PARIS, June 4, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
In Tuesday’s second women’s quarterfinal, which started at 7:22 p.m. on Court Suzanne Lenglen, both 31st-seeded Petra Martic and No. 38 Marketa Vondrousova – no strangers after facing each another four times – played in their first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Could their past history be a foreshadow of good things to come for Martic or might the 19-year-old Vondrousova break through and reach her first Grand Slam semifinal?
As it turned out, what a memorable quarterfinal match it was: two hours of whirlwind, back-and-forth excitement that provided something for everyone – long rallies, forehand winners, backhand drop shots, lobs and spins. It finished with Vondrousova triumphing over Martic, 7-6 (1), 7-5, as the Paris sunlight dimmed over Stade Roland Garros and with both competitors sharing a smile and a laugh as they walked off the court together, the winner caked in red clay.
Somehow, Martic came back from 2-5 down in the final set to level the match after Vondrousova dominated in the early going. And, for a moment, everyone wondered if there would be enough daylight to finish the match on time. In short order, Vondrousova converted her fourth match-point opportunity to break Martic for the fifth time, and won. She will meet No. 26 seed Johanna Konta of Great Britain, who earlier defeated seventh-seeded Sloane Stephens of the United States, 6-1, 6-4, in the semifinals on Thursday.
Vondrousova hit 29 winners and 23 unforced errors while Martic put up double-digit crooked numbers too, finishing with 26 winners that was overshadowed by 44 unforced errors. Vondrousova won on points, 88-74.
Martic from Croatia entered with a 4-0 career head-to-head record against the Czech Republic’s Vondrousova, including a win in their only clay-court meeting, back in April in the final at Istanbul. It was a match which Martic called “the best day of my career,” when she won her her first WTA singles title. Her fourth-round win over Kaia Kanepi on Sunday was her 15th on clay this season, which put her at the front of the WTA pack. Vondrousova, nine years younger than Martic, was one of two teenagers to reach the quarterfinals (with Amanda Anisimova, 17), and her 25-5 win-loss record since the Australian Open were most wins on tour.
Vondrousova, whom Hall of Famer Martina Navratilova called “a most solid player” during her analysis of the the quarterfinal match for Tennis Channel, broadcast to the U.S., came into the quarterfinal having not lost a set during the Paris fortnight. At 5-foot-8 (1.72 m), and sporting a tattoo above her right elbow that read “no rain, no flowers,” she came out strong and ready to attack Martic.
Down 5-6, 0-40, Vondrousova saved three set points and won 12 of the last 13 points against Martic – including seven of eight in the tie break – to win the 58-minute first set.
As the second set began, Martic became flustered and animated between points as she looked toward her coach, Sandra Zaniewska, trying to figure out how to stop Vondrousova. The Czech won 12 of the first 14 points and jumped ahead 3-0. Then, at 3-2, Vondrousova broke for the fourth time in the match to push ahead even further. She held at 30 by hitting a forehand volley winner to an a nine-shot rally to take a commanding 5-2 lead. Could the finish line be near? Not quite.
Martic fought off one match point and held with a cross-court backhand winner. During the ninth game, she saved a second match point at 40-30. On the second deuce point, she hit a deft shot from at the net to finish a 34-shot back-and-forth rally to stay alive. Finally, Martic broke Vondrousova on her third opportunity that put her back on serve. Following a pair of service holds, that pushed the aggressive Vondrousova ahead 6-5, at 30-40 Martic saved her third match point. However, Vondrousova won the final two points of the game – the last which covered 19 shots – with the final one by Martic sailing long. Finally, the match was Vondrousova’s to savor. She dropped to her hands and knees behind the baseline to contemplate what just happened. Then, she lifted herself up and began the walk to the net with a big smile on her face.
“It’s not happening every day, right? I’m just really happy with my game,” said Vondrousova during her press conference after beating Martic. “And it was a tough match for me. I beat her for my first time in my life, so it’s amazing.”
Around Roland Garros
Wednesday’s quarterfinal action will see both remaining quarterfinal-round matches taking place simultaneously. Beginning at 2 p.m. in Paris, defending champion and No. 3 seed Simona Halep will oppose unseeded 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova of the United States on Court Philippe Chatrier. Meanwhile, No. 8 seed Ashleigh Barty of Australia will face No. 14 seed Madison Keys of the United States, a 2018 semifinalist, on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
By the numbers
The last teenager to advance to the French Open semifinals was Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, who went on to win the title at age 17.
What they’re saying
Hall of Famer Martina Navratilova, analyzing the Martic-Vondrousova match for Tennis Channel: “Well, that was a fantastic match – really close – and both players were fighting so hard, never having been here before. Vondrousova had never beaten Martic before. It was a great fight by both opponents, fighting their nerves. In the end, Marketa Vondrousova’s steadiness won the day – and now she plays Jo Konta in the semifinals. Who would have picked that semifinal? Not me.”