PARIS – Five thoughts from Day 11 on Wednesday at the French Open, where Novak Djokovic completed Tennis' Ultimate Takedown in defeating Rafael Nadal on Chatrier, Serena Williams eases into the semifinals over Errani, Andy Murray continued his clay court dominance with a win over David Ferrer and Timea Bacsinszky continues her run.
• The “Quarter of the Century,” as it was called, the quarterfinal serving as the de facto final of the 2015 French Open. While the Rafael Nadal–Novak Djokovic match will not go down as a classic, it will go down as one of the great tennis statements. On the Big Court today, Djokovic dethroned The King, beating Nadal in straight sets, 7–5, 6–3, 6-1 at the event he has owned since 2005. Djokovic completed Tennis’ Ultimate Takedown with ruthless efficiency. He pinned Nadal behind the baseline and, once in superior position, unloaded precise shot after precise shot. Djokovic didn't just beat just beat the tar out of Nadal. He's doing something worse: beating the confidence out of him. Congratulate Nadal on a great run. But it was Djokovic’s moment and he met it.
• The tennis axiom: “If you want to get to Serena, get to Serena early.” In Week One, there were some brushes with disaster. Anna-Lena Friedsam, Victoria Azarenka and Sloane Stephens each took a set off of the World No.1. But Serena prevailed and now she’s in the proverbial Beast Mode. Today’s victim, Sara Errani, in a 6–1, 6–3 mow down that was about as suspenseful as the score suggests. With no top five players remaining, you have to think it would be a stunning result if Serena weren’t to win this title.
• The Timea Bacsinszky story continues. The veteran, as you likely know, had quit tennis and was aspiring to become Swiss answer to Conrad Hilton. Then she got the bug to play tennis again. Here she is, a French Open semifinalist, guaranteed 450,000 Euros, her ranking rocketing up. She reached the fourth round on Wednesday, beating surprise opponent Alison Van Uytvanck in straight sets. It's hard to imagine her beating Serena, her next opponent. But she has played her tough in their two previous matches. And her precise slugging, on the backhand side especially, could give Serena issues.
• Andy Murray gamely knew that he was playing second fiddle today.
But he played it masterfully. As Djokovic and Nadal attracted all the attention, Murray showed off his polished clay court skills against David Ferrer. Avenging a quarterfinal defeat to Ferrer in 2012, Murray beat Ferrer 7–6, 6–2, 5–7, 6–1. That’s the good news. The bad: he now is obligated to try and upend Djokovic.
• We’ll have plenty more time to discuss Djokovic pulling off Tennis’ Ultimate Takedown and now in positioning to win the Career Slam. But spend a second on Nadal. He not only lost his lease on Roland Garros today but will fall out of the Top Ten. It’s unclear whether, given truth serum, he truly believes he can beat Djokovic. (“A brutal confidence smash,” as Paul Annacone put it.) One of Nadal’s great virtues is his humility. Asked whether anyone else could win this event nine years, he nodded. “If I could do it, why couldn't someone else?” Here’s hoping Nadal finds his self-belief. The sport is better when he’s at the highest echelon.
A few Q/A
If Serena can get her act together and play the kind of tennis she is capable of, this should be her 20th GS title. Her head-to-head against the remaining players in the draw is 26-1: She leads Errani 8-0, leads Bacsinszky 2-0, leads Safarova 8-0, leads Ivanovic 8-1.
• This was sent before Serena’s match today against Errani. But it raises a few points in Serena’s favor. A) This doesn't even include her ritual defeats of Sharapova and Azarenka. What does it say about Serena that her losses are more likely to come to lesser player than the top tenners who are, notionally anyway, her rivals? B) It’s one thing to raise the level of your play against the top players (i.e. Shrapova in the Aussie Open finals). It’s another kind of pressure to come through when you’re expected to trounce the opposition.
I was thinking that the ITF should get Bernandes to umpire tomorrow's mouthwatering QF between Rafa and The Djoker. It would be the perfect way to get the Brazilian and the Spaniard back on court together without everyone's sole focus being on the interaction between the two men, and end talk of tennis' governing bodies being partial towards Rafa and other top players. (You'd think he wouldn't be happy to see an umpire he believes to be biased against him in the chair for such a big match.)
—Your avid reader, Sheba.
• I didn't happen so it’s a moot point. Cedric Maurier was in the chair. Interesting idea, but think about the flip side. If there were an incident—for or against Nadal—the obvious storyline: this was either a make-up call or a continuation of the Rio dispute. And how could officials have put the two together for such an important match?
We hear so much about how Sharapova has improved so much on clay and how she is possibly the best clay courter. But commentators seem to ignore the flip side of that—she is becoming uncompetitive off of clay. Her first grand slam was Wimbledon but that was over a decade ago. She hasn't done anything memorable at the U.S. Open since she won it in 2006. I think a draw is going to have to open up immensely for her to win a Slam besides the French at this point. Kvitova beat her easily in her last Wimbledon final. Azarenka made it look easy in the Aussie 2012 final. Your thoughts?
• I think that’s a bit harsh. Her last four Australian Opens: Final, SF, 4R, Final. The dirty secret about Sharapova: she is a limited player. Not a standout athlete. Not a natural volley-er. The shoulder surgery not only robbed her of optimal years but caused her to retool her serve. Her image is predicated on elegance; yet she is a dirty worker, tennis’ answer to a gym rat. She’s one of the great overachievers.
Is it possible one of the reasons why the top women’s seeds—with the exception of Serena and maybe Sharapova—are faltering so badly at the Slams is because they have become way too dependent on on-court coaching to get them out of tough spots during their matches? Meaning at the Slams where they have to stand on their own they are clueless on what to do in difficult situations. This is painfully obvious in the case of Caroline Wozniacki for example. I always felt it was a bad idea; it’s created a generation of mentally and tactically weak players.
• On-court coaching is an unqualified disaster. A few of you—and multiple Hall of Fame WTA players—have raised a similar point. Just the fact that fans are positing that players are losing in majors in part because of an “innovation” in Tour events is troubling.
OK, can we come to a compromise? Enforce time violations strictly, but increase the time between points.
• How about simply following the rules? Just shave 10% off your pre-serve ritual and this ceases to become as issue. Nadal does so much right and is sporting in so many respects. Why he wouldn’t conform and comply on this issue is mystifying.
SNAPSHOTS FROM DAY 11
French Open Day 11
Serena d. Errani 6–1, 6–3.