Friday, June 01, 2018

RG.6- Doctor Who? Doctor Her!

For all that Elina Svitolina has accomplished, her inability to get over the hump in the majors is starting to become a THING. And unless that THING change soon, it'll only grow BIGGER and BIGGER until she stakes it in the heart once and for all.

But while the Ukrainian's loss before the semifinal stage (and this time before even the second week) is the big story (again), so is the win by Mihaela Buzarnescu (for the first time).

#4 Svitolina, fresh off her successful Rome title defense and one year after she led Simona Halep by a set and 5-1 and had a MP for her maiden slam semifinal berth, came to Paris as one of the favorites to win one of the more wide open (for a good reason -- SO MANY players have been on top of their games this clay season, and some of the sport's biggest names were back in the mix) slams in quite some time. While the Ukrainian would never admit to believing such a thing, she *knew* what people were saying. There's a certain pressure inherent in such a situation, especially for a player, no matter how many title runs she's had and how many top ranked players she's beaten, who has yet to taste any real slam success.

Meanwhile, #31 Buzarnescu is just happy to be here, and *thrilled* to be winning. The 30-year old Romanian lefty has been one of the best stories in the sport over the past year. After a nice junior career, her pro efforts were thwarted by a series of injuries. A shoulder injury when she was 18, then a knee injury in 2012 that was continually painful and seemed to spell the end of her tennis dreams. She even began to plan for her racket-less future, just in case. During her breaks, she became a Ph.D student in Sports Science at the National University of Physical Education and Sport in Bucharest. After starting to play team matches in the Netherlands last year, her knee stopped hurting. And she was off.

Buzarnescu, outside the Top 500 last January, led the ITF with seven singles titles in 2017. She was #377 when Roland Garros was being played last spring. But soon she was back in the Top 150, and reached her first slam (and tour-level) MD as a qualifier at the U.S. Open. She lost to Caroline Wozniacki. In her second tour-level MD, in Linz, she reached the semifinals, once again as a qualifier. After ending the '17 season at #72 she was an automatic qualifier for the Australian Open, where she again lost to Wozniacki. Over the course of '18, Buzarnescu has reached a pair of WTA singles finals, and won her maiden tour-level doubles crown. She posted her first Top 10 win over Alona Ostapenko, and managed to be ranked high enough to be seeded at this Roland Garros.

Earlier this week, she got her first career MD win at a major over Ajla Tomljanovic, then got another with a defeat of Viktoria Kuzmova. Up next was Svitolina.

While men's #2 Alexander Zverev was fighting for his RG life on Chatrier, and former champ Novak Djokovic was smashing rackets en route to victory on Lenglen, Buzarnescu was on Court One going from "Doctor Who?" to "Doctor Her."

Playing with aggression and confidence worthy of someone with a bushel of slam MD wins (and maybe more), Buzarnescu jumped on Svitolina and dared her to fight back. She tried, but it was never enough. The Romanian took the 1st set 6-3, holding a 14-3 edge in winners, winning 72% of first serve points (to Svitolina's 50%), and even 60% of her second, while converting both of her BP chances. Svitolina mostly righted her problems in the 2nd set, but still found herself in a dogfight. Buzarnescu led 17-8 in winners, but Svitolina's late break for 5-4 after displaying great defense and seeing the Romanian miss an overhead gave her a chance to serve out the set. She held a SP, but was broken and soon found herself serving two games later just to STAY in the match while down 6-5. The Ukrainian went up 40/15, but squandered the lead and was MP down. Her rally-ending backhand error secured a 6-3/7-5 win for Buzarnescu, the Swarmette's first career Top 5 victory and maiden slam Round of 16 result.

For a player known for her calm, collected approach, Svitolina *is* prone to frustrated outbursts (a racket toss at the end of the 1st set) and surprising lapses in concentration in big moments on big stages. After her worst RG result since 2014, another moment arrived when she had to answer tough questions and vow to learn from her experience.

She told, "“It's really, really bad for me that I couldn't go through the tough moments with a good attitude in this match." “I wish I could play better. I wish I could move better and do the better selection of shots. But it was tough, and I couldn't fight through the tough moments. I wish I could do something different, but it's done now." “Days like this, they can happen. Next time, hopefully I can handle it better. I had the chances in this match, but I didn't take them. Cannot do anything now. Just have to go back on court and work my way back. Just try to be positive and work for my next chance.”

