Wednesday, May 30, 2018

RG.4- Delayed But Not Denied

Simona Halep has a deep, rich and complicated relationship with the grand slams. While she didn't play her first match until Day 4, the 2018 version of Roland Garros has already proven to be no exception.

The Romanian was crowned the girls champion in Paris a full decade ago, but she's still seeking her maiden women's slam crown even after having risen to #1 in the world and reached three majors finals. Naturally, in a factoid that both signifies all as well as nothing about her career, Halep lost all three of those matches in three sets... after having taken the match lead by claiming the 1st set each time. At the moment, she's one of four women to have reached #1 who haven't won a slam title. Her 0-3 mark in finals matches what turned out to be the forever fruitless endeavor of Dinara Safina (also 0-3), while the likes of Karolina Pliskova (0-1) and Jelena Jankovic (0-1) can only look at the likes of Halep's career and both marvel and wince. Probably simultaneously (especially JJ, wherever she may be and whatever she's thinking about at this moment in time).

But Simona soldiers on.

For sure, Halep has had her thrilling moments on the slam stage, but they've often come with a "The Sopranos"-like, leave-you-hanging/make-you-want-to throw-something-at-the-wall ending. Last year in Paris staged a big comeback to down Elina Svitolina in the QF, only to then squander her own lead in the final against Alona Ostapenko. In Melbourne in January she survivor a rolled ankle and two matches in which she was down MP, only to then fall in a three-set final to Caroline Wozniacki. Her slam career has been marked by hopeful compliments (Maria Sharapova said her win over her at the '14 RG was her toughest in a slam final), but her years have also been pockmarked by awful "Cliffs of Simona" moments better left in the past (peruse most of the four 1st Round exits she's had in the other three majors since her breakout '14 season, as well as her 2nd Round RG exit in '15 after having been a finalist one year earlier), injuries and/or mental obstacles that have turned her long hunt for a slam crown into what came only now be termed a so-far-elusive quest, with every moment destined to be magnified in significance, until, you know, she'll no longer have reason to contemplate every piece of fuzz on the proverbial tennis ball that represents her career.

In her first slam since her Consummate Warrior run Down Under, Halep opened play on Wednesday on Court Chatrier against Alison Riske. Last weekend's Nurnberg's finalist was somewhat suprisingly was playing in her *first* career match vs. a world #1.

For a while, things didn't go well for Halep, as she continually found things just out of reach, and then seemingly farther and farther away. While she fell behind by an early two-break deficit in the 1st as the Bannerette's aggressive tactics and accurate shots paid big dividends, things were quite close at the outset. Before the set began to crumble for Halep as Riske built to a 5-0 lead, the two had played a two-deuce game to open the match, as well as a five-deuce battle (w/ the Romanian holding a GP) in game #2. Halep lost both, though, and her tightness spiraled into frustration.

But once she'd righted the ship, Halep took full control. But it took nearly the entire set to do it.

She finally held serve for 5-1, then went up love/40 on Riske's serve in game #7, getting the break to close to 5-2. Riske got the break to take the set 6-2, but Halep was out of the early fog that led to her producing 16 unforced errors (vs. 4 winners) in the set, while Riske (13 W, 10 UE) controlled the action for most of the way.

With her game cleaned up, Halep broke at love to start the 2nd set. And it was on. She led 4-0, up love/40 on Riske's serve. At that point, the Bannerette had won just three total points in the set. When she double-faulted to fall behind 5-0, she had just five. Halep took the 2nd set 6-1, then went up an early break in the 3rd to set a now-obstacle-free course toward the 2nd Round. She won 2-6/6-1/6-1 in only 1:34, winning fourteen of the final seventeen games, most of them fairly easily.

