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.

FRENCH OPEN 2014: Serena stunned by magical Muguruza in Paris

It is the Grand Slam of firsts it appears.

Only a day after Li Na crashed out to join Stan Wawrinka as first round losers in an unprecedented twist for two reigning Australian Open champions, world No1 Serena Williams stumbled to defeat so that the top two women’s seeds are eliminated from a Grand Slam before the third round for the first time in the Open era.

An hour earlier, Serena’s sister, Venus, had fallen to 19-year-old Anna Schmiedlova 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.

What was meant to be a highly-anticipated third round between Serena and Venus has suddenly become a clash between 20-year-old Garbine Muguruza, who shocked the younger Williams sister 6-2, 6-2, and Slovak teenager Schmiedlova - a sign that perhaps the youth are finally rising in women’s tennis.

Spanish sensation Muguruza, who had managed only two games in her sole meeting with Serena last year at the Australian Open, pulled off the biggest victory of her career in 64 minutes after showcasing some incredibly smart and fearless tennis.

The world No35, who kicked off 2014 by winning her maiden WTA in Hobart, was 0-5 against top-five players going into the match but it was clear she had different intentions when she raced to a double break 4-1 lead in the opening set.

Such was the confidence of the young Barcelona resident, she aced to get her first set point then took the one-set lead with a service winner.

Serena was yelling at herself saying “I can’t serve” and those expecting a strong fight back were quickly disappointed as Muguruza broke in the opening game of the second set with a great cross court backhand passing shot.

She broke again for a 3-0 lead, and even though Serena got one of the breaks back, Muguruza was unfazed as she delivered another service break the following game for a 4-1 lead. The Spaniard saved three consecutive break points in game six and served out the match to love, celebrating in disbelief when Serena’s return landed in the net.

“I don't think anything worked for me today,” said Serena, who insisted she wasn’t suffering from any injuries.

“Honestly, I think Garbine played really well and she played really smart. I didn't adapt. It was what it was.

“It's great, because I'm going to go home and work five times as hard to make sure I never lose again.”

For Muguruza, the key was having the right game plan. At no point did she appear hesitant or scared despite facing a 17-time major champion.

“She said that if I continue playing like this, I can win the tournament. I said ‘I will try, I will try’,” Muguruza said of the exchange of words she had with Serena at the net.

“Today I had everything really clear I was really focused, and I knew what I had to do on court, so I think that was the important part.”

She faces a fellow up-and-comer in the next round in the form of Schmiedlova and Muguruza believes the tides are about to turn in the women’s game.

“These things are going to happen, some time, a new generation is going to come, and I think now is the moment,” said Muguruza, who revealed she is yet to decide whether she will be representing Spain or Venezuela in Fed Cup.

Venus was also disappointed by her defeat and blamed the drop of her first serve percentage on her decline throughout the match. She admits that a third round against Serena was indeed in the back of her head.

“I think we both feel, I mean, I felt like this was a match that I was most likely going to win. I don't know how Serena felt, but I'm sure she feels like that every time she goes on the court. So I think our expectation was to play in the next round,” said Venus.

American teenager Taylor Townsend added another name to the upset list as she dispatched 20th-seeded home favourite Alize Cornet 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 to post only her second career Grand Slam victory.

2012 champion Maria Sharapova made sure she wasn’t another casualty. The No7 seed recovered from an early break by Tsvetana Pironkova to defeat the Bulgarian 7-5, 6-2 in the last match of the day on Court Philippe Chatrier.

No12 seed Flavia Pennetta was also sent packing by world No99 Sweden’s Johanna Larsson while 18th-seeded Eugenie Bouchard recovered from a poor start to beat German Julia Goerges 2-6, 6-2, 6-1.

FRENCH OPEN 2014: Federer, Djokovic through to the third round

Roger Federer is grateful he gets to face a familiar foe in his next match after going through a tricky encounter against his first-time opponent Diego Sebastian Schwartzman in the second round yesterday.

