Krejcikova, Sakkari Breaking New Ground At Roland Garros

Barbora Krejcikova (photo: Jürgen Hasenkopf)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, June 10, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

The last four of the French Open women’s singles draw is set. With Barbora Krejcikova, Maria Sakkari, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Tamara Zidansek set to do battle in Thursday’s semifinal round, it marks the first time in the Open Era that there are four first-time semifinalists at Roland-Garros – and, of course, it guarantees there will be a first-time Grand Slam champion.

On Wednesday, in quick succession, the last two favorites – defending champion and No. 8 seed Iga Swiatek and 17-year-old American teen-aged phenom Coco Gauff, playing in her first Grand Slam quarterfinal – went down to defeat. It leaves the women’s draw wide open with no overwhelming favorite and no Top 10 seeds left to battle it out.

First, No. 33 Krejcikova of the Czech Republic, long regarded as an outstanding doubles player, took out No. 24 seed Gauff from the United States, 7-6 (6), 6-3, in an hour and 50 minutes to extend her winning streak to 10 and her season-long win-loss record to a very respectable 24-9. She did it by saving five set points in the opening set – took advantage of 41 unforced errors by Gauff, who trailed 4-0 to start to second set – and won on her sixth match point. Krejcikova hit 27 winners to 28 unforced errors. She became the second unseeded player to advance to the women’s semifinals after Zidansek.

As one veteran Roland Garros observer, Christopher Clarey of The New York Times noted, “there were tight groundstrokes into the net, errant service tosses and multiple double faults, reversals of momentum and fortune.”

After her steady-as-she-goes performance in beating Gauff, it’s wise not to call Krejcikova, a former French Open doubles champion, merely a doubles specialist anymore. That’s because she’s really come into her own as a singles player this season, reaching two finals and winning a clay-court tune-up in Strasbourg just before arriving in Paris.

“I never really wanted to be a doubles specialist,” Krejcikova admitted during her post-match press conference. “Everybody just put a label on me. But we (she and doubles partner Katerina Siniakova) won our first two Grand Slams when I was 22. I felt like I don’t want to be a doubles specialist when I was 22. I want to play singles. I want to work hard, prove my game. I want to play the top players actually in singles.”

En route to garnering her place in the semifinals, Krejcikova has beaten Kristyna Pliskova, Ekaterina Alexandrova, Elina Svitolina, Sloane Stephens and Gauff. After losing the opening set to Pliskova, Krejcikova has reeled off 10 straight sets in her favor. Whereas, Krejcikova admitted to feelings of panic before she faced Stephens in Monday’s fourth round, on Wednesday against Gauff, “Today, I was just super relaxed and I didn’t have these feelings again,” she said.

Meanwhile, Gauff, who finished the clay season by reaching the semifinals at Rome and won singles and doubles titles the following week in Parma, remained professional in her post-match press conference. “I’m obviously disappointed that I wasn’t able to close out the first set,” she said. “To be honest, it’s in the past, it already happened. After the match, Enzo, my hitting partner told me this match will probably make me a champion in the future. I really do believe that.”

Then, the muscular 17th-seeded Sakkari from Greece didn’t merely end Swiatek’s set-winning streak at the French Open – which began the day at 22, going back to the start of last year’s title run – she took out the 20-year-old defending champion from Poland, 6-4, 6-4, by playing brave and effective big-hitting tennis during the one-hour and 35-minute quarterfinal. It ended Swiatek’s 11-match Roland-Garros winning streak.

“Obviously, I didn’t play my best tennis,” Swiatek said afterward. “That’s for sure. But Maria did a good job with playing at my forehand, which wasn’t working pretty well today. It’s good for her that she saw that. She picked a good tactics, for sure.”

The victory, which was Sakkari’s second straight against a Top 10 opponent, improved Sakkari’s 2021 win-loss record to 21-9 and it left her as the highest-ranked player remaining among the semifinalists.

“I don’t want to get too excited because I don’t have a day off tomorrow,” Sakkari expressed during her post-match press conference. “I still have to play, stay focused. But it’s a big achievement, for sure. I’m enjoying, as I said on court, my tennis and myself.

“I have people around me telling it was going to come. You know, they were right. Maybe I was the one who was telling them, I was impatient, telling them, ‘When and when and when?’ It actually came this week, so I’m happy about it.”

On Thursday, Krejcikova will face Sakkari and Pavlyuchenkova will oppose Zidansek – all making their first appearance in a Grand Slam singles semifinal. Indeed, the surprises in the women’s singles draw continue to draw attention.