After having 16 unforced errors in the 1st set, Halep committed only twelve in the 2nd and 3rd sets combined. She went from 4 winners to 6 in the 2nd, then 10 in the 3rd. Meanwhile, Riske's numbers were reversed in the opposite direction. Her 13/10 ratio in the opening set transformed into 4/23 in the final two sets, with the U.S. player hitting just two winners each in both the 2nd and 3rd. Even after being out-scored by nine points in the 1st, Halep still finished with an 80-57 bulge in total points for the match.

Halep had to wait an extra day to play this match, then six games just to win her first at this Roland Garros. Finally, after three sets, she had her opening victory. So it was only a delay, not a denial. And that's nothing new for the Romanian.

Halep has been waiting 26 years to win a major, and so far she's played and lost in 31 slams while making the attempt. Maybe she'll only have to wait ten more days before being able to lift her maiden slam crown. Or maybe it'll be longer.

Once Halep hit her stride today, there was no stopping her. One day, it'll happen for her at the final stage of a major tournament, as well. Maybe even very soon, but also possibly later.

Either way, whenever it happens, the wait will have been worth it.

=DAY 4 NOTES= an oddity in the schedule (at least *partially* due to Halep's match getting pushed to Wednesday), three of the women's favorites at this RG were all in action in first-up matches on the show courts on Day 4.

On Court 1, #8 Petra Kvitova handled Lara Arruabarrena, well, handily. The Czech won 6-0/6-4, firing twenty-seven winners to the Spaniard's seven en route to her thirteenth straight win on clay.

On Lenglen, #4 Elina Svitolina wasn't nearly as dominant vs. 20-year Slovak Viktoria Kuzmova, who'd made her RG debut in the 1st Round with a win over former champ Francesca Schiavone. It didn't turn out to be a "Player Whose Name You'll Know..." redux of the Wozniacki/Fett 2nd Round match in Melbourne, but Kuzmova held close with the Ukrainian until she surged ahead in both sets en route to a 6-3/6-4 win. They'd been knotted at 3-3 in the 1st, and Kuzmova broke for 4-4 in the 2nd.

Svitolina is on to the 3rd Round in Paris for a fourth straight year (and in her seventh straight slam), but is really looking to surge past the QF round where she dropped the ball a year ago vs. Halep.

...two of the players who put up the biggest upsets of Day 1 were called upon to follow up with something more on Day 4. Only one was successful at the task.

Kateryna Kozlova, conqueror of defending champ Alona Ostapenko, fell in three close sets to Katerina Siniakova, 6-7(4)/6-4/6-4. Later, though, the Venus Williams-defeating Wang Qiang posted another win over Petra Martic. The Croat reached the Round of 16 a year ago at Roland Garros, but lost 1 & 1 today.

Either Wang, Siniakova, #26 Barbora Strycova or Yulia Putintseva will reach the QF from the section that took such a big hit on Sunday. the afternoon, #2 Caroline Wozniacki had no trouble, to say the least, with qualifier Georgina Garcia-Perez, taking out the Spaniard 6-0/6-1 in under an hour. Both had seven winners in the match. Wozniacki had eight unforced errors, while GG had twenty-nine (55% of Caro's total points won -- 53 -- on the day).

The loss left the remaining six qualifiers in the draw heading into Day 4 -- all of them in the bottom half -- 0-6 on Wednesday.

Mariana Duque-Marino won just three games off Camila Giorgi, and Rebecca Peterson also took only three from #31 Mihaela Buzarnescu, while Magdalena Frech (four vs. #10 Sloane Stephens), Caroline Dolehide (five vs. #13 Madison Keys) and Alexandra Dulgheru (seven from #25 Anett Kontaveit) did only marginally better.

The whole half-dozen thereby tie for "Last Qualifier Standing."

...the wild cards are doing a bit better in Paris. Or at least one of them is.

32-year old Pastry Pauline Parmentier's spring resurgence continued on Day 4. The French woman started 2018 going 2-13. She then went 0-2 in the Fed Cup semis, but her giving-it-all-she-had pair of straight sets losses to Stephens and Keys effectively boosted her confidence and righted her season. She immediately followed up with a title run in Istanbul, her first on tour in nearly a decade. With her win today she's gone 8-2 in her last ten matches, and is into the 3rd Round of a major for the fourth time (in 41 slam MD appearances) in her career. Three have come in Paris in even-numbered years ('14, '16 and '18), just like her previous one at the U.S. Open ('12).

