In her first French Open match in two years and her first major tournament since giving birth to daughter Olympia in September, Serena Williams triumphed over Kristyna Pliskova 7-6(4), 6-4.
“Today wasn’t easy,” Williams told Tennis Channel on court, immediately following her win. “Such a pleasure to be able to play.”
Williams’ gratitude and humility were short-lived because the conversation quickly turned to her form-fitting catsuit. Her entry onto Court Philippe Chatrier set an immediate tone for fans — those on hand and watching around the world.
“All the moms out there that had a tough pregnancy and have come back and try to be fierce, in [the] middle of everything,” she said. “That’s what this represents. You can’t beat a catsuit, right?”
Williams first wore a catsuit in 2002 at the U.S. Open: a shiny brown Puma design with shorts. Tuesday, she rocked an all-black full-legging style, broken only by a flashy red waistband.
“[It’s] a new version, 2.0,” she told the press later, with a smile. “It’s cool. I call it my Wakanda-inspired catsuit. It’s really fun, although we designed it way before the movie, but still, it kind of reminds me of that.”
“The catsuit is back and it’s having my queen looking like a superhero,” former NBA basketball player Jason Collins declared in a tweet.
The fearsome outfit probably didn’t have much to do with Williams’s match play, but never underestimate what clothes can do for an athlete of her stature.
Her win over the No. 70-ranked Pliskova wasn’t a masterpiece, though it didn’t have to be. The point was to win and learn from the experience of winning after a long absence from match play. Williams had moments of brilliance, hitting winners as if she had never taken a break from competition. She struck 13 aces, which seemed to please the 23-time Grand Slam champion. Pliskova, though, hit 15 aces, the most of any player who had faced Serena.
“The beginning was so many aces,” Serena told the press. “I knew that after her first game of serving I said, okay, I have to serve really well today. I need to really be on my game serving-wise because there aren’t going to be a tremendous amount of rallies.”
Serena, who won the Suzanne Lenglen Trophy three times (2002, 2013, 2015), was one of three Roland Garros champions who secured second-round berths Tuesday.
Maria Sharapova, who is seeded No. 27, struggled to oust qualifier Richel Hogenkamp, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3. Down 0-3 in the third, Sharapova ignited her gritty, determined self to win. The Russian won Roland Garros in 2012 and 2014.
Garbine Muguruza, the 2016 champion, eliminated Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 2009 champion, in straight sets: 7-6(0), 6-2.
Sharapova and Williams are on course to clash in the fourth round. Sharapova last defeated Williams at the WTA Tour Championships in 2004, having lost the next 18 matches. Given that, the result of their potential meeting could be a foregone conclusion. However both have entered a new era in their careers — Serena as a mother, Sharapova still regrouping from a double whammy: a 15-month suspension for doping and injuries she incurred in her return last year.
The biggest difference for Serena is baby Olympia and being a mom. Right after winning, Serena told Tennis Channel about her new role, saying, “I think I’m going to tell her it was fun and [I] thought about her and got a little worried about her, but it was great.” Later, she told the press, “The biggest difference is definitely I’m semi on time today, two minutes late because I want to get home and see Olympia. I’ve been here all day. Usually we hang out all the time.”
Maria, on the other hand, was all business about her 14th appearance in Paris and first match there since 2015. Her mind was clearly and completely on winning.
“I think I can be proud of that effort,” Sharapova said, as reported by the WTA. “No matter the score, I still know that I produced quite solid tennis in order to get myself in a winning position. I felt there is no reason that I couldn’t get that back. I finished out six straight games. I think if there is any way to turn that match around, it’s that way.”
Between Serena’s return and Sharapova’s turnaround, there were many compelling stories to turn to in Paris on Tuesday.
Image source – Jimmie 48
NADAL’S OWN NOVELTY
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…)
WOMEN’S TENNIS: THIS KIND OF SOCIALISM WORKS
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.
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.
Testigos de la grandeza
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…)