For Buzarnescu, it's a whole new and brilliant day tomorrow. And then another the day after that. As we've seen so often on tour in recent years, the prospect of *not* having career success, or losing that career altogether, has a tendency to infuse a player's attitude and game with a lightness that can't help but produce success. Just being able to compete is glorious, and winning at all is suddenly divine. When they think less about the pressure of success, more of it just so happens to come their way.

Hmmm... maybe there's a lesson in there somewhere.

...we know what #13 Madison Keys is capable of, even on clay these days. Now if she could just stay on the court and play a full twelve-month stretch, she might challenge for some really big things.

The Bannerette showed once more today against #21 Naomi Osaka how much she's grown in recent seasons, after for so long existing in a universe where any loss was a one bad moment away. Keys had a MP in the 2nd for a straight sets win over the Indian Wells champ, but failed to convert it. She soon fell behind 4-1 in the tie-break and faced two SP for Osaka. A few years ago, she might have fallen apart in a hail of unforced errors. But not today. Instead she battled back to win the TB 9-7 and take the match 6-1/7-6(7) to improve to 3-0 against Osaka, a player whose game resembles her own enough to set up a really interesting down-the-road career comparison when it comes to seeing what they might ultimately accomplish by the times their careers are finished.

This is Keys' second Round of 16 in Paris in the last three years, and she's one win away from becoming the latest player to complete a Career QF Slam. Keys has reached the 4th Round in ten of the last thirteen slams she's played (and 9 of 11).

...#14 Dasha Kasatkina continues to quietly progress through the draw. She did finally play a three-setter today vs. Greek Maria Sakkari, but the match wasn't a long, drawn-out battle that took three hours and forced the Russian to save MP or something like that. That's often how these sort of things go for the player with "all the shots" who often ends up having to use them all so often in the early-going of tournaments that she doesn't have enough left to complete her mission at the end of the event. She won today by a 6-1/1-6/6-3 score, reaching her first career RG Round of 16, her second 4th Round result in her last three majors.

Her win secures a Hordette berth in the Round of 16 for the 68th time in the last 71 slams, and for the eighteenth straight year in Paris.

...Yulia Putintseva finally put an end to the career slam run of Wang Qiang, but she had to come back from a 6-1/4-1 deficit, then climb out of a 3-0 hole in the 3rd, as well, before ultimately getting a 1-6/7-5/6-4 win to reach her second career slam Round of 16 (w/ '16 RG QF). She then celebrated the way only she can... other matches, #26 Barbora Strycova advanced to her first career RG Round of 16 (fifth career at a major, with only the U.S. Open having not yet been graced by her presence in a 4th Round match) with a 6-2/6-3 win over fellow Czech Katerina Siniakova.

#2 Caroline Wozniacki took down French wild card Pauline Parmentier 6-0/6-3. The Dane has dropped just five matches in five sets since being taken to a 1st set TB in the opening round by Danielle Collins. She'll face Kasatkina in the Round of 16, looking to get her first 2018 win over the Russian in their third meeting of the season.

Rain pushed the Kvitova/Kontaveit and Stephens/Giorgi matches to first-up spot on Saturday's schedule. doubles action, the Williams Sisters posted another win over Sara Errani/Kirsten Flipkens, although you wonder if Serena DOES get deep into the singles draw if they might pull up stakes on this effort if, say, it rains and the matches begin to be scheduled too closely together and/or Serena begins to tire a bit after not playing so many matches in such a short time for quite a while.

Sorana Cirstea & Sara Sorribes Tormo defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova/Lucie Safarova, as yet another of the "makeshift" doubles duo are out early.

Something I missed yesterday: after the Latvian pair of Ostapenko and Sevastova both lost in the 1st Round in singles, earning their country the "Nation of Lost Souls" designation for this RG, then both dropped their opening doubles matches, too... well, wouldn't you know it, Ostapenko & Max Mirnyi lost THEIR first match in the MX competition on Thursday. Thankfully, Sevastova didn't even enter the mixed doubles.

So, yes, the Latvian women went a combined 0-5 at this Roland Garros. I hope they at least bought themselves a lousy t-shirt or two.

...THE "WHY SHOULD ANYONE BE SURPRISED AWARD?" ON DAY 6: Tennis Channel's pathetic non-coverage of the Svitolina/Buzarnescu match. The #4-seed entered as one of the tournament favorites, yet TC not only couldn't bother to show a single live point of the match on its over-the-air channel, but didn't even give a scoring update as the match was playing out until Svitolina was serving down 6-5 in the 2nd. And even then it had to share a triple viewing screen with the Djokovic match (big) and the Venus/Serena DOUBLES 2nd Rounder.

