Archives for June 2018

Another year, another Nadal victory at RG

FROM ROLAND GARROS — Once again, Rafa Nadal wins Roland Garros. He has now won 11 titles in Paris, and over the past 15 days, he was so clean, hitting deep and true. No one can touch him.

Austrian Dominic Thiem, tried as hard as he could, but there was no answer. Sure, during the moments, he looked sharp, going for the shots, hitting backhand to backhand, and when he had a small opportunity, he would go for it.

But did Thiem managed to find the lines and hope that Nadal wouldn’t catch him? Here and there, but it didn’t work. Because Nadal is so fast, so patient, and he knows where the ball is coming from. The Spaniard’s forehand is massive, his serve is big, and at the net, today, he was almost perfect. His backhand has improved a lot over the last few years. Before, his backhand could be a little bit soft, or not deeper enough, but now, he is just fine hitting rallies, especially cracking down the line and putting it away.
 
Nadal is just better on the clay courts, having 57 titles. That is more than extraordinary. Next year, assuming he is healthy, Nadal will be the favorite once again. How does anyone can really attack him at Roland Garros? On occasion, someone might win a set, but to win it three out of five sets? Right now, that is impossible.    

Thiem had a fine two weeks. He pushed himself, and he likes to add something new. However, he does have to learn even more. He can be erratic against the big boys. So, if he wants to win a major, he has to find the right strategy. If he does, sometime of the future, the 24-year-old will reach the final at 2019 RG. The No. 7 may not be able to upset Nadal, but on clay, Thiem could win the title against anyone else.  He is that good.  

Rankings the top players …

The Men
Nadal, A+: He only lost one set over seven matches, against Diego Schwartzman. Not bad, not bad at all.

Thiem, A-: He has a wonderful backhand, and he likes to slide.

Juan Martin del Potro, B+: The Argentine is pleased that now he can use the two-handed backhand more often, but the No. 4 can still get tired.

Marco Cecchinato, B-: The Italian came from nowhere. Now there will be a lot of people watching after he stunned Novak Djokovic.

Marin Cilic, B: The No. 5 finally likes clay and he reached the quarters, but DelPo wore him down.

Novak Djokovic, B-: The 12-time GS champion looked pretty good early, but in the quarters, he made some key mistakes. And he was very angry.

Alexander Zverev, B-: He won three, five-setters in a row, which was a heck of a lot of fun. But, his toes were raw, and he went down versus Thiem. The No. 3 needs to pick it up in the Slams.

The women
Simona Halep, A-: It took her many years to settle down, and she did, winning RG. Now the No. 1 will finally be calm inside.

Sloane Stephens, A-: The American played amazing until the final, and in the first set, it looked like that she was ready to win a Slam again. But, in the last two sets, she folded it. However, mentally, on the clay, she improved a lot.

Madison Keys, B+: The big hitter once again revamped on clay, and while she was spotty against Sloane, at least she is healthy again.   

Yulia Putintseva, B+: Many people think that she is not that good, but she practices all the times and she finally made the quarters, beating a number of good players. Maybe she can go even further this year.

Garbine Muguruza, B: The Spaniard looked terrific, smashing Maria Sharapova. But in the semis, she lost it, and she fell against Halep. She is so good, but she doesn’t think enough.  

Angie Kerber, B: The German was playing terrific, fast and aggressive, but in the quarters, in the third set against Halep, she became injured and she collapsed.

Maria Sharapova, B: A decent tournament for the former No. 1, but on court she gets anxious. She has to calm down.

Daria Kasatkina, B: She looked formidable when she upset Caro Wozniacki, but then she lost easily to Stephens. She is very young though and she will continue to improve.

Men’s final: Nadal v. Theim: ‘I know how to play against him’  

FR0M ROLAND GARROS — Rafa Nadal is a pretty big favorite to win Roland Garros once again. He has won it 10 times, and he has never lost in the final, starting in 2005 when the teenager shocked the world. Last year, in 2017, he won it again. He was so locked in and so good.

