Caroline Garcia: One Week You’re A Headliner, The Next …

WASHINGTON, September 9, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

A week ago, France’s Caroline Garcia was seen slaying US Open No. 1 seed Karolina Pliskova on Louis Armstrong Stadium, winning convincingly in straight sets 6-1, 7-6 (2), and garnering major headlines for her feat. We saw the best of her at the US Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.

Now, it’s seven days later, and the 50th-ranked Garcia is 5,000 miles and an ocean away in Istanbul, Turkey, playing on red clay to little fanfare or attention.

Sometimes, that’s life on the WTA Tour. One week you’re a headliner and the next week you’re not. Garcia should know the feeling by now. Two years ago, this week, she reached a career high of No. 4 on September 10, 2018. Now, she’s trying to recapture that old magic, fighting to the very end, win or lose.

“Caroline Garcia is a terrific ball striker. She can play on all surfaces. But she’s always struggled with consistency on her serve and that sometimes let’s her down,” says Tennis Channel analyst Paul Annacone. “She needs to get a little bit more solid. When she goes to middle gear – when she goes to pressure time – she has to figure out how to reel in her ground strokes.

“She goes from second gear to fifth gear. She needs to get that middle ground a little bit more consistently – go to big targets – and trust that. I think that’s why we see some topsy-turvy results.”

On Wednesday evening, the French No. 2 from Saint-Germain-en-Laye faced 186th-ranked wild card Cagla Buyukakcay of Turkey on Center Court in the opening round of the TEB BNP Paribas Tennis Championships Istanbul at the Turkish Tennis Federation Tennis Center. It was the fourth seed Garcia’s first match on clay in 412 days – and the final result was an emotional roller coaster that Garcia finally pulled out, 6-4, 0-6, 7-5, after two hours and 31 minutes. As the social media hashtag goes: #FlyWithCaro. It was definitely an adventure.

Since the WTA Tour restart in August, Garcia has gone 4-2 (3-2 on hard courts), with victories over Sloane Stephens at the Western & Southern Open and Jasmine Paolini and Pliskova at the US Open. Her losses were to Victoria Azarenka and Jennifer Brady. All of her recent match outcomes have been decided in straight sets until her win over Buyukakcay, which leveled her 2020 record at 8-8.

Meanwhile, Buyukakcay (pronounced BEW-kach-CHAI), a 2016 Olympian who became the first Turkish WTA titlist when she won the 2016 Istanbul Cup, is one of three Turkish players who made the main draw this week. She’s joined by 387th-ranked wild card Berfu Cengiz, who made her WTA main draw debut in a 6-2, 6-3 loss to third seed Polona Hercog of Slovenia, and 214th-ranked wild card Pemra Ozgen, who lost 6-2, 6-0 to Margarita Gasparyan of Russia in the final Wednesday evening match.

Coming in, the 26-year-old Garcia and Buyukakcay, 30, had previously met once, back in the first round of the 2016 Wimbledon, won by Garcia in straight sets. Since then, Garcia has gone on to win titles on all surfaces.

As it happened, Garcia broke Buyukakcay three times in the opening set and won the 48-minute tussle with a clean forehand up-the-line winner on her first set-point opportunity.

Then, Buyukakcay went ahead a double break at 3-0 by taking advantage of Garcia’s inability to sustain her first-set momentum. She held her serve to go ahead 4-0, then broke Garcia for a third time in the second set by counter-punching her way to a commanding 5-0 advantage. Finally, Buyukakcay watched the Frenchwoman implode in the final game of the bagel set. So, after an hour and 21 minutes, it was all even – and anything was possible in a match filled with plot twists.

In the final set, Garcia got back on track by holding serve in her first two service games for a 2-1 lead. Then, she was unable to convert two break-points during the fourth game while the final call of Muslim prayer could be heard loud and clear throughout the mostly empty Center Court. Buyukakcay saved four break points during the 16-point marathon fourth game for 2-all. However, a crushing backhand by Garcia gave her a love-40 break point and she seized the moment when Buyukakcay hit a long return for the break as the match reached the two-hour mark.

Ahead 4-2, Garcia was broken, and just as another plot twist thickened, she broke Buyukakcay at love to go ahead 5-3 with the match on her racquet. But the Frenchwoman couldn’t put it away just yet. She fell behind love-40 before rallying for deuce. Then, her second double fault gave Buyukakcay a break point. Garcia saved it when her opponent netted a playable return. However, she hit a mid-court forehand into the net and faced another break point – and Buyukakcay made it count as Garcia netted a forehand return and was broken for the second time in the set. After Buyukakcay held at 30 for 5-all, it was anyone’s guess just how this match would end.

What happened was Garcia held her serve at love for a 6-5 lead, after looking very locked in on the task at hand. Then, it became a matter of who wanted to win it the most. Garcia set up match point thanks to Buyukakcay’s sixth double fault. However, Garcia sailed a backhand long for deuce. She gained a second match point with a backhand winner up the line. Finally, she won on a double fault by Buyukakcay after persevering through a 70-minute final set.

“It was a difficult match today, particularly the second set,” said Garcia after the match. “I’m not very proud of my attitude and the way I played. I think the most important thing [though] was I was able to play a little bit better [by the end] and forgive myself. You have to fight one point at a time … and fight until the last point. I fought the best I could and tomorrow is a new day.”

Garcia survived the battle of attrition. Next, she will play 136th-ranked Tereza Martincova of the Czech Republic in Thursday’s second round after she beat No. 107 Greet Minnen of Belgium, 7-6 (5), 6-3, in one hour and 50 minutes.

Around the TEB BNP Paribas Tennis Championships Istanbul

• Qualifier Eugenie Bouchard of Canada, ranked No. 272, who defeated Viktoriya Tomova of Bulgaria, 6-2, 6-4, in 96 minutes by taking advantage of six service breaks. She will meet top seed and 34th-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova in Thursday’s second round. Later, Bouchard played doubles, teamed with Basak Eraydin of Turkey, against Great Britain’s Naomi Broady and Erin Routliffe of New Zealand, and lost 6-4, 6-3.

• No. 6 seed Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium ranked 60th, defeated No. 85 Viktoria Kuzmova, 6-3, 6-4, for her first post-hiatus tour win. She improved her career head-to-head against Kuzmova to 3-1.

• No. 8 seed Misaki Doi of Japan overcame 248th-ranked Australian qualifier Ellen Perez, 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-1.

• No. 349 Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine and 92nd-ranked Danka Kovinic from Montenegro met in a rematch of one of the longest 2020 matches – two hours and 47 minutes at Acapulco, won by Bondarenko. This time, Kovinic beat Bondarenko, 7-5, 6-2, in one hour and 26 minutes.

• No 88 Patricia Maria Tig of Romania advanced with a 6-3, 7-5 victory over 174th-ranked qualifier Olga Danilovic of Serbia.

• Thursday’s order of play will feature eight second-round singles matches, including the tournament debuts by No. 1 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia and No. 2 seed Rebecca Peterson of Sweden. Kuznetsova will play Bouchard in the second match from 1 p.m. on Center Court and Peterson will face Gasparyan on Center Court not before 7 p.m.