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Saturday, May 27, 2017

RG Preview: Star-light, but Star Bright

The championship trophies are polished. The terre battue is prepared. And Trump is no longer around to shove his way into the front row.

Yep, we've got a grand slam to play.

Besides whether or not Pam Shriver could name even three-quarters of the players currently ranked in the Top 10, here's a quick look at a few of the *other* biggest head-scratchers we face as play is set to begin at Roland Garros...

...yes, that's also the Intriguing Question I asked heading into the Australian Open in January, and it seems even more appropriate now than it did then. Kerber's semi-eyebrow raising first two weeks of 2017 has turned into nearly five months of waiting for the mettle she showed last year to truly kick in this season. Despite an early spring clay final appearance, we're still waiting for the technical and mental aspects to resemble those she displayed in her career year. Now, after injuring herself in Madrid, then playing and showing that her mobility was an issue in a quick one-and-out cameo in Rome, the world #1's viability when it comes to being any sort of threat in Paris is a huge question mark. She didn't get any favors in the draw, either. The German opens on Sunday vs. Ekaterina Makarova and could very well see her Roland Garros experience ended in the 1st Round for the second straight year. The 2nd Round could bring Lesia Tsurenko, with the 3rd possibly placing either Jelena Ostapenko or Roberta Vinci in Kerber's path. Just in case, it's good to know that no world #1 has ever lost in the 1st Round in Paris. The earliest exits? The 2nd Round, with Justine Henin losing to Tathiana Garbin in '04, and Serena Williams falling to Garbine Muguruza in '14. But Angie couldn't play anyone with "g-a-r-b-i-n" in her first or last name until the semifinals, for what it's worth. But, yeah, we should probably still be worried.

...a week ago, Simona Halep seemed quite possibly destined to finally fulfill her grand slam dreams. The draw was going to be absent many a virtual HOF wing of big names, and many of the other usual slam contenders are at their least effective on the clay. The Romanian was finally healthy, and her springtime attitude adjustment (The Cliffs were closed to visitors named Simona) was producing immediate dividends with a title run in Madrid and spot in the Rome final (the first back-to-back finals in the spring's biggest pre-RG clay events since Serena won both in 2013). And then she wickedly turned her ankle in the championship vs. Elina Svitolina, battled to stay in the match, but figuratively seemed to throw in the towel (though she refused to quit) in the 3rd set. She came to Paris saying she was "50/50" to play, having nearly torn her ankle ligament. As of the making of the draw, she was more optimistic she'd be able to play, but her disappointment was apparent. Even if she's able to go, her chances to win the title have taken a big, big hit. Being in the toughest quarter of the draw doesn't help, either. Jana Cepelova isn't a gimme in her opening match, and the likes of super-teen Marketa Vondrousova looms in a possible 3rd Rounder. If she gets past all that, after a Rome final with the Ukrainian that was easy to look upon as something we'd love to see in a semi or final in Paris, Simona could find Elina on the other side of the net in the quarterfinals. Maybe it'll all work out for Halep, but it sure *feels* like we'll all going to be feeling sorry for her well before the final weekend of play in Roland Garros.
...Elina Svitolina leads the tour in nearly every category that denotes a winner through the first five months of 2017, not the least of which is being the only woman to claim two singles wins on clay. She's expert at claiming International titles, and has even added a pair of Premier wins to her career resume this season, including two weekends ago in Rome when she seized upon Halep's injury in the final and raced into the winner's circle. But she's still seeking a *true* slam breakout performance after which everyone -- even the likes of a Pam Shriver -- would know her name and not think her success is proof that the WTA is "in a rut," but instead is only just beginning to get to know one of the players who'll be one of the top facse of the tour over the next 5-7 years. A former RG girls champ, and with her only women's slam QF coming in Paris (2015), Svitolina might rightly be called one of the many "co-favorites" (and maybe even *the* with injuries unsettling so many other contenders, though even *she* had a groin issue in Rome) to win the title. But she'll have to be on her game, and quickly, too. She should get past Yaroslava Shvedova in the 1st Round, but the Kazakh *did* look better this past week on clay than she has all season long. Prague champ Mona Barthel may await in the 2nd Round, followed by Ana Konjuh, either Anastasija Sevastova or Ash Barty (but probably not the match play-deficient and not-a-clay-court-lover Madison Keys)... and *then* the survivor of the section that features Halep, Vondrosuova, Suarez-Navarro, Peng and Kasatkina. And even then, with all those wins, she'd only be in the semifinals. But Svitolina *can* take advantage. The world #6 is a smart cookie, both on court and off. She's recently adjusted her coaching situation again, shedding one co-coach in favor of one, Thierry Ascione, as she further attempts to fine-tune and perfect her approach. She's taken the long(er) road to get here compared to many of her generational counterparts, but she's won at each and every level along the way as she's done it. The next logical step is big slam success. It's time to take advantage of the moment.
...they could, as far as some of the biggest names and/or their inheritors are concerned. #1 Kerber, former finalist Halep, defending champ Muguruza, '17 Race #1 Svitolina, former #1 Wozniacki, Sharapova critic Bouchard and even The Kasatkina arrive in Paris nursing injuries. Aga Radwanska is just coming back from an injury break, and hasn't been in form all season. Same for Madison Keys. But at least they're all set to play. The same can't be said for one of the best clay courters around, Stuttgart champ Laura Siegemund, who injured her knee in Nurnberg and will miss RG and a good chunk of time beyond. Needless to say, with the trio of Serena, Vika and Maria all absent from this slam, the competition would have been better off if all the top players didn't come in dragging or favoring various body parts. But staying healthy is part of the game, and the tournament will go on with or without them. *Someone* will lift La Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen in two weeks, and they should be hailed far and wide for it, no matter their path.

