Wednesday, May 25, 2016

RG.4- The Cliffs of Simona

Ultimately, the view from the Cliffs of Simona was fine on Day 4. But if the Romanian's opponent had been fully up to it, we might have learned a great deal more about the Halep during her 2nd Round match on Court Chatrier today. Ultimately, the #6 seed and former Roland Garros finalist pulled off a straight sets win over Kazakh Zarina Diyas.

But things could have been very different.

In a match in which Roland Garros Radio match commentators rightly described Halep's play as often "awkward, ugly and uncomfortable," the Swarmette was never in tip-top form. Still, Halep found herself serving for the 1st set at 5-4. But, opening the door wide for another familiar slam disaster, she was broken and moments later found herself serving to just stay in the set at 5-6. In the eventual tie-break, Halep led 4-2, but then, for no good reason, served up a poorly-chosen drop shot in the middle of a rally despite the fact Diyas was actually positioned closer to the net than she was. The Kazakh easily reached the ball and put away a winner to level the TB at 4-4. Serving two up 5-4, though, Halep managed to capture the set when Diyas attempted an arguably even worse drop shot of her own on set point (made officially worse simply because it didn't get over the net, I suppose) as the Romanian took the TB in many ways in spite of herself.

Against a somewhat more accomplished player than Diyas, a good young player but one who never seemed ALL in during this match even when she was right in the thick of it, there were quite a few moments when Halep seemed ready to possibly succumb to the big slam stage pressure today. If she'd only been pressed just a little bit more. But Diyas just wasn't up to pushing her over that particular cliff. Thus, Halep was never forced to prove she could overcome such a focused response and still find a way to win.

In the 2nd, Halep held at love, then broke for a 2-0 lead after Diyas had held two GP at 40/15. But Diyas immediatley broke back at love to get back on serve. From there, Halep managed to pull away as Diyas seemed to tire (physically, but maybe mentally, too). Once Halep went up 4-1 it was just matter of time. The less effective Diyas rarely won points the rest of the match: one in game #4, none in game #5, then after holding serve just two combined in games #7 and #8 as Halep closed things out with a break of serve to win 7-6(5)/6-2.

Halep was broken on four of the five BP chances she faced in this match, while Diyas won twice as many points (30-15) on her first serve than Halep did on hers. Another player might have taken greater advantage. The notion of Halep attempting to play herself into feeling comfortable (i.e. title-worthy) in this RG has merit, but the Romanian isn't Serena Williams. She doesn't have a steamer trunk full of slam success to fall back on and/or call upon. She has some, but there's also just as many haunting meltdowns and poor results since her breakout slam season of 2014. That year, she reached the RG final and Wimbledon semis in her first two slams as a Top 5 seed. Since then, she put up another slam SF and QF, but four of her last six results in majors have been early losses (two 1st Rd., and one each in the 2nd and 3rd) as a #2 or #3 seed. She's "only" #6 in Paris, but her title run in Madrid, in which she talked in the early going about enjoying and thriving while being more under the radar and out of the limelight, put the pressure right back on her shoulders. She lost early in Rome in her next tournament.

If she was "questionable" at times vs. Diyas on Chatrier in the 2nd Round, what is to come as the opponents get more experienced and lethal, and the stakes rise?

Next up is 18-year old Naomi Osaka, who advanced to her second consecutive slam 3rd Round with a 6-3/6-3 win over 34-year old Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.

I find myself in a "show me" mode when it comes to Halep, so I won't truly believe in her again until she gives me reason to do so. The Japanese teen has knocked off seeded players in both the slam MD she's played, so she's not afraid of an upset and she's playing with the proverbial "house money." Will her big game allow her to be more "Cliff-worthy?" Should Halep once again present an opponent with an opportunity for more than just a "respectable" showing, will Osaka have the extra "something" that Diyas lacked today?

If she does, well, then we'll get to see how Halep responds to it. It could make all the difference this spring in Paris, and maybe for quite a while down Route WTA, as well.

...the most potentially interesting match of the day was Aga Radwanska vs. Caroline Garcia. Scheduled for Suzanne Lenglen (Caro won't have to ask to avoid Chatrier again, I guess), the Pastry was the more aggressive of the two on the day but found herself unable to take consistently advantage of the Pole on what is her least effective surface.

In the first half of the opening set, Garcia had two times as many winners as Aga, who had three DF in her first few service games. But the Frenchwoman's 1-for-4 effort on early BP chances kept her playing from behind. Serving down 3-2, Garcia reached game point, but pulled a forehand wide and was broken. Radwanska held for 5-2, then jumped out to a 40/15 lead on Garcia's serve in game #8. Garcia got the game back to deuce, but Radwanska's backhand return winner secured the break and the set at 6-2.

