PARIS, June 6, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
A day after rain washed out both remaining women’s quarterfinal-round matches at Roland Garros, the Parisian skies were smiling on Thursday. Each of the four competitors – defending champion Simona Halep, teenager Amanda Anisimova, 2018 semifinalist Madison Keys and eighth seed Ashleigh Barty – returned a day fresher and ready to resume their journey toward lifting the Suzanne Lenglen Cup, given to the women’s champion of the French Open.
While there has been been much turmoil in the women’s draw, with seeds dropping early and often, nobody expected Halep, the highest remaining seed at No. 3, to go down so quickly or easy in her quarterfinal match. But she did. It was the 17-year-old Anisimova from the United States who showed much poise and grace under pressure. She played determined tennis for 68 minutes in dethroning Halep, 6-2, 6-4, on Court Philippe Chatrier.
The victory elevated the No. 51 Anisimova, who came in as the first male or female player born in the 2000s to reach a major quarterfinal, into her first Grand Slam semifinal. She’s the youngest Roland Garros semifinalist since Nicole Vaidisova in 2006 – and, amazingly, during her fortnight run she hasn’t dropped a set.
“I really can’t believe the result today,” said Anisimova during her press conference. “And getting the opportunity to play against Simona, that’s amazing, but how it ended is even crazier to me.
“I was just trying to show my best tennis and trying to play different from what I normally play, because I knew I had to do something a little bit different just to get the win.
“I’m really happy with my performance today.”
Meanwhile, on Court Suzanne Lenglen, Barty reached her first Grand Slam semifinal with a cool and calculated 6-3, 7-5 win over the No. 14 seed Keys in 69 minutes. Already a Grand Slam doubles champion, Barty has been impressive on clay during her run to the last four.
Now, after two straight-set matches – finishing about a minute apart from each other, one a stunning upset and the other less so – Anisimova and Barty are each a step closer to playing in their maiden Grand Slam final.
Until Thursday, Halep had played steady and focused. Just three victories shy of successfully defending her 2018 French Open title, she began her run last week with back-to-back, three-set wins, then came on strong with victories over No. 27 seed Lesia Tsurenko (6-2, 6-1) and 18-year-old Iga Swiatek (6-1, 6-0). The Romanian had won 11 straight matches at Roland Garros going back to last year’s first round. Until Anisimova held serve to open the match, Halep had broken her opponents’ serve in 16 consecutive games going back to her second-round win over Magda Linette. However, both streaks would be broken by Anisimova.
As for Anisimova, her run to the quarterfinals included a take down of No. 11 seed Aryna Sabalenka for her third career Top 20 win. Earlier this season on clay, she won her first WTA title at Bogota.
As the Halep-Anisimova match unfolded, a couple of Hall of Fame greats who were analyzing the match for audiences in different parts of the world were both impressed by the teen:
“Oh my word,” exclaimed Chris Evert on Eurosport, as Anisimova clinched the first set with a winner.
“Does she belong here,” asked Martina Navratilova on Tennis Channel, broadcast in the United States. “Absolutely. She has nothing to lose.”
Anisimova played aggressively from the start and attacked Halep. She broke Halep in the sixth game of the first set to go ahead 4-2 and won the 27-minute opener 6-2 with another service break. Then, she followed it with her third break of Halep’s serve, sandwiched in between a couple of easy holds, for a quick 3-0 lead. It put Halep in a defensive posture.
Trailing 2-4, Halep got back on serve with her first break. Finally moving her feet, she won with a great return game as the first nerves began to show for Anisimova. They were short-lived, however, as Anisimova saved a break point to hold for 5-4 and won the match during the next game on her first match-point opportunity with a solid, down-the-line backhand winner. Anisimova finished with 25 winners and 24 unforced errors, while Halep hit 16 winners and committed 17 unforced errors. Anisimova outpointed Halep 68-52.
“I knew that she’s going to play very well, but she played great today. All credit to her, because she made a good match, a big match,” Halep said afterward. “I feel sad, because every time when I lose, I’m sad. And I’m a little bit upset because I couldn’t make my game. I couldn’t move normally.
“You know, I think she played great. I think that I have done everything I could today and this tournament. I’m happy with the result. It’s not bad at all to make (the) quarterfinals at a Grand Slam. Coming as a defending champion, the pressure was on. But I think I had good matches, and I’m leaving this tournament with positive thoughts.”
The other quarterfinal match, between the athletic Barty and World No. 14 Keys, featured the two biggest servers remaining in the women’s draw. Barty came in with 26 service aces and Keys has 21. It meant that there would be a premium on break-point opportunities.
Keys, who peaks on the biggest tennis stages and had been a second-week competitor in six of the past seven majors – including a final at the 2017 U.S. Open and a semifinal at Roland Garros last year – began the clay-court season with a title on green clay in Charleston. Barty, the only player ranked in the Top 10 in both singles and doubles, arrived at Roland Garros with one title this year at Miami, plus a semifinal finish at Madrid and a doubles title with Victoria Azarenka at Rome. She was looking to reach her first major semifinal.