...come on, is that really a question? Having Kvitova become the first of the big names off tour in the early months of '17 to ease her way back onto the court is stupendous, amazing and one of the most beautiful things ever (you know, like the chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago). In her first match back from the home invasion attack that injured her racket hand and threatened to end her career this offseason, Kvitova will face Julia Boserup. Mattek-Sands or Rodina would be next, with possibly Sam Stosur after that. But that doesn't matter. As she said this week, she's already won by just being back on the court. No one is expecting her to win this title, and even an opening match loss wouldn't be a disappointment. Petra's back, and that's all that matters for now.


WILL THE VETS REIGN SUPREME ONCE MORE? Melbourne, both Williams Sisters and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni made the semifinals a mid-to-late thirtysomething party that was only crashed by (naturally) the likes of CoCo Vandweghe. Could we see the same thing happen again as the NextGen fails to seize the moment in a draw minus so many superstar slam winners? Well, it's easy to see no less than one of the 30 crowd reaching at least the semis in Paris. While #10 Venus Williams is coming off her best RG result last year (4th Rd.) since 2010, and her best slam finish (AO RU) since '09, she has a tough road in her quarter to reach the final four, with the likes of Dasha Gavrilova, Timea Bacsinszky and Dominika Cibulkova in her section, and if she manages to win it she very well might see Lucic-Baroni in the QF (though Muguruza, who'll either face soon-to-retire Francesca Schiavone in the 2010 champ's Paris swan song or possibly become her last great RG victim, might challenge that notion, as will crowd favorite Kristina Mladenovic). But it could happen. At the very least, hopefully, we'll get a 2nd Round match-up of the draw's oldest woman (Venus turns 37 in June) vs. the youngest, 15-year old Amanda Anisimova (the WC is the first player born in 2001 to play a MD slam match). In 2001, Venus was winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open back-to-back for the second straight summer. The veteran quarter to watch, though, would have to be the one at the very top of the draw. While 30-year old Kerber is there, the two thirtysomethings to keep an eye on are Svetlana Kuznetsova (31) and Samantha Stosur (33). Kuznetsova won RG in '09, and reached the final in '06. Stosur was runner-up in 2010 and just had her best week of the season with a title run in Strasbourg and, though, most would be hard pressed to name her as one, was a surprise semifinalist in Paris just last year. They could be on a collision course for a QF match-up to determine a berth in the final four. Both might not get there (Sveta vs. '16 semifinalist Kiki Bertens in the 4th Rd. being likely *the* biggest obstacle), but it's easy to believe at least one will play in that QF match. Then again, neither are particularly good at winning when expectations are high that they might.

...while Alize Cornet (1st Rd. vs. Babos) is always a drama waiting to happen, it's the top two ranked French women who are in this discussion. Last year, Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia combined to become the first all-Pastry team to win the RG women's doubles in many generations, but they're on their own (and sometimes feuding... well, at least Kiki is) this time around. Garcia is slowly finding her form after a March back injury (the FFT confirmed it, so it must be true), while Mladenovic has been one of the biggest risers on tour in '17, reaching four finals (though winning just one), including in Stuttgart and Madrid. #13 Mladenovic would seem the best bet to challenge to become the first French woman to win since Mary Pierce in 2000, but she'll have to continue to use the French crowd to her advantage to do it. Former finalist Sara Errani (2nd Rd.), Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (3rd), defending champ Garbine Muguruza (4th) are all in her section of the draw, and Dominika Cibulkova and Venus Williams head the other half of the quarter. #28 Garcia is in the other half of the draw, but may have a more generous path. Nao Hibino and Kristyna Pliskova are in the way early, with Johanna Konta (not a clay court maven by any means), Aga Radwanska (back from an injury layoff, but in a moderate slump all year) and Barbora Strycova (3-10 at RG) late. A QF run isn't out of the question, and then it'd be a matter of whether she'd be facing the likes of Karolina Pliskova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or Irina-Camelia Begu for a berth in the semis. Garcia would seem to have a better chance to survive the gauntlet, but I'm betting it'd be Mladenovic who's more likely to pull it off. She's in better form, loves the spotlight and feeds off the crowd. Kiki has shown this year, close final losses aside, that she's ready to play on the big stage. Other than in her Fed Cup past, Garcia is still something of a question mark.