It was one thing to focus on men's #2 Alex Zverev's dramatic day while his match was all going on, but once he'd escaped and won the coverage should have shifted to Svitolina/Buzarnescu rather than go 100% to the middle-of-the-3rd set Djokovic match. The Serb, while a former champ, is the #20 seed and currently NOT a favorite at THIS RG.

Apparently, from what I read, Eurosport ignored the match, as well.

...LIKE ON DAY 6: It's still cool to play under the Eiffel Tower...



...and, finally, it's Justine Henin's 36th birthday... so, she's *still* younger than Serena. Weird how that works out, huh?

Yes, it's day of the year once again. A moment to pay tribute to the Belgian great, aka in these parts as "La Petit Taureau," or maybe "The (original) Face of Backspin." Has it really been over seven years since she played her last match? Yep, it has.

QUICK QUIZ: Name one of the last two players Henin defeated in the 2011 Australian Open, her final event, and the player who defeated her in her final match. Hint: One of the wins came against a player not necessarily known for her singles career, while the loss came against one of the tour's most beloved (and still active) former slam champions.

Of course, on a big day such as this, some congratulations are in order...

As well as a little reminiscing about LPT's most lasting contribution to the sport, the beauty of her one-handed backhand...

QUIZ ANSWERS: As the #11 seed, Henin's final two wins in the AO in '11 were against Sania Mirza and the late Elena Baltacha. She lost to #23 Svetlana Kuznetsova in the 3rd Round, then officially ended her Hall of Fame career on January 26, citing continuing issues with the elbow injury she'd incurred at Wimbledon the previous summer.

It is on this day that Backspin presents the Coupe LA PETIT TAUREAU to a worthy honoree in action on June 1...

Two years ago, the inaugural winner of the award was Yulia Putintseva, a player who'd posted a win on LPT's birthday *and* who'd admitted to watching Henin videos on YouTube for inspiration. And, of course, she also tends to sports a very Justine-like cap on the court, as well.

Last year's honoree was Elina Svitolina. In 2016, she was a pupil of Henin, who served as one of the Ukrainian's coaches. Svitolina's progresses seemed to take larger steps during and immediately following her time with LPT. She'd lost on June 1st that year, with Justine in the stands, in the Round of 16 in Paris to Serena Williams by a 6-1/6-1 score. It was one of the few low points in a season full of success. A year later in 2017, having seen her confidence grow so much over the course of twelve months (it was soon after that RG loss to Serena that Svitolina posted her first of now six career #1 wins, besting Williams in the Olympics). On this day during last year's Roland Garros, Svitolina posted a win over Tsvetana Pironkova, then noted that her confidence had gotten her through the three-set match against the Bulgarian. Of course, she'd go on to hold a set and 5-1, with MP, lead vs. Simona Halep in the QF, only to crash out of the event by dropping a love 3rd set to the Romanian.

Both Putintseva and Svitolina were in action yet again on June 1 at this Roland Garros. The Kazakh may have been in line to pick up her second Coupe de LPT with her comeback from 6-1/4-1 deficit against Wang Qiang, but it turned out that the player who DEFEATED Svitolina ultimately earned the honors, as #31 Mihaela Buzarenscu defeated the #4 seed in straight sets to reach her maiden slam Round of 16 in just her third career MD at a major. Buzarnescu started the week without a slam MD match win in her career, just now taking off at age 30 after many seasons bedeviled by injuries. During her time off, she went to go to school and become a Ph.D student while she contemplated her future in the sport.

And, of course, now it's time for another round of what has become a time-honored tradition at Backspin on LPT Day. Come on, you might know the words...

[with honor and amends to Charles M. Schulz]

=Linus Speech on The True Meaning of Justine Henin Day=

Charlie Brown: Isn’t there anyone, who knows what Justine Henin Day is all about?!
Linus Van Pelt: Sure Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Justine Henin Day is all about. Lights please?

And there were on the Roland Garros grounds ball kids,
abiding in the corners of the court,
keeping watch over their stock by night.
And, lo, the Tennis Gods came upon them,
and Their glory shone round about them!
And they were sore afraid.

And the Tennis Gods said unto them,
“Fear not! For, behold, We bring you tidings o great joy,
which shall be to all the people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of Liege a Savior,
which is Justine,
La Petit Taureau.

And this shall be a sign unto you:
Ye shall find the Belgian babe wrapped in swaddling clothes,
lying in an empty racket bag.”
And suddenly, there was with the Tennis Gods
a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising Justine, and saying,
“Glory to LPT in the Highest,
and on Earth peace,
and good will toward Kim.

