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Djokovic Climbs the Historical Ladder Once More

The Serbian capped off a brutal spell, beating Nadal at the French Open for a second time while coming back from two sets down twice. Can he complete a calendar year Grand Slam?

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Novak Djokovic - Roland Garros 2021 (via Twitter, @rolandgarros)

Collecting my thoughts after watching Novak Djokovic capture a 19th Grand Slam singles title and thus move up to only one title behind both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the all time race for supremacy, my appreciation for this man and his multitude of achievements and attributes has reached a new level. Here he is, half way to a 2021 Grand Slam, poised to make even more history, zeroing in on the majors with all consuming intensity. It is hard to imagine that he won’t make a spirited bid to establish himself as the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to sweep all four majors in a single season.

 

But let’s pause briefly to consider what he just accomplished at Roland Garros. By winning the French Open for the second time, he has established himself commendably as the first man since Laver to take all four majors at least twice in the course of a career. Some would call it a second career Grand Slam, but the bottom line is that Djokovic has realized a feat that neither Federer nor Nadal has managed. Federer will surely never win a second French Open, and Nadal has been agonizingly close to garnering a second title at the Australian Open, falling in the finals four times “Down Under” against Djokovic (2012 and 2019), Stan Wawrinka (2014), and Federer (2017). Against both Djokovic in the former and Federer in the latter, Nadal was up a break in the fifth set but his wishes went unrewarded. Will he win in Melbourne again? Probably not.

Laver, of course, captured his first Grand Slam in 1962 and his second seven years later. The latter was a singular feat and worthy of immense admiration. The only other male player to put his name on the trophy at least twice at all of the “Big Four” events was Roy Emerson in the sixties—all in amateur tennis. No one else but Djokovic has done it strictly in the Open Era. It is another major feather in his cap made all the more remarkable when one considers how the redoubtable Nadal has monopolized Roland Garros for a good long while. He had won all but three of the previous 16 French Open editions, and had lost only two matches on his cherished surface while retiring once in 2016 with a wrist injury.

Djokovic had claimed his first Roland Garros crown five years ago with a hard fought final round victory over Andy Murray. But the Serbian was stifled by Nadal three times in the finals, losing to the Spaniard in 2012, 2014, and 2020. In turn, Djokovic lost to a soaring Stan Wawrinka in the 2015 title round contest. And altogether against Nadal, he had lost seven of the eight times they had collided in Paris prior to this year.

And yet, he not only became the first player to upend Nadal twice on the Parisian clay, but he also established himself as the first ever to do it after losing the first set. The Djokovic-Nadal semifinal this past week was a beauty, filled with magnificently contested and imaginative rallies from beginning to end, enhanced by the competitive mettle displayed on both sides of the net.

I don’t agree with some of the authorities who are calling this classic encounter an epic. It was, to be sure, an evocative performance from Djokovic and one of the finest triumphs of his illustrious career. But looking at the contest and comparing it to other Djokovic-Nadal duels, it does not measure up in its entirety. Their 2012 Australian Open final round skirmish was unquestionably superior, going down to the wire before Djokovic prevailed 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5 as the Serbian somehow survived after Nadal served with a 4-2, 30-15 lead in the fifth. The 2013 Roland Garros semifinal won by Nadal 9-7 in the fifth set was another gem that was superior to this one in 2021, and so was the 2018 Wimbledon semifinal with Djokovic overcoming his old rival 10-8 in the fifth set on the fabled Centre Court.

But Djokovic’s 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-2 triumph in their latest showdown was still a dandy. It falls short of an epic in my mind because the first set was played with too much apprehension from both players. Djokovic had two break points in the first game and a 40-15 lead in the second, but did not exploit those openings. Before he knew it, Nadal led 5-0. The spectacle seemed eerily similar to the 2020 final when Nadal obliterated Djokovic 6-0, 6-2, 7-5.

But, this time around in the penultimate round, things played out differently. Djokovic took three games in a row, saved six set points and gradually found his game in that crucial span. I believe in many ways that is where he won the match; both players moved into the second set knowing the climate had been altered and recognizing that the battle was fully on. Nadal realized he could have closed out the first set sooner. His failure to do so surely weighed heavily in his mind.

