Tuesday, May 24, 2016

RG.3- Kerber is Kaput, Kiki is Kool

Well, it was nice while it lasted.

Australian Open champ and world #3 Angelique Kerber arrived in Paris as one of three woman (with #1 Serena Williams and #2 Aga Radwanska) who could be the top-ranked player in the world once this Roland Garros was complete. She was also the only singles player (we have to make allowances for Martina & Sania, after all) on the WTA tour who could still harbor Grand Slam hopes in 2016. Even a "Golden Slam" was still officially in play, for that matter. Of course, the chances of any of that ACTUALLY happening were likely pretty slim. But, still, the numbers were telling us she had a chance.

But the dreams are no more. If you must, blame Kiki Bertens. After a career of Fed Cup success but mostly frustration on the sport's bigger stages, the Dutch woman finally had her moment of cool.

Kerber came to Paris with her RG chances twisted into a question mark. She opened the clay season well, reaching the Charleston semis and winning Stuttgart. Since then, though, she's looked tired, injured and out of sorts. She had a "fairly favorable" draw, though, so there was some hope that maybe she could capture lightning in a bottle like she did in Melbourne. Meanwhile, Fed Cup legend Bertens arrived in the city after a long week in Nurnberg that began with a qualifying run and ended seven matches later with the 24-year old lifting her first WTA singles trophy in four years (and winning in doubles, too).

Bertens surely looked like the more in-form player in the 1st set. She won it 6-2, never facing a break point and firing eleven winners to just two for Kerber. In the 2nd, Kerber's error totals increased as she went for more to get back into the match against a confident opponent. She went up a break at 4-2, gave it back a game later, regained the advantage the game after that before finally serving out a 6-3 set to force a deciding 3rd.

It seemed as if Berten's "moment" may have passed.

But it hadn't. Showing Fed Cup-style cool, she got an early break of Kerber and jumped to a 3-0 lead. Kerber called for a trainer and left the court to treat a shoulder injury. The time away didn't provide her with a magic solution, nor lead to an implosion from a tight Bertens. Instead, she held for 4-1, then did it again two games later with a big serve to take a 5-2 lead. Serving at 5-3 for her second career RG 2nd Round appearance (she reached the Round of 16 in '14, but was 0-3 otherwise and had lost in the 1st Round in seven of her other eleven slam appearances), Bertens reached double match point at 40/15.

Kerber, remember, had saved MP vs. Misaki Doi in Melbourne en route to her maiden slam crown in January. Here, she didn't go out without at least trying to repeat history.

The German saved MP #1 with a low crosscourt passing shot, then elicited a rally-ending Bertens error on MP #2. She reached BP on the Dutch woman's serve, but Bertens saved with a janky drop shot that Kerber failed to capitalize on and pushed out. On MP #3, Kerber's own drop shot attempt failed to make it over the net and Bertens won the 1:41 encounter by a 6-2/3-6/6-3 score.

Kerber is the fifth Australian Open winner in the Open era to lose in the 1st Round in Paris a few months later. She's just the second in sixteen years to fall (since Lindsay Davenport in '00), but the second in the last three ('14 Li Na) to do it. This was just the second time Kerber has lost in the opening round of a major since the 2011 U.S. Open. But the most recent time it happened was last year at the Australian Open. Hmmm, does this mean that she'll win the title in Paris a year from now? Yeah, I know... numbers and stats are just numbers and stats.

Meanwhile, Bertens, who had thirty-three winners in this match, has won eight straight singles matches (12 w/ doubles). Fatigue will likely set in eventually, but might she now be positioned for the sort of surprise QF-or-better run that the likes of Zhang Shuai put together in Australia after an upset of Simona Halep earlier this year? She surely seems to have figured SOMETHING out after quite a few years of coming up short. Who's to say she can't ride the wave for another week or so?

Maybe she should just don her Team Netherlands gear underneath her regular outfit for the rest of this tournament. You know, just to keep all her bases covered.

(Just a wild idea.)

...hot off her Strasbourg semifinal run, Kiki Mladenovic faced off with 35-year old Francesca Schiavone in the 1st Round today and put away the 2010 RG champ 6-2/6-4.

But the story here wasn't the match, it was that Roland Garros had tweeted out the Italian tennis legend's "retirement announcement," so when the crowd gave Schiavone a standing ovation as she left the court, bending down to grab a handful for red clay dust before she stepped out of sight, it was viewed by many as a lovely, intimate final tribute to a great champion.

