RG day 9 diary and highlights: Women's 'open' field full of delicious suspense

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Front-runner? Simona Halep.

For the first time in 40 years, the women’s quarter-final line-up at Roland Garros consists of no previous Grand Slam champions.

We will get a brand new major winner on Saturday and it’s fair to say each of the eight women still standing can lift the title.

The most repetitive line we’ve heard this fortnight has revolved around how “open” the women’s draw is this year but it’s also worth noting that five of the quarter-finalists (Svitolina, Pliskova, Wozniacki, Halep, Mladenovic) came to Paris ranked inside the top seven in the Porsche Race to Singapore leaderboard – meaning they’ve already had very strong seasons coming into this.

Yes, the title is anyone’s to win, but how is that worse than if we already knew who was going to grab the trophy a few days into the tournament, or before it even started? I for one am loving the suspense and I’m very curious to see who will rise to the occasion and take this opportunity by the horns.

“For sure there’s going to be a changing of the guard,” is how ex-world No1 Lindsay Davenport put it. “Two through 18 (in the rankings), it seems like it’s not that big a difference. Maybe not (Karolina) Pliskova, but it’s still land of opportunity.

“We’ll see who holds up under that pressure. But it wouldn’t surprise me if we had a different Grand Slam champion in Wimbledon, and maybe even at the US Open.

“The return of Vika (Azarenka) especially on hard courts, she hasn’t been in the mix obviously for over a year. I think (Maria) Sharapova the more she plays… I just want to see everybody back healthy playing, because that’s when any sport is at its best. Hopefully this time next year we’ll have everybody playing, everybody healthy, all the big names.”

The likes of Azarenka and Sharapova will no doubt feel that the landscape has significantly changed in their absence, with a few of the women separating themselves a little from the chasing pack.

A compelling factor over the next few days is that Pliskova and Halep can actually play for the No1 ranking. Pliskova is two wins away while Halep needs three victories to replace Angelique Kerber at the top.

Davenport initially had Halep as the favourite for the title but she also feels the scales have tipped slightly towards local star Kristina Mladenovic, who has capitalised on the home support to get through some brutal battles so far this tournament.

“I think Mladenovic might have a slight edge because she’s got the crowd, and she’s got their energy and she knows how to use them,” said the American retired three-time Slam champion.

“It’s been very rare that a player can come in and get 15,000 people chanting and yelling for them and not feel pressure and not feel scared and she’s embracing it. That’s half the battle when you’re playing at home.”

It’s no secret that whoever is the strongest mentally will end up taking this title and Davenport agrees.

“With opportunity comes pressure, and who’s going to hold up the best? Halep who three years ago it was like she will win a major. She looks so good here, that brutal final against Maria, such high quality. And it seems like sometimes it got to her. The pressure and opportunities… it’s so hard to pick,” said Davenport, who is the current coach of world No13 Madison Keys.

“She was my favourite to win the tournament but you look at the other players – I don’t know, if Svitolina is not healthy, which I heard today she not 100 per cent (against Martic), I didn’t see it. You’ve got to think that Halep’s kind of the favourite in that bottom half.”

Moving on to some highlights, here’s what you may have missed from day 9 at Roland Garros…

Points of the day

Ignore the moonballs, wait for the smooth hands.

Special Kei!

Stats of the day

7 — Roland Garros quarter-finals Murray has now reached to take sole ownership of fourth place among active players with the most last-eight appearances at the French Open.

15 — aces for Caroline Garcia so far this tournament. Tied in second place with Jelena Ostapenko overall behind Kiki Bertens who hit 17.

650 — tour-level match wins for Murray after his victory over Karen Khachanov on Monday.

Quotes of the day

“I think it meant a lot that he took that decision. Helped me. I just felt that it was like a shock, because I lost the coach. So I have just to improve in this way, because he never had something to complain about my game and about the work that I do, because I’m working. But just with my attitude. I knew that is the only one thing that I have to change to have him back.”
— Simona Halep on how briefly losing her coach Darren Cahill this year got her back on track.

“It was the coldest kiss I had in my life, but it was a kiss (smiling). It’s a good point already, and I was actually also surprised. I was not expecting that she wanted to give me a kiss. And I liked it. I mean, it was good to finish on this note, you know, like I wouldn’t have liked like just a handshake, like very cold. I’m not this kind of person. I’m a very nice person. I don’t like the conflict. So I told her good luck, and I mean it.”
— Alize Cornet on the unexpected kiss she got from Garcia after their fourth round despite the off-court tension between them.

“I was just so happy. I just went for it. I mean, everyone was waiting for a very cold match. Everyone was surprised, maybe it’s going to be a battle or whatever. But, I mean, I just tried to stay like a professional player. I play tennis because I enjoy it, and I don’t want to get any fight with anyone. What happen, happened. We never forget about it. Tennis is a game. I play to enjoy and that’s it.”
— Garcia on opting to kiss Cornet at the net after their match.


“Actually I’m very bad with the memories (smiling). I don’t even know if I win or lost. I won?”
— Kei Nishikori when asked about his 2016 US Open win over Andy Murray. It was obviously not that memorable!

