French Open 2011 Week 1: Nice Work, Double Agent Andy Murray

31/05/2011 at 10:28 am (Current Affairs, Great Britain, Russia, Tennis) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


Roland Garros in the sunSo the first week of the 2011 French Open was interesting. Here’s what we got from it.

Star Attractions

Reigning women’s champion Francesca Schiavone and No. 3 men’s seed Roger Federer sailed through week 1 with relative ease, both winning their first 3 matches in straight sets. Just for the sake of gloating, Schiavone’s 1st round encounter with Melanie Oudin was as predictable as we, well, predicted, with the Italian player rushing through the match 6-2 6-0. As tennis blogger Craig Hickman said on Twitter, “It wasn’t as close as the scoreline”.

However, some of the other top players weren’t so lucky.

Everyone was keen to see Captain of Clay, Ruler of Roland Garros and World #1 Rafael Nadal make his first appearance in this year’s French Open. In round 1 he was up against all 6’9” of big serving American John Isner. The reigning champ took the 1st set 6-4 and everything seemed to be business as usual. But it all got a little odd when Isner took the Spaniard to a 2nd set tie-break and then had the audacity to win it. OK, so it was 1 set all. Rafa dropping a set on French clay is rare, but him losing a Roland Garros match is even rarer, so surely it was only a matter of time before he prevailed here. Apparently no one told Isner this, because the World #39 then went on to take the 3rd set to a tie-break as well—and he won that too. John Isner was 2 sets to 1 up on the five-time French Open champion and no one could quite believe what was happening. Nadal had never been taken to five sets at this slam before, but he’d have to go 5 to win the match. And that he did. After not making one single error in the 4th set, Nadal took control again in the 5th, finally winning the match 6-4 6-7 6-7 6-2 6-4. “For moments in the tie-break, I didn’t play very well. I was probably too nervous “, laughed the King of Clay afterwards.

On Thursday, Rafa looked like he was going to have another wobble against compatriot Pablo Andujar. The World #1 had taken the first 2 sets, but was 5-2 down in the 3rd. He then had to save about a thousand set points. Well ok, 8. The third set went to a tie-break in which Andujar completely messed up a drop shot to give Nadal two match points. Rafa only needed one. The Spanish player’s 3rd round match was a lot more straightforward; he beat the Croatian qualifier Antonio Veic in straight sets, taking well under two hours to do the deed.

Maria Sharapova had a proper Thursday wobble. She was a set and 4-1 down against 17 year old French girl Caroline Garcia but then won 11 consecutive games to win the match 3-6 6-4 6-0. Strangely, Garcia’s incredible losing streak of 11 games started happening right after Andy Murray tweeted that the #188 youngster is a future #1. Nice work double agent Murray; your Russian comrades salute you.

 Kim Clijsters’ Thursday was more than a wobble. In her second round match against the Netherlands’ Arantxa Rus, she threw away a match point, at 5-2 up. Rus got it back on serve to 5-4. The Belgian No. 2 seed had another match point during the 10th game of the set, but she blew that too, sending a shot wide. So it was 5-5 and Rus broke Kim, before holding her serve—with the help of Kim sending a shot wide on the Dutch girl’s game point—to take it to a third set. Rus really started causing shockwaves in this final set, striding to a 4-1 lead as part of a streak that saw her win 10 out of 11 games. At 5-1 up, Rus then wasted a match point herself. On Rus’ 2nd match point, the 20 year old hit a cross court winner to take victory  3-6 7-5 6-3. It’s not even as if Kim didn’t have her fair share of luck during the match. One of the Belgian’s shots hit the net, hit the net post and then gently did a short lob back into her opponent’s side of the court for a winner.

The thrills, spills and upsets continued on Friday. Women’s 2010 runner up Sam Stosur had made it through to the 3rd round, only to be unceremoniously dumped out by the unseeded Argentine Gisela Dulko.  On the same day, world #1 Caroline Wozniacki’s 3rd round was also going badly. Her opponent Daniela Hantuchova hit down-the-line winner after down-the-line winner and Caro made error after error with the net result being that the Slovak player caused a major upset by beating the Danish 20 year old, not just comfortably, but spectacularly—6-1 6-3. As match commentator Andrew Castle said of Wozniacki’s error ridden match, “That was one of the most inept performances that I’ve ever seen from a top seed in a grand slam”.

With both Wozniacki and Clijsters going out so early, it’s the first time in the Open era that the top two women’s seeds have exited a tournament before the 4th round.

Novak Djokovic has looked scarily determined all week and extended his flabbergasting unbeaten run to six months by playing tennis that was as authoritative as it was impressive in his 1st and 2nd rounds. In the 3rd round came the much anticipated match-up with the resurgent former U.S. Open champ Juan Martin Del Potro. In fact, we all had to anticipate it a little longer than expected, as for some reason the tournament schedulers put it as the last match of the day on Philippe Chartier court. Of course, the match before—Tsonga vs Wawrinka—went the full five sets, so Djoko vs Delpo was eventually moved to the Suzanne Lenglen court. Cue some big hitting and massive Del Potro forehands in the fading light. Djokovic took the first set, but then the big Argentine took the second. With no hope of completing a further 2 or 3 sets before the light ran out, the match was suspended until the following day, Saturday. The next day brought less drama, as the Serbian player saved 2 break points in the 3rd set and went on to break Del Potro, eventually taking the set 6-3. The next proved even easier for Djokovic. He won it 6-2, and so his winning run was extended.

