First Ball In, 6/4: Riddles of Roland Garros

Wednesday, June 04, 2014 /by
AP Photos
AP Photos

One thing you can say about the French: They don’t pander to those of us watching on TV when they schedule the late rounds at Roland Garros. With no way to divide the big matches between day and night sessions, French officials tend to put the major fourth-rounders and quarterfinals on at exactly the same time in Chatrier and Lenglen. What’s bad for TV is good for the fans onsite, as well as for the players. If you’re a spectator in either court, you’re going to get a quality match; and if you’re a player, you know you won’t finish much later than the person you’re supposed to play in the next round. But it does make for a busy day for those of us back at home.

*****

Wednesday Review

See my Racquet Reaction on Rafael Nadal’s four-set win over David Ferrer here.

There were two more French Open upstarts in the women’s quarters today; each was trying to make her first Slam semi, yet each made it look as if she had been playing on this stage her entire life. Andrea Petkovic tore through 2012 finalist Sara Errani 6-2, 6-2, and Simona Halep repeated the trick against 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, by the same scores.

Of the two wins, Petkovic’s was the bigger surprise—she’s ranked just 27th at the moment. But watching the way she approached the match and executed her game plan, you might have wondered how she could ever have been ranked below Errani at all, let alone by 16 spots. Petkovic gave Errani’s lollipop second serve what it deserved—a backhand slap for a winner. Petko didn’t stop there. She stepped in and lasered Errani’s high-bouncing short balls to the corners all day. It’s the type of tennis that, in theory, any pro should be able to play, but it’s not nearly as easy as Petkovic made it look. 

Making it look easy is what Halep does for a living. I asked it yesterday, but after watching her play quiet circles around Kuznetsova today, it’s the only thing I can ask again: Does any player, man or woman, move the ball from one corner to the other as freely and easily and smoothly as Halep does? 

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Monfils Plays the Monfool

If today’s men’s quarters proved anything, it’s that eventually, if you watch him long enough, Gael Monfils will give you a reason to wonder why you ever cared what he did in the first place. Today was that day.

After losing the first set, Monfils rolled over in the second, but not before stirring the crowd against his opponent, Andy Murray, when Murray had a ball drop out of his pocket in the middle of a point. In the third set, Monfils stirred them some more; by the end of the fourth, his long-awaited surge had materialized, and the crowd was baying and bellowing behind him. 

Then he lost the fifth set 6-0.

“I don’t know what happened,” the Frenchman said afterward.

For better, and then for worse, Monfils happened, again, to the French Open.

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OOP Analysis

See Thursday’s Order of Play here.

Maria Sharapova vs. Eugenie Bouchard

They've played twice; Sharapova won in straight sets both times, including at the French Open last year. Each hits a flat ball and tries to dictate whenever possible, and each showed her competitive mettle in the quarterfinals by coming back from significant deficits. Bouchard is obviously less experienced, though she has been to a Slam semi before, at the Aussie Open earlier this year. Sharapova is always intense, but she has looked nothing less than hellbent on victory here since Serena Williams went out. Twice she could have lost, and twice she didn’t. I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened a third time. Winner: Sharapova

Simona Halep vs. Andrea Petkovic

They've also played twice in WTA events, and Halep has won both times in straight sets. As the world No. 4, the highest seed left in the tournament, the most improved player on tour over the last 18 months, and someone who hasn’t dropped a set in five matches in Paris, it would seem to be her time to break through and reach a Grand Slam final. My caveat is that we haven’t seen Halep seriously pushed so far; when she is, she can start to rush. And Petkovic has a little less to lose. Winner: Petkovic

*****

Photo of the Day

Actually, it's from 12 years ago, when an 8-year-old Eugenie Bouchard met a 15-year-old Maria Sharapova. You probably won't see them posing like this again anytime soon. Apparently, they've drifted apart—"We're not friends," Bouchard says.

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