In the 2nd, Radwanska held at love, broke for 2-0, then began game #3 with an ace. She held for 3-0 with her seventh straight game, and soon served at 4-2. Garcia got the break with a forehand winner, but then gave it back a game later, dropping serve at love -- after FH, FH and BH volley errors, followed by a double-fault -- to give the Pole the chance to serve for the match at 5-3. A-Rad reached MP with a forehand winner, but Garcia saved it and broke with a forehand winner of her own to get back on serve at 5-4. But holding serve in such a moment was always going to be tough for Garcia, and Radwanska likely knew it.

Aga went up 30/15 on the Pastry's serve, but Garcia battled back. A second serve ace put her up 40/30, but she wasn't able string together enough points to keep pace and push the set still longer. She saved a second MP with another big second serve into Radwanska's body, but then double-faulted on her third GP of the game. Another DF handed Radwanska her third MP, then another error off Garcia's racket finally ended it. Radwanska won 6-2/6-4.

While she's not viewed as a title threat on the red clay, Radwanska is still alive.


Hey, stranger things have happened.


- there were no Bad Petra sightings in Paris (not even the one that Good Petra herself reported later in the day -- see the "Like" section below), so Kvitova had no bad Kovinic flashback experiences today vs. Hsieh Su-Wei. Despite six double-faults (hmmm, file that little stat away for later), the Czech won 6-4/6-1, converting on 15 of 19 trips to the net and on four of six BP opportunities. Bannerette Shelby Rogers is next on the docket.

- Garbine Muguruza didn't have a suddenly pesky Schmiedlova sister to contend with on Day 4, so she had a much easier time of things in her second match. Pastry wild card Myrtille Georges fell by a 6-2/6-0 score, as the Spaniard won 57 of 80 points, led 14-4 in winners, was 8-of-8 at the net and faced just a single BP all match long. She faces Waffle Yanina Wickmayer next.

- 2015 finalist Lucie Safarova seems to have arrived in Paris in something close to full fight. After dropping just two games to "Lucie Safarova Roland Garros 1st Round Victim" Vitalia Diatchenko, her lost just four today in a 68-mintues match against qualifier Viktoriya Golubic. So that's six games through two rounds (or as many games as Halep lost in the 1st set today vs. Diyas). The Czech overwhelmed the Swiss 29-9 in winners, saved all three BP she faced and won 52% of return points.

A year ago, Safarova didn't lose a set en route to the final, where she finally dropped the opener to Serena Williams before losing in three sets. So far, she's ahead of her pace from 2015, when she'd already lost fourteen games (12 vs. Pavlyuchenkova, 2 vs. Nara) through two rounds. She followed up with wins over what would soon be (after the Spaniard reached the SW19 decider the following month) four straight victories over players with slam titles or appearances in major finals: Lisicki (3 & 6), Sharapova (6 & 4), Muguruza (6 & 3) and Ivanovic (5 & 5). The Czech can add another such player to such a list in the next round, as former U.S. Open champ and RG finalist Sam Stosur will be waiting. After that, maybe Halep ('14 RG runner-up), then Radwanska ('12 Wimb. RU) and one from a trio of past slam winners Kvitova or Kuznetsova or SW19 finalist Muguruza in a possible semifnal. You-know-who could then be the only play left to face once again.

I'm just sayin'.

- Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova ended Cagla Buyukakcay's historic run with a 6-3/4-6/6-1 win over the Turk, while countrywoman Svetlana Kuznetsova advanced past Heather Watson 6-1/6-3.

The Russians will face each other in the 3rd Round, meaning that we're assured of a Hordette reaching the Round of 16 at a major for the 62nd time in the last 63 slams (with the only exception being the '13 Wimbledon, notable for being the slam in which Maria Sharapova had a hard time keeping her feet on a slippery court, falling and ultmately being upset in the 2nd Round by Michelle Larcher de Brito as part of the original "Radwanskian Massacre" nightmare on Day 3).

- Barbora Strycova defeated Polona Hercog to reach her first 3rd Round in Paris. She'd been 1-9 at RG prior to this tournament, with nine straight losses since she notched a win in her MD debut back in 2004. The Czech will be looking to turn around similar numbers in her Final 32 match vs. Radwanska. She's 0-4 against the Pole, hasn't won a set off her and has never even reached five games in any set in those matches (and before her 4 & 4 loss to her in the '14 Rogers Cup, their last meeting, she'd won two or less in five of six sets). But this will be their first match on clay (the rest were on hard courts), so maybe the least favorable surface at the worst slam for both will level the playing field and bring the Maiden a change of luck. We'll see.

