Roland Garros rolls Into quarters — Is it Swiatek’s to lose?

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, June 4, 2024

Howdy, y’all, and happy Tennis Tuesday! We’re finally into June — Happy Pride Month! — which means we’re sitting glued watching how Roland Garros is unfolding, yes? I’ll even admit that I’m still suffering from two-week tournament fatigue so it’s a bit difficult staying engaged in these tournaments. However, I think a massive reason behind this are the consistent days that end well past midnight, Parisian time. While fans sometimes love a late-night epic, they’re preferred to be once every blue moon but lately, player health continues to be an afterthought and the quality — and engagement — goes down.

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Anyhoo, the second week of Roland Garros is here and we have our Elite Eight:

Six of the top eight seeds lived up to their ranking — something that I think shows the consistency at the top of the game. Paris is usually the sign of at least one surprise semifinalist, but I’ll give a probably spoiler alert: the Top 4 will likely be your semifinalists and those two matchups will be juicy.

(1) Iga Switatek vs. (5) Marketa Vondrousova
While she is seeded fifth, Vondrousova hasn’t had the greatest claycourt swing after reaching the semifinals in Stuttgart. Still, the reigning Wimbledon champion has performed well in Paris, reaching her first Grand Slam final there in 2019. She’s brought some of that mojo with her to make another quarterfinal, which seemed to look bleak in her second round match against Katie Volynets, losing an opening set bagel. Since that moment, she’s looked in strong form but Iga Swiatek stands on the other side of the net and she’s coming from the shortest match in her career. It was a complete 180 from the World No. 1’s second round epic over Naomi Osaka where she had to save a match point but look to that be a turning point for the Pole. The two-time defending champion is simply too good on the red clay for the Czech to make a dent in her game, so expect this to be perhaps the most one-sided quarterfinal.
Prediction: Swiatek in 2 sets

(3) Coco Gauff vs. (6) Ons Jabeur
This is my favorite matchup of the four with the athleticism from Gauff taking on the incredible toolbox Jabeur carries. I’ll admit — with how her spring form and knee injury has been, I fully didn’t expect Jabeur to make it this far. I think for many, she’s an easy pick for an early upset, but she’s worked her way back into another Grand Slam quarterfinal. Something to also note is that this is a matchup between two former junior champions in Paris, so it’s not like they’re uncomfortable on the courts. While Jabeur has dropped only one set en route, Gauff has looked incredibly strong only being pushed to 6-4 sets twice. She’s made the final as a senior once already, losing to Swiatek and I think she’s hungry for another go to try and win her second major.
Prediction: Gauff in 2 sets, perhaps one being a tiebreaker

(4) Elena Rybakina vs. (12) Jasmine Paolini
Like Swiatek, I feel like Elena Rybakina’s name is one you can always pencil in to go deep at any tournament. She’s another player who hasn’t lost a set yet and she carries an all-court game though of course perhaps her greatest strength is the demeanor she yields on court. You never know if she’s excited or if she’s on the verge of collapsing. If she wins? The slightest fist pump and a straight grin on her face but it works for her. Another player yet to lose a set, she’s the heavy favorite against Jasmine Paolini who reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the age of 28. The Italian has been a revelation this season, sitting on the cusp of the Top 10, but she’s had two of her four matches go the distance. Between that and her doubles duty with compatriot Sara Errani, the big question is if she has enough gas in the tank to play another match of her life to make the semis? Unfortunately, I don’t think so.
Prediction: Rybakina in 2 sets

(2) Aryna Sabalenka vs. Mirra Andreeva
Last week, I truly debated putting Aryna Sabalenka as the champion for the entire tournament and she’s looked quite remarkable en route to this stage. She’s only been pushed past 6-3 once in her eight sets and looks incredibly hungry to continue her Grand Slam winning streak. Since her first Grand Slam semifinal at 2021 Wimbledon, she’s only lost before the semifinals twice and rides a six-semifinal streak at the moment. Awaiting for her is teen sensation Andreeva, who is in her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Touted as the future for over a year, something to note is that she’s still looking for her first Tour semifinal as a professional. The Russian did knock out Victoria Azarenka 7-5 in the third, but Sabalenka is a different Belarussian beast. I like to think the moment might not overwhelm Andreeva, but combined with Sabalenka’s sheer power, consistency and confidence? Now I’m not so sure.
Prediction: Sabalenka in 2 sets

The “Big Four” will continue to Big Four it up in Paris, but who will face off? Some might call it lazy or boring, but I think we’re having a No. 1 vs. No. 1 scenario in the tournament’s final match. Swiatek has Gauff’s number and I can’t see the American flipping the script from their 2022 final in Paris. Now, Rybakina can pull off the upset over Sabalenka. They’ve had some really fun tussles and I severely hope they get to play in the semifinals. Look for Swiatek to win in straight sets, while Sabalenka will lose her first set of the tournament. As for the final? I think we’ll have a fun, three-set match but mark Swiatek to earn the hattrick. That Osaka match was a massive turning point for the World No. 1 and if you didn’t save a match point en route to claiming a Grand Slam, did you even win one at all?

On to links!

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This Week in Women’s Tennis

The WTA honored the career of Alize Cornet, who bowed out to Zhang Qinwen in the final match of a career that included four Olympic Games berths, over 500 wins and the most consecutive Grand Slams played by a female player.