The wind, cold and drizzle made for difficult conditions in Paris and Federer was surprised by how well Schwartzman handled it all. But Federer still managed to advance in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.

The 21-year-old from Argentinean qualifier was making his Grand Slam debut and his victory over fellow qualifier Gastao Elias in the first round was only the second Tour-level win of his career.

It was Schwartzman who drew first blood, breaking Federer’s serve in the third game but the Swiss 2009 champion struck back immediately to draw level and win four games in a row en route to taking the set.

A tight second set was decided in game 9 when Federer broke for a 5-4 lead and the Swiss broke early in the third to secure the win.

“I think it was kind of tough all the way through, for me,” said Federer.

“I didn't feel relaxed for the entire match. I've always felt he had a little bit of an upper hand from the baseline.

“I feel he was doing a really good job being aggressive and making good plays. I think he handled the conditions really well.”

The 17-time major champion next faces Russian veteran Dmitry Tursunov, who stretched him to two tiebreak sets in their previous meeting.

“Tursunov is a different player altogether versus Schwartzman today,” said Federer.

“He tried more with his serve, but also with the forehand. And also I played against him at Indian Wells. It was 7 6, 7 6, that's how I defeated him. It was a tough match. But at least I know Dmitry, I didn't know Schwartzman at all. I didn't know if he was a great player, average, or not really good.”

Earlier in the day, No2 seed Novak Djokovic was happy he handled the constantly-changing conditions well as he easily dismissed Frenchman Jeremy Chardy 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 in 92 minutes.

He says he’s aware of all the upsets happening during the first two rounds and says it’s important not to underestimate any opponent.

“In the Grand Slam we all know that in the opening rounds that the lower ranked players have a lot of motivation to play their best and to win against top players on the big stadiums,” said the second seeded Serb.

“I just saw that Serena (Williams) also lost. So it's definitely a surprise to see the big favourites coming out. But again, you can never underestimate any opponent in a Grand Slam.”

He faces Croatian Marin Cilic next.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga gave a clinical performance against Austrian lefty Jurgen Melzer advancing 6-2, 6-3, 6-4. “It was a very good match, clearly. I know I can do even better,” said Tsonga, who plays No22 seed Jerzy Janowicz next.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

FRENCH OPEN 2014: Bautista Agut takes out Paire to reach third round

Roberto Bautista Agut, tipped by many as a dark horse in this year’s French Open, reached the third round at Roland Garros for the first time with a 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-2 win over home favourite Benoit Paire.

The flat-hitting No27 seed, who impressed by making the semis in Madrid earlier this month, gave a calm and collected performance against the talented but often erratic Paire to advance.

The Spaniard 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,” tells me.

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

The pair traded breaks early on before Bautista Agut started putting more and more pressure on his French opponent’s serve.

Paire was rushing the net, and he was successful more times than not. He relied on his serve several times to save break points (5/7 in the opening set).

But Bautista Agut’s discipline and composure were always going to prove more valuable in the end, the Spaniard getting three straight set points on a long forehand from Paire.

And he needed only one as one more trip from Paire to the net saw the French world No61 send a backhanded volley wide to give Bautista Agut a one-set lead.

Just like the first set, Paire broke in the first game of the second but this time, the 25-year-old consolidated the break to go 2-0 up.

He dug deep to save two break points in the fourth game but double-faulted two games later to give Bautista Agut another break opportunity. A well-executed volley got Paire out of trouble though.

Bautista Agut got the break though in the eighth game to level the set at 4-4 but was broken right back by Paire.

But the Frenchman inexcusably double-faulted, then struck a poor drop shot that landed wide to get broken again while serving for the set at 5-4.

Bautista Agut eventually triumphed in the tiebreak 7-4 to take a commanding two-set lead and broke in the opening game of the third before cruising to a 5-1 lead.

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 with an ace to set up a third round with either sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych or Kazakhstan’s Aleksandr Nedovyesov.