1 – Will Maria Sharapova’s return of serve be ready to meet the challenge in Paris?
Sharapova plays a hit-or-miss style of tennis these days, trying to strike quickly and accept a lot of errors in exchange for even more winners. She could meet Karolina Pliskova in round three, Serena Williams in round four, and Garbine Muguruza in the quarterfinals. Serena might not make the fourth round given her level of match fitness, but the point still remains that Sharapova could face a cluster of formidable servers who hit big and will not sit back. Sharapova will need to get on top of points and make an accurate first strike instead of handing an opponent a cheap point. This draw heightens the centrality of her return of serve.
2 – Who will emerge from Serena’s first-week subsection (aka, the first three rounds) and Muguruza’s section (a section being defined as a group of 16, encompassing the first four rounds)?
If you look at the draw as it was presented by Roland Garros on Thursday evening, in the above link offered by Reem Abulleil, you will see that each player has a number. One side of the draw, the first half, contains player numbers 1-64, while the other side/half contains players numbered 65-128. Of all the sections in the draw, none is more fascinating than the 49-64 section containing Serena, Sharapova and Karolina Pliskova. Everyone is buzzing about that part of the draw and who will make the quarterfinals.
However, don’t forget about the 33-48 section just above it. The player who gets through that section could face a very tired Sharapova/Serena/Pliskova and benefit from comparatively less strain. With Muguruza struggling and CoCo Vandeweghe, the other seeded player in the 33-48 section, being erratic as a way of life, this is a great opportunity for someone to come out of nowhere and make a run. Hello, Samantha Stosur (former Roland Garros finalist) and Belinda Bencic.
3 – Did Victoria Azarenka learn what she needed to learn from her blowout loss to Naomi Osaka in Rome?
If she did, she can beat Jelena Ostapenko in a possible second-round match. If that Osaka loss showed how disorganized Azarenka understandably is, as she deals with so many continued complications in her personal life, it becomes harder to envision a shakeup in that section. If Ostapenko can get by Azarenka, she has a reasonably manageable path to the quarterfinals.
4 – Are Kiki Bertens and Caroline Garcia ready for new levels of pressure?
The two players who emerge as natural threats in Simona Halep’s quarter are the two women who met in the Madrid semifinals. Bertens has the better clay game, but Garcia can ride the wave of the French crowd — it is something most French players fail to do at Roland Garros when they have a real chance to make a run, but perhaps Garcia can look to last year’s quarterfinalist, Kristina Mladenovic, as a helpful example of a player who used pressure and adrenaline to her benefit. If Bertens or Garcia can make it to the quarters — which might require both players to beat Angelique Kerber — Halep’s Roland Garros chances might hinge on whether Bertens or Garcia play at their best.
5 – Is this Elina Svitolina’s or Simona Halep’s time?
The WTA is so deep that when the quarterfinals arrive, every major title contender can expect to face tough tests. The bracket might dissolve and create a few fortunate twists, but on paper, the quarters and semis should be very tough matchups for all the top contenders. There are no cakewalk draws. That said, Halep and Svitolina both avoided Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, and Serena Williams in the first week of the tournament. They can’t complain about their draws. They have met in the last two Rome finals. They staged a memorable Roland Garros quarterfinal last year. If they make the final this year, they will once again create a WTA major final in which the winner is guaranteed to be a first-time major champion.
Can they win six matches from their sides of the draw and create more history in 2018? We gonna see, no?
Image taken from Zimbio.com
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…)