Djokovic had clearly found his range and Nadal’s insecurity started to surface as the conditions changed. The evening air was cooler, making it harder for Nadal to get the high bound he wanted on his topspin forehand. And the Serbian was raising the temperature of his game considerably. They exchanged service breaks early, but then Djokovic regained control as he peppered away with his crosscourt forehand angles to pull Nadal off the court time and again on the Spaniard’s backhand side. That pattern propelled Djokovic through that second set and into the third. Yet finishing off that second set was no facile feat for Djokovic. At 4-2 he erased three break points against him and he had to save two more when he served the set out at 5-3. It was hard work but Djokovic was back deservedly to one set all.

Make no mistake about it: the third set was colossal in terms of the outcome, and it was the single best set that Nadal and Djokovic have ever played against each other on any surface. It was immensely inspiring to watch.

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic – Roland Garros 2021 (ph. ©Cédric Lecocq _ FFT)

The two titans pushed each other to the hilt in pursuit of a two sets to one lead, displaying a dazzling brand of shotmaking, imposing their wills, hoping they could move out in front and carry the momentum into the fourth set.

Nadal was frequently under extraordinary stress. Djokovic broke for a 3-2 lead but Nadal retaliated for 3-3 with one of his signature forehand down the line winners. Nevertheless, Djokovic took control again to reach 5-3, and then served for the set at 5-4. He went to 30-0 but missed an easy forehand down the line. Nadal made Djokovic pay a substantial price for that mistake, breaking back for 5-5 with a stream of winners including a backhand pass up the line and a forehand winner down the line.

The drama was not over. Twice in the eleventh game the Spaniard found himself break point down, but he saved one with a bounce smash winner and the other with a forehand down the line winner. After moving to 6-5 and heading for the changeover, Nadal wore the expression of a man convinced he was going to win this tennis match.

When Djokovic served at 5-6, the Serbian was down set point and missed his first delivery. But he responded to this propitious moment with typical fortitude. His backhand down the line drop shot was immaculately measured, and even a determined Nadal could not get it back into play. Djokovic held on for 6-6, and appropriately the set was settled in a tie-break.

Nadal opened with a double fault but soon the sequence was locked at 3-3. Djokovic connected with a scintillating forehand angled crosscourt winner. Then Nadal took the net away from Djokovic and had the court wide open for a forehand volley—only to punch it long.

The 13-time French Open victor produced an excellent forehand drop shot winner to narrow Djokovic’s tie-break lead to 5-4 but the top seed followed with a clutch ace down the T and a beautifully directed forehand down the line response to a Nadal drop shot that was unmanageable for the Spaniard. Djokovic had at last sealed this astonishing set 7-4 in the tie-break. He trailed 2-0 in the fourth set but then collected no fewer than six games in a row, taking 24 of the last 30 points in the process. Djokovic raised his career record against Nadal to 30-28 with his 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-2 win.

In the final, he took on Stefanos Tsitsipas for the eighth time in their careers. Djokovic had been victorious in five of their previous seven meetings, including a five set Roland Garros semifinal in 2020. No one knew—not even Djokovic himself—how well he would recover from his four hour and eleven minute extravaganza with Nadal, but Djokovic looked fresh enough early on. Had he exploited two break point opportunities in the opening game of the match, Djokovic might well have been off and running.

But Tsitsipas held on with three consecutive aces for 1-0. Djokovic was breezing along on his own serve until the tenth game, when he saved a set point by out-dueling Tsitsipas in a 25 stroke exchange. He held on for 5-5 and broke in the following game. Seemingly, the set was over.

But at the changeover, Djokovic appeared to lose his focus. The umpire had given Tsitsipas a time violation warning not long before and Djokovic made his case that the players should be given some latitude since they had to fetch their own towels. He proceeded to play a terrible game on his serve and Tsitsipas made it back to 6-6. In the ensuing tie-break, Djokovic trailed 0-4 and 2-5 but then took four points in a row and reached set point with Tsitsipas serving at 5-6. Djokovic’s return was well struck off the forehand but Tsitsipas flicked it back brilliantly down the line for a winner.