...Paris has always been kind to youngsters and newcomers. Remember, fifteen Open era women's slam winners won their first major at Roland Garros, including Garbine Muguruza last year. While one's tempted to say someone like Elina Svitolina or Kristina Mladenovic could emerge with their names known by far more people in two weeks than they are today, we might see fit to look a little deeper. 17-year old Czech Marketa Vondrousova burst onto the scene with her maiden tour title run in Biel, and has claimed three ITF titles (w/ one $100K) this season. She breezed through RG qualifying and is staring at a star-making draw. After Amandine Hesse in the 1st Round, things get B-I-G. Daria Kasatkina -- still a threat to become a star here, but the Charleston champ's roll-over foot injury in Rome raises questions -- would be next, then Simona Halep. If Vondrousova reaches the Round of 16 in such a fashion, she'll be hailed as the "next big thing" (or, you know, the future First Lady of the United States in a couple of years... whichever comes first, more Russian-related scandal or matrimony). Dasha Gavrilova has shined Down Under, but her best regular tour results have come on clay, as we just saw in her run to the final in Strasbourg. Can her adrenaline push her to still more success in Paris? She'll open with Elise Mertens, and could face the veteran trifecta of JJ-Venus-Timea/Dominika in the immediate aftermath. Another Aussie, Ash Barty, has a fortunate draw, assuming 1st Round opponent Madison Keys *still* can't find her form, while U.S. Open quarterfinalist Anastasija Sevastova might be a ladykiller lurking in the weeks in Barty's section, where the winner could face Svitolina in the Round of 16. Meanwhile, Jelena Ostapenko reached the semifinals in both Charleston and Prague, and could benefit from a possible quick exit by #1 Angelique Kerber. After opening with Louisa Chirico, the Latvian could get veteran Roberta Vinci before a 3rd Round encounter with the survivor of the Kerber section. With so many questions surrounding Kerber and Stosur in her part of the draw, and with Petra Kvitova probably not a likely deep-in-the-draw contender, Ostapenko could slip through despite not yet having posted a MD win in Paris. Of course, the new "star" could be someone we least expected. That sort of thing tends to happen at slam time, too.

2014 AO: Li Na, CHN
2014 RG: Maria Sharapova, RUS
2014 WI: Petra Kvitova, CZE
2014 US: Serena Williams, USA
2015 AO: Serena Williams, USA
2015 RG: Serena Williams, USA
2015 WI: Serena Williams, USA
2015 US: Flavia Pennetta, ITA (ret.)
2016 AO: Angelique Kerber, GER
2016 RG: Garbine Muguruza, ESP
2016 WI: Serena Williams, USA
2016 US: Angelique Kerber, GER
2017 AO: Serena Williams, USA

2008 Maria Sharapova (4th Rd.)
2009 Dinara Safina (RU)
2010 Serena Williams (QF)
2011 Caroline Wozniacki (3rd Rd.)
2012 Victoria Azarenka (4th Rd.)
2013 Serena Williams (W)
2014 Serena Williams (2nd Rd.)
2015 Serena Williams (W)
2016 Serena Williams (RU)
2017 Angelique Kerber

*RG FINALS - active*
4...Serena Williams (3-1)
3...Maria Sharapova (2-1)
2...Svetlana Kuznetsova (1-1)
2...Francesca Schiavone (1-1)
1...Garbine Muguruza (1-0)
1...Sara Errani (0-1)
1...Simona Halep (0-1)
1...Lucie Safarova (0-1)
1...Samantha Stosur (0-1)
1...Venus Williams (0-1)
ALSO: Hingis (0-2)

2006: Henin-H. (W) - Kuznetsova (RU) - Clijsters/Vaidisova
2007: Henin (W) - Ivanovic (RU) - Jankovic/Sharapova
2008: Ivanovic (W) - Safina (RU) - Jankovic/Kuznetsova
2009: Kuznetsova (W) - Safina (RU) - Stosur/Cibulkova
2010: Schiavone (W) - Stosur (RU) - Dementieva/Jankovic
2011: Li (W) - Schiavone (RU) - Bartoli/Sharapova
2012: Sharapova (W) - Errani (RU) - Kvitova/Stosur
2013: S.Williams (W) - Sharapova (RU) - Azarenka/Errani
2014: Sharapova (W) - Halep (RU) - Bouchard/Petkovic
2015: S.Williams (W) - Safarova (RU) - Bacsinszky/Ivanovic
2016: Muguruza (W) - S.Williams (RU) - Bertens/Stosur

un....Kiki Bertens, 2016
#30...Samantha Stosur, 2009 (RU)
#28...Andrea Petkovic, 2014
#23...Timea Bacsinszky, 2015
#21...Samantha Stosur, 2016
#21...Sara Errani, 2012 (RU)
#20...Dominika Cibulkova, 2009
#18...Genie Bouchard, 2014
#17...Francesca Schiavone, 2010 (W)
#16...Nicole Vaidisova, 2006
#13...Lucie Safarova, 2015 (RU)
#13...Dinara Safina, 2008
#11...Marion Bartoli, 2011