But it'd meant even more, you know, if the "retirement announcement" had been legitimate. Which it wasn't. And Schiavone wasn't exactly pleased with the whole thing, either. She made a point afterward to say that SHE would be in charge of when she walks away, and that this was NOT the moment when it would happen. She'll be at Wimbledon next month, she confirmed, and didn't seem to close the door at all on being back in Paris in 2017, either. And, really, why should she write off such a continuation of her career? While she narrowly missed out on a record 62nd straight slam appearance in Melbourne, Schiavone has rebounded well, winning a title in Rio and returning to the Top 100.

Meanwhile, nearly 36-year old Venus Williams (she's six days older than Schiavone) played hard and battled yet again, just like she did against Timea Babos in Rome two weeks ago, in her 1st Round match vs. Anett Kontaveit. This time, though, she won, 7-6(5)/7-6(4). It's her 43rd career match win in Paris, the least she has at any slam, as she hasn't advanced beyond the 2nd Round at Roland Garros since 2010.

This was Venus' 70th career grand slam MD appearance, one behind the all-time Open era mark (woman & men) of 71 by Amy Frazier. With good health (crossing fingers), she can tie the record at Wimbledon (for her, as it should be) and break it in New York (for the rest of us, even better... especially if her 1st Rounder is a night match).

Venus will next face 20-year old Bannerette qualifier Louisa Chirico, a semifinalist in Madrid. Chirico nearly let a win in her RG MD debut slip away today vs Lauren Davis. She led 5-2 in the 3rd set, but failed to put away a MP and soon found things standing at 5-5. She held on for a 6-2/2-6/8-6 victory.

Vika Azarenka wasn't so lucky. She fought her butt off against Karin Knapp, but it wasn't enough to avoid having to eventually pull up and retire from the match with an ailing knee.

After such a great spring hard court campaign, the clay court circuit (and the last couple of months) have been the usual minefield for Vika. A back injury, and now a knee, pretty much meant she had no shot of doing much in Paris. With her movement hampered, she seemed to be set to go out rather quickly to the Italian, but she balled up her fist and starting firing late in the 2nd set and made a match of it. For a while.

Azarenka broke Knapp when she served for the match at 5-4. After being broken back a game later, Vika destroyed a racket in the changeover area, and then went out and got the break back to force a TB. Knapp served two points at 5-5, and held a MP at 6-5. But Vika reeled her back in and won 8-6. But that would be about it for her. After falling down 3-0 in the 3rd, she called for a trainer then retired a game later at 6-3/6-7(6)/4-0.

It's really for the best. As usual, Azarenka flirted with being too stubborn for her own good today. Hopefully she didn't do any damage to her knee that will impact her preparation for the upcoming summer hard court season, where she'll be looking to resume the moonshot trajectory she appeared to have established by winning Indian Wells and Miami.

...a quick rundown of some of the other matches of note on Day 3:

- Zhang Shuai, after going 0-14 in slam main draws before a January Austalian Open QF run that included an upset of Simona Halep, has now won 1st Round matches at back-to-back slams with her victory today over Galina Voskoboeva.

- French wild card Virginie Razzano, who just reached the Strasbourg semis as a lucky loser, prevented 20-year old Ipek Soylu (thirteen years Razzano's junior) from joining her Turkish countrywoman Cagla Buyukakcay in the 2nd Round. Soylu opened their match with a break of the French vet's serve and went on to take the 1st set. She only won one more game after that, losing 4-6/6-1/6-0. After not having any in the Open era, maybe it would have been too much for Turkey to have TWO players in the 2nd Round, anyway?

- 2015 RG quarterfinalist Elina Svitolina, notoriously up and down this clay season, had a far easier time than expected against qualifier Sorana Cirstea, a '09 quarterfinalist in Paris. The Ukrainian won 6-1/6-3. Maybe Justine Henin HAS instilled the 21-year old with some good Paris mojo, after all. She'll next face wild card Taylor Townsend, who defeated fellow WC Amandine Hesse to notch her 25th match win in less than three months.