The Greek stylist took the set 8-6 in that tie-break and then took apart Djokovic 6-2 in the second. Tsitsipas was on the verge of an uplifting triumph in his first Grand Slam tournament final. But Djokovic was soon revitalized, turning the skirmish back in his own direction permanently when he broke in a marathon six deuce game for 3-1 in the third set with a bruising forehand inside in return that coaxed Tsitsipas into an error. He secured that break and, suddenly, it was a different kind of match altogether.

Djokovic had left the court for a locker room break after the second set and that had left him revitalized. He rolled through the rest of the third set and never looked back. Tsitsipas had no Plan B. Once Djokovic started hitting out more freely and serving with greater authority, Tsitsipas was dazed and dispirited.  Djokovic broke the No. 5 seed twice on his way to a 3-0 fourth set lead with the persistency of his returns and better court coverage.

The primary problem for Tsitsipas was his inability to make any dent whatsoever in Djokovic’s service games. The world No. 1 dropped only three points in four service games across the entire fourth set. Nothing much changed in the fifth set as Djokovic moved inexorably toward victory.

On his way to serving for the match at 5-4 in that final set, Djokovic won 16 of 19 points in his four service games. Meanwhile, he was pressuring Tsitsipas constantly. He nearly broke in the opening game before doing so in the third. Coasting along on his own delivery, he destroyed Tsitsipas by going to the heavy kicker in the ad court as a first serve, setting up piercing forehands time and again. Tsitsipas never had an answer to that tactic.

At 2-4, Tsitsipas fell behind 15-40, but drew Djokovic in with a drop shot and won that point with a high volley into the open court. He held on there but Djokovic went to 5-3 with a love game. Serving for the match at 5-4, Djokovic was clearly tense but he remained disciplined, dynamic and unshakable. Despite one botched volley at 15-0 and an errant crosscourt backhand at 30-15, he moved to 40-30 before Tsitsipas struck a golden backhand down the line for a winner. Djokovic refused to be rattled, defending skillfully out of his forehand corner twice and then driving a forehand down the line for a clean winner. On his second match point, he moved foreword behind a forehand swing volley and then emphatically put away a high forehand volley crosscourt.

And so Djokovic succeeded 6-7 (6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in four hours and eleven minutes— precisely the same time it took him to oust Nadal. Over the last four rounds, Djokovic had done some very impressive work, rallying from two sets to love down to defeat Lorenzo Mussetti in five sets, stopping Matteo Berrettini in four sets, removing Nadal in the penultimate round and capping it all off by staging his spectacular comeback against Tsitsipas.

The last player to win a major and twice rally from two sets to love down during the tournament was the American Ted Schroeder at Wimbledon in 1949. Djokovic is the first fellow in the Open Era to realize that considerable feat. In addition, Djokovic raised his record in career five set matches to a remarkable 35-10, and lifted his winning record in Grand Slam finals to 19-10. Moreover, he joined an elite cast of competitors who have triumphed in major finals from two sets to love down. Bjorn Borg—who greeted Djokovic at the presentation ceremony at Roland Garros—did it in the 1974 Paris final against Manolo Orantes. Ivan Lendl overcame John McEnroe ten years later in the same fashion at Roland Garros. Andre Agassi completed his career sweep at the majors with a 1999 final round comeback against Andrei Medvedev after going down two sets. Gaston Gaudio upended Guillermo Coria from two sets behind in 2004. And then last year at the US Open, Dominic Thiem was trailing Alexander Zverev by two sets to love but he came back to win. Those kinds of title round comebacks are very rare indeed.

Now Djokovic has taken the first two majors of the year, fueling a lot of talk in the tennis community about a Grand Slam. He also won the Australian and French Opens back to back in 2016 but then fell in the third round of Wimbledon against Sam Querrey, which was a shocking loss. And yet, he had at that time won four majors in a row dating back to the middle of the previous season. No one in men’s tennis had swept four in a row since Laver won his Grand Slam in 1969. His range of ambitions was diminished at that point.

