Caroline Garcia Ends 2022 Resurgence By Winning Biggest Title Of Career At WTA Finals
Six months ago Garcia wasn’t even ranked inside the world’s top 50.
Comeback kid Caroline Garcia has ended what has been a remarkable season on a high by becoming only the second Frenchwoman to win the WTA Finals.
The world No.6 edged her way past the heavy-hitting Aryna Sabalenka 7-6(6), 6-4, in what was a tense encounter. Sabalenka entered the match having become only the third woman since 2000 to beat all of the world’s top three players in the same tournament. Nevertheless, it was Garcia who had the edge in the final with the help of 24 winners and 11 aces.
“It’s been a crazy, crazy final. A lot of intensity on every single point from the first. I’m just really proud of the work we (my team) did throughout the year and this great match. I really went for it and I’m really, really happy to have won my biggest title.” Said the new champion.
“I really tried to fight on every single point. And sometimes she gave me a few, few points here and there and it made the difference at the end.” She added.
Garcia, who was two points away from getting knocked out of the group stages, has become only the fourth woman in history to have won the season-ending title after turning 29. She has now achieved eight wins over a top-10 player this season which is a career-best for her.
The triumph is a remarkable outcome for Garcia who back in June was ranked outside the world’s top 70 and hadn’t contested a Tour final for three years. Within the past six months, she became the only WTA player this year to have won titles on three different surfaces and reached the US Open semi-finals.
Part of Garcia’s resurgence has been due to a change in her mentality. She joked earlier this year that she plays best when she shut up and is not so animated on the court.
“It was pretty obvious every time when I was starting to talk, complain and say ridiculous things on court, it was not really going my way. I was losing a lot of energy,” she explained.
“I was losing focus. And every single time when things were not easy or not going my way, but I was able to not say a word and really focus on the next point, I made some great comebacks.”
Runner-up Sabalenka can also draw positives from her time in Fort Worth despite missing out on the title. Until the tournament, she had only defeated two top-10 players this season on the Tour. The Belarussian has scored wins over Iga Swiatek, Ons Jabeur and Jessica Pegula earlier in the tournament.
“I think this week was really positive for me. A lot of good things happened this week. It was a very tough loss but I did my best,” said Sabalenka. “She played unbelievable tennis. So I’m disappointed with this loss but it happens and I think I’m on the right path.”
“I just dropped my level a little bit. On the tiebreak and in the first game of the second set, and that’s it. Those were the key moments, I dropped my level, that’s it.”
Garcia is the first Frenchwoman to win the WTA Finals since Amelie Mauresmo in 2005 and the first to end a season in the year-end top-five since 2006. She closes out 2022 with 43 wins against 20 losses.
Injury-Hit Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova Reaches French Open Quarters
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova said ‘anything is possible’ after winning her marathon fourth round match against Elise Mertens at the French Open on Sunday.
Pavlychenkova, who reached the finals of Roland Garros in 2021, bounced back from a set down to beat 28th seed Elise Mertens 3-6, 7-6(3), 6-3, after more than three hours of play. The Russian struggled early on in the match after winning just two out of her first six service games. She found herself down 3-6, 1-3 (0-40), at one stage before producing a triumphant comeback. Overall, she hit 50 winners alongside 48 unforced errors.
“I’m really proud of myself. It was an incredible match,” Pavlychenova said on the court afterwards. “Losing the first set and in the end, finding the strength to win.’
“I’m glad to be here playing on this court (Phillippe Chartier) again, especially after my injury. I didn’t play for a year so I am very happy to be here.”
The win comes after what has been a turbulent battle for Pavlychenkova over the past year with her fitness. In 2022 she missed eight months of the Tour due to a serious knee injury which prohibited her from walking or even sitting down. Fearing for the future of her career, she underwent successful knee surgery.
Since beginning her comeback in January, the 31-year-old had only won eight matches in nine tournaments played, which include two at the ITF level, coming into Paris. Despite this, she has regained her form at Roland Garros with Mertens being the third consecutive top 30 player she has beaten after Liudmila Samsonova and Anastasia Potapova.
“I was sure that I could do that,” she commented on her resurgence. “I’ve enjoyed playing here in Paris ever since I was a junior, especially on this court. I think mentally I am stronger than before. We will see where it goes from here.”