- Could the time and site for a Kasatkina uprising be NOW, in Paris? Daria outlasted Anna-Lena Friedsam today 6-1/4-6/6-3 to collect her first career win at RG. The 19-year old has reached the 3rd Round at the last two slams. The only other slam MD in which she's appeared. She's situated in the now Kerber-less quarter along with the likes of Bertens/Giorgi, Goerges/Puig and Keys/Duque and will face Razzano next

- Huge disappointment for Laura Siegemund today, who deserved a better end to a revelatory and career-stoking clay season that got her a WTA tour Top 3 nomination for Player of the Month in April despite not winning an actual singles title. When she drew Genie Bouchard (w/ Timea Bacsinszky in the 2nd Rd.) in the 1st Round you could sense that trouble was on the horizon. The Canadian sent the Stuttgart finalist packing 6-2/6-2. Ouch.

- But Siegemund's loss might not have been as disappointing as Daria Gavrilova's. The Australian Open Round of 16er finally sparked again this clay season, but (hardly shockingly) wasn't able to defend her '15 Rome semifinal points in the last week before the rankings that determined the seeds for RG. After having been previously in place for a Paris seed, she fell well out of range, preventing her from getting what should have been a "better" draw. But, as it turned out, she lost to an unseeded player, anyway. This past weekend's Nurnberg finalist Mariana Duque took her out 5-7/6-4/6-4.

- Jelena Jankovic dropped the first five games of her match against Tatjana Maria, then won nine of the next thirteen to knot the match at a set each. But she lost to the German 6-3/3-6/6-3, preventing that possible JJ vs. Alize Cornet 2nd Rounder in front of a partisan French crowd. Now we'll never know if we could have handled it.

- Once again, Kristyna Pliskova found herself in a late day duel in the early rounds of a slam. In Melbourne, she lost in the 2nd Round to Monica Puig, dropping a 9-7 3rd set despite a record-breaking 31 aces and holding five match points. Today she battled with Teliana Pereira in another long 3rd set. Again she dropped it at 9-7. In cold and dark conditions, Pereira finally served out the match on her third attempt. A tiring Pliskova (the women's version of a VERY tall U.S. player who will go unnamed in this space?) ultimately fired 15 aces on the day, and led the Brazilian 54-44 in winners (and 32-26 in UE's). Not that it mattered.

- While everyone is having to learn "Buyukakcay," "Andrianjafitrimo" will have to wait. 17-year old French wild card Tessah Andrianjafitrimo, the youngest player in the MD, lost today to Wang Qiang. Double-bageled, in fact. Or should I say "double-Bried?"

- And Serena Williams put in an appearance on Day 3, as well. But it was only a short one. it took her just forty-two minutes to overwhelm a seemingly injured Magdalena Rybarikova 6-2/6-0 to improve her career record in slam 1st Round matches to 62-1. The one, of course, was her loss to Razzano in Paris in 2014.

...with the 1st Round complete (somehow) on schedule, the Final 64 is set. And with that comes numbers and a few awards:

There are more Bannerettes (9) left in the draw than players from any other nation, while every nation in Western Europe (see list below) that had a player in the main draw managed to get at least one through to the 2nd Round. Well, except for Montenegro... so, blame Good Petra for that, even if Bad Petra did all she could to give Danka Kovinic a shot.

France has the second most players with 1st Round wins with six, including the likes of Myrtille Georges, Pauline Parmentier and Virginie Razzano (along with the heart of the Pastry Fed Cup team: Garcia, Mladenovic & Cornet). This gets the Pastries the "Revelation Ladies" honor for this Roland Garros.

Turkey, of course, has a player in the 2nd Round for the very first time. While players from three different South American nations -- Brazil, Colombia and Paraguay -- remain in the draw. With Duque's win over Gavrilova, Veronica Cepede Royg's over Sabine Lisicki and Pereira's late Day 3 takedown of Kr.Pliskova the entire continent shares the "Upset Queens" award.

Yeah, I know the "UQ" and "RL" honors might have easily been switched, and they originally were. But I ultimately settled on doing it this way.

But, of course, with the good comes the bad.

Belarus had the worst overall 1st Round mark at 0-3, while Slovakia and Great Britain were both 1-3. Despite what would seem to be a surface advantage, Spain went just 2-4. Germany suffered big name losses from Kerber, Sabine Lisicki and Laura Siegemund but managed an overall 4-6 record on the back of wins from the likes of Petkovic, Goerges, Maria and Beck and avoided staking a claim to being the "Nation of Poor Souls."