That’s what Justine Henin Day is all about, Charlie Brown.

Until next year, Justine.

x vs. x
x vs. x
x vs. x
x vs. x
#26 Barbora Strycova/CZE vs. Yulia Putintseva/KAZ
#13 Madison Keys/USA vs. #31 Mihaela Buzarnescu/ROU
x vs. x
#14 Dasha Kasatkina/RUS vs. #2 Caroline Wozniacki/DEN

2016 Yulia Putintseva, KAZ
2017 Elina Svitolina, UKR
2018 Mihaela Buzarnescu, ROU

*RG "Légion de Lenglen" WINNERS*
[formerly "Joie De Vivre" Award, 2011-15]
2011 Virginie Razzano, FRA
2012 Virginie Razzano, FRA
2013 Serena Williams, USA
2014 Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
2015 Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2016 Alize Lim, FRA
2017 Caroline Garcia, FRA
2018 Serena Williams, USA

TOP QUALIFIER: Francesca Schiavone/ITA
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): #4 Elina Svitolina/UKR (def. Tomljanovic/Kuzmova in straights)
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): 1st Rd.: Irina-Camelia Begu/ROU def. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova/SVK 6-4/5-7/9-7 (Begu served for match at 5-3 3rd; AKS saved triple MP at 8-7; Begu converts MP #4 for 3:19 win, denying AKS first slam MD victory since 2015)
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 combined 0-3 in WD/MX, as well)
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: Dolehide/USA, Dulgheru/ROU, Duque-Marino/COL, Frech/POL, Garcia-Perez/ESP, Peterson/SWE (all 2nd Rd.)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Pauline Parmentier/FRA (in 3rd Rd.)
LAST PASTRY STANDING: In 3rd Rd.: Garcia, Parmentier(L)
IT "??": xx
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominees: S.Williams, Sharapova
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.); Gavrilova (down set and 5-2 & MP vs. Pera in 2nd Rd.)
Légion de Lenglen HONOREE: Serena Williams/USA (The Catsuit/Bodysuit II)
Coupe LA PETIT TAUREAU: Mihaela Buzarnescu/ROU [on LPT Day/June 1, #31 seed upset #4-seed, and one-time Henin pupil, Svitolina to record her first career Top 5 win and reach maiden slam Rd. of 16 -- she had zero slam MD win before this RG]

All for Day 6. More tomorrow.


Blogger Diane said...

Though Buzarnescu's story is more dramatic, it isn't unlike Siegemund's (Laura has stopped at a masters degree--for now).

Not to take anything away from Buzarnescu's stunning performance, but Svitolina is just digging a deeper and deeper hole, isn't she?

Fri Jun 01, 10:26:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Especially if Halep were to actually win a slam, as then all the "she hasn't won a major" pressure will shift onto her shoulders. So far, she's avoided a lot of that due to Simona's more high-profile struggles, but so far hasn't taken advantage of being a bit more out of the spotlight. It's only going to become more and more of a THING, and she'd better get on it pronto.

Sat Jun 02, 06:27:00 AM EDT  
Blogger colt13 said...

Kvitova going out isn't a bad loss, Pliskova by scoreline is, although we kind of knew that her strength would be negated by Sharapova's ROS.

Stat of the Day-4- Number of times the last 10 years that a Top 4 seed has gone out in the 3rd rd or earlier to a player without a WTA title.

Seeds going out early is a normal thing, in fact, 12 Top 4 seeds have gone out before the 4th rd the last 10 years. But the 4 that were able to win without a title?

Buzarnescu d Svitolina 2018
Mladenovic d Li 2014
Tomljanovic d Radwanska 2014
Rus d Clijsters 2011

If you thing I forgot Muguruza defeating Williams, I did not, as Muguruza had 1 title-Hobart.

Of the 4, Buzarnescu is probably the most accomplished at the time, as Rus has never reached a final, and Mladenovic did not reach her first until the next year, and took 3 to win one.

What we saw is a rarity. But Buzarnescu is positioned to win a title, on clay or hard.

Sat Jun 02, 11:09:00 AM EDT  
Blogger colt13 said...

And as a postscript, Buzarnescu does it again. Buzarnescu/Bara d Chan/Mattek-Sands, so we are guaranteed a new doubles #1. And a sitting #1 still hasn't won since last year's French Open, when Mattek-Sands did so.

Sat Jun 02, 11:14:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

See, it *was* just a matter of time. :P

Sat Jun 02, 01:09:00 PM EDT  

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