A former world No.11 player, Pavlychenkova’s belief in her game is still as high as ever as she refuses to rule out the possibility that she could stun the tournament by lifting the trophy next Sunday.
“I think anything is possible, that’s why I’m here and that’s why I came back after my injury,” she stated.
“Since last year in November, it has been difficult. But I’ve been practising well and I thank my team for getting me in this position.”
Currently ranked 333rd in the world, Pavlychenkova is the lower-ranked player to reach the last eight of a Grand Slam since Kaia Kanepi at the 2017 US Open. She will next play either Karolína Muchová or Elina Avanesyan.
Roland Garros Daily Preview: The Second Week Begins on Sunday
The round of 16 begins on Sunday in Paris.
The highest-ranked players in the world named Lorenzo, Italians Lorenzo Musetti and Lorenzo Sonego, face tall tasks in the fourth round. Musetti plays World No.1 Carlos Alcaraz, while Sonego plays Karen Khachanov, who has advanced to the semifinals at the last two Majors. Plus the finalists at the last Slam, Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas, both play their fourth round matches on Sunday.
On the women’s side, Elina Svitolina faces the toughest test yet in her impressive return from child birth, in ninth-seeded Daria Kasatkina, a semifinalist here a year ago. And the FTT have finally scheduled a WTA match for the night session, where Major champs Aryna Sabalenka and Sloane Stephens will collide.
Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s four most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule. Sunday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.
Karen Khachanov (11) vs. Lorenzo Sonego – 11:00am on Court Suzanne-Lenglen
While Khachanov’s recent Slam success has come at hard court Majors, this remains his best Major. Karen is now 20-6 at Roland Garros, and has reached the second week in six of his seven appearances. However, he’s just 1-4 in the round of 16 at this event.
Sonego outlasted Khachanov’s close friend and frequent doubles partner, Andrey Rublev, in five sets on Friday. This is now a third career appearance in the round of 16 at a Major for the 28-year-old Italian, one of which came here three years ago. However, he’s 0-2 in those prior appearances.
They have played three times before, with Khachanov taking two of those three meetings, though they’ve split the two that occurred on clay. All of those matches occurred between four-to-five years ago. On Sunday, I give the slight edge to Karen. He has the bigger game which can more easily dictate play, and a huge edge in experience in the second week of Slams.
Carlos Alcaraz (1) vs. Lorenzo Musetti (17) – Third on Court Philippe-Chatrier
Alcaraz is now 33-3 in 2023, and has lost only one set through his first three matches in Paris. Carlitos is looking to equal his best result at this tournament, when he advanced to the quarterfinals a year ago. But his potential road to the final is anything but easy, starting with the uber-talented Musetti on Sunday, then potentially Tsitsipas in the quarters, and Djokovic in the semifinals.
Musetti has not dropped any sets to this stage, impressively taking out Cam Norrie in the third round, losing just seven games in the match. This equals Lorenzo’s best career result at a Major to date, when he reached the round of 16 in Paris two years ago, and was even up two sets against Djokovic, yet only managed one game in the last three sets.
This is only the second of what will likely be many tour-level encounters between 20-year-old Alcaraz and 21-year-old Musetti. When they played last summer in the final of Hamburg on clay, Lorenzo prevailed 6-4 in the third after nearly three hours. But in the best-of-five format, the red-hot and super-fit Carlitos is the favorite, though I’m quite curious to see how seriously Musetti can challenge Alcaraz on this big stage.
Elina Svitolina vs. Daria Kasatkina (9) – Third on Court Suzanne-Lenglen
Kasatkina was just 12-12 this season, and is defending semifinal points here from a year ago. Yet she has performed very well under that pressure, winning all of her matches decisively in straight sets. This is easily her strongest Major, where she owns 20 career wins, while she’s yet to accumulate double-digit wins at any other.
But this is also Svitolina’s best Slam, where she’s now 25-9, with three previous quarterfinals. And while this is just her fifth WTA-level tournament since becoming a mother, returning to action only two months ago, she’s on an eight-match winning streak, coming off a title run a week ago in Strasbourg. Elina survived two consecutive three-setters to reach this fourth round contest.
And Svitolina has completely dominated their history, with a record of 6-0. That includes a clay court match five years ago in Rome, which is only one of two occasions Kasatkina has even managed to take a set off of her. So despite Elina’s lack of match play this past year, she should be favored to achieve her fourth French Open quarterfinal.