Instead, that goes to Italy. Sure, Camila Giorgi and Karin Knapp are still alive, but the famed Italian Quartet put up a grand total of zero wins at this Roland Garros. #7 Roberta Vinci (U.S. Open finalist), #16 Sara Errani (RG finalist) and Francesca Schiavone ('10 RG champ) all lost in the 1st Round, while retired reigning U.S. Open champ Flavia Pennetta was absent from the MD in Paris for the first time since 2002.

...and the Stanford Cardinal picked up an eigtheenth women's NCAA team championship, with Taylor Davidson clinching a win in the final over Oklahoma State that adds to the school's all-time best title total.

...LIKE FROM DAY 3: Knowing that Francesca is still around, even if her stint in Paris this year was short.

...DISLIKE FROM DAY 3: Knowing that every last match played by Francesca at a slam COULD be her FINAL match at that slam, even if it's not her last slam match EVER. Of course, some are a little more eager to nudge her out the door than others.

...LIKE FROM DAY 3: But that final day of tribute for Schiavone is not today. Nor, apparently, is 2016 necessarily even that year. Sorry, @RolandGarros.

...INFO FROM DAY 3: "Lucie Safarova Roland Garros 1st Round Victim Update" (hey, times change). It's all about the hat.


While I liked the initial photos of the new zebra ("zee-bra"... or "zeb-ruh," as the Brits and Kiwis on RG Radio pronounce it) outfits posted in recent weeks, it doesn't wear very well on the eyes. If it was ONE player wearing the look, it'd be great. Distinctive. Memorable. Maybe even a little bit alarming, which isn't always a bad thing in a sport where standing out as an individual is worth a great deal.

But, as predicted, when too many (as the clothing manufacturers can't help but do) are wearing the same thing you sort of want to collect them all in a pile on Chatrier court and set fire to the whole lot.

They couldn't have at least given the players different colors of zebra stripes, or used the pattern more sparingly in a series of outfits that would all look quite different, but instantly be recognizable as being part of an overall collection? Really, fashion-wise, wouldn't that be smarter?

Hmmm, a little "Project Runway" withdrawal going on there maybe?

...NOT-SURE-WHAT-TO-THINK FROM DAY 3: On Roland Garros Radio, Craig Gabriel noted that Kiki Bertens resembles British actor Benedict Cumberbatch. And, really, in the eyes, she sort of does.

Could have done without the point call with him one time commentating as if Cumberbatch was playing the match, though. It might sound disparaging on the surface, but it really wasn't meant to be. But, hey, at least we know where "the line" is.

...LIKE FROM DAY 3: This.

...MORE INFO FROM DAY 3: And a world can now take a breath.

Seriously, though, of course they have a shot at the Gold. That goes without saying with Kiki on the court and, you know, her Rio partner just happens to be ranked co-#1 in the 2016 Points Race, too.

And, no, I don't think this breaks my official embargo of the members of The World's Less Interesting Tennis Tour from this space for this slam.

...LIKE FROM DAY 3: Sharapova -- and Sugarpova -- endures...

I am taking over @sugarpova #Instagram account today as we launch our chocolate at the Sweets Expo in #Chicago.

A video posted by Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) on

...LIKE FROM DAY 3: Cursing at Tennis Channel announcers whenever they casually hawk Tennis Channel Plus. No, I am not going to buy a $90 annual subscription to be able to watch every Roland Garros match for two weeks (or, likely, all the ones that NBC will decide not to block on weekends or late in the tournament, if they're still doing that).


...and, finally, happy 117th birthday, Mademoiselle Lenglen, courtesey of the Google Doodle.

It was all downhill from there.

2004 Ukraine
2005 France
2006 United States
2007 Romania
2008 Czech Republic
2009 Kazakhstan (ex-Russians)
2010 Australia
2011 Romania
2012 United States
2013 Slovak Republic
2014 France
2015 Croatia
2016 South America

2006 France
2007 Italy
2008 Czech Republic
2009 Australia
2010 Germany
2011 North America
2012 France
2013 North America/Atlantic
2014 Spain
2015 Australia (The New Aussies)
2016 France

=1st Round=
1978 Chris O'Neil
1979 Barbara Jordan
2000 Lindsay Davenport
2014 Li Na
2016 Angelique Kerber
=2nd Round=
1987 Hana Mandlikova
2004 Justine Henin
2011 Kim Clijsters

