Zidansek Enjoying Milestone Major Fortnight

Tamara Zidansek (photo: Jürgen Hasenkopf)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, June 7, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Imagine the joy – or pressure – of being your country’s best tennis player at age 23. Imagine, too, becoming the first Slovenian player to reach the last eight of a Grand Slam since your country, Slovenia, became an independent nation in 1991 after breaking off from the former Yugoslavia.

Meet Tamara Zidansek, who hails from Postojna, Slovenia. Not since Mima Jausovec, born in Maribor, who won the 1977 Roland Garros title playing for the former Yugoslavia, has a player from what is now Slovenia, gone as far as Zidansek has gone this week at the French Open. The previous best Grand Slam showing by a Slovenian player had been by Katarina Srebotnik, who reached the fourth round of Roland Garros twice (in 2002 and 2008) and the US Open in 2008.

Sunday afternoon, the 85th-ranked Zidansek defeated No. 54 Sorana Cirstea of Romania, 7-6 (4), 6-1, to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. On Tuesday, she will face No. 35 Paula Badosa of Spain, who won her ninth straight match on clay with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 victory over 2019 French Open finalist and current 20th seed Marketa Vondrousova from the Czech Republic.

“I’m getting a lot of messages that everyone is watching,” Zidansek said during a press conference after her victory against Cirstea. “It means a lot to me that I’m able to get across to the message to young people and everyone in Slovenia that we can do it. We’re a small country; we don’t have that many players. But we have good players. …

“Considering that we have only two million people, I’m really happy to be a part of the athletes that is doing this good.”

Zidansek, who improved to 19-10 with her latest victory and reached a final on clay at Bogotá in April, admitted being a bit nervous at the start of her match against Cirstea. The 31-year-old Romanian was a finalist at Strasbourg before arriving in Paris and earlier in the season won a title on clay at Istanbul. “A big opportunity for the both of us,” is how the Zidansek looked at her fourth-round match on Court Suzanne-Lenglen. “It took me a couple of games to settle down. It was good that I got that first game on the scoreboard.

“I started serving better and better towards the end of the first set, which also helped me to save that break point (which was also a set point).”

Indeed, as Zidansek went on to save six of the seven break points she faced, including a set point at 5-6. “From then on, it was just in the tie break fighting for every point,” she said. “Once I managed to get the tie break, I started feeling more comfortable out there, going after my shots. That showed well in the second set.”

Sunday’s Roland Garros results

Monday’s Roland Garros order of play

Around Roland-Garros

Mattek-Sands/Swiatek: Double trouble

Krejcikova playing her shots – win or lose

Unseeeded Barbora Krejcikova is in the thick of going after three different Roland-Garros titles, in women’s singles and doubles (with Katerina Siniakova), and in mixed doubles (with Filip Polasek of Slovakia). On Saturday, the Czech star Krejcikova pulled off a third-round upset of World No. 5 and fifth seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, 6-3, 6-2, to advance to Monday’s round of 16 against 2018 French Open finalist Sloane Stephens from the United States.

Krejcikova recalled during her Saturday press conference how she didn’t want to make the mistake of playing passively against Svitolina, which might result in a loss. She said: “So, I was just saying to myself, ‘Okay, you go, you’re going to play your shot and you win or your lose.’ Like there’s nothing wrong ab about not really actually closing the match because that’s normal. It happens to so many other players, so many higher players.

“So, I just felt, okay, I’m going to go, I’m going to try to play my tennis, my best shots, and let’s see, and if I close it, it’s going to be perfect.”

Medvedev: ‘Tennis is brutal’

During his post-match press conference after his fourth-round victory over Cristian Garin, No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev was asked if was fair that Roger Federer received criticism over his decision to withdraw from the French Open after winning his third-round match against Dominik Koepfer: “Tennis is brutal. If Koepfer wants to be in the next round, sorry, he needed to beat Roger. It doesn’t matter if he retires after. That’s how tennis is, to be in the next round, you need to beat your opponent. … I don’t see why he should be criticized. At the same time, I understand people who do it. Me? I won’t criticize him.”

Fashionable anyway you look at it

Sunday’s night session on Court Philippe-Chatrier, starring World No. 6 Alexander Zverev and Kei Nishikori featured an interesting contrast in fashion styles. Playing with the roof open and still 21 degrees Celsius at 9 p.m., Nishikori appeared on court wearing leggings under his Uniqlo kit while the Adidas-attired Zverev appeared sleeveless, which has been his look during the Parisian fortnight. As Portuguese tennis writer José Morgado tweeted: “Like playing in two different countries.”

By the numbers

“Quotable …”

Stefanos Tsitsipas on fellow rising Greek star Maria Sakkari: “When I want to learn something, add something to my game, I don’t only watch men’s tennis. I learn from women too and the first I want to see on YouTube is Maria. She has helped me improve. I love her and I want the best for her.”

• No. 4 seed Sofia Kenin, the highest remaining women’s seed on facing No. 17 seed Maria Sakkari in Monday’s round of 16: “She’s very energetic. I feel she’s one of the most energetic players on tour. Very fit. She fights out there. I’m just going to take what I had in Abu Dhabi. I started off great. Some percentages didn’t go my way and, of course, she lifted up her game and everything. She’s playing some good tennis – we both are – so it’s going to be a battle out there. I’m ready to fight.”

Rafael Nadal on what he’s learned from playing Jannik Sinner, his fourth-round opponent on Monday, twice: “He’s young, improving every week. He has big shots. Gonna be a tough one. I need to be solid. I need to be aggressive, too, because if not, it’s very difficult. I need to make him play from tough positions, and I can’t make a lot of mistakes, no?

“I know it’s the fourth round, you can’t expect an easy opponent out there. Jannik is not the best fourth round, without a doubt … he’s a dangerous one. He’s young. He’s a great player. We know each other well. So, let’s see.”

Happy 65th Birthday, Bjorn Borg

The last word: Roger Federer