Best Tennis At Roland Garros? Try During Daylight Hours

Sofia Kenin (photo: @rolandgarros/Twitter)

WASHINGTON, October 8, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

For a Grand Slam tournament with no “night sessions,” this year’s French Open sure has featured a lot of tennis after dark.

Fortunately, some of the best tennis at Roland Garros is still being played during the daylight hours. On Wednesday afternoon, that is where Sofia Kenin and Petra Kvitova, the two remaining seeds in the women’s singles draw, put on some of their best displays during the Paris fortnight during the quarterfinal round.

First, seventh seed Kvitova from the Czech Republic advanced to her first Roland Garros semifinal since 2012 with her 6-3, 6-3 victory over Laura Siegemund of Germany in 80 minutes on Court Philippe-Chatrier. She hit 22 winners and broke the German’s serve five times. Then, the No. 4 seed Kenin reached her second major semifinal this year with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 win over fellow American Danielle Collins.

With both favorites winning on Wednesday, it set up a semifinal match on Thursday in which the winner will be the only finalist with any Grand Slam finals experience. The first semifinal will match 19-year-old Polish teen queen Iga Swiatek, who, like Kvitova, has yet to drop a set through her first five matches, against Argentine qualifier Nadia Podoroska, one of the biggest surprises of the tournament. Swiatek is ranked 54th and Podoroska 131st, both quite a bit further down the world rankings from No. 6 Kenin and No. 11 Kvitova.

The two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova had little trouble with the No. 66 Siegemund during the first quarterfinal match of the day. She broke Siegemund in the fourth game of the opening set and broke the German four more times in the second set, including in the final game of match. The closest Siegemund approached Kvitova was leveling the second set at 3-all. Otherwise, Kvitova maintained control throughout.

“I’m proud of everything I did today,” said Kvitova during her post-match videoconference. “Since I woke up, I felt pretty nervous. Going into the match, I knew it would be a big fight for every point.

“She’s a tricky opponent, she has lots of variety in her game. Of course, playing the quarterfinal of a Grand Slam, nothing is easy with nerves. 

“I’m happy with my side, with the mental side, and how I handled the pressure out there. … I’m really happy overall how I managed it.” 

Siegemund was asked during her videoconference to reflect upon her best Roland Garros experience of her career, which surpassed her previous best of reaching the second round last year. “Right now, I’m, you know, still very disappointed with my mind in the match today, but overall, even I will see at some point that it was a really good tournament for me,” she said. “I played really good matches, particularly under the circumstances I was under in these two weeks.”

Kenin 15-1 in majors this year

Under the circumstances, Kenin has done quite well during the French fortnight. Since being double-bageled by Victoria Azarenka in a humbling 6-0, 6-0 tune-up loss in Rome, the World No. 6 has strung together five good wins – four of them going the distance. She’s lost just one game in each of the past three closing sets, against Irina Bara, Fiona Ferro and Collins. The reigning Australian Open champion improved to 15-1 in majors this year with her win on Wednesday afternoon.

Kenin, who reached her first French Open semifinal with a victory over No. 57 Collins, who lost all three previous meetings – two at the ITF level – without winning a set.

While Collins hit more winners than any other quarterfinalist, against Kenin she was held in check with 22 against 34 unforced errors. Meanwhile, Kenin hit 38 winners to 26 unforced errors, broke Collins’ serve five times and won consistently behind both her first and second serves.

“It’s not easy playing a fellow American. I obviously want all of us to do well. … I knew what I needed to do. … I’m super happy,” Kenin said during her videoconference after the match. “I know she plays really aggressive and I knew I needed to play aggressive myself, have a high first-serve percentage and I think I did that.”

Kenin placed 65 percent of her first serves in play and won 75 percent (40 of 53) of her first-serve points.

“The difference is definitely mental. I like winning in three sets. I know it’s going to be tough but I got the win and I’m proud of myself,” she said.

Tsitsipas and Djokovic post solid quarterfinal wins

As afternoon gave way to evening and the Chatrier lights took effect, fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas advanced to his first Roland Garros semifinal with a 7-5, 6-2, 6-3 victory over No. 13 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia, whom he lost to 10 days ago in the final at Hamburg.

“I’m expecting since a young age to potentially triumph at these Grand Slams,” said Tsitsipas during his videoconference. “I’m happy that I’m able to be in a position where I am today. Yeah, it’s very, very satisfying. … I’m chasing something spectacular.”

Tsitsipas hit 35 winners and won 80 percent of his first-serve points against Rublev. He outpointed his opponent 102-73. The win lifted the Greek to his second career Grand Slam semifinal (the first was the 2019 Australian Open). Since dropping the first two sets in his first-round match against Spain’s Jaime Munar, Tsitsipas has won 15 straight sets at Roland Garros.

Later, top seed Novak Djokovic battled through neck and arm pain to reach his 10th Roland Garros semifinal with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 win over 17th seed Pablo Carreño Busta. The Serbian hit 53 winners, converted six of 13 break-point opportunities and saved 10 of the 13 break points he faced from the Spaniard. After the first set, Djokovic gained momentum and the outcome was never in serious doubt.

