Sunday, May 27, 2018

RG.1- Ukraine Reign

On Day 1 in Paris, Ukrainians opened the day on Court Suzanne Lenglen and closed it on Philippe Chatrier with victories on the first Sunday of this Roland Garros. World #4 Elina Svitolina sweated out a sticky 1st Round situation for about half an hour or so before finding her footing, while her #66-ranked countrywoman Kateryna Kozlova came along a few hours later and thunderously put the hammer down on the head of Latvian Thunder herself, defending champ Alona Ostapenko.

Her scheduling on Lenglen was, for Svitolina, something of a return to "the scene of the crime," if you will. For it was on the court named for La Divine that last year she squandered a golden opportunity to reach her maiden slam semifinal. She led Simona Halep by a set and 5-1, and held MP, only to see the Romanian essentially pull a 180 and shove *her* over the side of the "Cliffs of Simona," finishing off a miraculous comeback with a love 3rd set. Coming off defending her Rome title two weekends ago with a win over Halep, Svitolina has been declared one of the favorites to finally have a break-out slam at this Roland Garros.

Then, with so many little facts already nipping at the edges of her (bad) memories, Svitolina got off to a nervous start and fell behind, wouldn't you know it, by a 5-1 score to Ajla Tomljanovic, the #68-ranked Aussie finally making her way back to the big stages after a long recovery from shoulder surgery. But knowing that such a deficit certainly isn't insurmountable, the Ukrainian held steady and gradually battled her way back into the match. With Tomljanovic showing more nerves as the match wore on, Svitolina ran off six straight games to take the 1st set, and twelve of fifteen to win 7-5/6-3 in 1:28.

Her next opponent won't be Francesca Schiavone, though. When the 37-year old '10 RG champ made it through qualifying and was placed one spot away from Svitolina in the draw it created the possibility of truly intriguing 2nd Round match. It'll still be that, but it won't feature the Italian, who fell 7-6(2)/7-6(2) to Viktoria Kuzmova, as the 20-year old Slovak took yet another step in her breakthrough season with her maiden slam MD victory.

Hmmm. So, in Melbourne the player I'd picked as my preseason "Player Whose Name You'll Know..." for 2017, Jana Fett, faced off with Caroline Wozniacki in the 2nd Round. The Croat held a 5-1 lead in the 3rd set, and had two MP, only to see the Dane battle back to get the win, then go on to claim her maiden slam title. Kuzmova was my 2018 "Player Whose Name You'll Know..." pick, and will now face off with the slam-less Ukrainian in the 2nd Round in Paris.

I'm just sayin'. We'll see what happens in a few days, and then beyond. Maybe.

Ah, but the Ukraianian reign didn't end with Svitolina on Sunday.

On the last scheduled match on Chatrier, where she'd finished off a truly remarkable run to a slam title a year ago, reigning women's champ Ostapenko ran up against an opponent she's yet to figure out. Now, *that* opponent could very well be herself (or at least her serve), but it *definitely* was also Kozlova, who improved her career record against the Latvian to 3-0 with a straight sets win in which she never allowed Ostapenko to seized the momentum of the match and race off to victory like she did so often in Paris a year ago.

Ostapenko, after a whirlwind offseason and early January, got off to a slow start in 2018. But she mostly found her footing with good doubles play and a few big singles results (including a final in Miami). Still, her winner-heavy (and UE-strewn) game comes with risk, and the Latvian has often found opponents preying on her poor serving (particularly her second serve) all season long. It was a similar story today. Ostapenko was broken seven times, had 13 double-faults in her 48 unforced errors, as well as a 47% 1st serve percentage combined with winning just 34% of her second serve points. Needless to say, it's hard for anyone to win with those sort of numbers.

She had trouble holding serve right from the start, going down an early break in the 1st. Ostapenko would continually get the break back but would be unable to avoid giving it away again almost immediately. After leveling things at 4-4, she was broken for 5-4. She denied Kozlova when she served for the set once, only to then drop serve again and see the Ukrainian secure the lead with a hold for 7-5. After taking a 2-0 lead, Ostapenko fell behind a break in the 2nd at 3-2. The two traded breaks again in games 6 and 7 until Kozlova finally pulled away, even while dealing with a nasty blister on her heel, winning 7-5/6-3.