Last year, in the semis, he blew out
Dominic Thiem. He destroyed him. But now, the 24-year-old is a little bit more mature, he has improved his heavy backhand and his volleys at the net cords. He likes changing the tactics a lot, and he is fairly smart, so maybe, he can unearth Rada. 

Or maybe not. The thing is, the 32-year-old Nadal is brilliant when he is playing. He can be tricky, or he can attach very soon, blasting his forehand. He is very patient with his first serve, and when he manages to get into the net, he can jump up into the air, or he can bend down, grip it his racket, stare at it, and then decide where he could go. Many times, he puts it away. With his return, he stands way in the back, right near the fence, he quickly moves forward when the ball is struck and he pounds it deep. He doesn’t try to immediately hit a winner, he wants to start the points and then eventually, he will explode.
That is why Nadal has won so many clay court tournaments. Dozens and dozens. But eventually, all reat players will retire, too old, too injured, too mentally tired. Pete Sampras did that back in 2002, when he won the US Open for the last time. He had won 14 Grand Slams, but then he woke up one day later and he thought, “I don’t want to play anymore. It is time to rest, and change how I feel, and I will have a new chapter.”
 
But right now, while Nadal maintains his health — which is very rocly — he will continue to improve his backhand. Ten years ago, his backhand was so-so, it wasn’t going deep, but now he hits it deeper and harder. It is not perfect, and he probably never will be. But that’s because his forehand is gigantic, all the time. Plus, he gets everything.So what about Thiem?  For sure, over the past five years, he has gradually improved, and he loves the clay. He likes to punch it out, and he likes long rallies, when he moves forward inch by inch until he can touch the line. His one-handed backhand is fantastic. He by slices and spins it, by flatting in out and smacking the ball for a winner. His forehand is heavy, and he can move it around.Yes, he has beaten Nadal three times, on clay, but Rafa has won five times, twice at Roland Garros. The Spaniard hasn’t lost a set to Thiem in Paris.      
   
Can Thiem change it up? He will have to start playing well, because if he loses the first and second set, see-ya. But as he says, there is an opportunity“[Nadal is] a big favorite against everybody. Still, I know how to play against him,” Thiem said. “I have a plan.”Halep battles for Slam

After she lost the first set 6-3, and she was broken, 1-2, Simona Halep blew up quickly. The last time at three finals at the Slams, she went down. But this time, she didn’t panic, she kept running, getting the balls back constantly, pretty deep and hard. She ran and ran, she just kept striking.

“I felt that and I said, ‘It’s not going to happen again, but it’s okay. I have just to play,’ ” Halep said. “And then when I started to win games, I said that last year happened to me [against Jelena Ostapenko in the final], same thing, I was set and a break up and I lost the match. So I said there is a chance to come back and win it. So I believed in that, and my game was more relaxed. I could make more things on court, and that’s why I could win.”

Halep won it all, out-hitting Sloane Stephens 3-6 6-4 6-1. In the fourth game in the third, she and Stephens were at the net, twisting around,  bending down, and finally, Halep went in the air, with her back behind her, and she put it away. That was a tremendous point. After that, she pumped her first, while Stephens put her head down.

‘That was really important, and I think maybe the most important ball in the third set. I remember last year and this year in my mind all match, when, at 3-3 I think in the third set, she hit the net and the ball was going, like, five meters out and came back to my court. So I remember that. I said, if I did this point, so has to be mine this match. I was confident after that.”

It was over. The No. 1 Halep knew that she was going to win. She did, and she is still grinning, her first major. Whether she wins another Slam — and she really could — at least on Saturday, she finally showed that she was spectacular, through and through.

 

A tantalizing women’s final: Stephens versus Halep


FROM ROLAND GARROS — A year ago, Sloane Stephens couldn’t play. She was injured and far from happy. But every day, she would go into the practice courts and rebuild. She couldn’t play the French Open, but three weeks later, she felt good enough and went to Wimbledon. Mentally, she wasn’t ready yet, but she didn’t care, she just wanted to compete.