2006 Aga Radwanska/POL d. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS
2007 Alize Cornet/FRA d. Mariana Duque-Marino/COL
2008 Simona Halep/ROU d. Elena Bogdan/ROU
2009 Kristina Mladenovic/FRA d. Daria Gavrilova/RUS
2010 Elina Svitolina/UKR d. Ons Jabeur/TUN
2011 Ons Jabeur/TUN d. Monica Puig/PUR
2012 Annika Beck/GER d. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova/SVK
2013 Belinda Bencic/SUI d. Antonia Lottner/GER
2014 Daria Kasatkina/RUS d. Ivana Jorovic/SRB
2015 Paula Badosa/ESP d. Anna Kalinskaya/RUS
2016 Rebeka Masarova/SUI d. Amanda Anisimova/USA

[won Girls & Women's titles]
Sue Barker (1974 Jr. Champion; 1976 Women's Champion)
Jennifer Capriati (1989 Jr. Champion; 2001 Women's Champion)
Justine Henin (1997 Jr. Champion; 2003, '05-'07 Women's Champion)
Mima Jausovec (1973 Jr. Champion; 1977 Women's Champion)
Hana Mandlikova (1978 Jr. Champion; 1981 Women's Champion)
Renata Tomanova (1972 Jr. Champion; 1976 Women's RU)
Martina Hingis (1993-94 Jr. Champion; 1997/99 Women's RU)
Natasha Zvereva (1998 Jr. Champion; 1988 Women's RU)
Svetlana Kuznetsova (2001 Jr. RU; 2009 Women's Champion)
Simona Halep (2008 Jr. Champion; 2014 Women's RU)

[Open Era]
1971 Evonne Goolagong, AUS
1974 Chris Evert, USA
1976 Sue Barker, GBR
1977 Mima Jausovec, SLO
1978 Virginia Ruzici, ROU
1987 Steffi Graf, GER
1989 Arantxa Sanchez, ESP
1990 Monica Seles, YUG
1997 Iva Majoli, CRO
2003 Justine Henin, BEL
2004 Anastasia Myskina, RUS
2008 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2010 Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2011 Li Na, CHN
2016 Garbine Muguruza, ESP
NOTE: Ann Haydon-Jones won first career slam at '61 Roland Garros, before Open era began in '68

2007 Esther Vergeer, NED
2008 Esther Vergeer, NED
2009 Esther Vergeer, NED
2010 Esther Vergeer, NED
2011 Esther Vergeer, NED
2012 Esther Vergeer, NED
2013 Sabine Ellerbrock, GER
2014 Yui Kamiji, JPN
2015 Jiske Griffioen, NED
2016 Marjolein Buis, NED
2007 Maaike Smit/Esther Vergeer, NED/NED
2008 Jiske Griffioen/Esther Vergeer, NED/NED
2009 Korie Homan/Esther Vergeer, NED/NED
2010 Daniela Di Toro/Aniek van Koot, AUS/NED
2011 Esther Vergeer/Sharon Walraven, NED/NED
2012 Marjolein Buis/Esther Vergeer, NED/NED
2013 Jiske Griffioen/Aniek van Koot, NED/NED
2014 Yui Kamiji/Jordanne Whiley, JPN/GBR
2015 Jiske Griffioen/Aniek van Koot, NED/NED
2016 Yui Kamiji/Jordanne Whiley, JPN/GBR

2014 AO - #1 Sabine Ellerbrock/GER d. #2 Yui Kamiji/JPN
2014 RG - #1 Yui Kamiji/JPN d. Aniek Van Koot/NED
2014 US - #1 Yui Kamiji/JPN d. #2 Aniek Van Koot/NED
2015 AO - Jiske Griffioen/NED d. #1 Yui Kamiji/JPN
2015 RG - #2 Jiske Griffioen/NED d. Aniek Van Koot/NED
2015 US - Jordanne Whiley/GBR d. Yui Kamiji/JPN
2016 AO - #1 Jiske Griffioen/NED d. Aniek Van Koot/NED
2016 RG - Marjolein Buis/NED d. Sabine Ellerbrock/GER
2016 WI - #1 Jiske Griffioen/NED d. Aniek Van Koot/NED
2017 AO - #2 Yui Kamiji, JPN d. #1 Jiske Griffioen/NED

*BACK-TO-BACK US/AO TITLES - since 1988*
1988-89 Steffi Graf
1989-90 Steffi Graf
1991-92 Monica Seles
1992-93 Monica Seles
1993-94 Steffi Graf
1997-98 Martina Hingis
2002-03 Serena Williams
2003-04 Justine Henin-Hardenne
2008-09 Serena Williams
2010-11 Kim Clijsters

