Expect The Unexpected – Especially At Roland Garros

WASHINGTON, October 1, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

On any given week, expect the unexpected – especially at Roland Garros. Take for instance, 161st-ranked Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia. The oft-injured, former World No. 26 has put together back-to-back wins at the French Open this week over Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka. That’s pretty good, when you consider that between them, the two future Hall of Famers have accumulated nine major championships.

It’s also pretty good when you consider Schmiedlova came into Roland Garros having not won a main draw match at a Grand Slam since the 2015 US Open. That’s five years and a lot major disappointment.

Twelve straight first-round major losses will humble anyone, which the 26-year-old Schmiedlova can attest. Now, after beating this year’s US Open finalist Azarenka, 6-2, 6-2, on Court Suzanne-Lenglen Wednesday afternoon, Schmiedlova is into the third round against Argentine qualifier and 131st-ranked Nadia Podoroska, who advanced over No. 23 seed Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan, 6-3, 1-6, 6-2.

Schmiedlova’s accomplishment puts her into the third round of a major for just the third time in her career and second time in Paris. She expressed her happiness during her post-match press conference, saying:

“I’m extremely happy because it’s my favorite Grand Slam and favorite tournament of the year. I always play good here. I had many chances in last couple of years. I had match points or really close matches. I always play good here, just didn’t close it.”

Schmiedlova said she tried not to be intimated by playing against Williams or Azarenka, both of whom she has great respect and admiration. “I have big respect for both of them,” she said. “I never played against Vika before. I watch her many times in the TV, even when I was not on the tour. When I was younger, I watched many of her matches. 

“I think she’s great player. She played really well in US Open. I was little bit scared before the match. But I started well, and I’m really happy how I managed to play all match.”

Schmiedlova, who entered this year’s Roland Garros using a special ranking after missing most of 2019 with a knee injury, hit 17 winners and 20 unforced errors against Azarenka and broke the former No. 1’s serve four times in seven tries. Azarenka committed 38 unforced errors.

“I think I’ve changed a lot. I am much more experienced,” Schmiedlova said. “Before it was little bit easier because I had nothing to lose. I was really young. I didn’t know a lot about tennis or how it works. I was just playing, felt no pressure or anything. I was playing very well before.

“Right now, I had so much more experiences. I played so many smaller tournaments, bigger tournaments all around the world. I lost really tough matches. I had knee surgery. Was really difficult years. I think I did everything I could to be back here. I’m very happy that it came, especially this year.”

What they’re saying

Victoria Azarenka, seeded No. 10 at Roland Garros after reaching the finals of the US Open, on the lesson learned from her 6-2, 6-2, second-round loss to Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, which was one of her worst Grand Slam defeats: “The lesson I need to learn is that sometimes when things don’t work for me, they way I was playing today was just not the right time, was to be willing to adjust a little bit more and not think kind of in the end of the match to finally start changing my kind of game. 

“I felt like I was trying a lot, trying different things, but today things were not working. I felt like nothing really was working, but I still had to find a way to win, and I didn’t. 

“So, it’s a lesson for me to learn how to be more, I will say, courageous, to go for more. And I will learn it, for sure.”

Dominic Thiem, on the response he received from his peers after winning the US Open men’s singles title: “Almost all the players sent me nice messages after the US Open. It means a lot. I also got nice messages from WTA players, which surprised me and made me very happy.”

Passer des coups

• Top seed Simona Halep advanced with a 6-3, 6-4 win over fellow Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu. It sets up a third-round match-up with 25th seed Amanda Anisimova of the United States, who ended Halep’s French Open title defense in 2019.

“I remember the match from last year, I remember also that I didn’t play what I wanted, so I will do some changes and I will just try to play better and to take my chance,” said Halep.

• No. 5 seed Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands survived her second-round match against Italy’s Sara Errani, winning 7-6 (5), 3-6, 9-7, thanks in part to her 61 winners and her opponent’s 14 double faults. Bertens saved a match point, then closed it out with an overhead backhand volley winner. As soon as the match ended, she collapsed to the clay court in tears.

Earlier during their match, Bertens was treated for upper left leg and right arm ailments. By the end of the match, Bertens was cramping and needed wheelchair assistance to leave Court 14 following the completion of her three hour and 11-minute match.

• Qualifier Sebastian Korda, 20, became the youngest American to reach the third round at Roland Garros since Andy Roddick in 2001 at age 18. Korda, the son of former Czech Republic great Petr Korda, beat No. 21 seed John Isner, 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4. Korda hit 46 winners and broke Isner’s serve five times.

• The comeback trail continues to get brighter for Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard. On Wednesday, the 168th-ranked Bouchard came back to beat Daria Gavrilova of Australia, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3, in a second-round match. She’s into the third round at a Grand Slam for the first time since the 2017 Australian Open and first time at Roland Garros since she made the semifinals in 2014. Next, Bouchard will face 54th-ranked 19-year-old Polish teen Iga Swiatek, who advanced with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan.

“I’ve tried to push myself in every chance I’ve had because I know there are so few,” said Bouchard.

By the numbers

• No. 3 seed Dominic Thiem of Austria reached the third round at Roland Garros for the fifth straight year with his win over 310th-ranked American qualifier Jack Sock, 6-1, 6-3, 7-6 (6). Thiem won the last five points in the match after he trailed 6-3 in the tie-break. Thiem converted six of eight break points and hit 28 winners.

• No. 12 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina advanced to the third round of Roland Garros for the third time in the last four years after his straight-set win over No. 157 Lorenzo Giustino from Italy, 6-1, 7-5, 6-0. Schwartzman won 10 of 14 break points and he saved seven of 10 break points on his serve.

• World No. 17 Stan Wawrinka improved to 12-1 in Roland Garros second round matches with his 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 win over No. 61 Dominic Koepfer of Germany. The 16th seed Wawrinka, who is 44-14 lifetime in the French Open, hit 51 winners, broke his opponent five times and saved five of six break points he faced.

“I’m ready, I’m playing well. I’m moving well. I’m feeling good on the court. … It’s a Grand Slam,” said Wawrinka.

Now it can be told

During her press conference Wednesday afternoon following the announcement of her withdrawal from the French Open, Serena Williams was asked what continues to inspire and motivate her to play tennis at the highest level. The 39-year-old American, who continues her pursuit of a record-tying 24th major singles title, said:

“I love playing tennis, obviously. I love competing I love being out here; it’s my job. It’s been my job. And I’m pretty good at it still, so until I feel that I’m not good at it, then I’ll be, like, okay.

“And I’m so close to some things, so I feel like I’m almost there. I think that’s what keeps me going.”

What they’re writing

New York Times tennis correspondent Christopher Clarey shares a long look-back on Serena Williams at the French Open.