She lost in the first round at Wimbledon and in Washington. Then, in Toronto, she was feeling better, running around, hitting hard when she needed to. She was concentrating. She beat Petra Kvitova, Angie Kerber and Lucie Safarova before falling to  Caro Wozniacki.

In Cincinnati, the next week, she reached the semis again, beating Julia Goerges before losing against Simona Halep 6-2, 6-1.

Stephens and Halep will face off again on Saturday here in the final. It could be a very long contest.

Stephens is very tired, but still, she knows her strokes are solid, her first serve can be deadly, and she can hit it down the line, both sides. 

She won the 2017 US Open, for the first time. It wasn’t easy during those two weeks. In the quarters, she faced Anastasija Sevastova, and Stephens hung in there, even though she was a little bit off, winning it 7-6(4) in the third. In the semis, she faced against the seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams, and once again, it was deep in the third set. Stephens wouldn’t go away and she grabbed it 7-5 in the third. In the final, against Madison Keys, the Californian Stephens played almost perfectly and she won it, her first major.  

After that, she did almost nothing during the fall. She was mentally fried. When she started again in January, she says that she was slightly injured. She needed to find a new way, again.

“Didn’t have a good result in Australia, and I knew that I needed to change some things, and I did that and I had a great result in Miami. [She won it.]

“I had a great showing at Fed Cup, which I was really happy with. I had okay results this clay court season. I lost to some great players: Pliskova, Garcia. It’s not really anything to put your head down about. Just being able to recognize that I have had some really great ups and not so many hard downs, but just trying to stay consistent with the level, I think that’s worked best for me.”

Over the past 13 days, Stephens has been super consistent, but last week, she almost lost in the second round to Camila Giorgi, edging her 8-6 in the third. The American took a deep breath and raised her game. After that, she has been steady, and now, she has an opportunity, and she strikes within seconds.

On Saturday, she may not play wonderful tennis, but she will be right there against Halep.
   
“When you get to the final, obviously you have played well, but the person [Halep] that you are playing against also played well. So, I think I go in knowing it’s going to be a battle no matter what, no matter who you’re playing,” Stephens said. “Obviously anything could happen. I guess you could be playing No. 1 in the world or No. 90 in the world. It’s just basically going out and competing because the person you’re laying against has done the exact same thing as you.”

No. 1 Halep is so close to winning a Grand Slam. Last year in Paris, she reached the final, it looked like she could do it, but Jelena Ostapenko stunned her in three sets.

In 2014, in the final in the third set, it was 4-4, Halep versus Maria Sharapova. Halep backed up, Sharapova moved forward and the American/Russian won.

Now can Halep finally step it up and grab it? Nobody knows.

“I have more experience now. I feel calm,” Halep said. “So, I will stay chill. I will relax. And then we will see what is going to happen Saturday, but for sure I will fight for every ball.”

Prediction

For some players, the prospect of finally winning a major is more of a brick wall than a yellow brick road. Ask Ivan Lendl, who dropped four finals before breaking through in Paris in 1984.

Stephens is playing smart and consistent. She has slid through her matches easily, dropping only one set to Camila Giorgi. She should be fresh and ready to apply pressure on Halep, letting loose with her dynamite forehand when the court opens up.

Halep has lost two sets so far, overcoming a hiccup first set in the first round against American Alison Riske. She also had to fight off Kerber but dispatched the German easily in the second and third sets. Garbine Muguruza was rolling through the draw until she rammed into Halep.

Three important factors will be play tomorrow. First, Halep doesn’t seem to get tired, as she covers the court and the wide area outside the lines with real speed and determination. Second, she is playing with true aggression, looking for winners when she has the chance. The Romanian may be playing her best tennis ever.

But, the biggest factor is simple: Halep’s time has come. This is her third RG final and she’s been through a lot of heartache, especially when she let Jelena Ostapenko bully her last year. So, look to Simona to win straight out, in two close but demanding sets.