1997 U.S. Open - Venus Williams
1999 U.S. Open - Serena Williams (W)
2004 Wimbledon - Maria Sharapova (W)
2004 U.S. Open - Svetlana Kuznetsova (W)
2008 U.S. Open - Jelena Jankovic
2009 U.S. Open - Caroline Wozniacki
2010 Roland Garros - Francesca Schiavone (W)
2010 Roland Garros - Samantha Stosur
2010 Wimbledon - Vera Zvonareva
2011 Wimbledon - Petra Kvitova (W)
2012 Australian Open - Victoria Azarenka (W)
2012 Roland Garros - Sara Errani
2012 Wimbledon - Aga Radwanska
2013 Wimbledon - Sabine Lisicki
2014 Australian Open - Dominika Cibulkova
2014 Roland Garros - Simona Halep
2014 Wimbledon - Genie Bouchard
2015 Roland Garros - Lucie Safarova
2015 Wimbledon - Garbine Muguruza
2015 U.S. Open - Roberta Vinci
2016 Australian Open - Angelique Kerber (W)
2016 U.S. Open - Karolina Pliskova
NOTE: Hingis (1997 AO - W)

10..Serena Williams, USA (age 30-35)*
3...Martina Navratilova, USA (age 30-33)
3...Margaret Court, AUS (age 30-31)
2...Billie Jean King, USA (age 30 & 31)
2...Chris Evert, USA (age 30 & 31)
1...Flavia Pennetta, ITA (age 33)
1...Virginia Wade. GBR (age 31)
1...Ann Haydon Jones, GBR (age 30)

*CAREER SLAM #1 SEEDS - active*
20...Serena Williams
6...Caroline Wozniacki
4...Maria Sharapova
3...Victoria Azarenka
1...Venus Williams
1...Jelena Jankovic

[since end of Evert/Navratilova era]
1991 Monica Seles (Roland Garros)
2002 Jennifer Capriati (Australian Open)
2002 Serena Williams (U.S. Open)
2004 Justine Henin-Hardenne (Australian Open)

By the power invested in me by the...

#23 Stosur def. Ostapenko
#8 Kuznetsova def. #18 Bertens
#13 Mladenovic def. #4 Muguruza
#10 V.Williams def. #30 Bacsinszky
#5 Svitolina def. Barty
(Q) Vondrousova def. Peng
#28 Garcia def. #9 A.Radwanska
#16 Pavlyuchenkova def. #2 Ka.Pliskova

...some of these picks look a little crazy, but I actually *toned down* some of the wilder possibilities in this hard-to-gauge draw (made more difficult by what was originally a "50/50" injury standing that Halep brought with her to Paris, as well as the now what-sounds-like-disappointment-in-her-voice even when it appears as if she *will* play).

#23 Stosur def. #8 Kuznetsova
#13 Mladenovic def. #10 V.Williams
#5 Svitolina def. (Q) Vondrousova
#16 Pavlyuchenkova def. #28 Garcia

...I've gone back and forth on the Stosur/Sveta pick about four times, but I figured that I (and others) had already cursed Kuzetsova enough. See... Pavlyuchenkova in the semis. Like I said -- I'm partially embracing the crazy.

#23 Stosur def. #13 Mladenovic
#5 Svitolina def. #16 Pavlyuchenkova

...Sam is often very good as seizing opportunities at slams. And wouldn't it be *perfect* that the '16 semifinalist who has likely been forgotten by most would be the only one to repeat and improve upon her result in '17?

#5 Svitolina def. #23 Stosur far, deciding to punch a ticket for a seat on the Svitolina Train in 2017 has proven to be a very scenic experience. After a career of steady progress, the time might be now for "the big leap."

So happy and excited to back to @rolandgarros ????

A post shared by Elina Svitolina???? (@elisvitolina) on

Here's ATP Backspin's Galileo West's picks (and... sorry, Elina):

#23 Stosur d. #1 Kerber
#8 Kuznetsova d. #18 Bertens
#13 Mladenovic d. #4 Muguruza
#6 Cibulkova d. #10 Williams
#5 Svitolina d. Bouchard
#21 Suarez Navarro d. #26 Kasatkina
#28 Garcia d. Cornet
#2 Pliskova d. #16 Pavlyuchenkova

...Angelique Kerber has won just 59% of her matches at Roland Garros and is 0-2 against Sam Stosur on clay. To be honest the German should go before then, but can you see a name she can't grind past? Even Roberta Vinci has looked woeful recently. Monica Puig is here, but you can count the matches she's won since the Olympics on a single hand. And, frankly, it's just a delight to see Petra Kvitova back again. In the other quarter it is simple. If Kiki Bertens bests Ajla Tomljanovic and Sveta Kuznetsova survives her first two rounds they'll certainly meet in the fourth round. Caro Wozniacki is here, but she won't do anything. She's been to the quarterfinals here once. It was her only trip beyond the third round. Sveta will see off Bertens.