Brits Abroad

Monday saw the great British-Russian showdown between Anne Keothavong and Vesna Dolonts. Out on the hinterlands of Court 7, there was little shade and nowhere to hide as Anne broke Dolonts in the 1st set, eventually winning the set 6-3. The Russian however, fought back in the 2nd set, breaking for 4-3, despite Anne having had 2 opportunities to take a 3-0 lead. But then Anne broke back to put the set back on serve. She sadly squandered a match point in this topsy-turvy set and was then broken again, with Volonts taking the 2nd set 7-5. In the decider,  Volonts broke Anne for a  3rd time and won the match 3-6 7-6 6-4. The match lasted a massive 3 hours and 20 minutes and proved to be battle more than worthy of both Britain and Russia.

Much later on the same day, Heather Watson’s opponent, experienced Frenchwoman Stephanie Foretz Gacon, broke her in the 1st set and was serving for the match at 5-4 but got tight and got broken back. However, she broke again for 6-5 and then once again failed to serve it out, leading to a tie-break, which gutsy Watson won 8-6 to take the 1st set 7-6. She’d saved 4 set points in total. After that,  Foretz Gacon just fell apart, as did her forehand. Here we were in the 2nd set with Heather leading 5-0. Was a British girl actually going to get a bagel at Roland Garros? Unfortunately not, as Heather failed to grab the match point on her serve and Steph won her 1st game of the set to take it to 5-1. Heather, however, didn’t waste any more time and broke the world #140 in the next game to win the match. Heather herself has moved into the top 100 on the back of that victory.

On Tuesday Elena Baltacha and Andy Murray played their 1st round matches. Andy Murray won 6-4 6-1 6-3 but was seemingly unhappy with the way he played. There were quite a few unforced errors and he did get broken twice during the course of the match. Andy loves a drop shot, but sometimes they don’t love him back. Baltacha beat American qualifier and Twitter addict Sloane Stephens 7-5 6-2.

In the 2nd round, Muzza, Bally and Watso all played on the same day. Playing against Simone Bolelli, Murray saved 5 break points in his 1st two service games, but the 6th break point–the 4th of his 2nd service game—was one too many and the Brit got broken. He broke back towards the end of the set. He got another break and had 2 set points at 6-5. Bolelli saved  them and it went to a tie-break. For the most part, Simone made error after error, leading to Murray winning the tie-break and the set with a beautiful passing shot. Murray won the 2nd set 6-4, but got broken once so had to break twice. Andy got broken yet again in the 3rd set and all of a sudden Bolelli was 5-3 up—like in the 1st set, he would serve for the set. But would he choke it away this time? Yes. Yes, he would again fail to serve it out. Murray was again out of jail and on the loose. He eventually won the match by taking the set 7-5. Andy really needs to improve his serve before the potential match-up with Rafa in the semi-finals.

Baltacha was broken in her 1st game against her opponent Vania King, but got it back on serve, broke Vania again and won the set 6-4. But then Vania won the 2nd set 6-1. Elena lost 6-4 in the final set. Heather was beaten by a respectable scoreline of 6-1 6-3 by #16 seed Kaia Kanepi, although it took the Estonian two match points to finish the Guernsey girl off.

So by the 3rd round, Murray was the last Brit standing. He played the German surprise package Michael Berrer. With the Brit winning the first set, things seemed to be going to plan until, 2-1 up in the 2nd set,  Murray turned his ankle and collapsed whilst hitting a forehand winner. After treatment, he was able to carry on and somehow won the match due to a combination of Berrer not quite knowing how to play an injured player and Murray himself knowing exactly what to do to win points quickly and get himself out of there.

Homeboys and Homegirls

And what of the home crowd’s French heroes and heroines?

As we also predicted,  the Aravane Rezai/Irina-Camelia Begu match was interesting—so interesting that the breakthrough Romanian did indeed defeat the French crowd’s struggling home favourite, 6-3 6-3.

Another home favourite looked to be in trouble later on the same day, as Gael Monfils, the world no. 9, lost his first set of the tournament to veteran German and world no #145 and Bjorn Phau. The Monf bit back in the 2nd set, taking it 6-3. The third set also went the Frenchman’s way, 7-5. By the 4th set, Monfils had had enough of this nonsense and bagelled his opponent to take the victory 4-6 6-3 7-5 6-0. Not content with one fourth-setter, Monfils then went on to drop a set in his 2nd round match as well, against compatriot Guillaume Rufin. Again the top ten player managed to pull off a victory, winning  6-3 1-6 6-1 6-3. Monfils’ 3rd round match was at last a straightforward one as he beat Belgian Steve Darcis in straight sets.