– Ron Cioffi

Nadal vs del Potro: Will Juan get tired

FROM ROLAND GARROS – Rafael Nadal played excellent ball on Thursday, beating down Diego Schwartzman 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. 6-2. He was mediocre during the first hour on Wednesday. Then, the rain came and they went home. When they returned, Nadal rose up. His forehand was huge, his serve and his return were heavy. He was in control again.

Now Nadal will face against Juan Martin del Potro, who outlasted Marin Cilic in four grueling sets. DelPo is so intense now, and plus — and this is the most important about the Argentine — his two backhander is better all the time. A few years ago, he could only chip his one-hander, because over the past seven years, he had to go to deal with the doctors who led him to the surgery table — three times.  He admits that here and there, his left arm and his shoulder could be sore, but at least at Roland Garros, his body looks very good.

However, DelPo and Nadal will have to play again on Friday in the afternoon, about 24 hours after they won, so they should be OK for the first couple hours. But after that, Delpo might start getting tired. If so, Nadal will pound him.

Before that, Dominic Thiem and  Marco Cecchinato will face off. Clearly,  Thiem is the favorite, but the Italian stunned Novak Djokovic, 6-3, 7-6(4), 1-6, 7-6(13). Cecchinato is really hungry, he is pretty fast and he can muscle up from the backcourt. Thiem has a tremendous spin, with slice, and he can bend down at the net and put it away. The Belgian has been here three times in the semis at RG. It is time for him to reach the final, but if Cecchinato gets into it early, he could shock Thiem.

The women
Sloane Stephens is so solid, she is thinking all the time, she changes her tactics, she cracks it, or she can spin it very deep. She beat her friend Madison Keys 6-4, 6-4, and now she has reached the final at RG. She will face Simona Halep, who out hit Garbine Muguruza 6-1, 6-4.

At times, Halep will back off, but during the afternoon, she moves forward when she could and she would rip her backhand and forehand very deep, crosscourt, or straight, or down the middle. It was an amazingly performance.

Whether the No. 1 Halep can finally win a major on Saturday, that is questionable, because she can be tense. Moreover, Stephens is super steady, and will go for it when she has to. On Friday, we will break it down on tennisreporters.net.

The fast hitters: Halep to face Muguruza in semis

FROM ROLAND GARROS — Simona Halep plays fantastic when she is driving and feeling very smart. Then, when she is close to winning a Grand Slam, she can get nervous and back off. The great thing on Wednesday, in the second and third set, she pushed herself from the backcourt, swinging away and bashing the ball. She beat Angie Kerber 6-7 6-3 6-2 and advanced into the semis. She will face Garbinw Muguruza, who powered past Maria Sharapova 61, 6-2.

Halep is so quick, so fast, so steady. She hits with a lot of spin, and she can flatten it out, too, from both sides. She moves around her serves, and her first serve can touch the corners. At the net, when she stops and focuses, she reacts, quickly, then touch the ball converts winners. At times, it is very difficult for her. Other times, it is simple. 

Today, the two-time Grand Slam champion  Kerber wasn’t crushing it, because allegedly, she was hurt. So all Halep had to do was to react, simple stuff, and win it. She did happily.

Now she has to face Muguruza, who brutalized Sharapova. The Spaniard jumped on the Russian/American almost immediately. She was moving extremely well, blasting her first serve, whipping her forehand and flipping her backhand. Inside, she realized that four years ago, she wasn’t ready yet to threaten Sharapova, but now she thinks the she can run faster, hit harder and push her back. Sharapova will continue to get better this year, but still, she cannot try to attack her shots every time. Today, that was a big mistake.

On Thursday, Muguruza will clash with Halep. Muscle time for both of them.

Here is some good quotes by Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys from a story I wrote for Tennis.com. They like each other a lot, but as she said, when they walk on the court, it’s all focusing, rather than talking.

Thiem blasts injured Zverev; dejected Djokovic loses

FROM ROLAND GARROS — Alexander Zverev was physically done. When he woke up in the morning on Tuesday, he felt fresh. But, when he got on the court against Dominic Thiem, his legs were very heavy. In the first set he felt a muscle pull and he needed treatment on his left hamstring. The result? Thiem blasted him in three quick sets.

