Gustavo Kuerten marked the 20th anniversary of his first Roland Garros triumph on Thursday by backing Rafael Nadal to win 15 French Open titles.
Brazilian star Kuerten won his first Paris crown in 1997, going on to win again in 2000 and 2001.
Nadal is just two match wins away from capturing an unprecedented 10th French Open.
“Rafa could potentially win up to 15 times,” Kuerten said Thursday in praise of the 31-year-old. “Two years ago, nobody really thought he would ever win a Grand Slam tournament again, especially Roland Garros. Well, I think he’s back, and he’s a favourite, as he was a favourite during his best years. So it is very possible, and I think we need to thank him, because he has been a role model.
“He’s not only an excellent tennis player. He is a wonderful person. He is entirely dedicated to his discipline.”
Nadal will face Austria’s Dominic Thiem in Friday’s semi-final. If he gets through that he would come up against world No1 Andy Murray or 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka in Sunday’s final.
Kuerten said Roger Federer’s surprise run to the Australian Open title in January at the age of 35 for an 18th major proved that age is not a factor in the sport. He also says Nadal and Federer have pushed each other to be better and better over the years.
“I think the chase, it’s amazing, right? Like the cat and rat, they are one after another,” said Kuerten. “That’s my belief. It’s because of them both they are so good.
“I always ask where he stops his spaceship around, like Roger. It’s nice you see these guys playing together. I’m sure that one make the other been much better than they normally will do without these kind of competition.”
But the Brazilian remains in awe of a potential 10th French Open crown for Nadal.
“Winning 10, it’s kind of – I can imagine that someone will win 22 Grand Slams or even 25, 26, 24 Grand Slams. But 10 of the same tournament? It’s more hard to understand for myself.
“At the same way, what’s make me more impressed, I don’t think right now that this is going to stop on 10. If he wins this year, you probably will guess that 11 is around the corner.”
Ana Ivanovic has no regrets over her decision to retire from tennis.
The former French Open champion announced her retirement on the eve of the 2017 season after struggling with injury problems for several years.
Five months on, the 29-year-old is enjoying life away from the tour and has no plans to return, either as a player or coach.
Ivanovic said: “Some people will say I stopped too late. I think everyone feels when it’s the right time for them. And it definitely wasn’t a decision overnight.
“There were so many factors that influenced that decision for me. It’s been now almost six months. I do not regret it. I am very happy where I’m at at the moment, and I’m still learning a lot. I want to improve. I want to share everything I have learned. I think it was the right time for me.
“I do miss it sometimes. It’s never easy. It’s been my whole life. But I really enjoy my time not having to have every day a schedule made for me and having a little bit more freedom. I have been busy. I do miss competition, but I get to travel a little bit on my own terms, which is a little bit different. And I get the chance to walk around, explore, and not have to save my energy for the match days.
“But I still watch a lot and keep in touch with some of my friends on tour.”
Ivanovic was back at the scene of her greatest triumph on Thursday as Roland Garros staged a small ceremony to honour their former champion.
The Serbian looked set for a show-stopping career when she lifted the trophy in Paris in 2008 and rose to world number one but she struggled to deal with the pressure and never hit such heights again.
Ivanovic said: “As I was preparing for today, I really was promising that I will not cry, and it was very hard to hold my tears back. It brought back a lot of emotions, actually. It was so wonderful.
“I do have very special bond with this place and Philippe Chatrier. And to walk on and see my family there, it was very hard but sweet at the same time.”
Ivanovic now lives in Chicago with her husband and Chicago Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger.
“It’s the first time for me that I kind of settle down somewhere,” she said. “I really like the city. People are super friendly. It’s lovely having the lake there. But the wind, that’s the only thing. It’s not the question if it’s windy or not, it’s a question if it’s sunny or not. The wind is always there. But it’s been really exciting times.”
She is a good friend of her fellow Serb, world No2 Novak Djokovic, and believes it’s only a matter of time before he returns to his very best. Djokovic suffered a hefty straight-sets defeat at the hands of 23-year-old Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals in Paris on Tuesday and will drop out of the top-two for the first time since 2011 when the new rankings are out on Monday.
“I really believe Novak will come back. I think it’s amazing what he’s done, being on top for so long. It’s not easy to maintain that level. It’s maybe a little bit more easier, men’s than women’s, but still I think it’s amazing,” said Ivanovic.
“And sometimes you just need a break. And also, the tour doesn’t really give you that time to sort of reflect and enjoy also the success. Sometimes it takes a little time, but I’m sure he’ll be back.”
It was a point we will all never forget.
Simona Halep blasted one backhand down-the-line, changed direction to fire a forehand down-the-line, then finished off with a backhand down-the-line, sending Elina Svitolina left and right late in the second-set tiebreak.
Sounds like a cool point, big deal! Yes, it actually is a big deal because Halep saved a match point with that insane combination.
Had she missed any of those attempts, she would be out of the tournament. Instead, that match point save helped her complete an unthinkable comeback from 3-6, 1-5 down against Svitolina, as Halep went on to win the match 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-0 and reach her second Roland Garros semi-final.
The best part of it all is that Halep didn’t even notice she was saving a match point.
“I didn’t realise. I watched after, when I was stretching, on Twitter a little bit. And the backhand down-the-line at match point, I was, like, was match point for her? And I didn’t realise during the match,” admitted the world No4 during her press conference.
That is just unbelievable and explains a lot. Maybe they should hide the scoreboard from Halep during all her matches then.
Asked how she turned the match around after falling behind with such a huge deficit, the Romanian 2014 runner-up said: “My ball was not going as long as I wanted, but she was dominating the match. I just sat down at 5-2. I said that the match is lost. So I did nothing to change something, to change the rhythm, that’s it. It’s over.
“And then I started to feel more relaxed maybe because I thought it’s finished, and I change the rhythm. I put some high balls. I just tried to make her move more, to open the court, and it came. I don’t know how, but it was really good.”
She now faces No2 seed Karolina Pliskova, who has been surprising herself and everyone for that matter by making it this far on a surface she doesn’t like and playing less than ideal tennis. Before 2017, Pliskova had only won two main draw matches at Roland Garros. Now she’s in the semi-finals and she and Halep can fight for the No1 ranking as well as a spot in the title match.
Here are the possible scenarios:
Here are the highlights from a busy day 11 at Roland Garros…
Let's not forget Halep changing directions down the line three times in a row on match point anytime soon. pic.twitter.com/dn68GL32JR— Tumaini Carayol (@tumcarayol) June 7, 2017
“The world is not spinning only around me. I’m grateful for the attention, but there are many other players that deserve that, as well.”
— Novak Djokovic after his straight-sets loss to Dominic Thiem
“Coming into this tournament, there were a few people who told me, ‘You have to be in the final to be No1’. I was, like, ‘there is no chance I make final here’.”
— Pliskova, who is now one match win away from the world No1 ranking
“I told him, ‘Don’t hit me, because everyone is watching’.”
— Halep on her conversation with Ion Tiriac after winning her quarter-final by saving a match point
1 – Thiem claimed his first top-10 win at a Grand Slam with his three-set drubbing of Djokovic on Wednesday.
2 – This was just the second time Djokovic has been bageled in the final set in 985 career matches.
325 – consecutive weeks Djokovic has been ranked inside the top-two in the world. He will drop out of top-two on Monday for the first time since March 2011.
Feast your eyes on these stats to preview the women’s semi-finals: