Instagram
“Although I will not be attending school, I think it is an extremely valuable and viable path for young players in their way to professional careers,” he added.

Fonseca has already enjoyed success on the junior circuit. Last year he was runner-up in the doubles tournament at the Australian Open boy’s event. Then at the US Open, he won his first Grand Slam junior title in singles. He is also a former ITF Junior World No.1 and is currently ranked second in the standings. 

The youngster has already been hailed by compatriot Beatriz Haddad Maia, who is currently ranked 13th on the WTA Tour. Speaking to reporters at the San Diego Open, she has offered her support to Fonseca if he needs it. 

“João is a nice person. He has a great future, if he keeps working hard and keeps doing what he’s doing. I think he has a very aggressive mentality and tennis.” She said.

“We sometimes text each other, but not that much. But I’m always following.. not only him.. but the Brazilians. I’m proud of what he’s doing. He has a long way and he needs to understand that it’s a marathon, it’s not a 100 meter race.’
“Tennis has its ups and downs. I wish him all the best, for sure. I’ll be here whenever he wants. I’m happy with what he’s doing.” 

Fonseca played at the Chile Open this week but lost in the first round to Thiago Agustin Tirante.

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Emma Raducanu Among Trio of Grand Slam Winners Handed Miami Open Wild Cards

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Emma Raducanu - Cincinnati 2022 (foto Twitter @cincytennis)

Emma Raducanu has avoided the possibility of having to go through qualifying at the Miami Open after being awarded a wild card for the event on Thursday. 

The 2021 US Open champion is among four players to have received passes into the main draw of the prestigious event, which is classed as a WTA 1000 for the women and as a Masters 1000 for the men. It will be the third straight year that Raducanu has played in Miami but she is yet to win a match there. In 2022 she lost her opening match to Katerina Siniakova before getting beaten by Bianca Andreescu 12 months later. 

Raducanu has won two out of five Tour-level matches played so far this year. Recently her agent, Max Eisenbud, hit back at those who have criticised the tennis star’s results since winning the US Open. Raducanu also missed a chunk of last season due to injury after undergoing wrist and ankle surgery. 

“The girl did everything backward. She skipped every step. She won the US Open, she went to the next tournament, she didn’t even know where the player lounge was, she didn’t know where the practice courts were,” Eisenbud told the Served With Andy Roddick podcast.
“I don’t think just being tough on her or critical on her like any other player [is wrong]. But she is still figuring it out. I just think that people should not be malicious.”

Other players to have received wild cards into Miami include Venus Williams, who is a three-time champion at the event but hasn’t won the title since 2001. The 43-year-old hasn’t played on the Tour since August and is currently ranked outside the world’s top 400. 

Carolina Wozniacki completes the line-up of former Grand Slam winners being given wild cards. The Dane was a Miami finalist back in 2017 and has made 12 appearances at the tournament. Earlier this week, she suffered a 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, loss to Anna Blinkova in the first round of the San Diego Open. 

As for the men’s tournament, the only confirmed wild card recipient is Kei Nishikori who will be making his first competitive start since July 2023. Recently the injury-stricken Japanese player added Thomas Johansson to his team. 

The Miami Open will get underway on March 17th.

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