The tour also unveiled a Women Change the Game campaign in Paris including Marion Bartoli that will help add “new resources pledged for the WTA Foundation’s Global Women’s Health Fund.”

A lot of people are hating on the new umpire headcams at Roland Garros, but I have to say I’m digging it.

Barbora Krejcikova sat down with the WTA Insider podcast to discuss being back on tour after struggling with injury for the first time since her rise to the top of the game.

Something you don’t see in college that often is women becoming Director of Tennis programs to oversee both the men’s and women’s teams. Miami ignored that and promoted Paige Yaroshuk-Tews to that title this past week.

Say it with me: representation matters! Benin got their first female Grand Slam win in the juniors thanks to Gloriana Nahum.

You’re not the only one who is hopeful for a Iga Swiatek-Naomi Osaka rivalry. The Japanese is optimistic after nearly causing the upset of the year in the second round.

Just an idea of how Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka are running the show, World No. 3 Coco Gauff would be top dawg in many past years:

I liked the WTA highlighting a few minor stories you might have missed from the first round in Paris and hope we see more of these little nuggets.

Though they likely won’t make up a spot on the Olympic team roster, Americans Emma Navarro, Peyton Stearns and Sofia Kenin all had strong Roland Garros’ and/or clay court swings. Expect some momentum from them to continue in the summer.

Tweet of the Week

Y’all know I love a Notes App moment, but Bianca Andreescu’s return to the tour will add some more flavor to the WTA and I’m excited:

Five at The IX: Roland Garros Week 1

Q. I want to talk about your composure that you showed today on the court. You are 17. You just turned 17. What is the secret ingredient of you staying cool in the court?
MIRRA ANDREEVA: Well, I think I’m just, as I said earlier, I’m just playing kind of. Even when, for example, we talk about the match, about the plan, about tactics, I listen, but honestly, I don’t remember anything after. I don’t have anything in my head when we start playing the match. So I just go there and I’m, like, well, we’ll see. I’ll figure it out. That’s how I always play, that’s how I always do. I think maybe this helps me a little bit that I’m not really worried about my plan or about the way I will play or about the way my opponent will play. I just go and I play and I see what happens. I can adjust something during the match.

Q. You said after your win that you change something. You gain confidence. Before you didn’t have this confidence. What did you change in your life to be more confident and to be able to fight and go through this rank today?
JASMINE PAOLINI: I think I just, you know, try to work on myself also on court but also outside the court, and of course winning helps. I played some big matches last year with few top players, and I think that help me to have more confidence in myself. I was, like, okay, I can play with those players. Match by match, at the end, I think now I believe more in myself. I step on court and I say, okay, it’s tough, but I have a chance, you know. Before was, like, I cannot win these matches. I have to, I don’t know, do a miracle, yeah (smiling). But now I step on court, and I say, okay, I can have my chance. I have to play well, of course, but I have chances. Yeah.

Q. I wanted to ask, there was a lot of talk about the schedule, about matches like that. What do you think about matches ending up at 3:00 a.m. and how would you feel if it was your match?
ARYNA SABALENKA: I think I finished around 2 a.m. recently somewhere. Yeah, that’s definitely tough. It’s really tough to finish that late. The whole schedule is kind of like — I don’t know which word should I use? “Screwed”? Whatever. You have to adjust the schedule the next day, but I felt okay with this. I mean, of course I would prefer finishing earlier and go for dinner and just enjoy the day and not go to bed too late. But when it happened to me, I went to bed close to 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. and I was sleeping until afternoon, and anyway, I was okay. I’m glad we had a day off and I had a chance to adjust the schedule and prepare for the next match. Yeah, if you ask what I would prefer, I would definitely choose 12:00 a.m. [sic] match than something in the midnight.

Q. I wanted to ask, obviously, you’re playing doubles here as well as you normally do. How has the process been for you generally in picking your partner? What’s the kind of thought process?
COCO GAUFF: This week it was just a last-minute decision (laughing). Really, I was trying to find an American to play with because Jessie pulled out, and obviously the Olympics are going to be here. My whole plan at the start of the year was to try to play with somebody I could potentially play with at the Olympics. You know, that was kind of last-minute thrown out because of Jess’s injury. I just wasn’t even going to play at first. Then Taylor Townsend unfortunately rolled her ankle. She text me about playing with Katerina. I was, like, yeah, I’ll do it. Obviously, she’s won multiple slams in this sport, and we could have a good chance. I’m not putting too much pressure on it. I wanted to play primarily just to get some clay prep for the Olympics because that’s an area I want to do well. So that was my focus for this tournament. I will say in the future I will be playing less doubles, but I’ll still incorporate it every now and then.

The match was over in 40 minutes. That’s the shortest match of your professional career. Is it possible that those results against Anastasia from U12 and U14 were in the back of your mind a little bit?
IGA SWIATEK: No. Well, obviously I had just a thought that times change a little bit because I remember she was always the player to beat me. I don’t think I won against her, and I lost some heart-breaking matches for me. Like semifinal of the Orange Bowl when I had match point, and I lost here when I had a pretty good tournament, and I lost against, yeah, Potapova and couple more. We always played against each other, like, European championships or something. Honestly, there’s no point to think about that, but I had just a thought like that. It lasted two seconds, and then I was focusing on my work because that’s the best thing I can do.

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Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
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Written by Joey Dillon