For Kozlova, in just her second tournament back after cracking cartilage in her right knee at Indian Wells, it was her first career Top 30 win, and her second slam MD victory (w/ '17 U.S.). A tour-level singles finalist in Taiwan earlier this season, she's steadily climbed the WTA ranking ladder -- ending at #99 in '16, #86 in '17 and now into at least the Top 60 after RG -- since serving a six-month banned substance suspension in 2015. She'd come to Paris on a five-match losing streak, having lost in the 1st Round last week in Nurnberg.

"I just woke up here and my mood was not amazing," the Latvian said after the match. "A few things go wrong and you are pissed off, but you try to stay positive. Then you lose a match, and it is no longer possible to be positive."

So, Ostapenko *is* indeed human. Her loss makes her the first defending RG champ to exit in the 1st Round since Anastasia Myskina in 2005. Meanwhile, the recent New York Times profile on the Latvian noted that she once had a strong serve before a shoulder injury at age 15 caused her to alter her service motion. Her mother says that the injury is healed and all pain is gone, and thinks the lingering problems with the shot are probably "mental."

"When I went on court today I had this unbelievable pressure, and felt I was not myself on court," Ostapenko noted. "I will just try to forget this as soon as I can."

Kozlova won't, though.

"I didn't expect that I will play against the defending champion, but I accept this. That’s a grand slam and this is life," she theorized. "What I can do? I cannot change this. I just have to go on court and do my best. As I said, I was really happy to be here. That's why I couldn't complain, today was just special.”

=DAY 1 NOTES= year after Petra Kvitova, in her comeback match, was the first player to advance to the 2nd Round in Paris, Ekaterina Makarova earned the "first-through" honors on Day 1 this Sunday. The Russian ended her five-match losing streak with a 6-4/6-1 win over Zheng Saisai. Of course, you KNOW what everyone wants to know about. But, so far, no such luck...

While Svitolina ultimately didn't come "close" to being the First Seed Out at this Roland Garros, the "battle" was on between #9 Venus Williams and #22 Johanna Konta in the second round of matches up today. Both have much better histories on hard and grass courts than on clay, and have faced off quite famously against each other on those surfaces in six of their seven match-ups. Williams and Konta were presented with familiar opponents today, as Venus played Wang Qiang twice in majors in 2017, defeating her in a pair of close, straight setters at RG (6-4/7-6) and Wimbledon (three sets). Konta was also 2-0 vs. Yulia Putintseva, winning two clay meetings, one in three sets in '13 and another by a 3 & love score last year in Rome.

Both saw the tables turned on them on Sunday.

Wang secured the first Top 10 win of her career, defeating Williams 6-4/7-5, overcoming a 3-0 2nd set deficit to hand Venus her first 1st Round loss at a major since the '15 RG. It's just her eleventh one-and-done in her Open era record 78 career major appearances. Eight have come since 2011, while she lost early just three times from 1997-2010. With her AO 1st Round exit at the hand of Belinda Bencic in January, this is her first career back-to-back such results at majors.

While both matches were being played simultaneously, the slightly-earlier starting time of the Williams match made *her* the First Seed Out, though she was soon followed by Konta, who fell to the Kazakh 6-4/6-3. The Brit is now 0-4 in her Roland Garros career, while Putintseva is looking to add on to her QF/3r runs in Paris the last two years.

...while the women's draw (w/ 2) isn't littered with Lucky Losers like that of the men's (w/ 8, as of Sunday). Only one of the women's LL took to the court today, as Arantxa Rus lost to #10 Sloane Stephens, 6-0/6-2. Dalila Jakupovic will play tomorrow.

Ons Jabeur reached the 3rd Round in Paris last season as a LL, while Bernarda Pera did the same in Melbourne earlier this year.

...with one all-Pastry match-up set for Day 1, France was assured of at least one woman advancing into the 2nd Round. As it turned out, it got two, as #32 Alize Cornet climbed out of a set and 2-0 hole vs. former finalist Sara Errani to win in three, converting on her fifth MP. Cornet is playing in her 46th consecutive slam MD (with Aga Radwanska's absence, she's now the active tour leader) after slipping out of the most recent ridiculous WADA/ITF suspension trap (which is totally different from the even worse/just as bad treatment of Madison Brengle, which has forced her into a lawsuit).