Sloane Stephens vs. Aryna Sabalenka (2) – Not Before 8:15pm on Court Philippe-Chatrier
Sabalenka is an excellent 32-5 this year, and yet to lose a set in Paris. This is the farthest she has ever advanced in this city, though she’s reached the semis or better at every other Major. Aryna is looking to win her fourth title of the season, and her second Slam in a row.
Stephens’ Major title came nearly six years ago in New York, though she did reach another final here a year later, when she was even up a set and a break before losing to Simona Halep. Sloane had quite a rough start to her year, but has now won 12 of her last 14 matches on clay, including a title run at an ITF-level event a month ago. And unlike Sabalenka, Roland Garros is her best Major, where she’s now 35-11 lifetime, and she’s reached the second week in nine of her last 11 appearances.
Sabalenka leads their head-to-head 3-0, though all three of those matches went the distance. I expect another tight encounter on Sunday evening, but Aryna must be considered the favorite based on her recent form, and how well her big serve and groundstrokes have been clicking.
Other Notable Matches on Sunday:
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs. Elise Mertens (28) – Pavlyuchenkova was the runner-up here two years ago, but this run to the round of 16 is a surprise, as she was just 8-9 on the year coming into this event after missing most of 2022 due to a knee injury. Mertens is 18-11 this season, and has not dropped a set to this stage, upsetting third-seeded Jessica Pegula in the last round. They have split two previous meetings, both of which took place in 2017.
Novak Djokovic (3) vs. Juan Pablo Varillas – Djokovic claimed all nine sets he played in the first week, even though four of them went to a tiebreak. Varillas has amazingly won three five-setters, coming from two-sets-down in the first two. The 27-year-old had never won a match at a Major prior to this fortnight, and is the first Peruvian to advance this far at Roland Garros in nearly 30 years.
Karolina Muchova vs. Elina Avanesyan (LL) – Muchova is vying for her fourth Slam quarterfinal, and her first since Wimbledon 2021, as injuries have interrupted her career. Avanesyan is a 20-year-old lucky loser who upset Belinda Bencic in the first round, and is appearing in only her second main draw at a Major.
Sebastian Ofner (Q) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (5) – Tsitsipas has only dropped one set thus far, while Ofner survived a five-setter against Fabio Fognini in the last round, and is another 27-year-old debuting in the second week of a Slam.
Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.
Roland Garros Daily Preview: Teen Sensations Meet in the Third Round
Third round singles action concludes on Saturday in Paris.
In what could be the first of many battles between two of tennis’ most promising young stars, 19-year-old Coco Gauff will face 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva. And the top two American men, Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe, take on considerable opposition in Francisco Cerundolo and Sascha Zverev, respectively.
Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s four most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule. Saturday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.
Mirra Andreeva (Q) vs. Coco Gauff (6) – Second on Court Suzanne-Lenglen
Gauff is 21-8 on the year despite changes to her coaching team and some continued issues with the mechanics of her game, primarily her forehand and serve. She was the runner-up here a year ago, losing 6-1, 6-3 in the final to Iga Swiatek. Coco dropped the first set in her opener, but has easily secured her four sets played since.
Andreeva is ranked 143rd in the world, but she started the year 312th. She is an excellent 22-2 at all levels, including qualifying. Mirra has taken all 10 sets she’s played since the beginning of qualifying last week. The tennis world first took notice of her earlier this clay court season in Madrid, when she upset Leylah Fernandez, Beatriz Haddad Maia, and Magda Linette to reach the fourth round.
On Saturday, I would not be shocked to witness Andreeva upset Gauff. Coco has not been playing her best tennis of late, going just 3-3 on clay ahead of this fortnight. And she has the pressure of defending finalist points on her young shoulders. But Gauff has a big game, and certainly has a huge edge in experience, both of which should be enough to propel her to victory.
Francisco Cerundolo (23) vs. Taylor Fritz (9) – Third on Court Suzanne-Lenglen
It will be quite interesting to see and hear how the French crowd treats Fritz on Saturday after provoking, trolling, and shushing the audience on Thursday evening. Taylor may live to regret that decision, as the French tennis fans have long memories, and love to involve themselves in matches. Fritz is now a strong 31-11 this season, and looking to advance to the second week of this tournament for the first time.
Cerundolo is 22-14 this year, and 15-9 on clay. All three of his career ATP finals have come on this surface, including just last week in Lyon.
