Archives for June 2018

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.

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.
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.