It's a horror draw for the defending champion. Somebody is going to upend her. She opens with Fran Schiavone, 2010 champ, then has Anett Kontaveit. After that is Yulia Putintseva and then Kiki Mladenovic. With her form as it is right now there's no way she gets to the fourth round. But picking the upset requires bravery that I lack. Kiki has a cakewalk, so expect a wobble. But she might actually use the crowd well. Timea Bacsinszky is the wildcard in the fourth quarter. Venus Williams has been to the fourth round just twice this decade. But one of those times was last year. She should edge Daria Gavrilova, the risky pick, but lose to Dominika Cibulkova.

Elina Svitolina has a horrible draw. Yaroslava Shvedova first, then Mona Barthel. Then it's Ana Konjuh before, probably, Madison Keys. But she has been on fire lately. She'll be fine. Keys drew Ash Barty. Nobody has risen up the ranks faster and it's an awful draw for both. Genie Bouchard will have a great run as a dark horse. Elena Vesnina is not going to do much here. She's been to the third round once and has a 5-11 record. The Spaniard, CSN, has a gift of a draw. She is good enough, particularly at this slam, to take advantage of it. Simona Halep is injured. So it falls to Dasha Kasatkina. Of course, this could be Marketa Vondrousova's chance to make a big splash.

The 7th section is bookended by Jo Konta, 0-2 all time at Roland Garros, and Aga Radwanska. The Pole is notoriously dreadful here and has been pretty mediocre all year long. It's such a weak section that the Pastry has to be looked at as the favourite. And Alize Cornet? Mrs. Ooh La La? She loves the crowd. And she does surprising things. It's by far the worst eighth of the draw. Finally, A-Pavs should get past Lucie Safarova to make it to the fourth round. But Karolina Pliskova finally finds her feet in Roland Garros and makes the quarterfinals, beating Katerina Siniakova in the process.

#8 Kuznetsova d. #23 Stosur
#6 Cibulkova d. #13 Maldenovic
#5 Svitolina d. #21 Suarez Navarro
#2 Pliskova d. #28 Garcia

...Even if it is Kerber, Sveta would probably still win. She owns both the German and Aussie in the head-to-head and won the last match on dirt with them both. Domi has been to a Roland Garros semi-final before. That and a 5-1 h-2-h lead against the Frenchwoman will give her the edge. If all this comes true the third quarterfinal could be the match of the championships. But there's no beating the Ukrainian right now. And in the bottom quarterfinal it should be fairly straightforward.

#8 Kuznetsova d. #6 Cibulkova
#5 Svitolina d. #2 Pliskova

...The top one will be a blowout until Sveta chokes and it goes three, where the Russian recovers from 1-4 down to triumph 6-1, 6-7[4], 6-4. And in the second it is time. Svitolina goes against her 1-5 head-to-head mark and makes it two wins in a row. Pliskova is not so good on clay, but Svitolina is.

#5 Svitolina d. #8 Kuznetsova

...Nope, not crazy enough to call it. Elina Svitolina has been the best clay-courter and that will be reflected. But it will be our first classic French Open final since Maria Sharapova took it in 2013.

Artist: Paul Thurlby

All for now. Day 1 awaits.

Friday, May 26, 2017

RG.Q- To Qualify is Divine

Some came to Paris certain to be included in main draw action. Well, as long as all their body parts cooperated, that is. But some had to fight for their right to party at Roland Garros next week.

A look back at the Roland Garros qualifying rounds...


1. Marketa Vondrousova, CZE (17, #94)
...the Czech teen continues her meteoric ascent. Vondrousova played the role of juggernaut in the Q-rounds, coming in as the #2 seed (off a $100K challenger title) in her first career slam action outside of junior play. She dropped just six total games through three qualifying matches against Nadia Podoroska, Barbara Haas and Anna Blinkova. Four of them came against Blinkova in Vondrousova's last of six sets on the week. One year after she lost in the 3rd Round of the girls singles in Paris, the Czech will make her her slam debut vs. Amandine Hesse, with the possibility of Daria Kasatkina (2nd Rd.) and Simona Halep (3rd) looming. Though maybe it's the recent clay court WTA title winners who should worry.

2. Sara Errani, ITA (30, #91)
...yep, the Italian vet, former Top 5 player and RG finalist (2012) has seen her ranking drop far enough to force her to play qualifying. It was a breeze. The 30-year old, the top Q-seed, lost no sets and just seven total games. She even held serve twenty-two straight times (!!).

3. Beatriz Haddad Maia, BRA (20, #101)
...the rising South American has had quite the spring. The most improved player of the 2Q (so far) had already put up a Top 20 win and WTA QF singles result, won a tour-level doubles title and $100K singles crown, as well as setting a new career-high ranking. Now she adds her slam MD debut after riding her #3 Q-seed to a no-sets-lost week with wins over Silvia Soler-Espinosa, Jana Fett and Jil Teichmann.