Today she posted a 6-7(2)/6-4/6-2, 3:04 win over #32 Alize Cornet on Lenglen, taking a 5-0 lead in the 3rd and then finally getting over the finish line before her countrywoman could turn the ending into something during which, win or lose, only Alize could take centerstage. Cornet was just 2-of-27 on BP attempts, and had been 1-for-26 until she finally got a late break in the 3rd.

While she had 36 winners on the day (to Cornet's 26), Parmentier had 64 unforced errors (Cornet-42).

As for the other wild cards, Fiona Ferro (along with Parmentier and #7 Caroline Garcia, also in the running for Last Pastry Standing) faces Garbine Muguruza tomorrow, while Taylor Townsend gets Halep.

...Maria Sakkari took out the biggest women's name to fall on Wednesday, defeating #23 Carla Suarez-Navarro, a two-time quarterfinalist (w/ three more Round of 16's) in her previous nine RG appearances, by a 7-5/6-3 score, winning ten of the final thirteen games. The 22-year old from Athens is now surging. After starting '18 0-5 (and 3-7 in her first ten), she's gone 15-5 since Indian Wells, posting wins over the likes of CSN, Karolina Pliskova, Kiki Bertens, CoCo Vandeweghe, Ash Barty and Anett Kontaveit.

In case you were wondering, the now 35-year old Daniliidou, a former world #14 (2003), IS still active. The women best known for being the first player to upset a reigning RG champ in the 1st Round of Wimbledon (Justine Henin in 2005), is 4-5 in singles in 2018 in a series of challenger events and is ranked outside the Top 1000. the final women's singles match to wrap on Day 4, #14 Dasha Kasatina once again quietly slipped through the draw, dropping just six games to Kirsten Flipkens after allowing only five to Kaia Kanepi in the 1st Round. The act of not having to wear herself out physically and emotionally with a series of three-setters, a habit which has had a tendency to clip her wings in the latter stages of some big tournaments in the past (including in the Dubai and Indian Wells finals this year), may finally allow her to make the sort of big second week run at a major that has so far eluded her.

Even so, the 21-year old has been remarkably consistent in her early slam career. In eleven slam MD appearances, she's now had one Round of 16 and six 3rd Round results (w/ just one 1st Round exit). She'll next face Sakkari in the 3rd Round, with the prospect of another meeting with #2 Wozniacki coming a round later. Kasatkina is already 2-0 vs. the Dane in 2018, part of her great run of results vs. top players this season. So far, she's recorded six Top 10 wins (4 vs. the Top 3) in '18. She has seven Top 3 wins since the start of last season.

Kasatkina and Sakkari have a history, as well.

...the women's doubles action got underway on Day 4, with the Williams Sisters hitting the court as a duo for the first time since they won the 2016 Wimbledon title, and in just the third major draw since 2014. They climbed out of a one set hole to defeat #14-seeded Shuko Aoyama & Miyu Kato, 4-6/6-4/6-1. The Sisters are 16-2 in their RG career, winning titles in 1999 and 2010 (hmmm, they average a title a decade, so they *are* due), and 124-14 in their slam doubles career.

Other notable teams weren't as fortunate. #10 Alona Ostapenko/Elena Vesnina won the 1st set 6-1 over Sara Sorribes-Tormo & Sorana Cirstea, but ultimately fell in a 6-4 3rd set. Well, so much for that, though they didn't go out easily, coming back from 5-0 in the 3rd to make things close in the end. Ekaterina Makarova & Anna Kalinskaya will play tomorrow.

