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RG18

QUARTERFINAL CONTESTANTS, CHAMPIONSHIP DREAMS

Saqib Ali

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Briana Foust

When Venus Williams lost in the first round of Roland Garros, opportunity opened a cornucopia of possibilities from the tennis gods. Not because Williams was the overwhelming favorite, but because she was the only woman who had experienced finals day in Paris. 2002 was a historic final between two sisters — the occasion helped usher the younger sister, Serena Williams, into the Tennis Hall of Fame. Serena held all four majors at the same time, thanks in part to her Parisian triumph. Now that we are in the second week of Roland Garros, the identities of the women from the bottom half who will make the final are becoming clearer. So far we have two young Americans who were featured in the 2017 U.S. Open final; a fiery Kazakh; and a Russian with the type of game style that brings nostalgic memories to many tennis fans, offering throwback shades of black and white.

Who are these players? Join me as I break down each of the 2018 Roland Garros bottom-half quarter finalists.

Sloane Stephens

The reigning U.S. Open champion has had a love affair with Roland Garros’s clay for many years. Before her U.S. Open breakthrough, Paris was the site of her most consistent major with four fourth-round appearances. She only lost to players who had been to a Roland Garros final. This year she does not have any experienced finalists in her path and has found herself, in many minds, as the favorite for her second major. Only four active women have won another major after their maiden triumphs. Two out of the four won their second a year after their first. Sloane will be hoping she is next on that list.

Madison Keys

After a bumpy start to her season, Madison Keys is thriving in Paris. With her win Sunday over Mihaela Buzarnescu, Keys — along with compatriot Sloane Stephens — has reached the quarterfinals or better at all four majors. Many predicted that Keys’ highest level of success would come on the grass at Wimbledon, but she is quickly proving herself to be an all-surface threat. Lindsay Davenport, Keys’ coach, was only able to reach the semifinals in Paris once in her career. Keys will be favored against the Kazakh, Yulia Putinseva, but her opponent will aim to spoil Keys’ dream of an all-American semifinal with her good friend, Stephens.

Yulia Putintseva

While reaching the quarterfinals in Paris for the second time, Yulia Putintseva is a surprise in the second week. Before Roland Garros, Putintseva had not won three consecutive matches on the WTA Tour since she reached the St. Petersburg final 16 months ago. Putintseva has a cult following on #TennisTwitter for her expressive gestures and antics with umpires, yet her game has been doing the most talking this fortnight. She will face Madison Keys for a shot at her best result ever at a major.

Daria Kasatkina / Caroline Wozniacki

— As of this writing, their match has been suspended due to darkness. The winner will face Sloane Stephens.

Kasatkina has the type of game that should thrive on clay. The young Russian was a junior Roland Garros champion (2014). Reaching this year’s fourth round has been her best result in Paris and equals her best major result, which she achieved at the 2017 U.S. Open. Kasatkina is currently facing the reigning Australian Open champion, Wozniacki, for a place in the quarterfinals, but she will not be daunted by Wozniacki’s stature considering she currently owns wins over all of the current major champions in the past year. Kasatkina is one of five players in WTA history to hold multiple wins over players who have been World No. 1s at any point in time. She will have to do it once again on the biggest stage to move on.

Wozniacki, the first Danish woman in history to win a major title, is one of five champions left in the draw. Clay has historically not been her strongest surface; the farthest she has advanced is the quarterfinals. Wozniacki regained the number one ranking after six years with her maiden title in Australia, but lost it soon after due to Halep’s indefatigable consistency. In order for Wozniacki to see No. 1 by her name once again, she would have to go home with the title.

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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