In the all-French battle of wild cards, play was suspended with Pauline Parmentier leading Chloe Paquet 3-1 in the 3rd set.

One qualifier, Magdalena Frech, advanced to the 2nd Round on Day 1, defeating Ekaterina Alexandrova. Qualifier Alexandra Dulgheru's match with Christina McHale was suspended for the night with the Romanian having won a 2nd set TB to send things to a deciding 3rd.

...meanwhile, in Baotou, China it was 21-year old Serb Nina Stojanovic (#308) picking up her first singles title since October '16 with a 6-0/6-4 win the $60K challenger final over China's Xu Shilin.

In $25K challenger in Les Franqueses del Valles, Spain it was Spaniard Paula Badosa improving her career ITF singles final mark to 10-1 with a 6-4/3-6/6-2 win over Margarita Gasparyan. It wasn't the result that the Russian may have been looking for, but it was an encouraging comeback week for the former world #41 and tour-level title winner after missing most of nineteen months from the end of Wimbledon '16 until late April of this year (she played just four matches late in '17) after multiple knee surgeries. She's currently the FIFTY-NINETH ranked Hordette, but that will surely change dramatically if she can stay on the court. the NCAA singles semifinals, Ashley Lahey became the first Pepperdine woman to reach the women's singles final with a win over Vanderbilt's Fernanda Contreras. She was very nearly joined in the final by teammate Mayar Sherif, but she lost to Mississippi's Arianne Hartono in a 3rd set TB in the second match-up.

So, I guess I've still got a prediction horse in this race. In the Prediction Blowout in December, I picked Florida's Ingrid Neel for NCAA champion following her big freshman season, but then she turned pro in January. Lahey was the first listed of my "To Watch" players, so... come on, Ashley!

The only U.S.-born player to reach the semis (Hartono is Dutch, while Sherif is from Egypt and Contreras Mexico), Lahey will likely receive a wild card into the U.S. Open MD if she takes the crown. the Grade A Trofeo Bonfiglio event in Milan, Luxembourg's Eleonora Molinaro continued her almost unchallenged run through the entire 2018 season, picking up her second high level girls title of the year (w/ a G1 win in Beaulieu-sur-Mer her last time out) with a 4-6/6-4/6-0 over Japan's Yuki Naito, who finishes as runner-up in a big junior event (after G1 finals in Sarawak and Nonthaburi) for a third time in '18. Molinaro, who posted wins this week over Maria Camila Osorio Serrano (3rd Rd.) and AO semifinalist Elisabetta Cocciaretto (SF), has a 16-match junior winning streak, and is 29-2 on the season. With her ITF and Fed Cup action added to her total, she's 53-5.

...the juniors won't begin play in Paris for a while yet, but this was the Girls Top 20 heading into this weekend (though the list is a bit misleading, as many of the top ranked players are no longer playing junior events, and most won't likely be in Paris, or London, later this summer):

1. Whitney Osuigwe, USA
2. Liang En-shou, TPE
3. Claire Liu, USA
4. Wang Xinyu, CHN
5. Marta Kostyuk, UKR
6. Maria Camila Osorio Serrano, COL
7. Alexa Noel, USA
8. Wang Xiyu, CHN
9. Naho Sato, JPN
10. Amanda Anisimova, USA
11. Clara Tauson, DEN
12. Zheng Qinwen, CHN
13. Kaja Juvan, SVK
14. Elisabetta Cocciaretto, ITA
15. Maria Lourdes Carle, ARG
16. Clara Burel, FRA
17. Lulu Sun, SUI
18. Yuki Naito, JPN
19. Leylah Annie Fernandez, CAN
20. Cori Gauff, USA
[by nation]
5 - United States
3 - China
2 - Japan

..."Really?," ON DAY 1: Said Lindsay Davenport on Tennis Channel after Putintseva's upset of Konta, "That's a little bit of a surprise."

Really? That was probably the easiest 1st Round "upset" of a seed to call -- or at least send up a danger flare about -- after the draw was announced.

...LIKE ON DAY 1: When facts trump reality, or reality trumps facts? Hmmm.