Barty’s anticipation was sharp, and throughout, she showed intuition. Her point construction and ability to move about the court was supreme, and she out-thought Keys when it mattered most.
Barty converted her fourth set-point opportunity against the American to win the opening set 6-3. Then, she continued to dominate Keys in the second set. The Aussie would finish with 16 winners, including four service aces, and three breaks of Keys’s service. She first served for the match at 5-4, but was kept at bay by Keys, never with a match point. However, in her second opportunity, Barty served out the win at love. She won 80 percent (29 of 36) of her first serve-points. Although Keys wound up with eight aces, she committed 26 unforced errors and could never rattle Barty.
“I think that’s probably close to my best match that I have played over the last month, I think, on clay,” said Barty following her victory. “Yeah, I mean, for all of one little blemish there try to serve out the match in the first time.
“It was a really clean match. I felt like I was in control. I got the balls I wanted, and I was able to put the balls in difficult positions for Maddie. Really, really happy with how we went about it.”
Keys gave props to Barty during her press conference. She said, “She’s a really great player. I was going to have to play extremely well, and I feel like I just didn’t execute quite as well as I needed to today.”
On Friday, instead of enjoying a day of rest, it’s on to the semifinals for Anisimova and Barty. Meanwhile, No. 26 seed Johanna Konta and unseeded No. 38 Marketa Vondrousova, who advanced on Tuesday in drier climes, will play in the other semifinal match after enjoying two days off because of Wednesday’s rain that pushed back the schedule.
Around Roland Garros
On Thursday afternoon, tournament organizers announced that both women’s semifinals would be played simultaneously on separate courts Friday. Ashleigh Barty will face Amanda Anisimova on Court Suzanne Lenglen beginning at 11 a.m. while Johanna Konta will play Marketa Vondrousova on Court Simonne Mathieu at the same time.
In a press release, it said:
“Following a change in programme due to poor weather, the Roland-Garros tournament organizers have decided to give as many fans as possible the opportunity to attend the women’s singles semi-finals, which will be played on show courts.
“These two matches will be played at 11 am tomorrow, Friday, 7 June, on Courts Suzanne-Lenglen and Simonne-Mathieu, which will – exceptionally – be open to those with tickets to outside courts.
“For just €20 (€10 for under-20-year-olds), spectators will be able to enjoy these prestigious matches, as well as matches in the juniors, wheelchair tennis and Legends Trophy draws.
“New tickets for outside courts can now be purchased on the Roland-Garros ticketing website: https://tickets.rolandgarros.com
By the numbers
• It was 20 years ago Wednesday that Steffi Graf won her 22nd and final major title, defeating Martina Hingis 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 in the Roland Garros final.
• With her quarterfinal victory, Amanda Anisimova became the youngest American woman to reach a Grand Slam semifinal since Venus Williams at the 1997 U.S. Open. She’s also the youngest American woman to reach a Roland Garros semifinal since Jennifer Capriati in 1990.
What they’re saying
• No. 31 Petra Martic on processing her tough loss to No. 38 Marketa Vondrousova in the fourth round on Tuesday: “It’s hard. I still can’t make up my mind. I don’t know if I’m happy, sad, angry, disappointed, depressed. I think I’m all of it right now.
“I mean, I really fought as hard as I could. I think from the first match here until the last points today I really, yeah, I left it all. From that point of view, I’m really proud of myself and proud of this tournament.
“But of course, with (Marketa), to be in the quarterfinals, and, you know, to lose so close, I felt like I had a chance, but today it wasn’t meant to be on my side.”
• Semifinalist Johanna Konta, who reached finals on clay at Rabat and Rome, on her new coach Dimitri Zavialoff, who former coached Stan Wawrinka and two-time French Open semifinalist Timea Bacsinszky: “He’s been great in just encouraging me, inviting me, and giving me the space to play the way I want to play and not putting too many restraints or restrictions on myself. I’m just enjoying that almost self-discovery process of being the player who I want to be and trusting the decisions I make out there.”
Of the four semifinalists, the No. 26 seed Konta is the oldest (28) and most-experienced player.
What they’re writing
• Bonnie D. Ford, espn.com senior writer, from “Bidding a fond farewell to the ‘Bullring’ at the French Open”: “To borrow from John Updike’s famous description of Fenway Park, what you find once inside the ‘Bullring’ – so nicknamed because of its circular shape – is reminiscent of the interior landscape of an old-fashioned panoramic Easter egg: a wholly contained world on a different scale. The pie-wedge-shaped media section int he southeast corner, which has just shy of 60 seats, starts at ground level. From the front row, the players at that end are so close, their effort so palpable, the experience so intimate that I often found myself trying to avoid eye contact with them. The court can’t help but make you a fan even when you’re trained to be an observer.”
• David Waldstein, New York Times, from “Finding an Oasis at Tennis’s Most Crowded Major”: “Of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments, the French Open has the smallest footprint, perhaps in stature, and definitely in square footage. Crammed into a triangular swath of land next to the Bois De Boulanger, the highly trafficked pathways of Roland Garros are often chosen with spectators ambling toward the next match or the next jambon-beurre sandwich.”