Circumstances are different now. Djokovic will be more sharply focussed on his goals after claiming major title No. 19. He won the last two Wimbledon singles titles in 2018 and 2019, so he will be awfully eager for a third title in a row. Over the years, he has grown increasingly comfortable on the grass, a surface which rewards his unique kind of agility, his court awareness and his capacity to keep his shots consistently low and deep.

Will he win the Grand Slam, or perhaps even a “Golden Slam” if he can manage to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games? I would not rule it out. He has made it abundantly clear that the majors now are more important to him than ever. They are his first and, in many ways, only priority.

His triumphs in Melbourne and Paris have given Djokovic the conviction he needs to wrap up this season in style. Winning both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open may be a tall order on top of what he has already done, but I believe he will be very self assured on the lawns this year. He will not yet be thinking about a Grand Slam when he is in Great Britain. Winning Wimbledon would put him on level ground at last alongside Nadal and Federer with 20 major titles and that alone will be foremost on his mind.

I make him the clear favorite and believe he will collect the most prestigious crown in tennis for the sixth time. If that happens, he would head to New York knowing full well that he has had very hard luck at the U.S. Open. He has been in eight finals on the hard courts he loves so much, but has claimed the title only three times. If Djokovic is victorious at Wimbledon, his desire to win the Open will be insatiable. And if someone has upset him in London, Djokovic will want to make amends and demonstrate his big match superiority once more at the Open; either way, he will be very difficult to beat at Flushing Meadows.

Djokovic was typically forthright when asked about his thoughts on the Grand Slam following his win over Tsitsipas in the French Open final. He said, “Everything is possible. I mean, definitely in my case I can say that what I’ve been through in my career, in my life, this journey has been terrific so far. I’ve achieved some things that a lot of people thought it would not be possible for me to achieve. I did put myself in a good position to go for the Grand Slam. But you know, I was in this position in 2016 as well. It ended up in a third round loss at Wimbledon. This year we have only two weeks between the first round of Wimbledon and the finals here, which is not ideal because you go from really two completely different surfaces, trying to make that transition as smooth as possible. Obviously I will enjoy this win and then think about Wimbledon in a few days time. I don’t have an issue to say that I am going for the title at Wimbledon. Of course I am. Hopefully I can use this confidence that I have right now and take it into Wimbledon. Then let’s take it from there.”

Djokovic’s entire purpose in his professional life is where he ends up in the hierarchy of history. He has spoken with complete candor and clarity about what he wants to achieve. He has already surpassed Federer for most weeks at No. 1 in the world and is at 325 and counting. He is now well on his way to breaking Pete Sampras’s record for most year-end finishes at No. 1, pushing hard to reside at the top for the seventh time when the curtain closes on 2021. He will almost certainly finish ahead of Federer and Nadal in his career head to head appointments with them. At the moment he is 30-28 with the Spaniard and 27-23 over Federer. He is the only player to win every Masters 1000 event at least once.

And so it is all about Grand Slam tournaments from here on in. The feeling grows that Novak Djokovic will not be looking back on his career in a decade or so with any reservations whatsoever.

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Steve Flink has been reporting full time on tennis since 1974, when he went to work for World Tennis Magazine. He stayed at that publication until 1991. He wrote for Tennis Week Magazine from 1992-2007, and has been a columnist for tennis.com and tennischannel.com for the past 14 years. Flink has written four books on tennis including “Dennis Ralston’s Tennis Workbook” in 1987; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of the Twentieth Century” in 1999; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time” in 2012; and “Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited”. The Sampras book was released in September of 2020 and can be purchased on Amazon.com. Flink was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2017.

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The Generation Inspired By Serena Williams

On Tuesday Williams revealed for the first time that she will begin to step away from the sport after a career lasting more than two decades. Throughout her career she has helped shaped the women’s game into what it is now.

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Image via https://twitter.com/WTA/status/1557532696972238856/photo/3

It is fair to say that the landscape of women’s tennis wouldn’t be what it is today if it wasn’t for Serena Williams and her sister Venus.

 

It was during October 1995 that Williams made her WTA debut as a 14-year-old who was thrashed 6-1, 6-1, in her opening match in the qualifying draw at the Quebec Open. As the years passed she went from being an unknown name to one of the most successful female athletes in the history of sport. An athlete can rarely evolve into an entire brand but Williams was one of the few who has managed to do so.

