Women's favorites remain, top men win with physical tennis as quarterfinals begin

Monday June 5th, 2017

PARIS – Five thoughts from the second Monday at the 2017 French Open, where fourth round play wrapped up and the quarterfinalists secured their spots in the final eight in the men's and women's draws.

“In the absence of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, the women’s draw is one giant, gaping chasm.”

This was the received wisdom before the 2017 French Open kicked off. To some extent this has come to pass. At the halfway mark of the tournament, we were already assured that a first-time Slam winner would emerge. And yet most of the favorites remain. Simona Halep, a finalist three years ago and the third seed, is back to playing top-shelf tennis. She stormed past Carla Suarez Navarro 6-1, 6-1 on Monday.

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Elina Svitolina—who’s already won four titles year—stole victory from the mandible of defeat, beating Petra Martic after being down 2-5, 0-30 in the third set. And Karolina Pliskova, the second seed, required three sets, but held off Veronica Cepede Royg in three sets. Say this about the favorites: they’ve played like it.

“The sport has never been more physical.” 

That’s more received wisdom in tennis. And we got a vivid display on Monday at Roland Garros, an afternoon of body blows. Two competitors may not touch each other until the handshake. But that doesn’t mean they don’t impose their physical will on the opponent. Kei Nishikori didn’t show up for the first set against Fernando Verdasco but then put on the hurt, winning by the unusual score 0-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-0.

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Likewise, Stan Wawrinka brutalized Gael Monfils with his heavy strokes and corner-to-corner accuracy, winning in straight sets. And Kevin Anderson lasted just 12 games against Marin Cilic before retiring with a left thigh injury. We talk about the “last man standing” as the draw winnows and is pruned of players. Here, more than any other event, it can be taken literally.

More thoughts on French Open Day 9:

Andy Murray speaks on recent terrorism attacks, how it impacts his perspective

Monday June 5th, 2017

Andy Murray won on Monday over promising 21-year-old Russian Karen Khachanov. As usual, he played his best when the situation called for it. As usual, he worse a dour mask on the court. As usual, he had a few choice remarks for his section. As usual, he was thoughtful and endearing the minute the match ended.

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There are some athletes whom you admire when they compete; and then they are otherwise jerks who command little respect. Murray may be the opposite. His on-court demeanor may be an acquired taste, but you’d hard be pressed to find a better bloke after the match. Herewith some outtakes from a Tennis Channel interview today:

 

“Its tough because especially when it’s close to where you live. Maybe it affects you more because you think that could be you or people that you know,” Murray said. “It’s been a tough week for the U.K. obviously but I think they showed pretty good solidarity….You just have to try to stay strong and hopefully try to find some solutions for these issues.”

Kristina Mladenovic details falling out with former doubles partner Caroline Garcia

Monday June 5th, 2017

Kristina Mladenovic caused a bit of a kerfuffle with this first person column she wrote for the website Sport 360. She had some particularly choice words for her former doubles partner, Caroline Garcia. To wit:

“It’s very sad that it turned out like this, from her side, because what really happened is that she just decided that she wanted to stop playing doubles and she just sent me a poor message over the phone.

I would have understood any reason she would have given me to stop playing together—anything she would’ve told me I would’ve totally agreed and respected. But she didn’t have the courage or human values to come and talk to me face-to-face and say ‘Listen Kiki, I have these goals, I see it like this, I want to stop for that reason,’ but that didn’t happen.

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So I was extremely disappointed about that. We met in Indian Wells in the ice bath and she was surprised I was actually cold with her. She wanted to know why I was cold and I was like, ‘You’re asking me? I know we weren’t necessarily friends outside of the court but at least what we shared and lived through, our beautiful tennis results, you could have at least thought to see me face-to-face and tell me after all we’ve been through. You didn’t do that so I was very disappointed with you and I’m disappointed.’”

You seldom mind athletes who traffic in candor, though there is undoubtedly another side to this story. Regardless, doubles’ loss is singles’ gain. Here we are down to the elite eight and both are still in the draw. Mladenovic took out defending champ Garbine Muguruza on Sunday. A day later, Garcia had her way with countrywoman Alize Cornet, winning 6-2, 6-4.

And little trivia to close out the day. Karolina Pliskova, the second seed, closed out Veronica Cepede Royg 6-4 in the third set. Had Royg won, she would have become the first Paraguayan woman to reach the round of 16 since Rossana de los Rios in 2000. Who was de los Rios’ first round opponent that year? Scroll down for the answer below.

Snapshots from Day 9

Answer: Mirka Federer (née Vavrinec.)

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