First Ball In, 5/21: Career Opportunities
Five lefties were in action at two ATP events today, and by the time the red dust had settled, three were still standing.
In Dusseldorf, Jiri Vesely defeated veteran Nikolay Davydenko, while Jurgen Melzer edged No. 4 seed Joao Sousa, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 6-4, to set up an all-lefty quarterfinal. In Nice, No. 7 seed Federico Delbonis beat French wild card Paul-Henri Mathieu. Delbonis, who won his first career title on clay in Sao Paulo this February, plays for a spot in his third clay-court semifinal of the season when he takes on top-seeded John Isner tomorrow. Isner, who beat Jack Sock 6-4, 6-3, has won three of his eight titles as a top seed.
The sight of Rafael Nadal dancing around his backhand to lash a wicked topspin forehand into obscure areas is an iconic Roland Garros image. Left-handers ranging from Rod Laver to Guillermo Vilas to Andres Gomez to Thomas Muster to Rafa have left their fingerprints all over the Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy. But if we take the King of Clay out of the equation (Rafa is actually a natural righty playing lefty), how have other lefty men fared at Roland Garros in recent years?
In the last 15 years only five left-handed men—Melzer (2010 semifinalist, lost to Nadal), Mariano Puerta (2005 finalist, lost to Nadal), Franco Squillari (2000 semifinalist), Fernando Meligeni (1999 semifinalist), and Marcelo Rios (1999 quarterfinalist)—have made quarterfinal runs or better in Paris. In 1998, three of the last eight were lefties—Muster, Rios, and Moroccan magician Hicham Arazi—though none advanced to the final four.
Anabel Medina Garrigues slid into the second round of Roland Garros qualifying today aiming to extend her Grand Slam streak as she says good-bye to singles to focus solely on doubles.
The 31-year-old Spaniard has played in 41 consecutive Slams, a streak that stretches back to 2004. She scored a three-set win over French teenager Jade Suvrijn and will face 185th-ranked Czech Tereza Smitkova in round two of qualifying, which takes on special significance.
"I've also decided that it will be my last singles tournament as I'm going to concentrate on doubles from now on," Medina Garrigues told the Roland Garros website today. "I'm glad that I got through this match. The adventure can continue for a while longer."
Medina Garrigues' 10 career clay-court titles are second to Serena Williams (11) for most among active women. A year ago, Medina Garrigues dished out the rarest of bagels when she swept the second set at love from Serena before the world No. 1 rallied for a 6-3, 0-6, 7-5 win in the 2013 Madrid quarterfinals. The Valencia native became just the seventh woman in history to bagel Serena—and first since Venus Williams in 2008, when her sister, suffering a strained abdominal, lost 12 of the last 13 games at the Tour Championships.
Since then, Medina Garrigues hasn't exactly been carbo-loading opponents or feasting in singles fields, with her last WTA main-draw singles win coming last September. Her ranking has slid 150 spots to No. 213. But the two-time former French Open doubles champion has enjoyed recent doubles success, partnering two-time Grand Slam doubles champion Yaroslava Shvedova to collect the Charleston doubles crown last month before successive semifinal runs with the Kazakh at Madrid and Rome.
Ernests Gulbis netted successive forehands to drop a first-set tiebreaker against Martin Klizan. The volatile Latvian responded by splattering his Wilson racquet to the court—then he picked up the pieces and rallied for a 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-1 victory to reach his eighth quarterfinal of the year in Nice. The second-seeded Gulbis will face sometime doubles partner Dmitry Tursunov, the No. 5 seed, in a match of two combustible characters prone to mayhem.
"He is a good friend. I have played with him in doubles many times," said Gulbis. "I know him, he knows me. It will be a fun match.”
Madrid finalist Simona Halep was forced out of the Rome round of 16 with an abdominal injury, but the fourth-ranked Romanian's stock is still rising ahead of Roland Garros.
Oddsmakers have Halep as the fourth favorite to win the French Open. The Romanian is a 12 to 1 shot behind Serena (5/4), Maria Sharapova (5/1), and Li Na (6/1) to take the title. Halep's Top 4 ranking assures she would not face reigning champion Williams, 2011 champion Li, or Agnieszka Radwanska, who has beaten Halep in four of six meetings, until at least the semifinals.
The 2008 French Open junior champion calls Roland Garros her favorite tournament. She is just 1-4 lifetime in Paris, but is coming off her best major performance with an Australian Open quarterfinal appearance. Halep is listed ahead of former French Open champions Ana Ivanovic (16/1) and Svetlana Kuznetsova (80/1), and former finalists Sara Errani (33/1) and Samantha Stosur (50/1) among oddsmakers.
"Halep is a tremendous athlete, she doesn't miss anything, she covers the court great and she is not intimidated by any player or any pressure whatsoever," seven-time French Open champion Chris Evert told TENNIS.com today in an ESPN conference call with the media. "She can transition from defense to offense really, really well. I think on the clay you need to move well and be consistent yet she still hits a big ball—you really gotta earn the point against her because she gives you nothing."
Evert calls Serena "the one to beat...I think she's peaked pretty well for the French Open" and though a couple of long shot seeds have broken through to French Open finals in recent years—No. 17 seed Francesca Schiavone won the 2010 title, No. 21 Sara Errani was 2012 runner-up—Evert says flatly she "cannot see a woman ranked outside the Top 20 reaching the final."
Chris Evert, once engaged to Jimmy Connors at age 19 before the pair called it quits, said she was "in awe" Caroline Wozniacki and Rory McIlroy's relationship lasted as long as it did. Asked today for her perspective on the split, Evert, who said she doesn't know the couple personally, was impressed by their staying power given the global travel, physical and emotional demands on elite professional athletes.
"I look back at Jimmy and I, to get two players in the prime of their career and striving to be No. 1 and don't see each other...I was in awe [McIlroy and Wozniacki's relationship] worked as long as it did," Evert said in a conference call with the media. "I understand 100 percent. You're married to your career. It's not only the physical, you're using your emotions, the mental capacity that you have and you're putting everything into [your career]. But that's what it takes to be the best."
Caroline Garcia vs. Karin Knapp (Nurnberg): The 26-year-old Italian dropped just five games dismissing Garcia in Doha earlier this season, but the talented 20-year-old Frenchwoman has won seven of her last eight matches, including wins over Nurnberg top seed Angelique Kerber and Rome runner-up Sara Errani on clay in Madrid.
In the old-meets-new department, Garcia and ageless Kimiko Date Krumm have reached the doubles semifinals.
Julia Goerges vs. Madison Keys (Strasbourg): The German has left American foes red, white, and bruised this week, toppling No. 1 seed Sloane Stephens in the opening round and defeating Lauren Davis today, 7-5, 6-4. Keys owns one of the biggest serves in the game and should be motivated playing for her second semifinal of the season.
Andrea Petkovic (4) vs. Monica Puig (Strasbourg): Tennis players typically have long memories, but Puig will probably want to forget the 6-0, 6-0 pounding Petkovic dispensed in their last clay-court meeting in the 2013 Marseille semifinals. Neither Charleston champion Petkovic nor Puig have dropped a set so far this week.