In 1999 she claimed her first of 23 Grand Slam titles at the US Open where she became the first Black woman to win a major tennis event in the Open Era. Before her, the last to do so was Althea Gibson 49 years earlier. Little did she know at the time that among those watching her rise on the Tour would be some who ended up being her rivals.

Her legacy is more than her being Serena. I started playing because of her. I’m sure there’s so many other girls that started playing because of her, so she literally built champions,” Naomi Osaka told HBO’s The Shop in 2021.

Osaka was one of the many players who managed to take on Williams on the Tour after growing up idolising her. They have played against each other five times with the most memorable clash occurring in the final of the 2018 US Open which was marred by controversy involving Williams and a run-in with the umpire.

“When she broke me in that one game and I had to try and save break points. I was like ‘What would Serena d– Oh, she’s right there.’ Oh wait, what am I doing?” Osaka revealed afterwards.

Williams, who turns 41 next month, was at one stage unbeatable in the sport due to her sheer power. At her highest she won 34 matches in a row during the 2013 season and spent a total of 319 weeks as world No.1. She has won 73 titles on the WTA Tour, including an Open Era record of 48 on hard courts alone.

“I’ve learned a lot from them [Serena and sister Venus]. People always tell me that you’re going to be next whatever blah blah blah and Serena has been considered the GOAT for at least the second half of her career and she never succumbed to that pressure,” America’s Coco Gauff told reporters in Toronto earlier this week.
“I think she overcame it and I think that’s something I take from her and try to learn from it. Not that I’m at her level and experiencing the same pressure she is, but in the moment I try to emulate that.
“For me, I grew up watching her. That’s the reason why I play tennis and tennis being a predominantly white sport it definitely helped a lot because I saw somebody who looked like me dominating the game and it made me believe I could dominate too.”

One of the most striking things about Williams is that her influence on the sport has been in various ways. She inspired many non-white players in her home country to take up tennis. Some argue that the all-African American final at the 2017 US Open between Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys was a product of the Williams sister’s effect. Others have been inspired by her ability to form a successful business portfolio outside of tennis, the fact she returned to the sport after becoming a mother or her stance on campaigning for equal rights. The bottom line is that Williams appeals to many people for various reasons which Keys once summarized.

“Venus and Serena Williams were both huge inspirations for me to play tennis. What they’ve done on court is incredible. What they do off court in business, helping other girls and championing for equal pay is also so inspiring. They motivate me to do and be my best,” Keys wrote on Twitter in 2019.

Emma Raducan recently praised the length of Williams’ career. Later this month she will play in her 81st Grand Slam main draw 24 years after making her debut at the 1998 Australian Open. There is almost a 21-year gap between her winning her first WTA title (February 1999) and her last (January 2020).

“It’s incredible her career. She has achieved so much,” Raducanu said. “And to see her around in this US swing is really inspiring. She keeps playing because she obviously loves the game.
“That longevity of a career is something that a lot of the players, me especially, aspire to achieve.”

As the likes of Osaka, Raducanu and others battle it out on the Tour, Williams has taken a backseat in recent months. In an eloquently written article for Vogue Magazine, she explains that the term retirement is a phrase she struggles to use. However, this will most likely be happening at this year’s US Open. She conceded it is time to move on and the desire to grow her family made competing as a professional athlete no longer feasible.

You know that at one point she’s going to retire. But when she actually is going to announce it, it’s just shocking. Because you think these kinds of players will play forever,” Bianca Andreescu commented.
“She’s not afraid to be herself and to show all her emotions on the court, off the court, what she stands for. I know she’s doing a lot of things off the court as well to help inspire. It’s incredible.’
“I hope that I can achieve maybe half of what she achieved and continue on her legacy in some way.”

Williams was once asked when she thinks about being referred to as the greatest female player of all time. She responded that she would rather be considered as “one of the greatest athletes of all time.” Perhaps her legacy in tennis has nothing to do with what she has won throughout her career. Instead, it is embedded in the generations of players who have been inspired by her.

At this week’s National Bank Open Williams bowed out of the tournament on Wednesday to Belinda Bencic in what was her final match at the tournament.

