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RG18

KASATKINA ADAPTS IN CHESS-MATCH TRIUMPH OVER WOZNIACKI

Saqib Ali

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Jane Voigt

Daria Kasatkina is an enigma, at least for players who expect pace, rhythm and control. Caroline Wozniacki is one such player. Monday, she succumbed to the creative nature of the 21-year-old’s game, losing her chance to advance to the quarterfinals and take a crack at what could have been her second major title of the year.

“She’s got the swagger,” Martina Navratilova said about Kasatkina on Tennis Channel.

Kasatkina’s advance to the quarterfinals of Roland Garros is her first at any major.

“It means a lot, of course,” Kasatkina told the press later. “It’s my first quarterfinals in the Grand Slam. But, already, I have to forget about it because I’m playing already tomorrow.”

Her win over Wozniacki — 7-6(5), 6-3 — is the Russian’s third this year over the number two seed. Kasatkina is 7-4 against top-10 opponents.

“I honestly didn’t think I played badly this morning,” Wozniacki said later. “She didn’t miss one ball, and she was playing very close to the lines. I was trying what I could, but it just wasn’t enough today.”

Before the match was called for darkness on Sunday, Kasatkina had the edge. She had won the first set and the second was tied 3-3. But the odds pointed toward Wozniacki early, especially when Kasatkina started with three double faults in her opening game and Wozniacki served for the first set up 5-3.

“I was happy to stop,” Kasatkina began. “It was already dark. I was framing a lot of balls, and I was getting really tired because first set took a lot of energy from both of us. I was happy we finish on the 3-all in the second.”

Their time on court Monday went by in a flash.

“She just won the three games,” Wozniacki said. “That’s tennis sometimes.”

With only one title on her resume — Charleston, 2017 — Kasatkina, who is called “Dasha” by those close to her, scored wins over Venus Williams, Angelique Kerber and Sloane Stephens at Indian Wells this year. The march through that draw took her to the final, where she lost to another young star, Naomi Osaka. That loss kept Kasatkina from notching a spot in the top 10.

During the spring clay-court season, Kasatkina continued her rise. She arrived at Roland Garros with a 10-5 record. In Rome she lost to the eventual champion Elina Svitolina in the third round, but scored an upset over Garbine Muguruza, the 2016 French Open Champion, in the previous tournament in Madrid. (She lost in the quarterfinals to Petra Kvitova.)

Kasatkina’s favorite surface is red clay and Roland Garros is her favorite tournament. That love was etched in her mind in 2014 when she won the Girls Junior championship. This year is only the second time she has been seeded in Paris (14).

“Feels really great,” Kasatkina said, when asked about her reaction to praise heaped upon her by Fabrice Santoro, two-time Australian Open doubles champion and mixed doubles champion of Roland Garros in 2005. “When the guy like this, unbelievable player, saying something to me in front of all the crowd, for sure, it means something.”

Wozniacki had not lost a set before this fourth-round match. Her only previous encounter of resistance came from Danielle Collins in the opening round. The American stretched the first set to a tiebreak, then Wozniacki rolled to snatch the win. She dropped a total of three games the next two rounds. Her match against fast-serving Georgina Garcia Perez lasted 51 minutes.

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Wozniacki’s overall record on clay doesn’t speak well of her top ranking. Her last title on the slippery stuff was Brussels in 2011. However, that record is not why she lost to Kasatikina.

“Kasatkina is a really touchy, feely player,” Navratilova said. “She can do it all.”

Wozniacki, at 27 and with 27 titles for her career, wants pace. She wants the ball to come to her racquet so she can redirect it. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t hustle because she does, being one of the most athletic players on tour. It means she needed to be creative, which is the trump card in Kasatkina’s deck. Her intuitive nature is mysteriously wonderful to watch.

“She takes pace off the ball, rolls in serves, and varies [her] pace,” Navratilova added.

Forty percent of points during the match went nine shots or more, according to Tennis Channel.

“That’s almost twice the number of points on both the ATP and WTA,” Navratilova emphasized.

