Wednesday, May 27, 2015

ROLAND GARROS: Halep crashes out to Lucic-Baroni... again

You can’t blame third-seeded Simona Halep for changing her strategy towards harder hitting – she is after all just trying to adapt her game to the way tennis is general evolving into.

But the Romanian’s attempt to keep up with the power-hitters of the WTA backfired as she crashed out of Roland Garros yesterday at the hands of Croatian Mirjana Lucic-Baroni – the same player who ousted her from the US Open third round last September.

Halep, a runner-up in Paris in 2014, became the highest seed to fall in the women's draw as she suffered a heavy 7-5, 6-1 defeat to the 33-year-old Lucic-Baroni, who is through to the third round at Roland Garros for the first time in 14 years.

Lucic-Baroni hit an impressive 29 winners to a mere five from Halep and was overpowering the world No3 throughout the 71-minute affair on Suzanne Lenglen.

"She played well. I couldn’t play my best today. She started to hit the ball very strong at the beginning of the match. So she was better than me today, and I have just to take, you know, this situation to handle it and just to go forward," said a visibly disappointed Halep.

"Maybe I changed a bit the strategy of my practices. I just wanted to hit too strong maybe, and to change the game is not good. I have to play like what I feel on court and just to be like, to create the game.

"So I started to hit the ball too strong, and that is not my style. I don’t feel it, and I don’t handle it. So I have to go back in my game and just to train again how I did till now."

Halep, who had a dream 18 months winning eight title from mid-2013 until the end of 2014, has a game that is based on finesse, tactics, intelligence and choosing when to be aggressive.

Despite picking up titles in Shenzhen, Dubai and Indian Wells this season, Halep has had a disappointing clay swing and she admits a team meeting is in order to examine where things went wrong.

"I still dream for many things in this life and in this career, because I have many years to go, and so if I lost today, it doesn’t mean that I cannot play anymore or I don’t win any more matches. I just want to take the decision to see what I did wrong, what I have to do better, to be better, and to speak with my team, because together we have to decide some things."

On her part, Lucic-Baroni, who next faces home favourite Alize Cornet, was happy to prove to the world that the US Open was no fluke.

"I knew it was going to be really tough. I was going to have to play a great match again and back up sort of what I did at the US Open. Because sometimes people say ‘oh, it’s one day everything went in’, and I don’t look at it like that.

"I know I played really well. I have been working really hard, and I knew today I had to play some great tennis. I was ready for it."

Lucic-Baroni was a teenage prodigy in the ‘90s, making the Wimbledon semi-finals in 1999 beating Monica Seles before falling to Steffi Graf. She stepped away from the game a few years later, announcing she had suffered mental and physical abuse from her father and coach Marinko and accused him and his nephew of stealing prize money from her.

She didn’t reappear on the tour until 2010 and had a dream breakthrough last September when she made the US Open fourth round.

"I’m going to enjoy right now as much as I can. Yeah, I missed a few years, and it’s unfortunate. I feel like I missed my best years, for sure. There is nothing I can do right now. There is no point of thinking about it too much. Just enjoying right now where I am," she says.

Monday, May 25, 2015

ROLAND GARROS: Halep makes winning return, Gulbis says it's now or never

Returning to a tournament where you’ve done exceptionally well the year before can often be a double-edged sword.

On one hand, you can draw on your past results to give you confidence, but on the other, there is the added pressure of expectation and of defending many points.

But both Simona Halep, last year’s runner-up, and Garbine Muguruza, a quarter-finalist in 2014, handled their return to Paris in spectacular fashion, booking their place in the second round with straight sets victories.

Halep, whose last match on Philippe Chatrier Stadium last year was a tight three-set loss to Maria Sharapova in the final, needed just 75 minutes to beat Russian Evgeniya Rodina 7-5, 6-4.

The Romanian world No3 squandered an early break in the opening set before recovering to break against in game 11 and take the lead. The pair again exchanged breaks in the second set before Halep broke to love in the 11th game and sealed the match.

