The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Lindsay Gibbs, May 20, 2019

French Open favorites — Rome recaps — Karolina's miracle

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French Open prep

Want to know something absolutely bonkers? By the time the next Tennis Tuesday comes around, the French Open will already be well underway.

Yes, friends. It’s time for the red clay of Roland Garros. The draw isn’t out, the seeds aren’t set, and if this clay-court season is any indication, we’re probably going to see a high-profile withdrawal or two before the first coin is flipped. But, I still want to use this space to preview what’s to come, and to go over something very important: How to watch the action!

First of all, qualifying is underway already, and first-round action will kick off on Sunday, May 26. Remember — France is six hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. So go ahead and set your clocks early. It’s okay, it’s a holiday weekend, so you can certainly nap later.

Naomi Osaka is the top seed heading into this tournament, thanks to a few key wins during clay season. But she’s also been dealing with nagging injuries, and her best French Open result so far is the third round, in 2016 and 2018. That doesn’t mean she can’t win, but I don’t consider her the favorite in this draw.

Madison Keys, Petra Kvitova, Kiki Bertens, and Karolina Pliskova were the big winners during clay season, winning Charleston, Stuttgart, Madrid, and Rome, respectively. Pliskova’s run in Rome was particularly heartening, since she’s been dealing with an illness for the past couple of months and her form was in question. Those questions have been answered.

Of course, last year’s champion Simona Halep and runner-up Sloane Stephens should be circled the second the draw comes out on Friday morning, and I’d say Ashleigh Barty has an outside shot as well. She is just on the rise.

Then we have Serena Williams. Look, any time I have written that Serena is not the favorite at any tournament, I get tons of messages calling me a “hater” — or, sometimes worse. But friends, she is not the favorite here. At all. I am not saying it is impossible for her to win! But I am saying that her winning this tournament would be the most impressive accomplishment of her career, in my humble opinion. She has not been healthy for months, and a knee injury is not something a player wants to be messing with on the clay, where movement is so paramount. She is No. 36 in the year-to-date rankings. She’s won three matches since the French Open, and withdrawn from her last three tournaments with injuries.

Even without knowing the draw, her road is extremely tough.

With the parity at the top of the game right now it’s hard to predict a winner without seeing a draw, but Kvitova and Halep are my two favorites.

Make sure you figure out how to get access to the Tennis Channel — borrow a cable code if you must, we’ve all done it, or buy Tennis Channel Plus. ESPN does not have the rights to the French Open. It’s mostly Tennis Channel during the week, some NBC Sports on the weekend. It can be frustrating to get access, so plan accordingly.

Can’t wait to check in with you all about the chaos in a week!

This week in tennis

Pliskova’s interview with Courtney Nguyen on the WTA Insider podcast is a must-listen as always.

Johanna Konta was the runner-up in Rome, and Telegraph writes about the many positives she can take from the week.

Love this by Matt Cronin on Maria Sakkari and her Greek cohort, Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Ashleigh Barty and Victoria Azarenka took the doubles title in Rome.

Wimbledon now has TWO roofs! (Rooves? Roovi?)

Venus Williams was at the No. 1 court’s roof reveal, hitting with Kim Clijsters, which just makes me want to turn back time.

Naomi Osaka had to withdraw from the Italian Open with a hand injury, hopefully she’ll be back for Paris.

Madison Keys opens up about Kinder Girl World Day, and talks about dealing with social media bullying.

Jon Wertheim has some thoughts on Maria Sharapova’s legacy.

Nicole Gibbs opens up more about how she discovered her mouth cancer.

Christopher Clarey on renovations at Roland Garros.

Coco Vandeweghe has a new episode of “My Tennis Life” up, and it looks like her comeback is well underway.

Here’s the Associated Press on Serena Williams, who is at Roland Garros and practicing, even though her health is still in question.

Reem Abuleil has a wonderful profile on Victoria Azarenka for the Roland Garros website.

Here’s your French Open qualifying draw.

Naomi Osaka is the top seed for the women, followed by Pliskova, Halep, and Bertens. Sloane Stephens is No. 8, Serena Williams is No, 10, unless there are any withdrawals before the draw ceremony on Friday.

There are, of course, two tournaments going on this week. Ash Barty is the top seed in Strasbourg, and Yulia Puntintseva is leading the way in Nurnberg.

Tweet of the week

Five at The IX: Karolina Pliskova’s miracle

Karolina Pliskova was not expecting to win Rome, and gave a delightful press conference after the win where she processed her thoughts in real time.

Q. How does it feel to be Rome champion after your journey at this tournament?

KAROLINA PLISKOVA: It feels great, especially nobody really gave me chance for this tournament. Even I think me. Before the tournament, I was not super confident, not thinking about the final at all. I was just happy with every match which I played.

So it’s little bit like a miracle for me because clay, this tournament, since I didn’t play well here, and on clay it’s always tough. I played some good clay court girls. Of course, super happy.

Q. You say that you weren’t very confident, the idea of the final was far away at the start. You’ve played well on this surface before. Why was the confidence or ambition not there at the start?

KAROLINA PLISKOVA: I think, of course, I didn’t have that many matches on clay before, which is always the key for me to feel better, to feel more confident. When I’m winning, everything just going easy, I’m playing without thinking, which is the best.

Yeah, so I was coming to this tournament just to get couple of matches. Always I thought the tournament is quite slow here, so that’s why I just felt like maybe there is not many chances for me.

I know last year, Simona-Svitolina, all the good clay court girls with good clay court games. I thought it’s going to be quite difficult to get through some matches.

Yeah, quite a miracle for me that this happen.

Q. You mentioned the good clay court girls. Keys, Kvitova, there’s been a lot of power-type players winning on clay. With that, do you go into Paris believing you can win that tournament?

KAROLINA PLISKOVA: I have to go like this because otherwise there is no reason to go at all. If I go to lose, then you going to lose. I have to go with this mindset that my game is good on clay, too.

I want to put 100% into it and to give myself a chance to go deep in the tournament. Of course, everything starts in the first round. You can have tough opponents. Doesn’t mean that I won here that I have to go far in Paris. There is still seven matches, so it’s two more than here.

I think this was a good start.

Q. How are your wrists? Is that at all a concern? How do you get them better before Paris?

KAROLINA PLISKOVA: I would say it’s getting better every day, but it’s still not 100%. When I’m on court playing my matches, it’s completely without pain. It’s always in the morning a little bit painful. Once I start to be sweaty, once I start to play, it’s getting better and warmed up.

The tapes are just to make sure that nothing terrible will happen, so…

Q. I’ll ask you to do my job for me for a second. Who would you say the players to watch going into the French Open are, besides you?

KAROLINA PLISKOVA: I think for me still Simona because she’s a fighter. Doesn’t matter, she doesn’t have to play well, but she’s still tough to beat because she doesn’t give you anything. On clay, double times tough to kill the ball to her. For me still, Simona.

Of course there’s going to be Serena. I don’t know which shape she’s going to be in. It’s tough to say. She’s going to be always favorite for me because she’s always tough.

I’m looking on the winners here (referring to the trophy).

Yeah, I think those two for me, they’re always going to be there. Of course, there is good players, since now there is every week different winner. I won Rome, so it’s tough to guess who is going to win Paris.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Lindsay Gibbs, @Linzsports ThinkProgress
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal High Post Hoops
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.