First Ball In, 5/20: The Pre-Paris Push
There are four tour events on the Continent this week; the men are in Nice and Düsseldorf, the women in Strasbourg and Nürnberg. Yet with no Top 5 players involved, it still feels like a pause in the run-up to this Sunday’s start of the French Open. Here’s a quick look at what happened on Tuesday, and what might happen on Wednesday, in France and Germany.
The trials of youth continue on the WTA side this week. Sloane Stephens is, or was, the top seed in Strasbourg, while Eugenie Bouchard is seeded second in Nürnberg. I say “was” in Sloane’s case because, after taking a wild card and bringing over her coach, Paul Annacone, Stephens was unable to garner any much-needed momentum heading into the French Open. She lost her opener to 108th-ranked Julia Goerges, 6-3, 6-2.
Stephens is now 9-10 for the year and hasn’t made any inroads on what she has said is her favorite surface, clay. She’s still ranked No. 16, but she has a fair amount of points to defend in the next five weeks at Roland Garros, where she made the fourth round last year, and Wimbledon, where she reached the quarters.
Things went better for Bouchard, who, after dressing up for a lavish-looking player party, dispatched Anastasia Rodionova 6-0, 6-1.
The news wasn’t all bad on the American women’s side. Even as Sloane has slid, Christina McHale has had a resurgence. After dropping out of the Top 100 last year, she’s back up to No. 59, and she beat Romania’s Alexandra Cadentu in Strasbourg today.
Much like its neighbor Monte Carlo, Nice looks like a tournament worth going out of your way to attend. The blue sky, red clay, picturesque French town, and nearby sea give it a holiday vibe—call it a pre-work vacation, before the men get down to business in Paris.
The event also has a decent field for a 250; John Isner is the top seed, and Ernests Gulbis is second. They’ll get started tomorrow. The notable results on Tuesday included varying results for two U.S. players. Steve Johnson lost a tight match to Dominic Thiem, 7-5 in the third set, while Jack Sock beat France’s Kenny de Schepper 6-4, 6-2 to set up a meeting with Isner. I’ll save the Chipotle jokes until Paris.
Already out: Bernard Tomic, who lost to Martin Klizan 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. Tomic is now ranked No. 81. It’s hard to imagine a 21-year-old could already be 54 places off his career-high, but it’s hard to imagine a lot of things about Bernie.
The Battle of the Roddick-ettes: Isner vs. Sock. The tall man is 2-0 against his countryman, though one of those wins, in Houston last year, came in a third-set tiebreaker.
Thiem Spirited: Gilles Simon vs. Dominic Thiem. The 20-year-old Austrian already has a win over the veteran, earlier this year in Indian Wells.
Look Who’s a Lucky Loser: Sam Querrey, currently ranked 64th, needed a pullout from Gael Monfils to make the main draw.
Trendy French Pick du Jour: In Nürnberg, this year’s Paris dark horse, Caroline Garcia of France, faces one of last year’s, Dinah Pfizenmaier of Germany
Youth Keeps Serving: In Strasbourg, Madison Keys faces Alison Riske for the second time in three weeks.
For Further Reading:
Serena Williams talked to USA Today on Tuesday about how she’s dealing with the increased pressure she’s started to feel in 2014, as she looks ahead to the many upcoming tournaments she has to defend.
On This Day...
“It was an incredible performance on my side,” said Federer.
“If I have to lose to anyone, then he is the man,” said Nadal.
Federer liked the clay in Hamburg, where he was a four-time champion, but he was unable to repeat this performance three weeks later in Paris. Nadal beat him in the French Open final in four sets for the second straight season.
(Source: On This Day in Tennis History, by Randy Walker)