Jon Wertheim reports from Paris at the French Open on Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic's win, Dominic Thiem, Shelby Rogers and more.
PARIS – Best of five from the second Wednesday at Roland Garros.
• Serena Williams was supposed to play her fourth round on Monday. Two days later than expected, in difficult conditions, she was remarkably sharp, making semolina out of Elina Svitolina and winning 6–1, 6–1. Serena said at the beginning of the year that she was tailoring her schedule to peak for the majors. Today was a peak performance. The casual fan thinks, “She’s more powerful than everyone else.” True as that may be, it only tells some of the story. What a show of professionalism today. On a mushy court that blunts her power…at age 34….in the second week of a Slam…after rain delays that have messed with her rhythm…she beats a top 20 player 6–1, 6–1 in barely an hour, clubbing 27 winners against 17 unforced errors? That, friends, is a glimpse of greatness.
• As for the No. 1 men’s seed…. There are some matches that double as occasions to show off your virtuosity. There are other matches that necessitate going into survive-and-advance mode. Novak Djokovic took the latter route to advance to yet another French Open quarterfinal. In a match that started yesterday, he pounded-and-grounded Roberto Bautista Agut, winning in four dirt-flecked sets. He now needs to win three matches in four days to claim this elusive title. But maybe the compressed schedule helps, enabling/forcing him to focus on the tennis and not the occasion?
• As Serena looked indomitable, on the other side of the complex, her sister struggled. Venus Williams took a 2-0 lead over Timea Bacsinszky, the No. 8 seed from Switzerland. Bacsinszky then reeled off nine of the next ten games, winning 6–2, 6-4. A semifinalist last year, Bacsinszky can return to the Final Four by beating Kiki Bertens, a surprise quarterfinalist who beat an off-target Madison Keys today.
• When talk turns to the future stars of the ATP, Dominic Thiem’s name gets heavy rotation. Problem is: while Thiem wins often—only Djokovic has won more matches in 2016—he has yet to make a deep run a major. Until now. By beating Marcel Granollers today, Thiem is into the quarters and is one win way from cracking the top 10. For all the chaos and rain and Nadal’s withdrawal, the semis might pit No. 1 vs. a rising star; and No. 2 Murray vs. the defending champ (Stan Wawrinka, another winner today.)
• The run of Shelby Rogers—pride of the South Carolina Low Country—ended today. But not without a fight. With this new, swollen confidence, she battled Garbine Muguruza, the best player left in the draw not named Williams. Rogers held set point, couldn’t close and then retreated a bit, falling 7-5 6-3. Still it was a fine match; and a better tournament.
Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet him @jon_wertheim.
I'm sure you'll be deluged with emails about this, so let me just add to the pile: I think Sam Stosur will be in the Hall, no question. She's only got one Grand Slam in singles and one runner-up, but she's got two Grand Slam doubles plus five runner-ups, plus three Grand Slam mixed doubles! In fact, in all the permutations and combinations, she's won a career Grand Slam: Australian Open, mixed, 2005; U.S. Open, doubles, 2005; French Open, doubles, 2006; Wimbledon, mixed, 2008; U.S. Open, singles, 2011; Wimbledon, mixed, 2014.
In this day and age, that's actually pretty unheard of and kind of awesome, to be so good in so many variations. She's actually had two careers, as a doubles specialist and then as a legitimate singles threat. In my book, for her kick serve, her gorgeous forehand, and her delightful personality, she's the epitome of a Hall of Famer. For someone who's never dominated her sport, she's done quite well for herself. Compare her career to, say, Svetlana Kuznetsova, holder of two Grand Slam singles and two doubles titles, a probable Hall of Fame, too, for her two Grand Slam singles titles. I'd think Stosur is actually more deserving.
Thank you for your great work, as always—I'm not there this year (I was at Roland Garros last year and the year before!), but reading you is the next best thing...