- late in the day on Court 1, Irina-Camelia Begu added another big moment to her high-flying spring clay campaign, taking out a surprisingly-good-on-the-red-stuff CoCo Vandeweghe 6-7(4)/7-6(4)/10-8 in the longest WTA match so far this season (behind only the 4:00 Hogenkamp/Kuznetsova marathon match in Fed Cup play for overall length). A 3:38 duel, it featured the (sometimes irritatingly) expressive Bannerette consistency putting herself into bad situations with her tendency for wild groundstrokes errors (especially when put on the run behind the baseline) only to dig her way out with big serves and monster forehands.

Vandeweghe did have a chance to close out the match when she served at 5-4 but was unable to do so, breaking herself with an error on BP. It'd be the last time in the match in which she'd have an advantage. In four consecutive service games she was faced with holding to stay in the match -- at 5-6, 6-7, 7-8 and 8-9. In the first attempt, Begu, as she would often in the late going, three times got within two points of victory, only to see Vandeweghe hold on her own sixth GP of the game for 6-6. Two games later, Begu reached MP, but Vandeweghe saved it with a big serve and mishit return. Back-to-back aces got another hold for 7-7.

Begu then held at love, hitting just her third ace of the day. A game later, Vandeweghe fired another ace to hold for 8-8. Another love hold from the Romanian (who had another ace) pushed Vandeweghe's back to the wall for the final time as the clock read 8:46 p.m. local time. This time, she wasn't able to hold the Romanian back. Begu's brilliant backhand passing shot got her a second MP, and another backhand pass attempt that forced a Vandeweghe backhand volley error finally ended it.

- the doubles got underway on Day 4, with Martina Hingis & Sania Mirza successfully opening their quest for a fourth consecutive slam title with a 7-6(4)/6-2 win over Daria Kasatkina (part of the team that ended their 41-match winning streak earlier this year) and fellow Russian Alexandra Panova. Hmmm, should such a four-straight feat be called an "unnatural slam?" Saying "non-calendar" only serves to open up the can of worms that has needlessly led to the unofficial re-naming of what is simply a "Grand Slam" as something else (I won't say it) that is quite redundant. It's sort of like calling a grand slam in baseball a "four-run home run. Umm, yeah... because that's the actual definition of a grand slam. Just like how a tennis "Grand Slam" means you won all four majors in a single year.

So there's that.

Three all-sisters teams were in action today. Two of them lost, while one duo were victorious. Guess who they were.

So, the Kichenoks lost to Kalashnikova/Kovinic, while the Rodionovas fell to Babos/Shvedova. Meanwhile, Venus & Serena returned to slam doubles action with a 6-2/6-2 victory over the "they're small but fiesty" duo of Ostapenko/Putintseva. Karolina Pliskova, NOT playing with Kristyna, teamed with Julia Goerges to take out Groenefeld/Peshke.

The biggest team to fall was Medina-Garrigues/Parra-Santonja, the Strasbourg champs and winners of three titles in' 16 (though they're still only the #13 seeds). Brengle/Maria notched a 6-2/6-3 win over the Spaniards.

Daria Gavrilova's disappointing RG took another hit when she and Elina Svitolina lost to Dabrowski/MJ Martinez, but Laura Siegemund breathes life once again. The German, with countrywoman Anna-Lena Friedsam, defeated Muhammad/Vogt on Day 4.

...LIKE FROM DAY 4: Dinara sighting! With a racket on red clay, no less.

...LIKE FROM DAY 4: Pictures you regret (but really have no reason to).

I...LIKE FROM DAY 4: The Sharapova/Minion Interaction (sort of sounds like an episode title for "The Big Bang Theory")...

Someone forgot to zip up their pants on their bathroom break...

A video posted by Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) on

...POSSIBLE LIKE FROM A FUTURE DAY 4: Hmmm. I'm not a big gummy fan... but I might have to try these.

...DISLIKE FROM DAY 4: Having to actually listen to Tennis Channel commentary during the Halep/Diyas match, then having a "live look-in" (ha!) of Kvitova/Hsieh being referred to on air as "Kvitova and Su-Wei." Surely, we know this isn't a case of familiarity with the sport leading to a reference to the Czech's Taiwanese opponent by her first name -- it was because of a total unfamiliarity with her actual existence before that moment, hence not even knowing that when the name "Hsieh Su-Wei" comes up that her family surname is listed first.

...WHAT IT COMES TO ON DAY 4: Watching Tennis Channel coverage of Begu/Vandeweghe with the sound on mute, with the audio of RG Radio in the background... even though it was a full point ahead of the video. Hey, it avoided having to listen to Lindsay Davenport, so it was a A-Ok.


...LIKE FROM DAY 4: The zebra prints are sort of tailor-made for WTA Reactions.

...NOT SURE FROM DAY 4: The next tennis fashion craze... the onesie?

...BRIEFLY (but only partially) LIFTING THE ATP EMBARGO ON DAY 4: Still waiting to see if Babolat's "presidential" ad campaign with a certain U.S. men's player with the same last name as something you wear on your feet is ever going to take a stab and go with my idea from last year for a line in any ad featuring him: "You don't know Jack!"