“First time I felt a pull was in the fourth game of the first set, when we had a few great points, a lot of physical points,” Zverev said. “I remember I slid one time, and then I felt a muscle pull. I thought maybe it’s just soreness or something that would just go away. I didn’t think about it too much. Then each game and each slide, I was getting worse and worse. Middle of the second set, the pain was too much. I knew I’m not going to win the match. There was no way for me.”

Thiem has played great over the past 10 days and has a terrific chance to reach the final at RG.  He is a fantastic mover and his one-handed backhand jumps off the court with a lot of spin. While Zverev won three wonderful five-setters, still, the No. 3 has yet to reach in the semis at a Grand Slam. He is an amazing player, but he has to improve his return, his patience, and most especially, his volleys.

How about the Italian Marco Cecchinato, who stunned Novak Djokovic 6-3 7-6(4) 1-6 7-6(11)? Djokovic played pretty well, overall, but he missed a few key opportunities and Cecchinato was on fire towards the end, with his flashy backhand and forehand. Djokovic was ticked off and he said that he isn’t sure he will play Wimbledon. He was pretty distraught.
 
“Well I guess he’s not ready physically,” Mats Wilander told Reuters about Zverev. “Maybe he is further away physically than … or maybe it’s a different approach, maybe he needs to not go on grass because grass is the ultimate confidence killer.  Even if you play well on grass the bounce is bad, it’s hard to find good practice courts, you can’t really move properly because you slip and slide and if you are really, really keen to get back to your best, which for him is the hardc ourt season, logically you would not want to play on the grass.”
 
There are times when you are down and out, and there are times when you wake up and smell the roses. Or in the tennis court, you smell the opportunity. In the third set, Diego Schwartzman began to scramble more, he hit deeper, and he could tell that Kevin Anderson was getting nervous, and hesitant, and a little bit scary.  Schwartzman was down 1-6, 2-6, 4-5, and ka-boom, he rose up. He grabbed the third set, and in the fourth set, Anderson was there to do it again, but he fell back. But in the fifth set, his brain had wilted.  Schwartzman beat Anderson 1-6, 2-6, 7-5, 7-6(0), 6-2.
“It’s definitely one of the most emotional matches that I can say I have played,” said Schwartzman.
No doubt, but he has to go up against Rafa Nadal. It is possible that Schwartzman can win a set, but I doubt it given that Nadal has beaten him all five times, and pretty easily. Hopefully, he has to find something, anything, because Nadal just keeps on pounding.

Injured Serena pulls out, Sharapova moves on 

March 08, 2018: Serena Williams (USA) hits a backhand in her match against Zarina Diyas (KAZ) at the BNP Paribas Open played at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. ©Mal Taam/TennisClix/CSM

FROM ROLAND GARROS — It is to bad that Serena Williams withdrew; her arms and her shoulders really hurt a lot, which is why she had to way goodbye. She will see the doctors in Paris tomorrow. Will she will recover, quickly, and play Wimbledon? She loves Wimbledon — she has won it seven times — so she will push herself as much as she can. Hurt, or not.

Serena was supposed to play against Maria Sharapova. So the American/Russian didn’t have a chance to to attack Williams and test herself. Not this week, though, maybe in Wimbledon, or during the rest of the summer. They both hope so.


Sharapova will face Garbine Muguruza, who also advanced when Lesia Tsurenko retired after just two games. That is too bad, because there are a lot of fans who come out to watch the tennis and when there are just a few people playing, maybe the fans won’t want to come anymore. There are too many injuries, year after year.


On the women’s side, there were two other matches on Monday, and there were two blow outs: Simona Halep crushed Elise Mertens, and Angie Kerber whacked Caroline Garcia in straight sets.