The Nation of Poor Souls award went to Latvia yesterday, but this is getting ridiculous. Anastastija Sevastova & Mandy Minella also lost in the WD 1st Round totday to #16 Nadiia Kichenok/Anastasia Rodionova, dropping Sevastova and Ostapenko to a combined 0-4 at this Roland Garros. Ostapenko is in the MX draw with Max Mirnyi, opening up vs. #5-seeded Klepac/Rojer.

Also, Donna Vekic & Darija Jurak ousted #7 Ash Barty & CoCo Vandeweghe in three.

Winners included #1 Timea Babos/Kristina Mladenovic, #4 Latisha Chan/Bethanie Mattek-Sands (BMS is a defending champ), #8 Angel Chan/Yang Zhaoxuan, #5 Gaby Dabrowski/Xu Yifan, #9 Kiki Bertens/Johanna Larsson, #13 Nicole Melichar/Kveta Peschke and unseeded Svetlana Kuznetsova/Lucie Safarova (Lucie's the other DC) and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/Sam Stosur.

It'd be nice to see Sam get back into the mix for a doubles title at a slam. As I've noted before, a few seasons of really solid going-back-to-her-early-career-roots doubles results along with a slam title or two and a HoF spot would likely be locked up for the Aussie.

Along with her nine career WTA singles titles and one slam win (along with a RG final), Stosur is a former doubles #1 (12 years ago!), a 24-time WD title winner and 5-time slam (2 WD/3 MX) champ. She's a RG Mixed crown away from a Career Mixed Slam, AND AO and SW19 WD crowns (possible w/ a good partner... psst, Ash in '19?) off a Career Doubles Slam (she's 0-4 in finals in those two majors). With Martina Hingis now retired, only Stosur and the Williams Sisters are active players on the WTA tour with slam titles in all three disciplines.

There was one MX match today, and Demi Schuurs was at it yet again. Teaming with fellow Dutch player Matwe Middelkoop, she had a hand in ousting #6-seeded Angel Chan & Michael Venus. Schuurs has won ten straight WD/MX matches over three weeks/tournaments with three different partners, and plays her opening RG WD match with Elise Mertens (partner #4) tomorrow.

...the junior acceptance lists, and resulting seeds, as of Tuesday (the "Li Na Generation" is finally making a mark, it seems, as three of the top eleven seeds are Chinese, and #1 seed and AO champ Liang is Taiwanese)...

1.Liang En-shuo, TPE
2.Wang Xinyu, CHN
3.María Camila Osorio Serrano, COL
4.Alexa Noel, USA
5.Clara Tauson, DEN
6.Eleonora Molinaro, LUX
7.Naho Sato, JPN
8.Wang Xiyu, CHN
9.Elisabetta Cocciaretto, ITA
10.Yuki Naito, JPN
11.Zheng Qinwen, CHN
12.Maria Lourdes Carle, ARG
13.Clara Burel, FRA
14.Lulu Sun, SUI
15.Leylah Annie Fernandez, CAN
16.Cori Gauff, USA

...LIKE ON DAY 4: The Button Down Mind of Petra Kvitova

...NEATO (or the French equivalent, I guess) ON DAY 4:

..."DID YOU KNOW...?" ON DAY 4: ...that CSN was from the Canary Islands? Well...

At least she has somewhere nice to go after today's result. So there's that, I guess.

...LIKE ON DAY 4: "Babs, there's a 'Citizen Anna' calling for you...?

..."WINNING..." ON DAY 4:

...and, finally, for what it's worth...

#1 Babos/Mladenovic d. Kuznetsova/Safarova
#12 Mertens/Schuurs d. #3 Klepac/Martinez-Sanchez
#12 Mertens/Schuurs d. #1 Babos/Mladenovic

Schuurs/Middelkoop d. #4 Siniakova/J.Murray
#8 Groenefeld/Farah d. #2 L.Chan/Dodig
#8 Groenefeld/Farah d. Schuurs/Middelkoop

...though I'm sure most of these will blow up well before they reach this stage.

