Saturday, June 7, 2014

FRENCH OPEN 2014: Nadal and Djokovic set-up classic final


There may have been a few up-and-comers who tried to knock on the door these two weeks in Paris but the final will once again be a classic between two players who have won a combined 12 of the last 16 Grand Slams – Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Played in the warmest and sunniest conditions of the fortnight, yesterday’s semi-finals lacked excitement and spark but they also revealed the gulf in class between the world’s top-two and the rest of the field at Roland Garros.

It’s only fair that the French Open final is what will separate the two, with the No1 ranking going to the one who runs away with the Coupe des Mousquetaires tomorrow.

Nadal, who could become the first man in history to win five consecutive titles in Paris, gave a close to flawless performance against seventh-seeded Andy Murray, beating the Scot 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 in one hour and 40 minutes.

The Spaniard converted all six break points he created, faced none himself, and dropped only four points on his first serve throughout the match.

His coach and uncle, Toni, said it was his one of his nephew’s “best matches ever at Roland Garros”. A big statement considering Nadal has won 65 matches here with the loss of only one.

The Mallorcan machine was surprised at the way he played earlier in the quarter-finals saying he had been impeccable in practice and it seemed that translated into his vicious form against Murray yesterday.

“I said the other day that I was practicing better than a long time ago, so that's why the result today, no?” said Nadal, who has now won an ATP-best 40 matches in 2014.

“Today I played better than Andy. Andy made a few mistakes, especially on his return, whereas I made very few mistakes.

“I played quite well. So these are facts. I succeeded in developing my strategy. As for Andy's strategy, he didn't manage to implement it.

“He's a player I do admire quite a lot. He's a player I like. He is a player who is just recovering from an injury, and he's had very good results.”


Djokovic advanced to his second final in Paris earlier in the day, outclassing a nervous Ernests Gulbis 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 in a match where the world No2 had to overcome major fatigue bouts in the last two sets.

“Midway through the third set I started to feel physically fatigued, and you could feel that,” confessed Djokovic.

“The important thing for me is that I realise what's going on. It's nothing serious. I'm going to have now two days of recovery and get ready for the final.”

Although Gulbis was the first to get a look at break points in the third game of the match, it was Djokovic who drew first blood, edging ahead for a 3-2 lead when his Latvian opponent overcooked his forehand.

The six-time major champion took the opening set on his third set point, after overruling the umpire on his previous set point, to give Gulbis a point.

The second set saw only one break point chance created, and it was in Djokovic’s favour, who broke in the eighth game before serving out the set for a two-set lead.

Gulbis hadn’t been able to convert any of the five break points he had earlier in the match, but he finally broke through on his sixth chance, to lead 5-3 and run away with the third set.

As the fourth set went into its final stages, both players were visibly tired and Djokovic looked particularly drowsy during the changeovers, but he dug deep to break in the eighth game and sealed the win with a volley at the net.

Looking ahead to his final, Djokovic was asked whether he was surprised by how easily Nadal dismissed Murray.

The Serb said: “I'm not too surprised, because we all know how good Nadal is on this court. He's been elevating his game as the tournament progresses, and he's starting to feel at his best when he needs to. It's not the first time that that happens in his case. That's Nadal, and Roland Garros.”

Sunday, June 1, 2014

FRENCH OPEN 2014: Halep survives the carnage to reach fourth round, Kvitova and Ivanovic crash out


Simona Halep survived the high seeds carnage that took place in the first week of the French Open as she stormed into the fourth round dropping just 11 games in her first three matches.

The fourth-seeded Romanian crushed Spaniard Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor 6-3, 6-0 yesterday to make the second week in Paris for the first time and explains how she feels great to enjoy success on the same stage where she won Roland Garros as a junior in 2008.

“It's not a surprise, because I'm more confident now in myself, and I feel the ball really good here in French Open. I love this tournament. I love to be here. I'm enjoying the moment now. It's my best of my career, and I have to be happy on court and to fight for my chance,” said an elated Halep.

The 22-year-old is the highest seed standing in the draw following the shock exits of Serena Williams, Li Na and Agnieszka Radwanska and she admits she’s feeling some pressure.

