French Open: Nadal In Full Control, Schmiedlova Upsets Azarenka

Rafael Nadal (photo: @rolandgarros/Twitter)

STARNBERG/PARIS, September 30, 2020 (by Alessandro Boroch)

As reported earlier todayWednesday’s Day 4 at Roland Garros was overshadowed by the withdrawal of 23-time major singles champion Serena Williams.

The 39-year-old American was set to face Bulgarian veteran Tsvetana Pironkova in the second match on Court Philippe-Chatrier in what would have been a rematch of their latest US Open quarterfinal encounter. 

With Serena’s withdrawal, Pironkova advanced to the third round in Paris for the third time in her career and first time since reaching the quarterfinals back in 2016. The 33-year-old Bulgarian holds a 5-1 record in 2020, celebrating a successful comeback after a three-year hiatus due to maternity leave.

Next up for Pironkova will be 2018 French Open doubles champion Barbora Krejcikova, who managed to take out No. 32 seed and fellow Czech Barbora Strycova in three close sets, prevailing 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. 

Title contenders Nadal and Thiem keep rolling

Back in action today was title favorite Rafael Nadalwho is biding to equalize Roger Federer’s record of holding the most major singles titles (20) in the Open Era at this year’s French Open. Nadal took on 25-year-old American Mackenzie McDonald who doesn’t share positive thoughts about the French fortnight. 

During last year’s first-round match against Yoshihito Nishioka, McDonald tore his right-proximal hamstring tendon. While he did not retire – and eventually saw himself fighting in a decisive fifth set – McDonald only aggravated the consequences of his injury. The American could not play any further tournaments for the rest of the season and had to find a lot of strength to being able to return to the ATP Tour in 2020.

“It took a really serious team and a lot of hard work. The surgery was pretty big. I have a massive scar underneath my butt and I wasn’t able to walk for the first month-and-a-half, two months. Time was going by really slowly,” McDonald said in an interview with the ATP Tour website. “I didn’t leave my apartment. I was barely able to shower, go to the bathroom. I couldn’t walk.”

The 2016 NCAA singles and doubles champion from UCLA entered the court with a game plan of playing as aggressive as possible in order to illustrate a potential threat for the 12-time Roland Garros champion from Spain. His plan worked well at the beginning of the match but turned out to be barely adequate down the road.

Nadal was, as so often when he plays at the French Open, just too strong, hitting 31 winners compared to only 15 unforced errors.

The 34-year-old Spaniard eventually eased past McDonald, 6-1, 6-0, 6-3, and did not allow a single break point throughout the whole encounter. Nadal improved to 16-0 (48-1 in sets) in second-round matches at Roland Garros.

In addition to Nadal, another top men’s seed was in action, namely Dominic Thiem, who once again belongs among the  favorites in Paris after reaching the final here two times.

The reigning US Open champion Thiem faced former Top 10 player Jack Sock of the United States, who has regained some form this year after having been unable to win a single match on the tour in 2019. The 27-year-old Austrian quickly rushed through his first two sets but needed to save three set points in the subsequent third-set tie-break before ultimately securing a straight-set win over Sock, 6-1, 6-3, 7-6(6). Thiem proved that he is able to edge in crucial moments. It’s one special ability that separates him from the majority of players on tour and makes him an elite player. 

In Friday’s third round, Thiem will oppose 28th seed Casper Ruud of Norway, who needed to go the whole distance against 2015 French Open junior winner Tommy Paul, clinching his hard-fought win, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3. 

Schmiedlova upsets Azarenka

On the women’s side, 26-year-old Anna Karolina Schmiedlova produced the upset of the day, easing past two-time major champion and in-form player Victoria Azarenka 6-2, 6-2 to reach the third round in Paris for only the second time in her career.

The Slovak reached a career-high ranking of No. 26 in 2015, but eventually lost momentum and form in the following years. Her previous win over 40-year-old tennis legend Venus Williams in the opening round was her first in a major since reaching the third-round of the US Open in 2015. 