Djokovic reaches 40th Grand Slam semifinal; Nadal next

World No. 1 and top seed Novak Djokovic set up a rematch of last year’s French Open final, as well as the 2012 and 2014 championship matches, against 13-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal after beating big-hitting No. 9 seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy, 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5, in three hours and 28 minutes.

There was about a 20-minute delay in the fourth set in order to clear fans out of Court Philippe-Chartrier due to an 11 p.m. curfew in Paris. Both players left the court.

“This match had it all: falls, crowd, break. It was a lot of intensity. I just felt under tension the entire time,” Djokovic said. “It was just super, super stressful to constantly be under pressure on my service games, because his service games were quite smooth with the big serve.

“The reaction in the end was just me liberating that tension that was building up for the entire match.”

With Djokovic’s victory over Berrettini, it made him the second man in ATP history to reach 40 Grand Slam semifinals following Roger Federer.

Friday’s Djokovic-Nadal semifinal matchup will be the 58th renewal of the ATP Tour’s most prolific rivalry. Djokovic leads Nadal 29-28 in their overall head-to-head, while Nadal owns the edge on clay 19-7.

“The quality and the level of tennis that I’ve been playing in the last three, four weeks on clay – Rome, Belgrade and here – is giving me good sensations and feelings ahead of that match,” Djokovic said. “I’m confident. I believe I can win, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. Let’s have a great battle.”

The other men’s semifinal will pair No. 5 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece against No. 6 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany. Each is 9-1 in their last 10 matches on clay. Tsitsipas leads their career head-to-head 5-2.

Wednesday’s Roland-Garros results

Thursday’s Roland-Garros order of play

Around Roland-Garros

Roland-Garros juniors: The Russians are coming!

Roger Federer: ‘You wear the clothes …’

Iga Swiatek: End of a French Open reign

During her post-match press conference following her quarterfinal loss Wednesday, Iga Switatek was asked if she felt like the same person she was before winning Roland Garros a year ago. She said: “I feel like the same person because I am the same person. But obviously, I had to mature faster and learn some new stuff. But I don’t think it changes me as a person.”

Maria Sakkari: By the numbers

Playing in her 21st major in Paris, Maria Sakkari‘s victory against Iga Swiatek marked the 17th straight match in which she’s won at least one set. The last player to beat Sakkari in straight sets? That’s right, it’s her Roland Garros semifinal opponent, Barbora Krejcikova, back in early March in Dubai 6-2, 7-6 (4).

“Just to say the truth, I did not play well in Dubai,” Sakkari said during her press conference. “It was one of [Krejcikova’s] best weeks. Credit to her. She played very, very good that week. But different conditions, fast court, fast balls. I made a lot of unforced errors.

“I think of course, it’s going to be very tough, but I’m confident that my coach’s will give me the right game plan. So far, I have been executive whatever they said really well. I trust myself and I trust their game plan. I think it’s going to work out well.”

Quotable …”

Rafael Nadal, after beating Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 to reach his 14th Roland Garros semifinal:

“I was in a tricky situation, 4-3 for him in the third. [It] was the moment to call myself, to play at the level I have on practice. Not many mistakes, more angles, more depth, more winners, my serve was better. I don’t pretend to come here and not losing [a] set. …

“Today, I found a way to play my best tennis when I needed it. It gives a lot of confidence.”

Maria Sakkari on her breakthrough at Roland Garros this fortnight:

“I thought about it a lot of times that maybe that was my ceiling and I could not get any higher in the rankings, playing better in tournaments. But this year I proved to myself that I’m actually playing good.

“I beat a lot of good players. Probably also I had the right people around me saying that I can do it, [which] gave me a lot of confidence in achieving that.”

Barbora Krejcikova on reaching her first Grand Slam semifinal:

“I’m just very happy. I just really appreciate that I’m here, that I’m playing tennis, that I can do well at what I love to do, that I can play all these amazing athletes. It’s dry nice when I have a match point and I finish the point, I can raise up my hands and really just enjoy the moment. Yeah, that I feel that right now that’s where I want to be, that’s where I always wanted to be. So, it’s cool. It’s cool.”

What they’re tweeting

What they’re writing

Women’s professional Taylor Townsend of the United States, writes in The Players’ Tribune: “I was fat and I was black, so they took away my dream or at least they tried. …” Townsend’s is a story worth reading and learning from.

Au revoir, Roland Garros

What they’re sharing on social media

Donna Vekic / So proud of you, Maria

The last word

Rafael Nadal, when asked during his press conference, “You have a 13-0 record in Roland-Garros semifinals …” responded back: “I don’t care about what happened in the past.”