4. Ana Bogdan, ROU (24, #106)
...the Swarmette has made it through qualifying at her third straight slam event, making it three consecutive slam MD debuts starting with last summer's U.S. Open. After opening with a tight win over countrywoman Alexandra Dulgheru, Bogdan defeated Basak Eraydin and Virginie Razzano to make it through.

5. Petra Martic, CRO (26, #285)
...back from injury (and already with some great ITF '17 success), Martic entered the qualifying competition with a protected ranking and knocked off Irina Falconi, Tamara Korpatsch and Marina Zanevska (the latter in three TBs in the Q3). The Croat, who reached the RG Round of 16 in 2012 and also qualified in 2015, last posted a MD win at a major four years ago at Wimbledon.

Kateryna Kozlova, UKR (23, #140): wins over Aryna Sabalenka, Ipek Soylu and Aleksandra Krunic will allow the Ukrainian to make her RG debut (her previous best was a Q2 loss in '14). She's 0-4 in career slam MD matches, though.
Richel Hogenkamp, NED (25, #105): the #4 seed lost zero sets, finishing up with a final round win over Heather Watson. Hogenkamp lost in the opening round of qualifying in earlier qualifying attempts in Paris in 2014 and '15.
Quirine Lemoine, NED (25, #160): the second Dutch player to qualify (NED is the only nation w/ multiple players advancing), Lemoine will make her slam MD debut after saving two MP against countrywoman Arantxa Rus in the final round.
Francoise Abanda, CAN (20, #191): already a Fed Cup star this spring, Abanda is finally on the good end of some tour-level success. She'll play in her first slam MD since 2014.

Alison Van Uytvanck, BEL (23, #112): wins over Sonya Kenin and Lucie Hradecka get the former RG quarterfinalist (2015) back into the MD. She's never advanced past the 2nd Round at any other majors. 0-6 in AO/US play, she's just 5-11 in her slam MD career (w/ four wins coming during the one RG QF run).
Miyu Kato, JPN (22, #196): Kato will make her slam debut after wins over Arina Rodionova, Rebecca Sramkova and Ons Jabeur.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA (32, #116): BMS reached the RG Round of 16 in 2013, but hasn't posted a singles MD win at a major since the 2015 U.S. Open.

Ons Jabeur, TUN (22, #113): the Tunisian will play in her first RG main draw. She's a two-time RG girls finalist, losing to Elina Svitolina in 2010 and defeating Monica Puig to take the crown in '11.

Ipek Soylu def. #11 Aryna Sabalenka
The 21-year old Turk, who became the second woman from her country (after Cagla Buyukakcay) to play in a slam MD singles match last year in Paris, survives a battle that included eight consecutive breaks of serve in the 3rd set, taking out the Fed Cup star from Belarus.

#5 Ana Bogdan def. Alexandra Dulgheru
Bogdan wins the all-Swarmette clash, overcoming Dulgheru serving for the match at 6-5 in the final set.
Tereza Smitkova def. Bianca Andreescu
The 16-year old Canadian's slam debut will have to wait.
#2 Marketa Vondrousova def. Nadia Podoroska
Not many players can say they won their first career WTA singles title before they'd even played in a Q-round match at a major, but the 17-year old Czech is one of them. In her slam debut, she made (somewhat surprisingly) quick work of the clay proficient Argentine. Oh, Marketa!

Kateryna Kozlova def. Conny Perrin 6-2/4-6/6-3
#6 Chang Kai-chen def. Tara Moore 6-2/7-5
peace in the household, or shared misery, I guess.
Polona Hercog def. (wc) Harmony Tan
In Hercog's first match since the U.S. Open (injuries/health), the Slovenian had to recover from a 3-6/2-4 deficit. She did it by winning eight straight games (to 4-0 in the 3rd) and then held on for the win.

Hercog fell in the second round of qualifying to Zarina Diyas.

#2 Marketa Vondrousova def. Barbara Haas

#14 Anna Blinkova def. (pr) Alexandra Panova
Meanwhile, Hordettes...

#2 Marketa Vondrousova def. #14 Anna Blinkova
Anna's got Marketa's number. I mean, she got FIVE WHOLE GAMES off her.
Quirine Lemoine def. Arantxa Rus
In an all-Dutch battle, Lemoine battled back from 6-2/5-3 down, saving two MP.


Q3 - FRANCOISE ABANDA def. #18 Jang Su-Jeong
The last tennis-playing WTA sister to qualify for Paris was Anna Karolina Schmiedlova in 2013. Hopefully, Franckie will have a better go of things than AKS has of late.

