Things have been progressing rather fast for Daria Kasatkina, that the Russian, and her coach Philippe Dehaes, were taken a bit by surprise when she reached her first Grand Slam quarter-final with a win over Caroline Wozniacki on Monday.
Kasatkina, who turned 21 last month, managed a last-minute court change, an overnight suspension of the match due to darkness, and the tournament’s No. 2 seed in impressive fashion to set up a quarter-final meeting with US Open champion Sloane Stephens.
The match with Wozniacki was initially scheduled to take place on Court Suzanne Lenglen on Sunday but was moved to the main centre court, Philippe Chatrier, because the preceding matches had taken so long.
Play was suspended on Sunday evening with Kasatkina leading Wozniacki 7-6 (5), 3-3.
Upon resumption of play on Monday, the 14th-seeded Russian took three games in a row to wrap up her third win from three meetings against Wozniacki in 2018 and book a spot in a maiden Slam quarter-final.
Kasatkina will return to the court on Tuesday for her last-eight clash with Stephens. It is a quick turnaround not aided by the fact that Kasatkina had to move out of her rented apartment after her win on Monday and into a hotel because she didn’t know she’d still be alive in the tournament beyond June 5.
“I booked it through Airbnb. So you have to pay in advance. And you never know what is going to happen and if you are in the middle of the second week it’s fine to go to the hotel, you know. Yeah. I’m not complaining,” she said.
Kasatkina, who now has seven top-10 wins in 2018, admits she was thrown off by the last-minute court change, which accounted for some sloppy play on Sunday.
“I think this is an important experience, and I’m really happy at the end I was mentally more tough, I think,” said Kasatkina on Monday.
“I’m happy that I am getting this experience as soon as possible. I think I’m learning pretty fast to manage this critical situation.”
Her Belgian coach, Dehaes, who is famous for his inspirational on-court coaching speeches, agrees that things have been happening fairly quickly for his charge.
This year, Kasatkina reached back-to-back finals in Indian Wells and Dubai, following on from a title run in Charleston last season, and a fourth round showing at the 2017 US Open.
“Of course I’m absolutely sure she will one day win a big tournament. But I know that mentally she has to really improve a lot of things. It’s fast, it’s fast, but we enjoy it absolutely of course,” Dehaes told Sport360.
“I was absolutely impressed the way she handled [all the circumstances] because as you saw at the beginning of the match yesterday, especially the first game, she was very tight.
“She showed us all the capacity she has to manage the pressure. Of course she has to improve and that’s for sure the weakness for the moment but she did absolutely great, three games in a row against Wozniacki, it’s super.”
Kasatkina has shown lots of promise from a young age, and she made the third round in each of her first four Grand Slam appearances.
Entering her match with Wozniacki, she had broken serve 18 times – more than any other woman on her side of the draw.
Kasatkina is thrilled to hit a new career milestone.
“It means a lot, of course. It’s my first quarter-finals in the Grand Slam. But I already have to forget about it, because I’m playing already tomorrow. Yeah, already starting to think about next match,” she said.
Stephens, who cruised past Estonian Anett Kontaveit in the fourth round, is 1-1 against Kasatkina, defeating the Russian on green clay in Charleston in 2016 but losing to her in Indian Wells this year.
“It’s going to be 50-50,” said Dehaes. “For me it’s very clear, Sloane is great, she’s super-strong physically. She’s going to be a tough opponent.
“But Dasha has this advantage that on clay, she can make maybe the difference sometimes, the variety, the topspin forehand, using the slice, open the court, etc, etc, made the difference for the moment. If she can do it against Sloane, she has a good chance to win.”
A few years ago, I was taking a walk along the Champs-Elysees in Paris during the French Open and bumped into Sloane Stephens enjoying a Haagen-Dazs ice cream.
Stephens had already lost in singles and I figured that was her way of consoling herself. That’s what I would have done too.
On Saturday, after her battling victory over Camila Giorgi in the third round, Stephens told us how outraged she feels about the fact that the big Haagen-Dazs that was at the centre of the Champs-Elysees is now, unfortunately, a Five Guys burger joint.
“If you know anything, you know that the Haagen-Dazs on the Champs closed and now it’s a Five Guys. So that is so disrespectful,” said Stephens.
“So I have been really upset about that. But I have found one in a mall, like, across the street, so I have been able to regroup with that.”
Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal joked during his press conference that his surprise practice with Maria Sharapova in Rome led to him winning the title there, and that he’s happy to hit with the Russian again.
“It was a good practice for me. I won the tournament there,” he said with a smile. “Yeah, anytime. Ready to do it again. Was a good fun.”