“The first three seeded, they lost. That's a surprise for everyone. Is not easy to be the first seeded now during the tournament. But I try just to keep out from me the pressure and just to play every match, because here the Grand Slam every match is difficult.

“So is not easy to say that I will play semifinals or finals. I just take day by day and match by match.” 

Next for her is Sloane Stephens, the American No15 seed who has now made the second week in six consecutive Slams – a record streak amongst active WTA players.

Over the last two years, Stephens is 21-5 in Grand Slam matches and is 32-29 everywhere else. The 21-year-old said she has no explanation on why she performs better in the majors.

The match of the day saw two former Grand Slam champions battle it out as Svetlana Kuznetsova outlasted fifth-seeded Petra Kvitova 6-7(3), 6-1, 9-7 in three hours and 13 minutes.

Kuznetsova capitalised on 65 unforced errors from Kvitova, who needed treatment to her upper thigh in the second and third sets. The powerful lefty twice failed to serve for the match, and saved more than one match point before eventually succumbing to Kuznetsova.

“I think I ran twice more than Petra out there today,” said Kuznetsova, a champion in Paris in 2009.

“I knew I was going out there, and I was going to give everything I could and run every mile, every metre I could, and put as many balls back, be aggressive, try to be aggressive. Because if you watch the match, Petra was inside the court and I was next to the fans. But I just tried.”

Up next for Kuznetsova is another Czech lefty in the form of Lucie Safarova who took out 2008 and 11th-seeded Ana Ivanovic 6-3, 6-3.

Later in the day, Germany’s Andrea Petkovic advanced to the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time since 2011, with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 win over Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic, and said she felt rewarded for sticking to her comeback after a slew of injuries.

“One year ago I wanted to stop with tennis because I was awful. I'm here in the fourth round, which is kind of nice. I'm just happy I stuck with my comeback, and I kept trying,” said Petkovic, who revealed she is struggling with a stomach virus.

Jelena Jankovic and Sara Errani both won to set-up a last 16 clash against each other.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

FRENCH OPEN 2014: Day 7 Preview - Tough one for Ivanovic against Safarova


It must be impossible to ignore what’s happening.

As the top three seeds exit Roland Garros, only three former champions remain in the draw and Ana Ivanovic knows she is one of them.

She’s also been playing great tennis this season and has pulled off two of the biggest upsets in 2014, beating Serena Williams in Melbourne and Maria Sharapova in Rome.

But ahead of her third round with Czech Republic’s Lucie Safarova today (Saturday), Ivanovic insists it’s imperative she keep her focus on the task at hand and ignore those tipping her as one of the favourites for the title she won in 2008.

“Obviously it's hard to miss that (the top seeds have lost), but I still have my own draw and my own opponents in front of me. I really try to take care of each round individually and not think too much about that,” said the former world No1.

“You can get wound up thinking ahead, but it doesn't change anything.

“I don't think any seed went out in my section, to be honest. It's what happened in the other parts of the draw. It's not what I think of or focus on.”

Ivanovic has a difficult obstacle ahead of her especially having lost to Safarova in their last four meetings – none of which were on clay though.

“It's going to be a tough matchup. She's been playing really well last lately. I think last few times I actually lost, so it will be me going to get revenge,” said Ivanovic.

“I don't know if we played on clay so it's going to be a different kind of match, but I look forward to that challenge.” 

Ivanovic has had a rollercoaster career and after reaching No1 in the world following her first and only Grand Slam triumph six years ago, she only made two major quarter-finals in 23 attempts.

But she has managed to climb back to No12 in the world now and is hoping she can roll back the years and repeat her success from 2008.

She says: “I do feel like I'm a different player now with everything that I've been through. Just as a person I feel like I matured a lot, I grew up.

“Definitely I have familiar feelings. Also going back on Philippe Chatrier does bring a lot of the good memories and positive thoughts. It's a long path, but I wish to relive that moment once again.”

Meanwhile, seventh-seeded Andy Murray is bracing himself for a gruelling encounter with Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber. The Scot lost their only previous meeting, 6-2, 6-1 in Monte Carlo four years ago and is well aware of Kohlshreiber’s abilities. 

“A very tough, very tough match for me,” said Murray.

“I played him once before on clay and I think I got three games or something. He obviously won the tournament last week (in Dusseldorf). He's not dropped a set here, I don't think.”

