Grand Slam draws: To peek or not to peek? - Roland Garros diary

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Tennis draws are always a hot topic at any tournament, especially at the Slams.

They are dissected and deliberated to no end, and most of the time, they never go according to (supposed) plan.

When it comes to the players, discussing draws is not always an easy task.

Draws are actually a polarizing topic for them, with some comfortable with the idea of talking about their possible opponents, and others strict believers in navigating a tournament in the dark.

Garbine Muguruza belongs to the latter group.

The Spanish two-time Grand Slam champion hates knowing who she is going to play next, let alone who she might play a couple of rounds down the line.

On Friday during her pre-tournament press conference, she claims she only found out she was playing Svetlana Kuznetsova in the first round from a journalist’s question.

It may seem strange that a player doesn’t know who her next opponent is, because it sure sounds like an essential piece of information to prepare properly for a match.

Imagine if you’re playing a lefty, and you choose not to know and miss the opportunity of practicing with a southpaw before the match? Or as one friend pointed out, if you’re going to play Monica Niculescu then step on court and realise you’re going to get attacked by every slice and drop shot in the book but you weren’t ready for it.

Journalists get assigned to write match previews and it gets harder to do that when a player refuses to discuss their next opponent – which happens more often than you think.

But while there are many players like Muguruza, who prefer to focus on themselves rather than the person across from the net, there are others who don’t shy away from peeking ahead.

In Madrid, I had asked Maria Sharapova if she was aware of the fact that she could snag a last-minute seeding at Roland Garros if she does well in the Spanish capital and the subsequent tournament in Rome. I wondered if she’d prefer not knowing that so she doesn’t put pressure on herself, or get carried away looking too far ahead. I asked that because historically, many players have given me such reasons for similar questions.

Not Sharapova though.

“I’m not afraid to be aware of it. I don’t really mind. I’m not someone that doesn’t look at the draw or doesn’t want to see who they’re playing. That’s never really bothered me. You’re going to have to face someone in the next round, whoever it is,” said Sharapova.

Dominic Thiem, the No. 7 seed in Paris, is someone who certainly does his homework.

He was quoted by German journalist René Denfeld as saying: “I’ve got a tough draw, but it’s never easy here.”

When asked if he was aware of his possible fourth round or quarter-final opponents, he replied: “I know the full draw, not just my sector – possible round of 16s etc. It’s interesting and I like to take a good look at it.”

Somehow that makes more sense to me, but hey, to each their own.

UPSET OF THE DAY

Kateryna Kozlova def. Jelena Ostapenko 7-5, 6-3

A section of the draw lost three of its top four seeds as fifth-seeded Ostapenko, ninth-seeded Venus Williams and 22nd-seeded Johanna Konta all crashed out on opening Sunday.

But defending champion Ostapenko’s loss has got to be the biggest surprise of the day as the Latvian fell to 66th-ranked Kozlova, who hadn’t played a match since Indian Wells and was sidelined for two months with a knee injury.

STATS OF THE DAY

6 – Ostapenko is the sixth women’s singles defending champion at a major to lose in the first round of their title defence, joining Steffi Graf (1994 Wimbledon), Jennifer Capriati (2003 Australian Open), Anastasia Myskina (2005 Roland Garros), Svetlana Kuznetsova (2005 US Open) and Angelique Kerber (2017 US Open).

22 – years since an Egyptian had last competed in a Grand Slam main draw. Mohamed Safwat ended that drought for his nation on Sunday as he got in as a lucky loser to face Grigor Dimitrov.

QUOTES OF THE DAY

“I’m really disappointed and so angry. I mean, I’m, just, like really angry and I just want to turn back the time.”

– Jelena Ostapenko is not hiding her feelings about her opening round defeat on Sunday.

“Yes, I’m going to be careful. I won’t go to a discotheque until 6:00 am.; I will go home at 4:00 am.”

– French teen Corentin Moutet jokes when asked what he’ll do from now until his next match, which is in three days’ time on Wednesday.

“Even as a human being I’m going through difficult times, but this will be finished soon for many reasons that I could explain, this is going to end. And I guess that after Roland Garros I’ll have to challenge myself to change things and to start some special work. I’m here. Unfortunately I’m hitting the ball right but my mental is not there. My mind isn’t in the right place.”