“I’m extremely happy because it’s my favorite Grand Slam and favorite tournament of the year. I always play good here. I had many chances in last couple of years. I had match points or really close matches. I always play good here, just didn’t close it,” Schmiedlova said after the victory.

On the flip side, it was a dimmer day for US Open runner-up Azarenka, who hit 36 unforced errors over the course of the match.

“The lesson I need to learn is that sometimes when things don’t work for me, the way I was playing today was just not the right time, was to be willing to adjust a little bit more and not think kind of in the end of the match to finally start changing your kind of my game,” Azarenka said in defeat.

Next, Schmiedlova will face Argentinian prospect Nadia Podoroska, who holds a 40-6 record this year (including ITF tournaments), and reached the third round in her second Grand Slam main draw following a three-set win over No. 23 seed Yulia Putintseva. 

Bertens triumphs in dramatic three-setter over Errani

After Serena Williams’ withdrawal, the second-round thriller between Dutch player Kiki Bertens and 2012 French Open runner-up Sara Errani garnered the most headlines on tennis social media.

After battling for over three hours, the No. 5 seed Bertens turned out victorious, edging the Italian veteran Errani, 7-6(5), 3-6, 9-7. The 28-year-old Dutch saved a match point down 5-6 (30-40) on return.

Just when she finally won after converting her fourth match point, Bertens fell to the ground and starting crying heavily while dealing with excessive cramps. During the final set, Bertens called for the physio twice and was barely moving at all during rallies. However, she was able to stay in the match. Meanwhile, Errani was dealing with her own problems: struggling with her ball toss, which resulted in hitting several underarm serves while winning just six out of 34 (18%) points on her second serve overall. 

While Bertens’ cramps did not stop right after her win – and she remained in tears – the World No. 8 Was escorted off the court with the help of a wheelchair.

Bertens awaits 24-year-old Czech Katerina Siniakova in the third round, who overcame World No. 38 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-3, 6-4.

Halep, Svitolina, Zverev all advance

No. 1 seed Simona Halep continues her title bid in Paris after a convincing straight-set win over compatriot Irina-Camelia Begu, 6-3, 6-4 ,in 85 minutes. As so often, Halep has been rock-solid from the baseline, producing just 14 unforced errors in total. 

The next match for Halep could be tougher, though, as she will encounter 19-year-old Amanda Anisimova, whom she lost to in last year’s French Open quarterfinals. Anisimova eased past fellow American Bernarda Pera 6-2, 6-0 in just under an hour in a match that was moved to Court Philippe-Chatrier in place of the scheduled Williams-Pironkova match. The American glimmer of hope Anisimova, who made headlines at the French Open last year after reaching the semifinals at the young age of 18, so far has only lost four games through the first two rounds.

Meanwhile, third seed Elina Svitolina from Ukraine struggled to find any rhythm in the second set of her match against Mexican qualifier Renata Zarazua, producing 16 errors during the middle set by overhitting a lot. However, she rebuilt her composure in the decider that earned her a 6-3, 0-6, 6-2 victory.

After her win, the two-time major semifinalist Svitolina had lots of compliments for her opponent Zarazua during press conference. She moves the ball really good. For her small height, I think she moves quite good… I think in the end she should be really proud of her performance today. She is from a country with not lots of support and not so many players who achieved really big things, Svitolina said.

Finally, men’s sixth seed Alexander Zverev of Germany had to go the distance but ultimately survived a scare against 2018 French Open doubles champion Pierre-Hugues Herbert from France, earning a hard-fought 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-4 victory after four hours. 

“I obviously played far from my best, but Herbert also did everything he needed in order to punish my sloppiness and weaknesses on clay today. I am happy that I somehow found a way to still win the match,” Zverev said in an interview with Eurosport Germany afterwards.