..."HA!" ON DAY 1: And the anti-doping agencies thought they could out-drama Alize? Phooey!

...LIKE ON DAY 1: La Divine is always watching...

...and, finally, more proof has been discovered that shines some light on why Kathy Rinaldi isn't Mary Joe Fernandez.

Prep ???????

A post shared by Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) on

2009 Li Na/CHN (d. Domachowska/POL) & A.Pavlyuchenkova/RUS (d. Olaru/ROU)
2010 Dominika Cibulkova/SVK (def. Ivanova/RUS)
2011 Simona Halep/ROU (def. Kudryavtseva/RUS)
2012 Samantha Stosur/AUS (def. Baltacha/GBR)
2013 Sara Errani/ITA (def. Rus/NED)
2014 Aga Radwanska/POL (def. Sh.Zhang/CHN)
2015 Teliana Pereira/BRA (def. Ferro/FRA)
2016 A.Pavlyuchenkova/RUS (def. Sorribes Tormo/ESP)
2017 Petra Kvitova/CZE (def. Boserup/USA)
2018 Ekaterina Makarova/RUS (def. Sai.Zheng/CHN)

2005 #25 Dinara Safina/RUS (Razzano/FRA)
2006 #18 Elena Likhovtseva/RUS (Sprem/CRO)
2007 #31 Severine Bremond/FRA (Krajicek/NED)
2008 #15 Nicole Vaidisova/CZE (Benesova/CZE)
2009 #19 Kaia Kanepi/EST (Shvedova/KAZ)
2010 #10 Victoria Azarenka/BLR (Dulko/ARG)
2011 #19 Shahar Peer/ISR (Martinez-Sanchez/ESP)
2012 #30 Mona Barthel/GER (Davis/USA)
2013 #11 Nadia Petrova/RUS (Puig/PUR)
2014 #25 Kaia Kanepi/EST (Niculescu/ROU)
2015 #31 Caroline Garcia/FRA (Vekic/CRO)
2016 #32 Alona Ostapenko/LAT (Osaka/JPN)
2017 #31 Roberta Vinci/ITA (Puig/PUR)
2018 #9 Venus Williams/USA (Q.Wang/CHN)

TOP QUALIFIER: Francesca Schiavone/ITA
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: Alexandra Dulgheru/ROU d. Tamara Korpatsch/GER 6-1/5-7/7-6(7) (from MP down and 5-2 in the 3rd for final qualifying berth)
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
FIRST VICTORY: Ekaterina Makarova/RUS (def. Zheng Saisai/CHN)
FIRST SEED OUT: #9 Venus Williams/USA (1st Rd/lost to Wang Qiang/CHN)
IT "??": xx
CRASH & BURN: Nominee: #5 A.Ostapenko/LAT (defending champ; lost 1st Rd. to #66 Kozlova --first RG Dc out 1st Rd. since '05)
Légion de Lenglen HONOREE: xx

All for Day 1. More tomorrow.


Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Oh, and Galileo has new RG predictions on ATP Backspin.

(Just ignore the big one for the women's draw, I guess.) ;)

Sun May 27, 06:03:00 PM EDT  
Blogger colt13 said...

So Kozlova's blistering shots were the reason for her win? That was the upset of the day.

Not a shock, but Azarenka also out.

Konjuh actually played, and won 1 game.

Stat of the Day-3- QF or better runs at slams for Betty Stove.

Although in two weeks time, Kiki Bertens may be the first woman from the Netherlands to have won a French Open title, there is something that Stove did that Bertens can never do. What is it? Reach the US Open SF.

Now I actually don't mean that Bertens never could, although in her best year, which could be this, she projects as a QF. But she can't do what Stove did, which is reach it on clay, like she did in 1977.

Which brings up one of the great stats-Jimmy Connors won the US Open in 1974 on grass, 1976 on clay, and 1978 on hard. That is something that is more impressive to me with each passing day.

Mon May 28, 08:09:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Badum-CHING. (rimshot) ;)

Yeah, the way Vika went out in her last match before RG it was very easy to pick her going out in the 1st Round today, unfortunately. Though it was close in both sets vs. Siniakova, when I actually wouldn't have been too surprised if it'd been quite the opposite.

Mon May 28, 09:12:00 AM EDT  

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