The surprise Frenchman of the Week Award goes to Stephane Robert. World no. 6 Tomas Berdych took a two sets lead against the home underdog, but then lost the 3rd set and lost the 4th as well. The long fifth and deciding set drew the match out to 3 hours and 23 minutes in total, with the marathon eventually being won by Robert 3-6 3-6 6-2 6-2 9-7. When the score was shown on Chartier,  a cheer of appreciation rippled around the home crowd like the delicate waves on the Seine. It was the 31year old world #140‘s greatest victory—his first on the clay of Roland Garros. He was promptly beaten in the next round by Italian Fabio Fognini, winning only 3 games in the entire match.

Any other business

It seemed like Thursday was the day of upsets, because as well as Kim losing to Rus and Nadal and Maria looking shaky, top 30 player Marcos Baghdatis was beaten by world no. 217 Leonardo Mayer and the 28th seed, the Russian Nikolay Davydenko, was beaten by the aforementioned Veic.

The still popular but still erratic Ana Ivanovic lost in the 1st round. It’s hard to remember she’s a former world no. 1 and the 2008 French Open Champion, as since injury in 2009 her results have been just short of woeful for long stretches at a time. The recurrence of a January abdominal injury during a Fed Cup match last month probably didn’t help the Serb’s preparation for this slam.

On Saturday, Swiss veteran Patty Schnyder retired from the sport. This was hardly surprising as every now and then, for the past 5 years, I’ll look at the draw for a women’s tournament, see her name and think, ‘Is she still playing??’  Never again will I have that experience. Never again.

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The Ruthless Court’s 2 Minute French Open Preview [Updated]

20/05/2011 at 5:45 pm (Great Britain, Russia, Tennis) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


Update: That Great Britain vs Russia face-off, otherwise known as Anne Keothavong vs Vesna Dolonts, is going down 1st on Court 16 on Monday 23rd May.

With the two singles draws out and play due to start in less than two days’ time, The Ruthless Court’s two authors thought it was high time we previewed the 2nd Grand Slam of the year. Here’s our 2 minute preview of the 2011 French Open:

Iiiiinteresting 1st round match-ups

Aravane Rezai vs Irina-Camelia Begu: Rezai is having a tough season and not many had heard of Begu before she started getting a few notable results this year. She’s a dangerous unknown quantity–could she cause an upset in front of Aravane’s home crowd?

Roger Federer vs Feliciano Lopez: The 2nd round match between these two in the Madrid Open was a genuine fight, with Fed scraping it with a tie-break in the deciding. But this is a Grand Slam, so the Swiss master might be taking matters more seriously this time.

Clay courters against tall people is always fun

Rafael Nadal vs John Isner and Juan Martin Del Potro vs Ivo Karlovic are first round matches.

Getting ahead of ourselves

Potential match-ups later on in the draw:

Novak Djokovic vs Del Potro in the 3rd round
Maria Sharapova vs Kim Clijsters in the quarter-finals
Caroline Wozniacki vs Sam Stosur in the quarters
Andy Murray vs Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals

Run, baby, run

To extend his insane winning run, Djokovic will have to beat plucky Dutchman Thiemo De Bakker in the 1st round.

Look away now if you don’t want to know the result

Most predictable 1st round match:

Reigning champion Francesca Schiavone will beat the struggling Melanie Oudin.

Come on, Tim! I mean…

Brits in the draws:

ATP–Andy Murray

WTA–Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong, Heather Watson

Davai, Davai Rassiya!

Russians in the draws:

ATP–Nikolay Davydenko, Dmitry Tursunov, Igor Kunitsyn, Mikhail Youzhny, Teymuraz Gabashvili

WTA–Maria Sharapova, Maria Kirilenko, Elena Vesnina, Ekaterina Makarova, Evgeniya Rodina, Ksenia Pervak, Vera Zvonareva, Nadia Petrova, Alisa Kleybanova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Vera Dushevina, Vesna Dolonts, Alla Kudryavtseva

Hmph. Just remember that it’s about quality, not quantity.

A Brit is playing a Russian! A Brit is playing a Russian!

Anne Keothavong (GBR) vs Vesna Dolonts (RUS) is a first-round match-up. Wow, it’s like the plot of The Ruthless Court is actually happening. Except with different players. And in a different round. At a different Grand Slam. And hopefully a different outcome (i.e. no one being taken hostage).

French Open Homepage

http://www.rolandgarros.com/en_FR/index.html

The full draws

Les Hommes: http://bit.ly/kcNSKz
Les Femmes: http://bit.ly/lp9EsN

You want to know who we think will win? You first. Put your predictions in the comment box below! Once we have ten comments we’ll go along with the most popular predictions reveal our innermost thoughts to you.

Photo courtesy of Nawal_

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Similar posts:

From the Ruthless Court to the Clay Courts

Disadvantage Point: Is the Home Court the Most Ruthless?

Forget Ivan the Terrible–Andy Murray Needs a Really Ruthless Coach

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