Yesterday, on the bottom half, all four matches were contested, and there were no three-setters. However, there was a fun contest with Daria Kasatkina and Caro Wozniacki. There were some incredible rallies, and Kasatkina outlasted her 7-6, 6-3.


On Sunday and Monday, there was only one good match. Let’s hope on Tuesday, there will be some wonderful contests, maybe Sloane Stephens against Daria Kasatkina. That must go three sets, with two cage players. They will have a huge amount of long strokes. Whomever will worn her down, she will reach into the semis.


The Men

Juan Martin del Potro is so incredibly confidence now. He bested John Isner 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, crushing his forehand, his big serve and he moved fairly well. He also scampers to the net and puts it away.


Isner had a good nine days at RG. He knows that his gigantic serve and her massive forehand, and he hustles. But, for the past 10 years, he hasn’t been able to figure out how to be an effective returner. He can do it here and there, but this was on clay, which is slower, and softer, and he couldn’t break it against DelPo. Not once.


“If I would have lost today, I would have liked to maybe put up a better fight. So that’s a little disappointing,” Isner said. “Delpo certainly has one of the best forehands in the world, especially when he’s feeling it out there. And if he’s able to get in position and take a rip at that shot, it’s going to be very lethal. So it’s very good for tennis to have him playing well again and being healthy.”


Marin Ciclic needed five sets to push back Fabio Fognini. It was up-and-down for both of them, playing well, missing it, re-doing it, over-thinking. As Cilic said, it was “extremely tough mentally.” And how.


On Wednesday, two of the excellent top 5 veterans will clash. Years ago, from Cilic and DelPo, they struggled on clay. Still, sometimes, they make too many errors. But here at RG, they are going exactly what they can do. They are almost a tossup, both of them have won the US Open — on hard courts. On clay, even thought they can nail their forehands, they have to return deep.


“We played many times. We know each other,” Cilic said. “He won a lot of our matches in these last few years, and we had few tough ones. One of them was the Davis Cup match, that was the last one. That was a big match. [Argentina won the Davis Cup]. Juan Martin is having great season playing great tennis.
And then [we] are playing similar games but still different. I think in some ways I’m maybe a little bit quicker on the court, but he’s in some ways serving a little bit better, hitting off his forehand side bigger and more consistently. So just in those comparisons, it’s always a tough matchup between both of us.”

Del Potro now really likes clay, to face Isner

FROM ROLAND GARROS — A long time ago, Juan Martin del Potro was rising hard and it looked like eventually he would become No. 1. In 2009, he reached the semis at Roland Garros, beating the grinder Tommy Robredo in the quarters. In the semis, he cracked the ball when he could, but Roger Federer was too much for him. However, after three months on the hard courts, DelPo leapt over Federer in the final at the US Open. In the fifth set, DelPo ate it up, hitting a forehand that may be the fastest up to that point or since.
But that has been nine years ago. DelPo has been hurt for many, many years, but now, at least this week, he looks pretty good. He will never totally recover, but as long as he rests, and doesn’t overdo it, then he can stroll on the court and play super hard.

Del Potro has to face John Isner, another big basher. They have played against each other 10 times, six wins by DelPo and four for Isner. Pretty close, no? since 2016 Isner has won three times and DelPo has won two.  This season, Isner won the Miami Masters, knocking back DelPo 6-1, 7-6(2) in the semis.

Are they even? Maybe, but the Argentine has won a Slam, so that it is extremely important. Isner hasn’t.
The two have never played each other on the clay, so that should be more rallies, rather to have short points. You know, both of them can crush the first serves. Whoever wins, eventually, someone will have to face on Rafa Nadal.
  
“Rafa obviously is the favorite to win. He’s playing unbelievable tennis,” DelPo said. “He’s beating all the guys so quickly. Nobody can find the way to win a set to him.  But I’m doing my own way, and I’m calm with that.” 