...LIKE FROM DAY 4: Sisters.

...and, finally, another Lenglen moment. In this case, a brief clip of a practice session where she's elegantly swatting volleys. While the swing of her racket -- sometimes beautifully sweeping with a wonderful follow-through -- is what immediately catches your eye, it's just as interesting to focus only on her feet. As we see so often today, so much of a player's game comes down to great footwork. Lenglen is always on her toes in this drill, bouncing on the balls of her feet the entire time, preparing for the next shot as soon as the ball leaves her racket. And she's doing it while wearing an almost mid-calf length skirt, too. You get the sense here of her athleticism here, and wonder what sort of player she might be if plucked from the past and able to develop her skills in an era when such attributes would have played even better vs. the many similarly-styled athletes of today.

Hmmm... would "Lenglen 2016" resemble maybe a mash-up of Mauresmo's graceful movement (especially on grass), Aga's flair and a healthy dash of the first Martina's ahead-of-her-time athletic ability? Add in a personality with equal part BJK's willingness to step outside the "accepted" boundaries, as well as a desire to stand out via her fashion sense and style, and the mind boggles thinking about just how great -- and controversial, because it just goes with the territory -- an ever-present presence she'd have on the world sporting stage in the current era.

[recent singles winners]
2009 Mallory Cecil, Duke
2010 Chelsey Gullickson, Georgia
2011 Jana Juricova, California
2012 Nicole Gibbs, Stanford
2013 Nicole Gibbs, Stanford
2014 Danielle Collins, Virginia
2015 Jamie Loeb, North Carolina
2016 TBD
[recent doubles winners]
2010 Hilary Barte / Lindsay Burdette (Stanford)
2011 Hilary Barte / Mallory Burdette (Stanford)
2012 Mallory Burdette / Nicole Gibbs (Stanford)
2013 Kaitlyn Christian / Sabrina Santamaria (USC)
2014 Maya Jansen / Erin Routcliffe (Alabama)
2015 Maya Jansen / Erin Routcliffe (Alabama)
2016 TBD

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): Nominee: 2nd Rd. - #25 Begu d. Vandeweghe 6-7(4)/7-6(4)/10-8 (3:38)
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: In 2nd Rd.: C.Buyukakcay/TUR(L), V.Cepede Royg/PAR(L), L.Chirico/USA, V.Golubic/SUI(L)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: In 2nd Rd.: M.Georges/FRA(L), V.Razzano/FRA, T.Townsend/USA
LAST PASTRY STANDING: In 2nd Rd.: A.Cornet, C.Garcia(L), M.Georges(L), K.Mladenovic, P.Parmentier, V.Razzano
IT "??": Nominee: C.Buyukakcay/TUR (first Turk w/ GS match win)
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 4. More tomorrow.


Blogger Diane said...

Was that not the longest bathroom break in history? I wound up missing the end of the match (I had an appointment) because of Vandeweghe's disappearing act. The commentator even suggested that the umpire call in the supervisor. Props to Begu for staying very cool (and active) through the whole thing.

Lenglen was such a fine athlete. The other part of your "formula," by the way, is Rosebud, still one of the all-time fashion leaders of the tour (Tinling adored her).

Babos and Mladenovic have to play each other again!

Wed May 25, 10:19:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Thing is, you know that anytime Vandeweghe is on the other end of anything questionable (or even if it's not, but she wants to take issue with something) that she would have been mouthing off about it incessantly during and afterward, too.

Never missing an opportunity to use a Casals quote from the '70s that I loved from the Navratilova/Evert "Rivals" book: When asked about people considering female athletes "unladylike," she said, "If people say we're unfeminine, well, I say screw 'em."

I've got something interesting for tomorrow about Lenglen. A little bit of a history lesson that I really didn't know much about myself until looking for something more to use for the RG's daily "Lenglen fix." ;)

Wed May 25, 10:34:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Looking forward to it!

It's really hard to "like" Vandeweghe. I cut players a very wide swath for personality, but that is just some persistently bad artitude, accompanied by questionable behavior.

Wed May 25, 10:40:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Jeff said...

Dear me! What a fuss about a sub-par performance by Simona. Anyone would think that all top players play their best in every match. She got through in 2 sets winning the 2nd comfortably. No great drama.

Thu May 26, 07:56:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

You could possibly be right... but, as we've learned with Halep over the last two years, any sign of weakness (however brief) could be a warning sign for the near future.

As I said, I'm in a "show me" mood with Halep this season. Unlike with so many of those other top players, I'm over giving her the benefit of the doubt. She's sort of squandered that right, I think, over the last two slam cycles.

Thu May 26, 09:00:00 AM EDT  

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