“I’ve always loved playing here. And, yeah, I wish I could have played better, but Belinda played so well today.” She said during her on-court interview.
“I’m terrible at good-byes. But good-bye, Toronto.”

As for what lies ahead, the American star will play a few more tournaments before saying goodbye to life as a tennis player for good.

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Wimbledon Daily Preview: Compelling Matchups Scheduled All Around the Grounds on Thursday

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A look at the grounds of The All-England Club (twitter.com/wimbledon)

Day 4 play is headlined by top names such as Rafael Nadal, Iga Swiatek, Coco Gauff, and Stefanos Tsitsipas.  Those names are all considerable favorites in their second round matches, so other matchups on Thursday’s schedule may be more compelling and competitive.  And with many of those encounters scheduled at the same time, multiple screens are recommended.

 

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s five most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule.  Thursday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.


Filip Krajinovic (26) vs. Nick Kyrgios – Second on No.2 Court

Despite his usual poor behavior, Kyrgios survived in five on Tuesday against British wild card Paul Jubb, who is ranked outside the top 200 in the world.  But Nick is in strong form this month, with an 8-3 record on grass, having reached the semifinals of both Stuttgart and Halle.  Krajinovic is also in the midst of a strong grass court season, coming off a run to the final of Queen’s Club.  Like Kyrgios, he also required five sets to advance in the first round.  That was actually Filip’s first-ever win at SW19, as he was 0-4 prior to this fortnight.  Krygios leads their head-to-head 3-0 at all levels, though they haven’t played since 2015.  On grass, Nick’s formidable firepower should be plenty to prevail again over Filip, as long as he can maintain his composure.


Elena Rybakina (17) vs. Bianca Andreescu – Second on Court 12

On Tuesday, Andreescu achieved her first career victory at The Championships.  Bianca had only played five tour-level matches on grass ahead of this year, though she’s now 5-2 on grass this month.  Rybakina reached the fourth round of Wimbledon a year ago, but lost two of her three grass court matches coming into this event.  In their first career meeting, I give the slight edge to Andreescu based on recent form.  And while Elena has accumulated 22 wins this season, only four of them have come at Majors, and none of those four against a top player like Bianca.


Barbora Krejcikova (13) vs. Viktorija Golubic – Second on Court 18

This is only Krejickova’s fourth singles match since February due to an elbow injury.  Her opening round victory was her first since returning to the tour.  Golubic was a surprise quarterfinalist here a year ago, when she defeated both Danielle Collins and Madison Keys.  Yet she has not been able to follow-up on that result, as she has a losing record since that run.  They have split four previous meetings at all levels.  Their most recent clash occurred two years ago in Dubai, with Barbora prevailing 6-1, 6-2.  But her lack of match play, along with Viktorija’s grass prowess, make Krejcikova an underdog on this day.  While results on other surfaces have not followed, Golubic is now 13-7 on grass since last season, which includes a semifinal appearance earlier this month in Nottingham.


Karolina Pliskova (6) vs. Katie Boulter (WC) – 1:30pm on Centre Court

Pliskova was the runner-up a year ago, losing the championship match to Ash Barty 6-3 in the third.  Unfortunately a hand injury forced her to miss the first two months of 2022, and she’s only 9-10 this season as a result.  Boulter is a 25-year-old Brit who pushed Aryna Sabalenka to three sets at last year’s event, and is 8-3 on grass at all levels this season.  And just like week, Boulter beat Pliskova on grass in Eastbourne 6-4 in the third.  Now can Katie repeat that result on her country’s most prestigious court?  She’ll certainly have the full support of the Centre Court audience, and her experience last year on this court could prove extremely valuable.  Considering Pliskova has only twice won back-to-back matches this year, an upset on Thursday feels entirely possible.