THE WOMEN
When Madison Keys is on the court, she is not getting too angry. She blocks out distractions, and she focuses. On Sunday morning, she was enthusiastic right at the beginning and she nailed winner after winner. She took down Mihaela Buzarnescu
6-1, 6-4, easy in the first set, but in the second, Keys had to be more consistent and focused. When it was 5-4, she sat down, took the towel, wiped it off, got up, took a deep breath and she was ready to hit some big serves. She did, close to the lines. Buzarnescu tried to bring it back, but it was too far away. Keys won and she is into the quarterfinals, the first time at RG. 

“I like it a little bit more [on clay] now,” Keys said with a smile. “It’s always a little bit easier to like it when you’re in the quarterfinals. … My biggest thing is just focusing on what I need to do for my game and having one or two very specific things, whether it’s forehands crosscourt or aim up the middle, just so that I’m not thinking of anything else. I’m just thinking of that tactic and not the moment and it’s a lot easier to handle the big moments that way.”

NOTES
Sloane Stephens played fantastic on Sunday, destroying Anatt Kontaveit. Now she has reached the quarters at RG for the first time. The US Open champ has a legitimate chance to win it all, it she keeps pushing. … Marco Cecchinato upset David Goffin in four sets. Two days ago, Goffin stayed in there against Gael Monfils, saving four match points. He looked a little slow today and Cecchinato pushed him out.

 

Rising: Stephens and Sharapova are locking in

FROM ROLAND GARROS — Sloane Stephens was almost done, playing in the third set, against Camille Giorgi, at 6-6, the summer has arrived, and the heat was on.

The Italian was so, so, close, but while she can smack winners, she can also miss it, on the lines. Really, it was the 2017 US Open champ Stephens to decide which way to go, very deep, short, and faster, harder or slower. No one knows whether Giorgi is locked in, or is she a little bit confused. Right at the end, Stephens was thinking hard, while the Italian was over-hitting. 

Stephens won 4-6, 6-1, 8-6. Now she has reached the fourth round, for the fifth time. Is it time for her to finally reach the quarters? Possibly, but not guaranteed. And, by the way, she is now reach No. 8, the highest women American, passing Venus Williams, at the least this week.  

After 10 months off due to her injury, Stephens did return until late June in 2017. She was always smart, but the good news is that when she was off, she watched a lot of tennis on TV and she learned a lot.

“I would say I see the most change in myself, in my own game, but I do think that things are a little different since I came back. Just making a lot balls, being consistent. Obviously when I first came back I had some really great results ,being consistent and wearing girls down. That worked for me. But ,after a while, it’s not going to work. You have to find other ways to improve all the time.”

Stephens has to play Anett Kontaveit, who upset Petra Kvitova. Kontaveit can smack her forehand and backhand, with a mediocre serve, but she can secure on the net.

Maria Sharapova of Russia during her third-round match at the 2018 Roland Garros Grand Slam tennis tournament

Maria Sharapova played a tremendous, fantastic match, blowing out Katarina Pliskova 6-2, 6-1. Sharapova was gone for 15 months, and when she returned in April of 2017, she was pretty shaky. It has been 14 months now, and she has had a few good wins, a few bad ones and some decent ones. She has been hurt a decent amount, but over the past couple of months, she has been pretty healthy. Now, she is more comfortable and she is beginning to swing it out.     
“I don’t like to feel too comfortable. I think there are definitely matches where you play flawless, you play great. But, I have said in my career where I have come off the court and said that was perfect is just a handful of times, because there are always things that you can improve,” Sharapova said.

“There are always errors that kind of creep up, certain moments in a match. Even today I had that long point where she made a dropshot on the run and it was a really long point, could have given me a chance to go up two break points, but it didn’t. It was 30-all. I actually thought to myself, ‘I was, like, no matter the score, I’m not going to let this point define the match.’ You never know. Tennis, that’s what’s so interesting about this game is that every point can really put you back to reality. I thrive on those situations and those moments.”