2006 Julia Vakulenko/UKR
2007 Timea Bacsinszky/SUI & Raluca Olaru/ROU
2008 Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez/ESP & Yanina Wickmayer/BEL
2009 Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ
2010 Kaia Kanepi/EST
2011 Sloane Stephens/USA
2012 Kiki Bertens/NED
2013 Anna Karolina Schmiedlova/SVK
2014 Grace Min/USA
2015 Veronica Cepede Royg/PAR
2016 Viktoriya Golubic/SUI
2017 Marketa Vondrousova/CZE
[2017 slams]
AO: Elizaveta Kulichkova, RUS
RG: Marketa Vondrousova/CZE

...well, we know who *didn't* get a wild card into the draw in Paris, but just which players *did* the French Federation of Tennis (FFT) feel it wasn't necessary to invoke any sort of self-righteous "moral obligation" to keep out of the festivities?

Tessah Andrianjafitrimo, FRA - the 18-year old you wish success just so that everyone would have to learn to spell her name gets her second straight RG wild card, and is still looking for her first career slam MD win
Amanda Anisimova, USA - the 15-year old won the USTA Wild Card Playoff tournament race, and will become the first player born in 2001 to contest a main draw slam singles match. The 2016 RG girls runner-up, Anisimova has reached three ITF challenger finals (0-3) in '17.
Fiona Ferro, FRA - three years ago, Ferro was the youngest player in the women's MD in Paris. Now, at 20, she's back with her third WC berth in four years. She's still seeking her first RG match win.
Jaimee Fourlis, AUS - a WC recipient in her second '17 slam, the 17-year old posted 1st Round win over Anna Tatishvili in Melbourne
Myrtille Georges, FRA - with two consecutive '17 slam WC, and two in a row at RG, as well, 26-year old Georges' only slam MD win came in Paris last year
Amandine Hesse, FRA - twice a late add by the FFT to the French Fed Cup roster after other players had the "gaul" , Hesse gets her third consecutive RG wild card. The 24-year old won a 1st Round match in Paris in 2015.
Alize Lim, FRA - at 24, Lim gets her fourth straight WC in the RG main draw. She's gone 0-3 in her earlier 1st Round matches.
Chloe Paquet, FRA - the 23-year old Pastry makes her slam MD debut. She's 1-5 in career ITF finals, including a March loss in a clay court challenger in Pula, Italy.

RG - Amanda Anisimova, USA (15)
AO - Destanee Aiava, AUS (16)
AO - Kayla Day, USA (17)
AO - Jaimee Fourlis, AUS (17)
RG - Jaimee Fourlis, AUS (17)
RG - Tessah Andrianjafitrimo, FRA (18)
AO - Lizette Cabrera, AUS (19)
RG - Marketa Vondrousova, CZE (17)
AO - Anna Blinkova, RUS (18)
AO - Natalia Vikhlyantseva, RUS (19)
AO - Elizaveta Kulichkova, RUS (20)
AO - Rebecca Sramkova, SVK (20)
RG - Francoise Abanda, CAN (20)
RG - Beatriz Haddad Maia, BRA (20)

=OLDEST 2017 SLAM...=
AO - Arina Rodionova, AUS (27)
RG - Myrtille Georges, FRA (26)
RG - Alize Lim, FRA (26)
RG - Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA (32)
RG - Sara Errani, ITA (30)
AO - Mona Barthel, GER (26)
AO - Stefanie Voegele, SUI (26)
RG - Petra Martic, CRO (26)
AO - Marina Zanevska, BEL (23)
RG - Ons Jabeur, TUN (22)

#285 - Petra Martic, CRO (RG)
#217 - Eri Hozumi, JPN (AO)
#196 - Miyu Kato, JPN (RG)
#191 - Francoise Abanda, CAN (RG)
#189 - Anna Blinkova, RUS (AO)
#160 - Quirine Lemoine, NED (RG)
#150 - Mona Barthel, GER (AO)

=MOST 2017 SLAM Q=
2 - Ana Bogdan, ROU (AO/RG)

2 - Jaimee Fourlis, AUS (AO/RG)
2 - Myrtille Georges, FRA (AO/RG)

=CONSECUTIVE SLAM Q - active streaks=
3 - Ana Bogdan, ROU ('16 US/'17 AO/'17 RG)

2 - none

2 - Jaimee Fourlis, AUS ('17 AO/'17 RG)
2 - Myrtille Georges, FRA ('17 AO/'17 RG)

4 - Alize Lim, FRA
3 - Amandine Hesse, FRA
2 - Myrtille Georges, FRA
2 - Tessah Andrianjafitrimo, FRA

4th Rd. AO - Mona Barthel, GER
4th Rd. AO - Jennifer Brady, USA
[wild cards]
3rd Rd. AO - Ash Barty, AUS
[lucky losers]
1st Rd. AO - Marina Zanevska, BEL

3...Russia (3/0)
3...United States (2/1)
2...Japan (1/1)
2...Netherlands (0/2)
2...Romania (1/1)

Artist: Paul Thurlby

All for now.