Alex de Minaur (19) vs. Jack Draper – Third on No.1 Court

This could easily become the most competitive show court match of the day.  And the British crowd will be vociferously behind Draper, especially late in the day on the tournament’s second biggest court.  Jack is a 20-year-old Brit who last year took a set off Novak Djokovic on Centre Court.  And he’s collected 31 match wins at all levels this season, which includes four Challenger titles as well as a semifinal run just last week in Eastbourne.  But de Minaur is also having a strong season.  The Australian has 25 wins, all at tour level, and was also a semifinalist in Eastbourne.  Both players won their first round matches in straight sets, so they’re surely feeling fresh and confident.  While Alex’s defensive skills will force Jack to strike some extra balls, Draper’s offensive weapons will be rewarded on this surface.  And the crowd’s encouragement may be the x-factor Draper needs to prevail.


Other Notable Matches on Thursday:

Stefanos Tsitsipas (4) vs. Jordan Thompson – Tsitsipas prevailed in four sets on Tuesday, bringing his Wimbledon record to just 4-4.  He’s 1-0 against Thompson, who is only 8-12 this season at tour level.

Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Ricardas Berankis – Nadal is now 31-3 on the year, and seemed rather unbothered by his chronic foot injury in the opening round.  Earlier this season in Australia, he defeated Berankis in straight sets.

Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove (LL) – A victory for Swiatek on Thursday would be her 37th consecutive win, tying her with Martina Hingis for the longest women’s singles win streak across the past three decades.  Lesley is a 30-year-old ranked 138th in the world who at last year’s Wimbledon earned for first-ever main draw win at a Major by defeating Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Simona Halep (16) vs. Kirsten Flipkens – Halep is on an eight-match win streak at Wimbledon, dating back to her title run in 2019.  36-year-old Flipkens has said this will be her last-ever singles tournament.  She was a semifinalist here in 2013. 

Coco Gauff (11) vs. Mihaela Buzarnescu – Gauff scarcely survived the first round, overcoming Elena-Gabriela Ruse 7-5 in the third.  But Coco should be able to settle into the tournament from here, especially against Buzarnescu.  She’s currently 127th in the world, and on Tuesday won her first WTA-level match in nearly a year.


Thursday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Roland Garros Daily Preview: The Second Major of 2022 Begins on Sunday

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A shot from the grounds of the French Open (twitter.com/rolandgarros)

The second Major of the year is upon us, with its unique Sunday start.  Roland Garros is the only Grand Slam event where first round singles play is spread across three days. 

 

The men’s draw is headlined by 13-time champion Rafael Nadal, defending champion Novak Djokovic, 2021 runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas, and the ATP’s breakout star of the last 12 months, Carlos Alcaraz.  The 19-year-old Spaniard will play his opening match on Sunday, as will top ATP names like Dominic Thiem and Sascha Zverev.

The women’s draw features 12 Major singles champions, five of whom have won this event: Iga Swiatek, Barbora Krejicikova, Simona Halep, Jelena Ostapenko, and Garbine Muguruza.  The 28-year-old Spaniard plays perpetual draw-buster Kaia Kanepi on Sunday.  The Order of Play also includes the red-hot Ons Jabeur and US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez, who faces France’s Kiki Mladenovic.

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s two most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule.  Sunday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.


Ons Jabeur (6) vs. Magda Linette – 11:00am on Court Philippe Chatrier

Outside of Iga Swiatek, Jabeur is the WTA player with the most momentum heading into Paris.  Before losing to Swiatek in the final of Rome, Ons was on an 11-match win streak, coming off her title run in Madrid.  She’s now 17-3 on clay this season, and has reached the fourth round of this tournament the last two years.  She’ll be a considerable favorite against Linette on Sunday, though Magda could easily test the sixth seed.  The 30-year-old from Poland was a quarterfinalist this year at clay events in Charleston and Strasbourg, and she owns victories over some top names at Majors, including Ash Barty and Elina Svitolina.  They’ve met twice before on clay, with both matches going to Jabeur.  That includes a three-set encounter at this event a year ago.  I expect a similar result on Sunday.


Hugo Dellien vs. Dominic Thiem (PR) – 11:00am on Court Simonne Mathieu

Thiem is a two-time French Open finalist, but he is still fighting for his first win in over a year.  Since coming back from his wrist injury, he is 0-6 at all levels, with all those matches occurring on clay.  Earning that elusive win in the best-of-five format may prove challenging for an out-of-form player.  This will be Thiem’s first match against Dellien, a 28-year-old from Bolivia who has played 43 matches on clay this season at all levels.  He’s accumulated 30 wins, and advanced to two Challenger finals.  However, Hugo is yet to defeat a top 40 player this year.  While Dominic is not currently a member of that group, and is not performing at that level, taking out a Major champion at a Grand Slam event remains a daunting task.  At a tournament where Thiem has fond memories of success, I expect Dominic is earn his first win since last May.