Next up for Sharapova is Serena Williams who beat Julia Goerges 6-3 6-4. Serena played very well, the best day this year. She was pretty quick, and her serve, forehand and her backhand were deadly. Now she has to play against Sharapova, which could be a fun match, but Serena is 19-2 in the head to head. In 2013 in the final here in RG, Serena won 6-4, 6-4. That was a little bit closer, but still, Serena had been absurdly dominant. In the past 10 years, Serena has won 24 sets, and Maria has won just one. Even though they have changed a lot over the past two years, still, Serna is the favorite, hands down.

NOTES
Marin Cilic is playing very well, knocking out Steve Johnson in three sets. He likes the heat, and he can be very forceful. He has to play against Fabio Fognini, who overcame Kyle Edmund is five sets. Cilic is the favorite, but the Italian is on a roll and can be a factor here. … David Goffin was almost downed and out in the fourth set, but he recovered to smash some amazing shots. He wore out Gail Monfils 6-7, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3. The Belgian likes to move it around. … Rafa Nadal is just crushing the ball. He destroyed Richard Gasquet, for the 16th time. You have to think that Nadal will reach the semis, and then go against, I think, Cilic/Fognini/JM del Potro or — imagine this — John Isner, who just won over Pierre Herbert in four sets . On clay, finally, for Isner.

Zverev: ‘Knowing that I’m fit enough to last as long as I want’

FROM ROLAND GARROS — Alexander Zverev has had two very long matches and he won two very long five setters. He hung in there. While he was mentally up and down, but still, he stood in there, and it was super close. When he gets the opportunity, he would goes for it, win or lose, which is one of his great strengths.

He beat Damir Dzumhur, but in the fifth set, he was very shaky. He missed a ton of balls, but he didn’t back off. He didn’t serve that well, his forehand was spotty and he rarely put away shots at the net. I mean — game after game — he was disappointing. But the good thing is he kept battling, and when you are not playing well at all, you still have to find away. Right at the end, he nailed two terrific forehands. He survived, barely, winning it 6-2, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6, 7-5. Will he be exhausted in the next match in Sunday, or will he be just fine?

“I think it was important to kind of see for myself that I can win back-to-back five-set matches and both very difficult physical matches,” he said. “I was feeling fine physically, so for me that gives me a lot of confidence going deep into the fifth set, going long matches on this kind of surface. And knowing that I’m fit enough to last as long as I want. So, this gives me a lot of confidence, of course, and I think it was an important point to prove to myself, as well.”

Madison Keys was pretty happy on Friday, besting Naomi Osaka 6-1, 7-6. She bashed the ball in the first set, but in the second set, the Japanese started to change it up and then jump on her oportunities. Both of them have big serves, and they can muscle the backhands and the forehands. American Keys has struggled this season as she gets hurt frequently, but at least she is healthy in Paris this week. Maybe she can push into the quarters. It won’t be easy, because as she says, she doesn’t totally understand clay, but each year, it is getting better, but slowly.    

 “I think I have been, you know, knock on wood, haven’t had any left wrist pain since surgery last year, and being away from the court made me remember how much I really love the sport and how much I love being out there,” she said. “So, I feel like, for the most part, all of my matches I’m playing a little bit more calm just because I’m remembering it’s not life or death and really just enjoying my time out there.
 
NOTES
That was a very good victory by Fernando Verdasco, beating Grigor Dimitrov 7-6, 6-2, 6-4. Two days ago, the No. 5 Dimitrov won a marathon. He won over American Jared Donaldson, but it was more than four hours so Dimitov’s legs were sore. You could see he was a little bit slow today. Still, the Spaniard Verdasco knows how to muscle him, and play smarter. He has to face Novak Djokovic, which will be very exciting match-up.

Don’t tell me again that Elina Svitolina lost in a majors. She just won Rome. It looked like that if she continues to play fantastic, that she could go all the way. But once again, she folded. As she has said, it is all about her head.

Kei Nishikori won pretty easy today. He is playing smart ball, but now he has to go up against Dominic Thiem. Without a doubt, it will be three hours, and for Nishikori, he needs to push him back way far. … Caro Wozniacki might actually reach the quarters, if she manages to wear down a very good player in Daria Kasatkina. It won’t be easy for either of them.