– Frenchman Gael Monfils is apparently going through something. We’re not sure what it is.

“Go home and come back…”

– Elina Svitolina said this with a laugh when asked how she’ll spend her next couple of days before her next match on Wednesday.

“Well, I mean, I guess that’s what keeps them guessing. But I’ve had some pretty good results, so it works for me. Every person is different and what may work for me may not work for the next person, and that’s totally fine. Everyone has their own way of doing things. So I like me, I like the way I do things, and I just stick with that because I feel best that way.”

– Sloane Stephens when asked if the fact that she doesn’t show much emotion on court is why she was described by Chris Evert as not having enough fire.

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Kei Nishikori laments 'sad' news of Nicolas Kicker match-fixing charges

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Kei Nishikori admits he finds the news of the match-fixing charges against Argentina’s Nicolas Kicker “sad” but that he also understands how financially tough it is for some players on tour.

Nishikori was scheduled to practice with Kicker on Thursday at Roland Garros before the Argentine was disqualified when the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) announced the charges.

Kicker, ranked 84 in the world, was “found guilty of match-fixing and other offences under the Tennis Anti-Corruption Program”, according to a statement from the TIU.

“Mr Kicker, 25, was found guilty of contriving the outcome of a match at the ATP Challenger tournament in Padova, Italy, in June 2015 and a match at the ATP Challenger tournament in Baranquilla, Colombia, in September 2015,” said the TIU.

“He was also found guilty of failing to report a corrupt approach and of not co-operating with a TIU investigation into the allegations made against him.”

Nishikori, who defeated Frenchman Maxime Janvier 7-6 (0), 6-4, 6-3 in the Roland Garros opening round on Sunday, was asked about his reaction when he heard about Kicker’s corruption charges.

“Well, yeah, honestly, very sad. Because I think he’s good player. He can be top-50 player. Yeah, a little bit sad to see that,” said the Japanese ex-world No. 4.

“Well, I don’t want to say I understand him, I don’t want to understand, but, you know, I think some of the players have tough life from the beginning. I think some people have no money, and you’ve got to be strong to say no to everything.

“But a little bit sad to lose him, I think, if it’s true. Well, yeah, we gotta see after what’s the truth.”

Sanctions on Kicker are yet to be determined but he won’t be granted credentials at any tournament until his fate is decided by authorities.

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Mohamed Safwat falls to Grigor Dimitrov on his historic Grand Slam debut at Roland Garros

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It's been a while: Safwat and Dimitrov reunited on Sunday.

Egyptians went to sleep with heavy hearts on Saturday night following reports that Mohamed Salah’s injury could potentially rule him out of the World Cup.

But on Sunday morning, they woke up to news that Mohamed Safwat got a lucky loser spot at Roland Garros to become the first Egyptian in 22 years to contest a Grand Slam main draw. He got to make his historic Major debut on Centre Court, against No. 4 seed Grigor Dimitrov.

Safwat, who lost in the qualifying third round to Guido Andreozzi and was drawn seventh in the lucky loser lot, needed seven players to pull out of the French Open in order to get a place in the main draw.

On Saturday evening, he found out he was next in line when Alexandr Dolgopolov became the sixth player to withdraw from Roland Garros.

Safwat had a hit on an outside court at 9:00am on Sunday, then went to sign in for a lucky loser spot at 10:00am, not knowing whether he would get the chance to actually play. A few minutes later, the tour manager told him that Viktor Troicki has pulled out with a lower back issue and that in under an hour, Safwat would be taking on Dimitrov on Court Philippe Chatrier at 11:00.

Dimitrov found out he was playing Safwat almost 30 minutes before the clash, from none other than Troicki himself.

The Bulgarian bumped into Troicki, who wished him luck and Dimitrov gave him a confused look.

“It’s not easy, I think, when those kind of things happen, you just need to be ready,” said Dimitrov, who defeated Safwat 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (1) to reach the French Open second round.

“I just needed, like, five, 10 minutes to disconnect from what I had in mind to play and what I wanted to do and kind of look at the few videos of the way Safwat was playing. Because he already played two matches, that gives him a bit of an advantage, regardless.

“After that, I just had to go out and do the best that I can. I think it was a good start.”

