Thoughts on second round action at the French Open, where Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Venus Williams and teenager CiCi Bellis advanced.
PARIS – Four quick hits on Day 4 action at Roland Garros.
• Novak Djokovic has played six sets in the Agassi era. He has won six sets.
• Here’s Steve Johnson after an emotional win against Borna Coric.
• All hail doubles specialist Nick Kyrgios. The 18th-seed teamed with Jordan Thompson to take out second seeds Nicolas Mahut and Pierre Hugues Herbert in straight sets.
• Margaret Court is spewing hate again. Here’s a cut-and-paste damage control statement we offer free of charge from Tennis Australia: “While Margaret Court was a great tennis champion, we do not support and condone her recent remarks. While we have no plans to rename her eponymous stadium at this time, players who do not feel comfortable playing in Margaret Court Arena will be accommodated accordingly.”
Onward, to three more storylines on Wednesday at the French Open:
All hail the king. Inasmuch as Rafael Nadal’s 2017 French Open is shaping up as a seven-episode arc, Wednesday's show featured little drama or suspense.
Playing typically peerless clay tennis, Nadal practically pushed his pitiable opponent, Robin Haase, into a different arrondissement with his heavy strokes. He served well, never facing a break point. (“On this surface, he could hold serve serving underhanded,” says Jim Courier.)
He slugged away accuracy. He came to the net. He won 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 in a match that was not as close as an already lopsided score would indicate. Next up: Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili.
Correlation doesn’t equal causation but….On Wednesday afternoon, Venus Williams was tied 3-3 with her second round opponent, Japan’s Kurumi Nara, when the match was briefly interrupted by a pregnant woman taking her seat in the stands. It was Serena Williams, who made a quiet entrance.
From that point on, Venus won nine of the next 10 games and closed out an easy, breezy win. Nearly 37, Venus is going on a decade now since her last major singles title. But she’s striking the ball well. She benefits from the day off between matches. And with her sister sidelined, she has a legitimate chance to win five more matches.
We shouldn’t gloss over Bellis’ takedown of Bertens—a semifinalist here last year—and we won’t. When Bellis turned pro and declined playing college tennis, likely at Stanford, many questioned the decision. (Self included.) Here she is, barely 18, ensconced in the top 50 already (with little defend the rest of the year) and not paying much of a price for her modest physique. She has an innocence to her, but a level-headedness, too. She has a support group traveling with her. Her decision turns pro looks prudent right now. All the more so if she beats Caroline Wozniacki and reaches the middle weekend.
A note about lead-up tournaments ahead of majors: Bertens had no trouble beating Bellis in Rome two weeks ago. Bertens won the Nuremberg title week. On Wednesday, re-matched against Bellis, she fell in straight sets. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga may have won his first claycourt tournament last weekend in Lyon. Despite (because of?) this success, this 2017 French Open campaign was a failure. Tsonga took his first defeat in the first round since 2005, falling to Argentina’s Renzo Olivo 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-4. Daria Gavrilova reached the Strasbourg title on Saturday. She came here and promptly lost her first match. Some players need more rest than others. But those who really fancy themselves Grand Slam contenders might want to consult the data w/r/t playing the week before the four Big Shows.