A Day Late, But At Last, The French Open Women’s Draw Is Down To The Last Four

Terre Battue at Roland Garros (photo: Cedric Lecocq / FFT)

PARIS, June 7, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

When Ashleigh Barty and Amanda Anisimova walk out on Court Suzanne Lenglen to play their women’s semifinal singles semifinal match at Roland Garros on Friday, it will be a far cry from the semifinal everyone envisioned for the upper half of the 128-player draw two weeks ago had the seeds held true and given everyone a World No. 1 Naomi Osaka versus defending champion Simona Halep matchup. For that matter, imagine if the bottom half didn’t have any upsets and gave us No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova vs. No. 4 seed Kiki Bertens instead of No. 26 seed Johanna Konta, the only one of the last four who has been to a Grand Slam semifinal, against No. 38 Marketa Vondrousova who, like Anisimova, is just a teenager.

Thanks to Wednesday’s washout, which pushed the women’s schedule back a day and produced a huge upset when the unseeded 17-year-old Anisimova took down No. 3 seed Halep, then No. 8 seed Barty beat No. 14 seed Madison Keys – the fourth American she’s advanced against – there is much anticipation in knowing that there will not only be a pair of first-time Grand Slam finalists but also a first-time Grand Slam champion, when the Suzanne Lenglen Cup is presented to the champion on Saturday.

Barty, 23, who once gave up tennis to become a professional cricket player in her native Australia, and Anisimova, born in the United States to Russian immigrant parents, will come into their semifinal with no day off to rest. Barty advanced with a solid 6-3, 7-5 win over Keys that included a mix of slice and topspin in her repertoire, while Anisimova finished off Halep, 6-2, 6-4, with a demonstrative backhand winner down the line a minute earlier to become the youngest Roland Garros semifinalist since Nicole Vaidisova in 2006 – and, just as amazing, she hasn’t lost a set during her fortnight run.

Anisimova was asked after her win against Halep if she felt nervous. “I didn’t look nervous because I wasn’t,” she said. “I was just super excited and I was really happy with the opportunity. I felt really good (Thursday), like healthy, because early in the rounds I didn’t really feel good.

“Playing tennis when you feel good is just really good. That’s why I was really happy today to get to play healthy.”

Barty’s success on clay, a surface she’s probably least familiar with but has always shown potential on, is something she’s embracing. “Oh, it’s incredible,” she said. “I felt for myself and my team, we have approached this clay court season a little bit differently to others. Have really enjoyed it, embraced it. Have been playing some pretty good tennis.

“Ultimately, I feel like when I’m able to play my game style and my kind of tennis, I can match it with everyone regardless what surface it’s on.”

Meanwhile, Konta, 28, from Great Britain and the left-handed Vondrousova, 19, of the Czech Republic, completed their quarterfinal matches on Tuesday, defeating No. 7 seed Sloane Stephens and No. 31 seed Petra Martic, respectively, and come into their Friday semifinal match well rested, having had two days off. Konta was winless at the French Open until this year, having gone out in the first round four consecutive years. Now, she’s strung together five nice wins.

“I’ve always said that whenever I step out onto the court, I’m always going to have a chance,” said Konta after her win against Stephens. “I’m always going to have a shot. I don’t think any player on tour can go on court against me and feel like they’ve definitely got it.”

Vondrousova agreed. She said of Konta, “She has great form and it’s going to be a tough match, but we’ll see.”

When you combine the efforts of all four semifinalists, they had produced just three main-draw singles wins coming into this year’s Roland Garros. That none of the four has ever played in a Grand Slam singles final is icing on the cake. Perhaps, because there is no longer a marquee name like Serena Williams to garner attention, there is a backlash as the Paris fortnight winds down.