Safwat, ranked 182 in the world, is the first Egyptian since Tamer El Sawy in 1996 to contest a Slam main draw. The 27-year-old from Mansoura understandably had a slow start in the match, as he got accustomed to Philippe Chatrier stadium – a court with huge dimensions that intimidates even the seasoned pros the first time they step on it.

“I’d never even seen the inside of that stadium before, let alone hit on it,” said Safwat.

“At the beginning, I mean, it was — I was trying to figure it out, what is — how the court. Is it fast or slow? For me, I felt it’s different than the courts outside.

“I didn’t know my right tension, so I was trying to switch racquets there and here. I was trying to figure out what I do.

“So basically I feel like I start to play and feel comfortable at the middle of the second set when I was 4-1. I started to feel my string. I change my racquet. I had a loose racquet. Luckily, I had that one and I started, like, to feel, like, yeah.

“And from that moment, I picked up the momentum, and it was actually fun at the end to play. That’s when I figured out what is happening and what I need. And it was really enjoyable.”

Indeed at 1-4 down in the second set, Safwat took two games in a row and had a break point to level for 4-all. But Dimitrov saved it and soon moved on to the third.

Safwat got bolder in his shots and the crowd got behind him, even chanting his name at times. He held from 0-40 down in game nine of the third, letting out a huge ‘come on’ to force Dimitrov to serve to stay alive in the set. The Egyptian eventually succumbed in the tiebreak, but walked away knowing he had made history for his country.

Safwat and Dimitrov embraced at the net and the Bulgarian later revealed that they knew each other from their junior days.

“We have known each other for so long. I told him, ‘It’s nice to see you’,” said Dimitrov of their exchange at the net.

“It’s nice to play someone you know for such a long time.

“I’m happy when I see players that I have shared courts, practice, matches from juniors. And now we are out here, battling on such a court. I think it’s great. So you never have to forget that.”

For Safwat, this was a dream come true. Growing up watching Roland Garros on TV, he admits he never imagined he’d get to play on centre court. He recalls watching and recording Gustavo Kuerten and Roger Federer matches from the French Open on TV.

He also fantasised about facing 11-time champion Rafael Nadal on this very court, and had he been drawn sixth in the lucky loser lot, he would have actually faced the Spaniard, since Dolgopolov was due to play Nadal but pulled out and was replaced by Simone Bolelli.

“It’s something big,” Safwat said about his Grand Slam debut.

“I always was dreaming to play on centre court with such a crowd. And I had thoughts I might get in here and play Nadal in the first round.

“But it was really, really a lot of things happened to me in the last few months, and this is one of the biggest thing. I never ever thought I would go in the (qualifying) final round and then have a chance to compete in a tournament, in the main draw, in a Grand Slam against a good player in the centre court in Philippe Chatrier.

“It’s something I always saw it on TV, but I never had the experience to see. So it was really, really enjoyable for me.”

Safwat acknowledges that this is an important “milestone” in his career, but is already looking ahead on what he needs to improve to relive such experiences time and time again.

“I need to stop on what happened this week and need to learn. And I need to look again on the match and see what can be improved, either mentally or physically or tennis or what I need to add on the game to compete,” he said.

“You know, just not to see that now I played on the center court; I got in the Grand Slam, lucky loser, and that’s it. You know, I don’t want to have it like this. I would like, you know, to look at it more, to start to see what I need to improve, to go up, because that’s always the goal and the dream to go up, not to be happy with what you get.

“Definitely I’m happy at this moment, but, like I said, it’s a milestone. I need to go forward.”

He is currently based in Austria, training there with ex-world No. 17 Gilbert Schaller and admits the system back home in Egypt, doesn’t really help cultivate talent.

“I feel like in Egypt we don’t know how to get there, or we don’t have the knowledge,” he said.

“We don’t have so many players who achieve. And the ones that achieve, I feel they’re not helping the tennis there. Besides now, our federation president Ismail El Shafei, he’s trying to do something.

“But I feel like we are just missing the knowledge. Because what I am experiencing now, the new changes I’ve made and the things I add to, on court and off court, that we understand the sport wrong, like, the philosophy of the sport or how to play or how to maintain the level.”

Safwat is just the fourth Egyptian to ever play in a Grand Slam, and he’s now hoping he won’t be the last.

Those who tuned into his match in Paris on Sunday can potentially get inspired by it, the same way Safwat watched Kuerten and decider to pursue a career in tennis.

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