• I wouldn’t say “deluged.” Paris has set the standard for that. I would say “sprinkled” with objection. I bristle at the Hall of Fame questions sometimes because they have the appearance of denigrating—or at least picking apart—great careers. And you make a compelling case for Stosur. So do others. Philip writes: “Considering that our Sammy has somehow gone and done Grand Slam Champion in Singles, Doubles, and Mixed Doubles... then yes, she gets in.”
Stosur, I should add, maxed out the “good citizen in the tennis community” criteria. The next person to speak ill of her will be the first. I just don’t see how you can enshrine someone with one major and a career-high ranking of No. 4.
Love your mailbags. In a recent tweet you compared Thiem's backhand with Haas' backhand. My humble observation: Thiem is a power hitter and more in the mold of Wawrinka. He hits a heavy backhand. Haas' is a thing of beauty—lots of variety and aesthetically pleasing–Gasquet hits like that but perhaps with a little less variety.
—Venky Chakravarthy, Ann Arbor, Mich.
• Let's go horse’s mouth. We asked Thiem today, and he identifies more with Stan than with Gasquet.
Hope you are staying somewhat dry! Although I find the rain during tennis events frustrating, I find the push to put a roof on every major outdoor stadium extreme. Clay, in particular, is unique in that play can continue under light rain, which creates interesting match conditions.
Besides, rain delays can be fun too! The infamous 2008 Wimbledon final was not just a two-man epic. The British weather was almost as great an antagonist on that day as was Mr. Federer himself. It'd be a shame to bid farewell (au revoir?) to that dramatic element altogether.
Simultaneously, I do understand the challenge of producing tennis for fans, both onsite and for a televised audience. I'm curious how you feel?
—Brennan, Durham, N.C.
• Here’s a dirty secret of sports in 2016: it’s all about the television. Media rights are the stanchions, supporting the entire enterprise. If it were just about ticketholders (and players) you could get by with rain delays and rescheduling. (And you raise a good point: there’s something quirky—fun, even—about the weather variable.) But you need a roof to ensure that television has guaranteed live programming at all times.
I was watching Tennis Channel as you and Bret discussed the decision for the French Open tournament to play in adverse conditions. Although you made some good points, I felt that your basic argument that this is a “tough subjective” call for the tournament was unpersuasive. We have the technology to weigh tennis balls. The tournament could easily weigh and replace “heavy” balls during change overs or upon request. Defining the replacement threshold weight would be necessary, but very doable. A player like Radwanska, del Potro, or Keys could risk an entire season trying to “hit through” wet balls given their prior injuries. This way, players are offered some protection from injury, and the tournament can keep to schedule. Thoughts?
While we are on the topic, we also have the technology to measure sun light. This is another subjective call that can be removed from the equation for both the French Open and Wimbledon.
—Problem solving in Chicago
• You’re expecting a tournament with no roof, no Hawk-eye and an on-site newsstand to employ this level of technology? Seriously, you raise a good point. Here’s reader Patrick Finley of La Verne, Calif.: “There's been a lot of controversy about the players having to hit wet, heavy balls during the rainy days at Roland Garros. Why don't they simply have a rule that allows the officials to shuffle fresh balls in after every 3-5 games, rather than the normal 7-9 games? They use eight to ten dozen baseballs in a MLB game and a pitcher can ask that an unused ball be discarded if he's unhappy with it for any reason.”
Long time, no see (I'm speaking of my presence on the Mailbag)! Given Petra Kvitova’s wildly schizophrenic play, would it be reasonable to label her the modern day Goran Ivanisevic? Spectacular and consistent at Wimbledon where their lefty serves dominated, but flashy and vulnerable at all other venues. I see in both a similar split personality, no pun intended.
—Cheers, Anand, Lowell, Mass.
• Nice! You couldn't find more opposed personalities. (Thinking Petra will not be bragging about all the times she’s left the club only to find that the sun has come up.) But in terms of results, Wimbledon success and lefty unpredictability, that’s a pretty strong comparison.