World No1 Rafael Nadal takes on unseeded Argentine Leonardo Mayer while fifth-seeded David Ferrer faces Italian No32 seed Andreas Seppi.

FRENCH OPEN 2014: Gulbis hopes sisters don't pursue tennis careers


Ernests Gulbis created some waves with comments he made on Friday following his third round win in Paris when he suggested women are better off not being tennis player so they can get a chance to focus on family and kids.

The outspoken Latvian joked at the start of his press conference that he hadn’t been in the main interview room – typically reserved for winners and top players - in six years, since he last made the Roland Garros quarters back in 2008. But the world No17’s first press conference back there did not go as well as would have hoped.

Asked about his younger sisters, who both are believed to play tennis, Gulbis said: “Hopefully they will not pursue a professional tennis career. Hopefully.

“Because for a woman, it's tough. I wouldn't like my sisters to become professional tennis players. It's a tough choice of life. A woman needs to enjoy life a little bit more. Needs to think about family, needs to think about kids. What kids you can think about until age of 27 if you're playing professional tennis, you know.

“That's tough for a woman, I think.”

The 25-year-old, who beat Radek Stepanek in straight sets yesterday, has had a rollercoaster career and this is the first time he has made the second week at a major since his run to the last eight six years ago. He is enjoying a career-high ranking and just won a tournament in Nice last week.

“I did a lot of bad decisions career wise. Not paying too much attention to the things that I do, how to treat my body, how to practice… just overall,” said Gulbis, who next faces Roger Federer.

“Thankfully it didn’t take me a longer time. I’m jumping in the last train. I'm 25, so this was my last opportunity to be really successful, I think, and I think I have good seven, eight more years to play in the top level.”

FRENCH OPEN 2014: Tomljanovic the latest youngster to take down a seed


The youth movement continues to take down more victims in the women’s draw as third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska became the next high-profile casualty, falling to young up-and-comer world No72 Ajla Tomljanovic in the third round on Friday.

Tomljanovic, 21, dispatched the world No3 6-4, 6-4 to reach the fourth round on her Roland Garros main draw debut and she admits she’s been inspired by the efforts of 20-year-old Garbine Muguruza and 21-year-old Kristina Mladenovic, the slayers of the top two seeds Serena Williams and Li Na in the previous rounds.

“After seeing the two first seeds go out, you kind of feel like I can do this, too. I grew up with these girls that are beating them,” the Croat said after her match.

“I went on the stadium for the first time, and she (Radwanska) kind of feels like home there, because she's been there a lot more than I did. I went out there, and I really, inside really thought I could win.

“I think that showed and it is why I won.”

For the first time since tennis turned professional in 1968, the top three women seeds crash out before the fourth round at any Grand Slam.

Radwanska was making her 32nd consecutive main draw appearance at a major while Tomljanovic is playing only her fourth Grand Slam but the young Croat looked more like the tour veteran as she raced to a 5-1 lead in the opening set.

The Pole tried to fight back, winning three in a row to make it 4-5 but Tomljanovic confidently served out the set. An early break was all the Florida-resident needed to take the second set and the match, and reach the last 16 of a major for the first time in her career.

Tomljanovic, who trains at the Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, stressed that she didn’t want to get too excited as she hopes to go further in the tournament.

She calls Chris Evert her “second mom” and explains how the American legend tries to instill in her the mental toughness and positive body language that helped her win 18 major singles titles.

“It's kind of nice to see it from her perspective when she watches me play, to see if I'm nervous,” said Tomljanovic of Evert. “She always thought I had good composure but maybe thought I could be a little bit more feisty out there.”

A dejected Radwanska paid tribute to her opponent and particularly lauded her serve.

Radwanska was the highest seed left in the draw prior to yesterday and when asked whether she had high expectations of herself this fortnight, going into the match, the 25-year-old said: “I was saying yesterday that it doesn't mean if first and second seed lost, doesn't mean the third one is going to win. It's stupid to say that.

“I don't think it was my day today. I think I just started too slow. I was 5 1 down, and I guess I was a little late for the first set. I was still trying, almost came back, but it didn't work out well. But she definitely played good tennis today. I had my chances. I didn't do them. I think that cost me the match.”