So what will prevail on Saturday: Taylor’s serving prowess, or Francisco’s formidable forehand? In another first career meeting on the day, I give the American the slight edge. While the crowd will be against him, he is much more experienced at this stage of a Major. Prior to this year, Cerundolo was 0-4 in the main draw at Slams.
Bianca Andreescu vs. Lesia Tsurenko – Third on Court Simonne-Mathieu
Andreescu’s victory over Victoria Azarenka in the first round was quite a surprise. Bianca was just 9-9 on the year, and 0-2 on clay, a surface where she only owns 14 career victories. She has unfortunately suffered setback after setback since her amazing 2019 season, yet continues to try to fight her way back to the top of the sport.
Tsurenko, a Ukrainian, has been open regarding how hard it has been to play on tour for the last year-and-a-half. She even withdrew from Indian Wells in March, after having a panic attack which she blamed on unsettling comments from WTA CEO Steve Simon regarding Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. But Lesia is now a superb 27-8 this season at all levels, and eliminated 2021 champion Barbora Krejcikova in the first round.
Their only prior encounter occurred earlier this year on a hard court in Hua Hin, when Tsurenko was leading 7-5, 4-0 in the semifinals before Andreescu retired from the match. And on Saturday, I lean towards Lesia to prevail again based on both players’ form this season.
Sascha Zverev (22) vs. Frances Tiafoe (12) – Not Before 8:15pm on Court Philippe-Chatrier
Tiafoe is 23-8 in 2023, and while clay is not his strongest surface, he did win a 250-level title at the start of the clay season in Houston. Frances was just 1-7 lifetime at Roland Garros before this week, at the only Major where he’s yet to reach the second week.
Of course it was at this event a year ago when Zverev suffered that gruesome, upsetting ankle injury in the semifinals against Rafael Nadal, ending his 2022 season. He is yet to rediscover his top form this year, with a modest record of 18-14. But Sascha did claim his first two matches this week in straight sets.
Zverev has dominated their history, with a 6-1 edge. However, they haven’t played in over 18 months, and Tiafoe and Zverev are both different players than they were in 2021. Yet on this surface, Sascha should be favored to advance after an extended battle on Saturday night.
Other Notable Matches on Saturday:
Elena Rybakina (4) vs. Sara Sorribes Tormo – It’s hard to find two more polar opposite styles: the power of Rybakina, and the grinding defense of Sorribes Tormo. Neither player has dropped a set to this stage, and Sara took their only previous meeting, two years ago on a hard court in Miami.
Zhizhen Zhang vs. Casper Ruud (4) – Ruud has not repeated his great success from 2022 during 2023, with an 18-11 record to date. Zhizhen made his big breakthrough earlier this year in Madrid, where he won three consecutive third-set tiebreaks over Denis Shapovalov, Cam Norrie, and Taylor Fritz. He is the first Chinese man to win a match at the French Open in 86 years, as he and Wu Yibing continue to break new ground for Chinese tennis.
Ekaterina Alexandrova (23) vs. Beatriz Haddad Maia (14) – This is the farthest Haddad Maia has ever advanced at a Major. This is Alexandrova’s sixth time in the third round of a Slam, but she’s yet to go farther. They’ve played twice before in qualifying for events in 2017, with Beatriz winning both matches.
Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Xinyu Wang – Swiatek won her first two matches by the same score: 6-4, 6-0. And Iga is 4-0 in the third round of Roland Garros. Xinyu is also yet to lose a set, in her best performance at a Major to date.
Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.
Injury-Hit Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova Reaches French Open Quarters
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Roland Garros Daily Preview: The Second Week Begins on Sunday
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Novak Djokovic Denies Being Roland Garros Favourite, Praises Alcaraz
(EXCLUSIVE) Ukrainian Journalist Reacts To Controversial Booing Of Marta Kostyuk At French Open
Holger Rune Says Djokovic Still The Man To Beat At French Open
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(VIDEO EXCLUSIVE) Australian Open: Steve Flink Talks Djokovic’s Fitness, Nearest Rivals And Future Of American Tennis
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(VIDEO EXCLUSIVE) Australian Open: Steve Flink On Sabalenka’s Rise, Swiatek’s Tough Year Ahead
EXCLUSIVE: Meet Shane Liyanage – The Data Analyst Behind Aryna Sabalenka’s Breakthrough
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