Comeback of the day

Elina Svitolina

The Ukrainian No5 seed rallied back from 2-5, 0-30 down in the final set against Petra Martic to turns things around and get the win 4-6, 6-3, 7-5. How did she do it?

Tweet of the day

Such bad luck for David Goffin. Come back soon!

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Davenport: Sharapova can make it through Wimbledon qualifying but it'll be a challenge

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Sharapova (l) and Davenport at Ski Dubai.

Lindsay Davenport believes Maria Sharapova will be able to advance through the Wimbledon qualifying rounds but that it will be a challenging experience for the Russian former champion.

Sharapova, who returned from a 15-month doping suspension end of April, was unable to get her ranking high enough to secure a place in the Wimbledon main draw and has opted to contest the qualifying tournament that is staged in Roehampton each year before the action kicks off at the All England Club.

The Russian, who lifted the trophy at SW19 as a teenager in 2004, will have to win three matches in Roehampton in order to book a spot in the main draw and Davenport, herself a Wimbledon champion in 1999 and former world No1, believes it could be tricky for Sharapova.

Asked if she thinks getting those three matches under her belt would do Sharapova good ahead of Wimbledon, Davenport told reporters at Roland Garros on Monday: “I don’t think so. She definitely needs matches, and she needs matches on grass, but a former champion – I know all the pros and cons, but Wimbledon qualies is not like any of the other Grand Slam qualies. It’s off-site, the courts are not the same.

“The courts are amazing at Wimbledon and it’s hard to replicate that anywhere, so it’s going to be a bit of a challenge.”

Davenport currently coaches world No13 Madison Keys, who shares an agent with Sharapova in Max Eisenbud.

Sharapova’s wildcard request for Roland Garros was rejected by the French Tennis Federation and her decision to play Wimbledon qualifying is probably her way of avoiding another rejection, this time from the All England Club.

Roehampton is only four miles away from the All England Club but the two venues look and feel like they’re worlds apart. The courts at the Bank of England Sports Ground are not as well-maintained and players in the qualifying tournament often complain of bad bounces and poor conditions.

The courts are laid out side by side in a wide open field and Wimbledon organisers will have to make several adjustments in order to accommodate more fans this year because of the presence of a superstar like Sharapova.

Security must be increased and they’ve already announced that the event will be ticketed for the first time, and journalists must require special accreditation for the qualifying rounds. All these are new introductions to what has typically been a laid back, sparsely-attended event.

“I was joking to her agent last week, we were having a lot of jokes about it. It’s not the same at Roehampton but I think she’s going to be fine though,” added Davenport.

“I think she’ll get through it. It’s a lot of tennis in a row for her, because she’s also supposed to play Birmingham, then qualies, then to go into the main draw.

“And I know physically even after playing Stuttgart and then Madrid, her body broke down a little bit, but I think she just wants to play. She’s a champion.

“I don’t know how I feel about her playing qualies. I’m happy she’s back playing. It’s going to be like Roehampton’s never seen. Everybody who has been out there knows what it’s like. It’ll be interesting. We were all saying we all want to go out there and see exactly what it’s like.”

Sharapova is currently ranked 178 in the world after winning five of the eight matches she has played so far in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome.

The Wimbledon qualifying competition will take place from Monday 26 to Thursday 29 June. According to www.wimbledon.com, an allocation of up to 1,000 tickets per day, priced at £5 each, will be for sale online only via Ticketmaster on a first come, first served basis.

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Kickin' it with Kiki: How I've embraced the pressure in Paris and why I think the crowd was fair to Muguruza

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PARIS, FRANCE — Roland Garros may sometimes be a tricky experience for French players but I must say I feel like I’ve always handled the pressure from my home crowd quite well.

I’m into my first French Open quarter-final and every single day is a new challenge for me.

I am a fighter and I’m confident, and I like to show that I can handle anything and that I’m not someone weak who would crumble under the pressure.

But it’s not easy every day because you want to do great for those people in the stands, for this support. It’s thousands of people, it’s lots of pressure, lots of expectations, so it’s not easy but it’s my mental strength that has got me through it.

You can see all my matches have been one big fight after the other; I’m not winning all those fights easily at all, but I just dig deep, I try to use this energy as a positive.

I’m just telling myself to embrace the pressure because at the end of the day, at the end of my career, that adrenaline, that pressure, is what I will miss the most.

It’s something you can’t find anywhere else in normal life except through sport and I take it as a huge privilege to see that so many people believe in me and put pressure on me. It means that I’m doing something great and that they believe that I can do even better.


So I think you’ve got to really be mentally strong to handle being the home player here at Roland Garros. We’ve seen big names, big champions in the past who couldn’t handle a situation like this – not only French players in France, but maybe Australians at the Australian Open or Americans at the US Open or Brits at Wimbledon. So it’s definitely not something easy, and maybe I’m not always going to respond well to this but the result at the end of the day doesn’t depend only on me, but also on my opponent.