Wozniacki is fit-as-a-fiddle, so longer rallies should not have bothered her. But Kasatkina knew how to lay a trap for the Dane throughout Monday’s resumption of this encounter. Kasatkina hung in the crosscourt rallies, luring Wozniacki by edging her closer to changing the ball’s direction or dropping it short in Daria’s court. As soon as that happened, she’d spank a winner down the line. The strategy seemed routine; her posture appeared nonchalant.

“Today was really not my day,” Jelena Ostapenko said, after losing to Kasatkina in Charleston last year. “I just didn’t feel the ball that well, and I was missing too much, and because she was only defending during the whole match.”

Ostapenko went on to win Roland Garros last year, smacking the life out of every ball she hit during the fortnight. Yet she, too, realized that Kasatkina’s game on clay was dangerous, although her comments seemed to blame the Russian for defense rather than a superior offensive strategy.

Calling her win over Wozniacki an upset would be inaccurate, given their head-to-head. However, it is a warning to all those women who live and breathe baseline bashing. That strategy could cause problems for Kasatkina when she faces Sloane Stephens in the quarterfinals, especially if the weather is sunny and warm. The clay would dry and turn the court into something close to a hardcourt. American tennis observers know that Stephens, being an American raised on hardcourts and the winner of the 2017 U.S. Open, flourishes on that surface.

“For me, actually, it’s not really natural to hit the lines with aggressive shots,” Kasatkina said. “Normally I’m just, like, to run and bring the balls back. But, as I said, women tennis become very powerful. I have to get used to it and try to not only running but also create something with my game, with my shots. If you want to win, you have to adapt.”

Image source – Jimmie 48
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RG18

NADAL’S OWN NOVELTY

Saqib Ali

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Matt Zemek

The biggest upset at the 2018 men’s Roland Garros tournament was not Marco Cecchinato over Novak Djokovic. It was something much bigger: Through the first six rounds of play, the men produced a better, more interesting, more compelling tournament than the women. That hadn’t happened in a few years. The 2017 Australian Open was great on both the men’s and women’s sides. The last time the men were unambiguously better than the women? If you have a clear answer, good for you, but it won’t come from the past three years. The men have occasionally matched the women and usually fallen short.

At Roland Garros in 2018, the men were better. (more…)

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RG18

WOMEN’S TENNIS: THIS KIND OF SOCIALISM WORKS

Saqib Ali

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Matt Zemek

Socialism sounds good in theory but never ends up well in practice, they say.

“They” obviously aren’t watching women’s professional tennis these days.

Remember when Serena Williams continued and extended her control over the WTA Tour at the 2017 Australian Open, following a 2016 run in which she made three major finals and a fourth semifinal? That 2016 season was also a campaign in which Angelique Kerber reached three major finals and won two. Not a lot of sharing happened on the WTA Tour, and when Serena lifted her 23rd major crown in Melbourne, it seemed that women’s tennis would remain a monarchy run by Serena, not a democracy in which various players had an equal say in the year’s most important tournaments.

Then came Serena’s pregnancy, and in a heartbeat, the WTA became a vast expanse of questions and uncertainties.

We have seen on the ATP Tour how the injury-based absences of top players have created voids — not only in terms of consistent results at majors, but also the overall quality of play. This just-concluded French Open was one of the ATP’s better majors in a while, but over the past two years, men’s tennis at the Grand Slam tournaments has been largely dreary and uninspiring. Most finals have been numbingly predictable snoozefests, and without proven players to take charge in halves or quarters of draws, many random results — “someone will win because someone has to, not because someone is transcendent or special” — have proliferated. The 2017 Roland Garros tournament was like this. The 2017 Wimbledon tournament offered glimpses of such an identity. 2017 U.S. Open was the ultimate representation of this dynamic over the past 18 months. The 2018 Australian Open largely fit this description as well.

Missing the top stars the past 18 to 24 months has noticeably hurt the quality of the ATP Tour, so when Serena had to tend to the task of childbirth, everyone naturally wondered how women’s tennis would respond.

The results have been unpredictable, just as they have been with the men (hello, Sam Querrey making a Wimbledon semifinal; Kevin Anderson playing Pablo Carreno Busta in a U.S. Open semifinal; Hyeon Chung and Kyle Edmund making Australian Open semis; Marco Cecchinato making these just-concluded Roland Garros semis). However, women’s tennis has produced the compelling major finals men’s tennis has failed to deliver. Just compare the two Roland Garros finals we witnessed over the weekend.