"Was tough," Halep said of how she felt walking back on Philippe Chatrier.

"But I was enjoying a lot. I tried just to be focused for what I have to do on court to play my game. Many people came, and it was really nice, the atmosphere. It was a great day for me. I just want to enjoy it."
Muguruza, who had her best grand slam result in Paris last year when she made the quarter-finals, beating Serena Williams en route, required just over an hour to defeat Petra Martic 6-2, 7-5.

"Obviously I was really, really nervous. The first match of the next year when you did a good tournament last year, you feel a lot of pressure," confessed the Spanish world No21.

"So I’m just happy to win the match and to fight and not to be like blocked. Sometimes when you are too nervous you block yourself and you cannot play. I’m happy that this did not happen."

2008 champion Ana Ivanovic recovered from a first-set letdown to defeat big-serving Yaroslava Shvedova 4-6, 6-2, 6-0.

On the men’s side, world No5 Kei Nishikori overcame a stiff challenge from home veteran Paul-Henri Mathieu in the second set to advance 6-3, 7-5, 6-1.

Nishikori, one of five Japanese men in the main draw – the most in Paris since 1967 – awaits the winner of the match between Australian Marinko Matosevic and recently-crowned Geneva champion Thomaz Bellucci.

"It’s great to see many Japanese players here, and I think men’s tennis got much better right now in Japan," said the 25-year-old.

Last year’s semi-finalist Ernests Gulbis recorded just his third victory of the year by easily dispatching Dutch qualifier Igor Sijsling 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (3).

"I’m lacking couple of weeks of decent tennis. Hopefully I can make up now. I mean, it’s now or never for the clay season," said the Latvian.

ROLAND GARROS: Sharapova and Murray to begin their Paris campaigns

Maria Sharapova’s transformation on clay has been one of the Russian’s most remarkable accomplishments and she herself cannot deny her surprise at her recent results at Roland Garros.

Sharapova, who had her breakthrough as a 17-year-old stunning Serena Williams to win Wimbledon in 2004, has made the final for the past three straight years in Paris, picking up the title on two of those occasions.

Roland Garros is now the only major the world No2 has won twice – she has won once at each of the remaining three – and today, she will commence her assault on a third Parisian crown when she takes on Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi on centre court.

"I think I evolved as a player and as a person. I won my first grand slam at a very young age and tennis life. I really enjoy playing on very fast courts with quick points. I wasn’t yet physically developed. I was still growing at that stage. I wasn’t as strong as I am today," said Sharapova, looking back at her early years on tour.

"With the evolution of the courts and technologies and the game itself, things have evolved, definitely. I guess to be in this position I think for many, including myself, the transition I made on the clay courts to become a two-time French Open champion has been a big surprise and really incredible achievement personally for me. Because I was able to take something that was a big weakness of mine and make it into one of my strengths."

It is the kind of transition world No3 Andy Murray will be looking to emulate in Paris this fortnight. The Scot, who opens against Argentine lucky loser Facundo Arguello today, admits he has never really been too comfortable on clay, despite having made the semi-finals twice before at Roland Garros.

This year, he comes to Paris on a 10-match winning streak on the surface – a run that saw him pick up his first two clay titles of his career, in Madrid and Munich.

"It’s probably the best I have played on clay, for sure. I never really felt particularly comfortable on the surface. Sometimes by the time I got to the French Open I started to feel good, but, yeah obviously winning tournaments and beating, good players helps with the confidence," said Murray, who beat Rafael Nadal in the Madrid final.

"I just feel like I have an idea of what I’m doing on the court sometimes. In the past I have not really known what was happening on the court and felt like I was struggling with my movement. Whereas this year it doesn’t feel like that. I feel like I’m moving well. I feel a lot freer on the court. Body feels good. That’s positive."

Sunday, May 24, 2015

ROLAND GARROS DAY 1: Federer handles a court-invader, Wawrinka slams tournament website

Roland Garros did not get off to the greatest of starts as security concerns were raised when a fan managed to get on court and approach Roger Federer for a picture, while the tournament’s official website posted an article heavily speculating details about Stan Wawrinka’s private life.

