Pablo Carreno Busta is well aware of what he’s up against when he takes on an in-form and healthy Rafael Nadal in the Roland Garros quarter-finals on Tuesday. It is by far the toughest challenge in tennis today.
Nadal has lost just two out of 101 best-of-five matches on clay throughout his entire career. That stat alone sounds discouraging. But not for the 25-year-old Carreno Busta, who is having his best season to date and is playing his maiden Grand Slam quarter-final.
“If I think that I don’t have chances, I will not play. So for sure I think I have chances,” the Spaniard told reporters at the French Open.
“Is really difficult, because Rafa is maybe the best player in this surface of the history, and he’s playing really good, but I will try. I’m playing good. I’m with a lot of confidence.”
Carreno Busta has every reason to feel confident. He has won 27 matches in 2017 (fourth-most on tour), including a title run on the clay of Estoril, a runner-up showing in Rio, and a semi-final run at Indian Wells.
McEnroe to Carreno Busta before Nadal match: Think small, set yourself some achievable goals, like getting two games per set (via Eurosport) pic.twitter.com/m86eppL9qk— Ilya Ryvlin (@ryvlin) June 6, 2017
His trip to the Roland Garros quarters means he will move back into the top eight in the ATP Race to London standings, solidifying his position as one of the best players on tour so far this season.
Carreno Busta is 0-3 against Nadal head-to-head but he took a set off him in Doha last year. They haven’t faced off since the Rio Olympics last summer.
Carlos Moya, Nadal’s coach, has seen a significant change in Carreno Busta’s game over the past 18 months or so.
“Even last year I realised he was more aggressive, that’s what I thought when I was coaching Milos (Raonic), we played against him. But I followed him throughout the year and I’ve realised that he’s more aggressive now than he used to be,” said Moya, a Roland Garros champion in 1998.
“Before he was just high intensity but not really many winners, but now I feel that if he has an easy ball that ball doesn’t come back. That’s the way tennis is played nowadays, that’s how it works. It took him a while to realise but now he’s doing that very well, probably his team and coach are helping him a lot and he’s a dangerous player.”
Carreno Busta comes off as a laid back character off the court. He’s always smiling, has a funny personality in press conferences and is enjoying the big stage now that he’s reached it.
“You are a very good tennis player, but not so good at match points,” a journalist joked with him after his narrow win over Milos Raonic in the fourth round that required seven match points before he sealed the deal.
“Thank you,” Carreno Busta quipped back with a grin.
It was Carreno Busta’s first top-10 win, ending a 16-match losing streak against such opposition.
When he was asked if he had his eyes on the ATP Finals in London at the end of the year, now that he’s in the top-eight in the Race, he Gijon-native said: “London (smiling). Nice city. But I think is not a real goal to be in London. Maybe in a few months I hope that we continue thinking about this, or you continue thinking about this. And we’ll see. But at the moment, I just thinking about Rafa,” he admitted.
Carreno Busta made his Davis Cup debut for Spain last year and team captain Conchita Martinez had nothing but praise for him.
“He has a good character, he’s laid back but also goes for his shots,” said Martinez. “I think he’s believing more in his possibilities at the moment. He’s breaking through so many things right now. To be here and playing Rafa is going to be amazing I think. He was looking up to him and now he gets to play him.”
Carreno Busta has spent almost four more hours on court this fortnight in Paris compared to Nadal, who has blasted through his opening four rounds in sensational fashion, dropping a total of just 20 games.
“For me, Rafa is the best player on this surface. He’s a really good friend. So it will be a really special match for me. I will try to enjoy this match and learn a lot. I will play against the best. And then we’ll see. Maybe I play and I lose easy or maybe I play and I win easy. You never know,” said Carreno Busta.
Moya feels Nadal’s form right now in Paris is the “perfect situation” as the Mallorcan attempts to become the first man to reach 10 semi-finals at Roland Garros.
“It hasn’t surprised me (how well Nadal is playing),” says Moya.
“This is probably the best tennis he’s playing since the beginning of the year, now he has the confidence of all these matches that he won since January. In January he was practicing very well, he was healthy, but he needed those matches that take you to 100 per cent of your potential.
“Now he’s not there, he’s close to that. It’s the perfect situation for us. If you asked me two months ago how would I like to get here I would tell you the way he’s playing now.”
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…
Ignore the moonballs, wait for the smooth hands.
What a point!!! (🎥Eurosport) pic.twitter.com/5M0qSA7Uup— doublefault28 (@doublefault28) June 5, 2017
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.
“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!
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?
Such bad luck for David Goffin. Come back soon!
Hello guys, the last tests revealed a muscle tear. It will take time to heal but I hope to get well soon ! Thank you for your messages 🤗❤️ pic.twitter.com/ViNEnBzx6l— David Goffin (@David__Goffin) June 5, 2017
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.