2008 Serena Williams, USA (3rd Rd.)
2009 Elena Dementieva, RUS (3rd Rd.)
2010 Dinara Safina, RUS (1st Rd.)
2011 Kim Clijsters, BEL (2nd Rd.)
2012 Serena Williams, USA (2nd Rd.)
2013 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (2nd Rd.)
2014 Serena Williams, USA (2nd) & Li Na, CHN (1st/AO champ)
2015 Simona Halep, ROU (2nd Rd.)
2016 Angelique Kerber, GER (1st Rd./AO champ)

2012 ROU (1-5 in 1st Rd.; Cadantu double-bageled)
2013 CZE (2-8 in 1st Rd.)
2014 CHN (0-4 in 1st; Sh.Zhang "1st Loss" & #2 Li, AO champ)
2015 USA (4-13 in 1st Rd.; most players in draw)
2016 ITA (Quartet 0-3 in 1st Rd.; Pennetta retired)

[since 2009]
2009 Duke
2010 Stanford
2011 Florida
2012 Florida
2013 Stanford
2014 UCLA
2015 Vanderbilt
2016 Stanford
[most team titles]

[through 1st Rd.]
[North America/Atlantic]
9-9..USA (Chirico,Falconi,Keys,Rogers,Stephens,Townsend,Vandeweghe,Williams,Williams)
1-0...Puerto Rico (Puig)
1-1...Canada (Bouchard)
[South America]
1-0...Brazil (Pereira)
1-0...Colombia (Duque Marino)
1-0...Paraguay (Cepede Royg)
[Russia & Eastern Europe]
5-2...Russia (Kasatkina,Kuznetsova,Makarova,Pavlyuchenkova,Vesnina)
2-2...Ukraine (K.Bondarenko,Svitolina)
2-3...Romania (Begu,Halep)
1-0...Bulgaria (Pironkova)
1-1...Latvia (Sevastova)
[Western Europe & Scandinavia]
6-4...France (Cornet,Garcia,Georges,Mladenovic,Parmentier,Razzano)
4-6...Germany (Beck,Goerges,Maria,Petkovic)
3-5...Czech Republic (Kvitova,Safarova,Strycova)
2-0...Switzerland (Bacsinszky,Golubic)
2-1...Croatia (Konjuh,Lucic-Baroni)
2-3...Italy (Giorgi,Knapp)
2-4...Spain (Muguruza,Suarez-Navarro)
1-0...Hungary (Babos)
1-0...Netherlands (Bertens)
1-0...Slovenia (Hercog)
1-0...Sweden (Sweden)
1-2...Serbia (Ivanovic)
1-3...Slovakia (Cibulkova)
1-1...Belgium (Wickmayer)
1-1...Poland (A.Radwanska)
1-3...Great Britain (Watson)
2-1...China (Wang Qiang,Zhang Shuai)
2-2...Japan (Nara,Osaka)
2-2...Kazakhstan (Diyas,Putintseva)
1-2...Australia (Stosur)
1-0...Taiwan (Hsieh)
[Africa/Middle East]
1-1...Turkey (Buyukakcay)

TOP QUALIFIER: Viktoriya Golubic/SUI
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: Lucie Hradecka/CZE d. Grace Min/USA 6-7(4)/6-1/11-9 (saved 4 MP)
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
FIRST VICTORY: #24 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS (def. Sorribes Tormo/ESP
FIRST SEED OUT: #32 Jelena Ostapenko/LAT (lost 1st Rd. to Osaka/JPN)
UPSET QUEENS: The South Americans (players from three S.A. nations in 2nd Round)
REVELATION LADIES: The French (second most players in 2nd Rd.)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Italy (remaining Quartet members Vinci, Errani & Schiavone 0-3; retired Pennetta last not in MD in 2002)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: 1st Rd. wins: C.Buyukakcay/TUR, V.Cepede Royg/PAR, L.Chirico/USA, V.Golubic/SUI
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: 1st Rd. wins: M.Georges/FRA, V.Razzano/FRA, T.Townsend/USA
LAST PASTRY STANDING: 1st Rd. wins: A.Cornet, C.Garcia, M.Georges, K.Mladenovic, P.Parmentier, V.Razzano
IT "??": xx
CRASH & BURN: #3 Angelique Kerber/GER (1st Rd./Bertens - fifth AO champ out RG 1st Rd. in Open era)
ZOMBIE QUEEN (TBA at QF): Nominee: #10 Kvitova (1st Rd.-Kovinic served for match at 5-4, two pts. from win)

Artist: Paul Thurlby (2013)

All for Day 3. More tomorrow.


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