Still, it’s true that since I first played the French Open, I never had regrets. I never felt that I went out there in front of 10,000 people and I just couldn’t play tennis, like I couldn’t feel my shots, my legs or I was totally paralysed. I’m extremely happy to have this privilege of feeling all this support, love and emotions.

I’ve had pretty tough draws over the years here at the French Open. I remember I had a wildcard in 2010 and I played Li Na – I beat her four years later, but the first time I lost like 7-5, 6-3, that was a great match. I also played against Dominika Cibulkova in 2012.

I had bad draws, I always played on big courts and I always embraced it. I didn’t end up winning those matches because tennis-wise my opponents were better than me but I always showed fight and I never felt like a fool out there. I always showed people that I want to belong there, I believed in myself, in the process, and I was always positive.

‘CROWD WAS FAIR TO GARBINE’

I know there’s been talk about the crowd being hostile during my fourth round against Garbine Muguruza but honestly I don’t think the crowd was bad at all with Garbine.

If you compare it to the atmosphere I experienced in the Stuttgart final in April against Germany’s Laura Siegemund – the people were extremely fired up, it was insane. I don’t know how many people can fit in the Porsche Arena – it’s also indoors – but it was ridiculous. I couldn’t hear myself breathing or talking.

It was so packed and loud but I never made any bad comments about the crowd because this is sport, it’s normal. People go there to enjoy themselves, to be entertained. If they have a home player, they pick their favourite and they support them.

Of course there are rules, not to scream during points and so on. In Stuttgart it was like this, so that was very close to the limit, but I embraced it. I think it’s normal. I don’t know if I have a different mentality to other players or what – I heard what Garbine said. Me personally, I never made any bad comments about that atmosphere in Germany. In fact, I actually thanked the crowd for loving our sport that much and being so into it.

I wasn’t surprised in Stuttgart because my opponent was German and if we talk about my Roland Garros fourth round with Garbine, the crowd was absolutely fair I think. Only once it happened that many people screamed between Garbine’s first and second serve because they thought it was a double fault since they didn’t hear that the first serve was a let. But other than that, they were supporting, clapping for her great shots and points. They were never disrespectful nor did they cross the line, just a huge support.

I mean we’re in a Grand Slam, I’m a French player, it hasn’t happened for so long [for a female French player to do well here], it’s a big match-up everybody was waiting for, so I was expecting that.

It’s also tough for me to handle this noise and atmosphere. It’s not that it’s easy for me and everything is difficult for her. It was also difficult for me to handle the nerves, the pressure, the emotions… I was ready for that but apparently she was not, but I don’t think there was anything unfair or bad.

LUCKY CHARM

It’s not just the crowd support that I enjoy here, I love this tournament and I have my own routines that make me feel very comfortable here.

They gave me my locker when I won the junior title here in 2009 so I have had the same locker every year – it’s kind of my lucky charm and I really believe it is because winning juniors, reaching the final in mixed, winning doubles and feeling great here… the locker is definitely my lucky charm.

There’s one lady in the locker room, Pat, she is like my mum, she’s so nice with me.

Having my meals on the sofa there watching matches on the screens while waiting for my matches… all these little routines – I just feel very comfortable.

MENDING FENCES?

My ex-doubles partner Caroline Garcia has also made it into the second week of the tournament and I’ve been asked about our falling out during press conferences and whether I plan on talking to her to clear the air after Roland Garros is over.

I don’t know if people realise that, yes we had an amazing successful doubles career together, but outside of tennis we never shared anything. We were totally different that we were kind of joining forces just for matches, not even practices – very rarely just for warm-ups – because we were both focused on our singles.

Outside of tennis, we never went to dinner together, we never went shopping together or stuff like that because our interests are way different. But it didn’t stop us from having amazing results in doubles because we were a great team.

So on one hand I didn’t lose much because it’s not like she’s been my best friend and I’d talk to her about everything in my life.

It’s very sad that it turned out like this, from her side, because what really happened is that she just decided that she wanted to stop playing doubles and she just sent me a poor message over the phone.

I would have understood any reason she would have given me to stop playing together –anything she would’ve told me I would’ve totally agreed and respected. But she didn’t have the courage or human values to come and talk to me face-to-face and say ‘listen Kiki, I have these goals, I see it like this, I want to stop for that reason’ but that didn’t happen.

So I was extremely disappointed about that. We met in Indian Wells in the ice bath and she was surprised I was actually cold with her. She wanted to know why I was cold and I was like ‘You’re asking me? I know we weren’t necessarily friends outside of the court but at least what we shared and lived through, our beautiful tennis results, you could have at least thought to see me face-to-face and tell me after all we’ve been through. You didn’t do that so I was very disappointed with you and I’m disappointed’.

And when I asked why she just messaged me and didn’t come to talk to me she didn’t have an answer. I felt a bit disrespected because I’m big on human values.

Now there’s no more drama. She’s doing her thing, I’m doing my thing, and that’s it. I didn’t see her, we’re not speaking that much and we are all just sticking to our routines and jobs.

*This column was done via an interview with Kristina Mladenovic. It has been slightly edited for clarity.

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