(3rd) Julia Vakulenko/UKR & Aravane Rezai/FRA
(3rd) D.Cibulkova/SVK, A.Kudryavtseva/RUS & R.Olaru/ROU
(QF) Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP
(3rd) Michelle Larcher de Brito/POR & Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ
(4th) Chanelle Scheepers/RSA
(3rd) Chan Yung-Jan/TPE & Nuria Llagostera-Vives/ESP
(QF) Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ
(3rd) Paula Ormaechea/ARG & Dinah Pfizenmaier/GER
(4th) Kiki Bertens/NED
(2nd) L.Dominguez-Lino/ESP, P.Kania/POL, S.Karatantcheva/BUL & T.Pereira/BRA
(2nd) C.Buyukakcay/TUR, V.Cepede Royg/PAR, L.Chirico/USA & V.Golubic/SUI
(4th) Petra Martic/CRO
(2nd) C.Dolehide/USA, A.Dulgheru/ROU, M.Duque-Marino/COL, M.Frech/POL, G.Garcia-Perez/ESP & R.Peterson/SWE

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)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Latvia (0-2; first slam both DC/#5 Ostapenko and #20 Sevastova out 1st Round after ten consecutive; only second time happened since both first in same slam draw at '16 AO; also both 0-2 in doubles)
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: Dolehide/USA, Dulgheru/ROU, Duque-Marino/COL, Frech/POL, Garcia-Perez/ESP, Peterson/SWE (all 2nd Rd.)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: In 2nd Rd.: Ferro/FRA, Parmentier/FRA(W), Townsend/USA
LAST PASTRY STANDING: In 2nd Rd.: Cornet(L), Ferro, Garcia, Parmentier(W)
IT "??": xx
CRASH & BURN: #5 Alona Ostapenko/LAT (defending champ; lost 1st Rd. to #66 Kozlova; first RG DC out 1st Rd. since '05)
ZOMBIE QUEEN OF PARIS: Nominees: Bencic (saved 5 MP vs. Chiesa in 1st Rd.); Sharapova (Hogenkamp up 3-0 in 3rd in 1st Rd.); Begu (Schmiedlova up 5-2 in 3rd in 1st Rd.)
Légion de Lenglen HONOREE: xx

All for Day 4. More tomorrow.


Blogger colt13 said...

Pavlyuchenkova did as expected, out before 3rd rd to Stosur. And The Oracle might be at it again. She's lost to the winner 7 times, a finalist 9 times, and has Muguruza next.

Osaka may only go another round, but she projects as a winner here down the line. Why? Two women come to mind-Mertens and Serena.

Mertens has gone have having no wins on clay to winning titles on the surface in less than 2 years. Osaka could have that learning curve.

The Serena comparison is due to Osaka's style. On clay, she wins because of her talent, but like a younger Serena, once she actually learns how to play on it, the titles will come. She doesn't slide well, doesn't really construct points like on hard, but she has the ability to do what few can, and that is hit winners from a losing position. Fun to watch.

Stat of the Day-36- The number of women that have been #1 in doubles since the computer rankings started in 1984.

Four women came in with a chance to be #1, and that is still the case. Vesnina and Makarova were the leaders coming in, and are now the leaders in the clubhouse. A golfing term used when somebody puts up a low score early, but could still be passed. With both out in the same round, they could be #1 without having won a match, it just depends on what Chan and Babos do.

Also note that in regards to Babos, Vesnina, and Makarova, it is possible to just hold the top ranking for a week and drop it. There have been players that have held a ranking for only one week, but they all reached the top spot again.

Shortest #1 reign total? Rennae Stubbs, who held the top spot for 3 weeks, and Larisa Neiland, who held it for 4, but had 3 stints at #1.

Thu May 31, 08:54:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

And, remember, the previous two times Muguruza defeated Kuznetsova in a slam she went on to win it, too. She got her third win over in a major the other day. So Garbi might be doubling up on "telling signs."

Thu May 31, 10:35:00 AM EDT  

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