De Minaur Loves The Roland-Garros Clay, Dominates Medvedev

Alex de Minaur (photo: Roland-Garros video)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, June 3, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

In a two-hour, 49-minute battle among two of the fiercest competitors in men’s pro tennis, Australia’s Alex de Minaur recovered from a set down to earn his first Roland-Garros quarterfinal berth Monday afternoon.

After putting a wrap on a satisfying 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-3 win over No. 5 seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia in front of an enthusiastic crowd that filled Court Suzanne-Lenglen on this gorgeous, sunny Paris day, the personable 25-year-old from Sydney raised his arms in celebration of his 29th win of the season. Then, he cocked his head back and yelled out: “I love the clay. I love it here. I can’t get enough,” as he celebrated with the crowd.

De Minaur, ranked 11th, became the first Australian man since Lleyton Hewitt in 2004 to reach the quarterfinals of the French Open. It was just the third time – and first on clay – de Minaur had beaten Medvedev in nine career meetings. Monday’s fourth-round match ended with Medvedev double-faulting on match point.

“I want to say thank you to everyone,” said de Minaur, speaking in French, which drew loud applause from the fans during his on-court interview. “It’s an amazing atmosphere. For me, I was never hoping to in the quarterfinals of Roland-Garros because me, on terre battue, I never play very well in the past years.”

It was de Minaur’s first victory over a Top-5 player at a Grand Slam after going 0-6. He hit 51 winners and won 28 of 45 net points.

“It’s pretty extraordinary. I always thought that for me to play well on the clay I needed hot, lively conditions. But this whole tournament has proven otherwise, right? It’s been a complete shock to the system, to everything I ever believed in,” de Minaur said afterward.

“Now the toughest thing is dealing with my team, because they give me a lot of slack for me complaining all these years of my level on the clay. But now it looks like it’s one of my best Slam results. Looks like I’ve converted myself into a clay specialist.”

“Alex played better,” Medvedev said in his news conference. “To be honest, I’m disappointed to lose, but I don’t have anything to tell myself in a tough way like I was not [showing] a good attitude today or I was not fighting until the end. I did all of this. He played better. My best was not enough today, so looking forward to the next ones.”

After advancing his second Grand Slam quarterfinal and first since the 2020 US Open, de Minaur next will face either fourth seed Alexander Zverev of Germany or 13th seed Holger Rune of Denmark, who were the match featured on the Monday night session, on Wednesday.

Djokovic pulls out second straight five-set thriller

In the City of Lights, Novak Djokovic‘s light is still shining brightly. On the biggest stage in Paris, he continues to dazzle. He keeps finding a way to win.

Two days after being pushed to five sets over four-plus hours by Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti, ending at 3:06 a.m. Sunday, the 24-time major champion from Serbia pulled out another magical victory Monday evening. Djokovic back from two sets-to-one down to beat No. 23 seed Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina, 6-1, 5-7, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 in four hours and 39 minutes.

Djokovic was unhappy at times, he slipped and fell on the clay, he needed medical treatment, trailed two sets to one, but remained resilient and found his way to victory. What an effort.

By the end of the fourth-round match, which delayed the start of the night session, everyone who filled Court Philippe-Chatrier stood and applauded for both players. They played 329 points and at the end, Djokovic outpointed Cerundolo 171-158. He hit 52 winners to 68 for Cerundolo and made one more unforced error, 46 to 45.

“Again a big, big, big thank you because once again like the last match. The win is your win,” Djokovic said in French, during his on-court interview.

Djokovic, 37, who has advanced to Wednesday’s quarterfinals against No. 7 seed Casper Ruud of Norway after winning consecutive five setters, remains alive in his title defense and pursuit of a 25th career major title. His win in his first meeting with Cerundolo was the 370th victory in a Grand Slam, surpassing the former record of 369 held by Roger Federer.

While Djokovic and Cerundolo were going the distance, across Stade Roland-Garros on Court Suzanne-Lenglen Ruud eliminated No. 12 seed Taylor Fritz of the United States, 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, in three hours  and 31 minutes. He withstood 19 aces from the American, hit 11 of his own, and outpointed Fritz 154-136 in the end.

Ruud, who leads the ATP Tour in wins (39) and finals (5) this season, also has the most clay wins (21) this season. He reached the Roland Garros finals in 2022 and 2023 and his win against Fritz has advanced him to his fourth Grand Slam quarterfinal.

“I’m playing the quarterfinal in a few days against Novak. I have nothing to lose,” Ruud said in his on-court interview. “I’m gonna try to enjoy it. It’s gonna be another match against him. It’s always tough. No matter where you play him it’s one of the toughest challenges in our sport. We played obviously last year here in the final. I’m gonna try my best to get revenge.”

Paolini powers her way into first major quarterfinal

Jasmine Paolini is living proof that you’re never out of a match until it’s over. With the diminutive, 28-year-old Italian born to an Italian father and a Ghana/Polish mother in Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, there’s a lot of heart and desire in her — and plenty of drive-volley power, too.

Monday on Court Suzanne-Lenglen, the 12th-seeded Paolini rallied from a set down to No. 70 Elina Avanesyan of Russia and won, 4-6, 6-0, 6-1, in an hour and 54 minutes. The victory advanced Paolini into her first Grand Slam quarterfinal in her 18th major draw and ended the surprising run by the 21-year-old Avanesyan, who upset No. 7 Zheng Qinwen of China a round earlier.

Although Paolini made 45 unforced errors – 23 of them in the first set – she also hit 29 winners. Many of those came on drive volleys – Paolini’s forte – and she won 57 percent of her receiving points. Paolini converted eight of 17 break-point opportunities and outpointed Avanesyan 92-73. She struck 20 of her winners in the second and third sets won 16 of the last 19 games of the match.