Because the men’s semifinals were already locked into Friday’s schedule on Court Philippe Chatrier with separate admission to each match – and to give both women’s semifinal winners an equal amount of time to rest and prepare for Saturday’s final – Konta and Vondrousova will play their match at the same time as Barty and Anisimova (on Court Suzanne Lenglen), but it will be banished to Court Simonne Mathieu, which some critics – including WTA CEO Steve Simon – see as a slap in the face of women’s tennis. (See below.)

However, when she was asked about playing on one court or the other, Anisimova said “it doesn’t really matter” to her. “They’re all beautiful courts. Whatever court they put me on to play in, I’m going to be happy. They are all amazing courts.”

Around Roland Garros

Soon after Thursday’s simultaneously-played French Open women’s quarterfinals were completed, Friday’s order of play was issued by Roland Garros tournament director Guy Forget.

The two men’s semifinal matches, the first between defending champion Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, and the second involving World No. 1 Novak Djokovic against Dominic Thiem, would both go on Court Philippe Chatrier – Stade Roland Garros’s largest show court – as originally scheduled, with the Nadal versus Federer match leading off play at 12:50 p.m. followed by the Djokovic-Thiem match.

Because of Wednesday’s rain out at Roland Garros, which pushed the completion of the women’s quarterfinals back a day and postponed the women’s semifinals from Thursday, it meant that tournament organizers would have to find a way to fit those matches into an already crowded Friday schedule.

The tournament director’s office announced that the Ashleigh Barty versus Amanda Anisimova semifinal would begin at 11 a.m. and be played on Court Suzanne Lenglen. At the same time, the other semifinal between Johanna Konta and Marketa Vondrousova would be held on Court Simonne Mathieu. Neither of the women’s semifinals were given consideration to be held on Court Philippe Chatrier, much to the disappointment of the WTA.

On Thursday, WTA CEO Steve Simon issued the following statement, which was posted on the WTA’s website, WTATennis.com:

“There’s no doubt that scheduling has been challenged by weather conditions and the WTA understands the scheduling issues presented at Roland Garros.

“We are, however, extremely disappointed by the scheduling of both women’s semifinals on outside courts. This decision is unfair and inappropriate.  The four women who have played so well and made it this far have earned their right to play on the biggest stage.

“We believe other solutions were possible which would have been to the benefit of fans as well as all players.”

By the numbers

• If Marketa Vondrousova advances to Saturday’s final, then it will be her first match on Court Philippe Chatrier. Thus far, she played her first-round match against Wang Yafan on Court 13, her second-round match against Anastasia Potapova on Court 7, her third-round match against Carla Suárez Navarro on Court Simonne Mathieu, and her fourth-round and quarterfinal matches against Anastasija Sevastova and Petra Martic on Court Suzanne Lenglen.

• Three years ago, Ashley Barty reappeared on the WTA rankings at No. 623. After Roland Garros, next week she will make her Top 5 singles debut.

What they’re saying

Amelie Mauresmo, two-time Grand Slam champion, on Friday’s scheduling at Roland Garros: “The scheduling of the women’s semis @rolandgarros is a disgrace! Everyone agrees that the match of the day is Federer/Nadal! But what kind of message do we send when taking the decision to put the women’s semis at 11 a.m. on the 2nd and 3rd courts of the tournament? Not even one of them on Centre court! It would have been pretty simple to open Lenglen on top of Chatrier and put both women’s matches at 1 p.m. followed by both men’s matches. And refund those who didn’t want their tickets anymore.”

What they’re writing

Simon Cambers, British tennis writer appearing in espn.com, on Ashleigh Barty, from “Ash Barty’s return to tennis brings her to French Open semifinals”: “It was her first coach, Jim Joyce, who encouraged her to learn every shot, from the kick serve (which she mastered early), to the slice, the drop shot, the lob – you name it. Putting it all together, and using them at the right times, was not easy, but in the past year in particular, it has really clicked. She broke into the top 10 after winning the biggest title of her career in Miami in March, and she has dropped just one set on her way to the French Open semifinals.”