“It took me about set and a half to really get comfortable and start really playing the way I should,” Djokovic said during his videoconference after the win. “I had about seven, I think, games in a row. Was a break up in the third. Match turned around quickly. Few points here and there. I saved some break points mid third set that was crucial, obviously going two sets to one up.

“It was really anybody’s game. It was so close. He had his chances. I had my chances. It was a very even match even though it was three sets to one.”

The victory improved Djokovic’s 2020 win-loss record to 36-1. He’s now 73-14 lifetime in the French Open.

Djokovic will carry a 3-2 career head-to-head advantage into his Friday semifinal against Tsitsipas.

Passer des coups

• Poland’s Iga Swiatek remains alive in both women’s singles and doubles at the French Open. The 19-year-old Polish rising star and Nicole Melichar, 27, of the United States, unseeded at Roland Garros, defeated the unseeded American duo of Asia Muhammad and Jessica Pegula, 6-3, 6-4, in one hour and 35 minutes. Next, they will meet No. 14 seeds Alexa Guarachi of Chile and Desirae Krawczyk from the United States, who reached the semifinals with a 6-0, 6-4 win over No. 7 seeds Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara, both from Japan.

“It’s amazing for me,” said Swiatek Wednesday. “I never would have thought that I’m gonna be in semifinal in singesl and doubles. So, it’s kind of crazy, because I had to play a match every day.

“But it’s good for me, because I’m still in the rhythm. Also, doubles really, I think, it’s helping my performance in singles also because I’m, like, learning new stuff and I’ve never had a chance to play doubles with such an experienced player. It’s amazing for me, and I’m really happy.”

• The men’s doubles semifinals are set for Thursday. First, No. 1 seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, both from Colombia, will face No. 7 seeds Mate Pavic of Croatia and Bruno Soares from Brazil. Then, No. 9 seeds Wesley Koolhof from the Netherlands and Nikola Mektic of Croatia will oppose defending champions Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies, both from Germany.

What they’re saying

Jannik Sinner on the challenge of playing 12-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal on clay: “You go on the court with the right mindset, with knowing or having a plan to play against him. Today I had it. I mean, I had actually quite a great plan. It worked quite well. 

“I don’t watch about records. I know who is on the other side. I have a lot of respect of him. At the end you want to win. You go on court to play your tennis with your personality. You go on court trying to play your tennis, trying to win obviously. 

“Yeah, but you have to have, for every player, the right respect on court and especially off court as well. I think he’s a great example for everyone. He’s nice. He’s a nice guy. I’ve practiced a little bit with him. It’s good.”

By the numbers

• With the men’s semifinals set, Novak Djokovic (38) and Rafael Nadal (34) rank second and third all-time in most Grand Slam semifinals during the Open Era. First is Roger Federer with 46, Jimmy Connors is fourth at 31 and Ivan Lendl fifth with 28.

• At age 32, Laura Siegemund was the second-oldest player since Australia’s Norma Marsh in 1971 to make her debut in a Grand Slam quarterfinal.

• Neither No. 7 seed Petra Kvitova nor No. 54 Iga Swiatek have lost a set en route to reach the women’s singles semifinals.

• When Danielle Collins and Sofia Kenin faced off at Roland Garros on Wednesday, it was the first all-American quarterfinal at the French Open that didn’t involve a Williams sister since 1997.

Now it can be told

• During the videoconference following her quarterfinal match, Iga Swiatek was asked about the impact the lack of wild cards available earlier in her career meant: “As soon as I accepted that and as soon as I realized it’s going to be even better if I’m going to earn it on my own, I was okay with that. 

“I just kept working. I knew that if I’m going to play well, it wouldn’t matter if I’m going to play quailes and play three more matches because you just have to, I don’t know, et the ranking points. If you’re Top 50, you’re going to get to main draw to every tournament any way.

“Yeah, I just kept working hard. At the beginning it was pretty annoying, but later I didn’t care.”

Elina Svitolina was asked following her quarterfinal loss to Nadia Podoroska on Tuesday what she thought she needed to do next time to make sure the mental side of the game doesn’t affect her too much. She said: “I think it was just one of those days when you are really hard on yourself, when you’re rally pick on all the bad stuff and the negative stuff. 

“I think it’s important to try to find something positive. I have been in this situation many times, but today unfortunately, I was thinking of, like, so many stuffs was going on, you know, with the wind and everything, and this really let my focus down.”

Svitolina added: “Tennis is a big part of our life, my life, and it’s important to really divide it and try to have your life as well. You know, it doesn’t end. You know, I finish my day, I finish my match. You know, of course I’m sad because I put lots of work into it, lots of time, it’s disappointing. But I think it’s important just to try to analyze, try to take positives out of the matches that I won here and Strasbourg, as well. So, it’s life, You, there is bad days. You know, we are learning from those kinds of moments when it’s really tough. It makes you stronger, makes you even, you know, even better as a person and you have to just analyze and grow from it.”

What they’re sharing on social media