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Marketa Vondrousova becomes an elite closer

Matt Zemek

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Jimmie 48 Photography

In 2019, only two WTA players have won more singles matches through Friday, June 7, than Marketa Vondrousova. Ashleigh Barty — whom Vondrousova will meet in Saturday’s Roland Garros women’s final — owns 30 wins. Karolina Pliskova has 29. Vondrousova joins Petra Kvitova and Belinda Bencic with 28 after her Roland Garros semifinal win over Jo Konta.

Stacking wins is impressive in its own right and makes its own statement.

The fact that Vondrousova is winning high-stakes matches from difficult scoreboard situations is exponentially more laudable.

There is a pinch of 2017 Jelena Ostapenko in Vondrousova, who is one win from notching an accomplishment which would be very similar to Alona forged two years ago in Paris.

Ostapenko won a bunch of three-set matches. Vondrousova hasn’t yet lost a set at this tournament. Where is the comparison, then?

Much as Ostapenko reset the dial after losing sets two years ago, Vondrousova has been able to regroup when trailing within sets. (Ostapenko also regrouped within a set — set two of the final against Simona Halep — to erase a break deficit and complete her finest comeback of the fortnight to lift the trophy.)

In these last two matches against Petra Martic (quarterfinals) and Konta (semifinals), Vondrousova has trailed 5-3 in a set. Her opponent has served for a set. In the one set of the four in which she DIDN’T trail by a 5-3 margin, she lost three straight games from 5-2 up to get to 5-5 and confront the possibility that a set would slip away.

She closed the sale in all four sets.

Yes, Konta got very tight at 5-3 in each of the two sets she played on Friday. Yes, Martic got nervous at 5-3 in the first in the quarters. Yes, it’s not as though Vondrousova didn’t get some help. She did. Yet, it’s not as though she slipped through one set and then cruised. She fought uphill on a regular basis and did not allow that to stop her.

Instructively, at the very ends of sets, Vondrousova has played her best.

Martic might have flinched at 5-3 in the first set in the quarters, but at 5-6, 0-40 in that same set, Vondrousova played five perfect points to hold and force a tiebreaker she subsequently dominated with letter-perfect shot selection and superb rally tolerance.

In Friday’s match, after Konta failed to serve out the second set and Vondrousova got into another tiebreaker, she played the best point of the match to get to 5-2 in that breaker and eventually seal the deal.

She survived when opponents served for sets against her. She thrived in every 5-5 game she played and in the breakers she played.

Vondrousova d. Martic, 7-6, 7-5.

Vondrousova d. Konta, 7-5, 7-6.

A 19-year-old outlasted, outmaneuvered, and out-thought two 28-year-olds in crunch-time situations late in a major, having never been in a major quarterfinal or semifinal before.

ONIONS.

Ice water in the veins.

That’s what an elite closer does.

Now, this elite closer is one win away from closing her teenage years with a major championship.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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