FRENCH OPEN 2014: Sharapova acknowledges she's the favourite


Maria Sharapova and Sam Stosur where in ruthless form on Friday as they both posted wins to set-up a fourth round blockbuster against each other, while Serena Williams conqueror Garbine Muguruza continued her dream run with victory over Anna Schmiedlova.

Sharapova hit three double faults to open her match on Philippe Chatrier before she was saved by the rain. When she returned to the court 40 minutes later, the Russian saved a break point before going on a rampage, beating Argentinean Paula Ormachea 6-0, 6-0 in 51 minutes.

The No7 seed won 54 points to just 17 for Ormachea.

With the top three seeds out of the draw, Sharapova was questioned whether she considers herself the favourite for the title.

The 2012 champion said: “If I don't have the mentality that I'm the favourite inside of myself going into a tournament like this, then I probably shouldn't be in the draw. I like to be positive yet realistic, and there is no reason why I shouldn't be the favourite at this tournament."

Meanwhile, 2010 runner-up and N019 seed Stosur gave in a solid performance to oust Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova 6-4, 6-4.

Stosur started the match striking the ball brilliantly and a big forehand winner gave her two break points in the opening game. A poorly-struck drop shot from Cibulkova handed the break to the Australian, who took eight of the first nine points of the match to go up 2-0.

The petite Slovakian struck back two games later though as she found her range, forcing the backhand error from Stosur following a long rally to get a break point. And Cibulkova broke with a massive forehand winner to draw level at 2-2.

Stosur inched ahead again breaking after a lengthy fifth game with an inside out forehand winner that clipped the sideline. The No19 seed kept pressuring Cibulkova’s serve but it was the one break that gave Stosur the set.

The second set was like a tug of war, with both players digging deep to save break points and remain on serve but again it was the powerful Stosur who broke the deadlock and got the win.

The Australian hadn’t reached the fourth round at a major since the 2012 US Open and was happy to finally make a Grand Slam second week.

“Very happy (to make the fourth round), I think it's the first time I won three matches in a row for a while, too. Yeah, it's all good. I'm really happy with the way I played today,” said the former US Open champion.

Later in the day, 20-year-old Muguruza took out Schmiedlova 6-2, 6-4 to match her best previous result at a major (2014 Australian Open) by making the fourth round.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

FRENCH OPEN 2014: Berdych hits out at umpire

Photo via Getty

Tomas Berdych hit out at umpire Marijana Veljovic claiming she was unable to control the crowd during his four-set victory over Kazakhstan’s Aleksandr Nedovyesov.

Berdych dropped the first set before striking back 6-7, 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 in a difficult second round encounter against the world No101 and was seen complaining to the umpire about the noise coming from the crowds.

The Czech is no stranger to rowdy spectators having represented his country in numerous Davis Cup away ties but he says the umpire didn’t do enough to handle the situation.

“I was more irritated by the referee, because once you tell her or once she said something (to the crowd) about being quiet, I can barely hear that and I'm on the court just a few metres from her,” said Berdych.

“She was really probably not well-experienced for that. She definitely couldn't handle the situation.

“Really she was trying to step in at the wrong time when already the guy was serving or... Really not experienced enough to handle it like that.

“Of course I played many Davis Cup matches, but even when we played in Argentina where it was crazy loud, once you were ready to play there is complete silence.

“If not, then the referee takes care of it and that's fine.”

Berdych was on his way to complete a routine comeback after dropping the opening set but then fell behind 0-3 in the fourth. He won six games in a row though to book a third round with Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, who gave a solid and composed performance to beat Frenchman Benoit Paire 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-2.

Paire saved five match points on his own serve in the seventh game to hold for 2-5 but it only delayed the inevitable as Bautista Agut served out the match comfortably.

The Spanish No27 seed – tipped by many as a dark horse for this tournament - is seeded for the first time in a major, and following his win over Juan Martin del Potro at this year’s Australian Open, his good results this season and elevated ranking, is Bautista Agut feeling extra pressure this fortnight?

“I try to focus on me, not to think too much and play match by match and that’s what I’m trying,” said Bautista Agut.

“Yes I have expectations of myself. I feel well to play good and I want to win as many matches as I can.”

He leads Berdych 2-1 head-to-head and beat him most recently in Indian Wells this year.