Garbine Muguruza (10) vs. Kaia Kanepi – Second on Court Simonne Mathieu

Muguruza is a two-time Major champion, and won the third-biggest title of her career at November’s WTA Finals in Guadalajara.  But since that title run, Muguruza has struggled mightily, with a record of 7-8 in 2022.  She’s won back-to-back matches only once this season.  And in the opening round, she’s drawn one of the sport’s most dangerous floaters.  Kanepi has made a career out of upsetting top seeds at Majors.  As per Tennis Abstract, she owns nine top 10 wins at Grand Slam events, over the likes of Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep, and most recently at January’s Australian Open, Aryna Sabalenka.  Kaia is a seven-time quarterfinalist at Majors, including two times at Roland Garros.  Her only previous meeting with Muguruza took place eight years ago in Melbourne, when Muguruza prevailed in three sets.  But considering Garbine’s recent form, and Kaia’s history at Majors, this match is definitely deserving of an upset alert.


Carlos Alcaraz (6) vs. Juan Ignacio Londero (Q) – Fourth on Court Philippe Chatrier

Alcaraz has rapidly become one of the ATP’s players.  Carlitos is 28-3 in 2022, with four titles.  He is No.3 in the year-to-date rankings, and is within 200 points of the two players ahead of him (Nadal, Tsitsipas).  The teenager arrives in Paris on a 10-match win streak on clay, having taken back-to-back titles in his home country.  Londero is a former top 50 player who reached the fourth round of this event in 2019.  But he is coming off multiple seasons with a losing record, and hasn’t played a match since early-April.  Alcaraz should not have much trouble dismissing Londero on Sunday, though it is always a treat to see the Spaniard’s formidable skills on display.


Leylah Fernandez (17) vs. Kiki Mladenovic – Fourth on Court Suzanne Lenglen

Fernandez has not immediately been able to follow-up on her thrilling US Open run from last summer.  Despite winning a title in Monterrey, she hasn’t reached a quarterfinal at any other event this year.  But still only 19-years-of-age, Leylah undoubtedly has some big results ahead of her.  Mladenovic was top 10 player in 2017, the same year she was a quarterfinalist at her home Slam.  But the Frenchwoman is 2-4 in Paris since, and only 2-10 this season at all levels.  While Kiki will certainly be motivated by the Parisian crowd, it would be surprising if she could upset Leylah, as the Canadian remains a dogged competitor who thrives on big stages.


Other Notable Matches on Sunday:

Sloane Stephens vs. Jule Niemeier (Q) – Stephens was the 2018 runner-up in Paris, and reached the fourth round a year ago.  But she’s 0-4 on clay in 2022.  Niemeier is a 22-year-old German who won an ITF-level event on clay last month.

Grigor Dimitrov (18) vs. Marcos Giron – Dimitrov is only 12-11 lifetime at Roland Garros, though he was a semifinalist in Monte Carlo this season.  This is a rematch from last year’s French Open, when Giron defeated Dimitrov after Grigor retired during the fourth set.

Felix Auger-Aliassime (9) vs. Juan Pablo Varillas (Q) – Auger-Aliassime is still looking for his first main draw win at Roland Garros.  He is 8-6 on clay this year.  Varillas is a 26-year-old from Peru who has won 19 matches on clay this season at all levels.

Maria Sakkari (4) vs. Clara Burel – Sakkari has some scar tissue to overcome at this event, as in last year’s semifinals, she was one point away from defeating eventual champion Barbora Krejicikova.  Burel is a 20-year-old from France who is a former junior No.1.

Sascha Zverev (3) vs. Sebastian Ofner (Q) – Zverev has reached the second week of this tournament four consecutive times.  Ofner is a 26-year-old from Austria who prevailed at a Challenger event in Prague last month.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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