The Swiss pair were in stellar form in their opening round wins on Sunday, but both addressed the unfortunate incidents that marred the beginning of their French Open campaigns.

Federer, who eased past Colombian Alejandro Falla 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 to make the second round, had a scare on court upon the conclusion of his match when a young fan raided the court and wanted to take a ‘selfie’ with the world No2.

The security guards were bizarrely slow in their reaction and it was Federer who fended for himself before the fan was taken away.

The No2 seed later revealed that this is the second time in as many days he has experienced an on-court fan encounter. On Saturday during Federer’s practice, more than one fan managed to get on the court.

“I'm not happy about it. Obviously not one second I'm happy about it. It happened yesterday in the practice, too. It's just a kid, but then three more kids came. And today on centre court where you would think this is a place where nobody can come on, just wanders on and nothing happen,” Federer said after his first round win yesterday.

“It happened during the finals in '09 as well for me. Normally I only speak on behalf of myself, but in this situation I think I can speak on behalf of all the players, that that's where you do your job, that's where you want to feel safe.

“He was not five, he was not a five-year-old boy,” Federer added in French. “So the situation is that this should never happen on the Philippe Chatrier court in Roland Garros and it even happened yesterday to me. Nobody reacted in terms of security. It shouldn't happen too often. It's happened twice in two days. I think people should react more quickly.”

In the 2009 final between Federer and Robin Soderling, Jimmy Jump – a Spaniard famous for his interferences at sporting events – interrupted the match and approached Federer, putting a flag on his head, while the 2013 final between Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer saw a protester get on the court and light up a flare right next to Nadal.

“Gilbert Ysern (tournament director) already came and apologised to me, and we had a quick conversation,” Federer added.

“I hope that there is going to be a reaction from the tournament. They apologised, and I must say that I appreciated this, but I'd like to see what's going to happen next.”

A press conference was held with the tournament director, Ysern, to address the security concerns and while the Frenchman acknowledged the mistake, he said no changes will be made to the safety procedures at the event.

“I think, well, some extent it's not the end of the world. Of course we should not make too big a case of that, but it's embarrassing, of course, for Roland Garros, when something like that happens,” said Ysern.

“Well, it simply shows that we collectively as an organisation made a mistake and we will have to correct that, of course, and make sure it doesn't happen again.

“I'm not going to tell you I'm happy with what happened this afternoon. But honestly, at this stage there is no reason for us to change the security procedures. They are organised; it was just a lack of judgment this afternoon.”

Meanwhile, a visibly irate Wawrinka was asked to react to an article that was posted on on Saturday, before getting removed some 90 minutes later, that carried the headline “Stan the Man versus Ilhan and Ilham”. Marsel Ilhan was the Turkish opponent he defeated in straight sets yesterday, and Ilham is Wawrinka’s soon-to-be ex-wife.

The article talked about Wawrinka leaving his wife, twice, and then suggested the 30-year-old was in a relationship with 18-year-old Croat player Donna Vekic.

“He may have more in common with 18-year-old Croat phenom Donna Vekic than just an agent. Apparently that news had come from the Vekic camp,” claimed the article.

The administrators of the official French Open website initially changed the headline before they eventually took it down completely.

“Completely stupid article. It's an official website of a grand slam, so I hope the guy who did that article is not a journalist. I also hope the guy who is supposed to check all the article on the website is not working anymore for the tournament,” said Wawrinka.

“I saw the article last night. I told the tournament that I wasn't really happy about it, and I don't think it was great for the tournament to do that shit article.”

Ysern again admitted to the mistake, saying: “We have to pay attention when we proofread the papers. But given what we have on the Internet, so many people write so many things, so many papers.

“So controlling this is complicated. It's complicated to control all levels, but we have to do this. When we missed this yesterday, we tried to catch up. Of course, we got rid of this article, and that's all. Everybody has faults. We have to admit it.”