More than that, women’s tennis is crowning the new champions men’s tennis is failing to produce.

Since the start of 2010, men’s tennis has created only three first-time major champions: Andy Murray at the 2012 U.S. Open, Stan Wawrinka at the 2014 Australian Open, and Marin Cilic at the 2014 U.S. Open.

Ever since Serena stepped away from the sport in early 2017, the WTA — in a span of five major tournaments — has exceeded the men’s total of first-time major winners this decade.

Jelena Ostapenko last year at Roland Garros; Sloane Stephens at the U.S. Open; Caroline Wozniacki in Australia; and Simona Halep this past Saturday in Paris have all crossed the threshold. If the men — #ATPLostBoys — can’t pass the baton to younger generations just yet, the WTA is doing exactly that, and in supremely entertaining fashion. What is even more noteworthy: The players at the center of the WTA’s balanced distribution of signature championships are removing significant what-if burdens from the sport.

2018 Roland Garros - 24 May

Both Images taken from – Jimmie 48

Ostapenko is the outlier in the group, but Stephens has answered questions about who will be the next American player to follow in Serena’s footsteps — not to the same extent, of course, but certainly in terms of being a constant threat to do well at the biggest events in the sport.

In 2018, Wozniacki and Halep have both removed the eight most oppressive words in tennis or golf from their necks: “Best player never to have won a major.” The unpredictability we all expected in women’s tennis once Serena stepped away has been the happiest, most productive unpredictability one could imagine. The combination of entertainment value and redemptive stories has been off the charts.

The flow of life on the WTA Tour has been so cathartic and inspiring that after Wozniacki and Halep removed burdensome labels from their careers, there’s no similarly acute example remaining of a player currently in contention at majors who is trying to banish her demons. Karolina Pliskova, at 26, is the oldest player without a major in the current WTA top 10. As she gets to age 28 or 29, her story might become more poignant, but as someone who has made only two major semifinals and only one major final, Pliskova doesn’t have the accumulation of memorably painful defeats both Wozniacki and Halep absorbed before those two finally broke through. Wozniacki’s and Halep’s respective triumphs this year carried so much impact because the tennis world was aware how often they had climbed the hill, only to be knocked down to the valleys below. Pliskova’s story doesn’t carry the same weight — not yet. The WTA has written the two foremost feel-good stories it possibly could have authored in 2018.

The one still-active player on the WTA Tour who can legitimately claim to be the “Best Player Never To Have Won A Major” is Agnieszka Radwanska, now 29 years old. However, she is outside the top 25 and hasn’t been a top threat at the majors for roughly two years. (She lost to Serena in the 2016 Australian Open semifinals.) Among active players in contention at the year’s biggest tournaments, no first-time major hopefuls carry the promise of hope or the weight of longing to the degree Wozniacki and Halep offered.

In an age when so many sports teams — internationally and in America — are winning their first huge championships in their respective realms of competition, the WTA is in step with the times. That the WTA’s evolution has coexisted with a high quality of play and gripping major finals shows that this version of socialism — wide and relatively even distribution of resources — works in practice, not just in theory.

We will see at Wimbledon if it continues.

 

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RG18

Testigos de la grandeza

Saqib Ali

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Briana Foust

Mientras veía a Rafael Nadal intentar completar el tercer set de la final masculina de Roland Garros a la vez que resistía un calambre en su mano izquierda, de repente, comprendí algo que me impactó: cada pequeño detalle debe darse para que un jugador encuentre el santo grial del tenis, también conocido como ganar un gran título de grand slam. No puede haber ningún accidente.

Ningún conductor ebrio, como el que frenó a Thomas Muster, ni un fanático desequilibrado, como el que interrumpió el curso de la vida de Mónica Seles. No puede haber ninguna lesión, como las muñecas vulnerables de Juan Martín Del Potro o ninguna distracción que pueda causar algún problema personal. Ni siquiera se puede sufrir un lapsus de concentración porque eso le abre la puerta a rivales hambrientos que siempre están trabajando para mejorar. (more…)

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