“Of course, I’m really happy. It was such a tough match, she’s such a great player, did really well here last year,” Paolini said in her on-court interview.

“I was outside the match and just tried to get one game, two games, to get into the match. I wanted to find a better sensation on my racquet. I really think I did a great job.”

Paolini, who reached the last 16 at this year’s Australian Open and backed it up by winning a WTA 1000 title in Dubai, will meet No. 4 seed Elena Rybakina in Wednesday’s quarterfinal round. She’s also still alive in the Roland-Garros doubles draw with fellow Italian Sara Errani, whom she won the Rome Masters title with last month.

As Paolini secured match point, she clenched a fist in celebration and beamed a big smile toward her team.

“I think I believe more in myself,” Paolini added. “Of course, winning a lot more matches in the past two years helps. Believing has been the key, letting me step up to find this higher level.”

Speaking of her heart, the 5-foot-4 Paolini was asked about it by Mats Wilander during her on-court interview. He said: “Your heart is so big; I don’t know how it can even fit in your body.” Paolini smiled at them thought and replied: “It has to be big as I’m so small! I try to fight for every point, to give my 100 percent.”

While Paolini was breaking down new barriers in Paris, Rybakina was across the Stade Roland-Garros grounds taking care of business against No. 15 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, winning 6-4, 6-3 in 69 minutes, to advance to her second Roland-Garros quarterfinal following her 2021 showing.

The Russian-born Rybakina, who represents Kazakhstan, has advanced to the last eight of a major for the fifth time overall – her first since Wimbledon last year. The World No. 4 has not dropped a set during the Paris fortnight and she’s through into a WTA Tour-leading ninth quarterfinal of 2024.

After previously winning three titles this season in Brisbane, Abu Dhabi and Stuttgart, Rybakina’s win-loss record is now 34-5 after hitting 26 winners, including five aces, against Svitolina. In addition to her easy power from the baseline, Rybakina is also making effective use of her skills to win points at the net, where she won 12 of 18 exchanges from her opponent.

“I’m trying to come to the net more often,” Rybakina said. “Of course, I think that’s the one thing if I improve it’s going to be easier maybe to close some rallies. But it depends, of course, on the score, if you’re confident to do that or not. But slowly I think I’m doing good to progress in that.”

Speaking of progress, World No. 2 and second seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus is through to another major quarterfinal – the ninth of her career and second straight in Paris after reaching the semifinals last year – after her business-like 6-2, 6-3 win over No. 22 seed Emma Navarro of the United States in 69 minutes on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

She hit 36 winners, including seven aces, and won half of her receiving points. In fact, 45 of the 64 points Sabalenka won were won on short rallies of 1-4 shots.

Sabalenka’s victory avenged an earlier defeat to Navarro at Indian Wells in March.

Sabalenka remains undefeated in majors this season at 11-0 and her consistency at majors the last two years – making the semifinals or better in her last six Grand Slams – has made everyone take notice of the talented Belarusian.

“It sounds crazy to me, to be honest, and I’m super happy that I was able to bring this consistency on the Grand Slams,” Sabalenka said following her victory against Navarro. “It’s motivating me a lot to keep pushing myself a lot and to see where is the limit.”

With her latest triumph on the terre battue, Sabalenka became the fifth woman to reach seven consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinals since 2000, joining Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport, Venus Williams and Serena Williams.

Next, Sabalenka, 26, will face 17-year-old Russian Mirra Andreev, who became the third woman in the past 18 years to reach the Roland-Garros quarterfinals before turning 18 after Amanda Anisimova in 2019 and Coco Gauff in 2021. She defeated Russian-born Varvara Gracheva of France, 7-5, 6-2, in an hour and 31 minutes on Court Suzanne-Lenglen.

The unseeded Andreeva, ranked 38th, won last season’s WTA Newcomer of the Year. Against Gracheva, she saved a pair of set points at 5-4 in the first set. From there, she dominated much of the remainder of the match — winning the final four games — to advance against Sabalenka, whom she has lost to twice.

“Of course, it feels great,” Andreeva said after her win. “It was a very special win for me. It was tough to play against [Gracheva]. She’s a French player, my good friend. I’m very happy that I managed to win this match.

“Big court, big stage. There was a lot of crowd, a lot of people. So I’m just proud of the way I managed to stay calm and keep playing my game.”

Around Roland-Garros

Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, who will play World No. 3 Carlos Alcaraz in Tuesday’s men’s quarterfinal singles, remained alive in the doubles draw as he goes after multiple Roland-Garros titles.

On Monday, he and his younger brother, Petros Tsitsipas, reached the third round with a 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 win against over last year’s champions, Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Austin Krajicek of the United States.

The Tsitsipas brothers saved seven of eight break points they faced and advanced in two hours and 27 minutes on Court 14.

Earlier, Stefanos Tsitsipas pulled out of the mixed doubles competition. He and his girlfriend, Spaniard Paula Badosa, were to have played their first-round match against Ena Shibahara of Japan and Nathaniel Lammons of the United States Monday. Instead, Shibahara and Lammons advanced via walkover into the second round.

Monday’s Roland-Garros results

Tuesday’s Roland-Garros order of play

By the numbers

Coming into the French Open, Aryna Sabalenka has made the semifinals or better in her last six Grand Slam appearances, including titles at the last two Australian Opens. This year, she has not lost a set through her first 11 major matches (22 sets).

“Quotable …”

“I’m pretty happy, not gonna lie. It was a great match today. Fought till the end. Managed to beat a quality opponent in a Grand Slam fourth round, which is kind of the goals that I had been setting for myself to go deeper at these events. I’m very proud of myself.”

Alex de Minaur, during his post-match news conference, on his milestone day of being the first Australian man to reach the Roland-Garros quarterfinals since 2004.