PARIS, May 31, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Karolina Pliskova came into this year’s French Open coming off a title run in Rome, her third career clay-court title. The World No. 2 had reached the quarterfinals or better in seven of the last 10 Grand Slams – more than anyone else – and she was a Roland Garros semifinalist two years ago.
However, Pliskova has always had difficulty with No. 31 seed Petra Marta of Croatia. Although the No. 2 seed finally beat Martic for the first time in four head-to-head clashes, earlier this year in Miami, the Croatian had Pliskova’s number three times between 2009 and 2013, including at the 2013 Wimbledon. With Martic tied for the most main draw wins on clay (13) with Kiki Bertens and Maria Sakkari, both since eliminated from this year’s competition, not only was she looking to claim sole possession of first place, she was also attempting to reach the round of 16. Martic recently lifted the trophy at Istanbul, her first WTA title, for a reason: she’s a solid clay-court player.
On Friday, the 28-year-old Martic didn’t waste any time on Court Philippe Chatrier – just one hour and 25 minutes – and she took it to Pliskova, 6-3, 6-3, to be the first to advance to the fourth round. Martic emphatically served an ace – her only one – on her first match-point opportunity, after saving three break points, then closed her eyes as she raised both of her arms in victory. It was her fourth win against a Top 10 opponent. Martic’s topspin and variety of shots – and her graceful movement on the red clay – outplayed Pliskova’s power game.
“Martic held her own and she gave a really impressive performance,” said Martina Navratilova, a two-time Roland Garros champion, in analyzing the match for Tennis Channel. “She just never let up the gas. She believed in her game plan and executed it perfectly. What an opportunity now.”
Martic finished with 14 winners, including five-for-five at the net, and caused Pliskova to commit 28 unforced errors. She won the last four games of the match, including two on service breaks.
“I knew that today I had to put up my game against hers and not let her dictate play because she’s really good at it,” said Martic during an on-court interview with Tennis Channel. “I’m happy I won. I hope this time I can go a step further.”
In defeat, Pliskova said, “Of course 6-3, 6-3 is not something I was hoping for today. I think she played well. For sure I could do better.”
By winning, Martic reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the fifth time – and third at Roland Garros – including twice in three years. She also took apart the lower half of the draw and by beating Pliskova, it means World No. 1 Naomi Osaka will remain at the top of the WTA Rankings after Roland Garros.
Next, Martic, who hasn’t dropped a set through the first three rounds, will face an unseeded opponent (either five-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi or Veronika Kudermetova, who took out No. 13 seed Caroline Wozniacki in the first round) while looking to achieve her first career Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Sevastova outlasts Mertens
No. 12 seed Anastasija Sevastova achieved her best Roland Garros effort in reaching the fourth round after outdueling No. 20 seed Elise Mertens, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 11-9, on Court Suzanne Lenglen. The match lasted three hours and 18 minutes, which included a one-hour and 48-minute third set. Sevastova fought off five match points in the final set from Mertens and broke the Belgian to go ahead 10-9. Then, the Latvian won on her own first match-point opportunity.
Around Roland Garros
• No. 14 seed Madison Keys of the United States completed her suspended match against Australian wild card Priscilla Hon and won 7-5, 5-7, 6-3. The match was halted by darkness following the second set on Thursday. Keys wrapped up the one hour and 44 minute match with 15 service aces and hit 34 winners. She outpointed the No. 132 Hon, 108-98, and will next face No. 117 Anna Blinkova of Russia.
• No. 27 seed Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine advanced over No. 76 Aleksandra Krunic of Russia, 5-7, 7-5, 11-9, in a match that was suspended by darkness on Thursday evening with the scored tied at 6-6 in the third set and completed on Friday. Tsurenko overcame eight double faults, and 10 breaks of her service Krunic in winning. Next, she will play defending champion and No. 3 seed Simona Halep of Romania.
• Unseeded No. 38 Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic moved into the round of 16 with an impressive 6-4, 6-4 win over No. 28 seed Carla Suárez Navarro of Spain. It was their first meeting. Vondrousova, who is a perfect six-for-six in sets won, converted five of six break points against Suárez Navarro and hit 23 winners. The Czech, 19, is one of three teenagers – along with Iga Swiatek, who turned 18 on Friday, and 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova – who reached the third round.
What they’re saying
Monica Puig, 2016 Olympic gold medalist, was asked after her second-round win Thursday about what she thinks about the next generation of women’s professionals. The No. 59 Puig said: “It’s amazing. … We start very young, and we are very invested in our career, and we really take this seriously. So, it doesn’t surprise me to see so many girls coming in here and making a name for themselves. It says a lot about their maturity at such a young age and what they’re believing in themselves to do. I mean, you see Naomi (Osaka) at such a young age being World No. 1 and winning two Grand Slams. That in itself is impressive. And, it gives me goosebumps even to take about it because i know her, she’s a great girl, and I’m so happy to see what she’s doing.”
What they’re writing
Louisa Thomas, in “The Particular Drama of Simona Halep,” published May 29 by The New Yorker, writes: “She had talent to match the work ethic: she won the junior French Open in 2008, at the age of seventeen, turned pro, and broke into the Top 100. But it was not obvious that she would ever reach the top ten. Halep is small for a tennis player – she’s only five feet six – and she lacked a big serve and blistering shots. The larger problem was that she would sometimes fall apart. She went nearly a year, from May of 2012 to March of 2013, without winning two matches in a row. The Times once described one of her matches as ‘mesmerizing, like any passing calamity.’”