Sharapova in turn heaped praise on the 10-time Roland Garros champion, when she was quizzed about the Spaniard in her press conference. She described Nadal as the ‘GOAT’ (greatest of all-time) when she tweeted about their quick practice together.
“I think it’s pretty remarkable what he’s done in his career. I think when you get to a certain point, you know, those numbers – there are a lot of people that can be considered greatest of all time, right?” said Sharapova.
“I don’t know if, when you’re that successful, if it’s even fair to measure them in numbers, because you don’t want to take anything away from somebody else that’s achieved maybe just as much or maybe even more or a little bit less.
“I have a lot of admiration for him. I have always loved the spirit that he carries on with, the focus. I think he only knows how to go at 100 per cent. If you look at the practice schedule, I mean, he’s out there for — he won two events, and in Rome, he’s practicing for three hours a day, he knows that that’s what works for him and he’s going to deliver that no matter his age, no matter the injuries, he shows up.
“That’s incredibly admirable, because the older you get in this sport, the more physical it is, tougher it is on the body. We know that.”
STATS OF THE DAY
2 – Nadal lost just two points in his first five games against Gasquet on Saturday.
4 – match points saved by David Goffin en route to his five-set victory against Gael Monfils on Saturday.
5 – Garbine Muguruza is through the Roland Garros fourth round for a fifth straight year.
5 – winners from Karolina Pliskova in her straight-sets defeat to Maria Sharapova, compared to 18 from her Russian opponent.
34 – Rafael Nadal has now won his last 34 completed sets at Roland Garros, breaking his own longest streak of 32 consecutive completed sets won here in 2007-09. Only Bjorn Borg, who won 41 sets in a row here in 1979-81, has recorded a longer streak of consecutive sets won at the French Open.
QUOTES OF THE DAY
“I was one of the few people that, you know, said that she was, when her whole drug incident, I was, like, she was brave to say something. I didn’t have anything negative to say about Maria. So of course I wanted to read it and just see what was going on.”
— Serena Williams on Maria Sharapova.
“She really makes you go the extra mile and play the extra shot. She made me play a drop shot and go to the net. So well done Simona; right? But you really need to pull out the whole repertoire to be able to beat her because she’s just so crafty and smart. She opens the court really well. And when you play little short, that’s really — that was maybe the most amazing thing today. I knew right away from the get-go in the rally, if I’m going to win it or not. Because the moment I got deep, I knew I would have the chance to make the point. But as soon as you’re a little short, she starts opening you up and you run and run and run, and you hope and you pray to God for your life, but in the end you still lose the point. So that’s kind of annoying too. But it’s really amazing to play her because it’s really old tennis. “Old tennis,” I put it in quotes, quotation marks, just because it’s — she has to build the points, especially on clay. Maybe it’s a little different on other surfaces, but on clay she really has to build the point.”
— Andrea Petkovic gave a brilliant monologue when asked to discuss what makes Simona Halep so difficult to play against.
“I don’t take 30 seconds between every point to just make the opponent feel worse and those stuff. It’s more about the behaving around, not the tennis.”
— Karolina Pliskova says Maria Sharapova does whatever it takes to get a win.
A new chapter in the Serena Williams-Maria Sharapova rivalry will be written after the superstar pair set up a highly-anticipated fourth round with wins at Roland Garros on Saturday.
The last time Williams and Sharapova played was in the 2016 Australian Open quarter-finals, which was the same day the Russian failed a drugs test that eventually led to a 15-month suspension.
Williams won the Australian Open the following year while pregnant, and returned from maternity leave to the tour last March, married and with a baby girl she named Olympia.
Sharapova and Williams have a tense history, as words were aimed at each other in press conferences in the past.
On Saturday, Williams took the opportunity to express her disappointment at some of the things Sharapova said about her in her recently-published autobiography ‘Unstoppable’. Sharapova attributed Williams’ fierce 19-2 head-to-head record against her to the Russian’s upset win over Williams in the Wimbledon final back in 2004.
“I was changing and she was bawling. I think Serena hated me for being the skinny kid who beat her, against all odds, at Wimbledon,” said Sharapova in her book.
Williams responded on Saturday after her 6-3, 6-4 win over No. 11 seed Julia Goerges, saying: “I think the book was 100 per cent hearsay, at least all the stuff I read and the quotes that I read, which was a little bit disappointing.
“I have cried in the locker room many times after a loss, and that’s what I have seen a lot of people do. I think it’s normal. I think if anything, it shows the passion and the desire and the will that you have to want to go out there and do the best.”
Williams insisted that she never “had any hard feelings towards her”, which is why she was letdown by the statements in the autobiography. She also noted that she never said anything negative about Sharapova during her doping ordeal.
“One of the things I always say, I feel like women, especially, should bring each other up,” said Williams.
“A lot of people always assume that I feel a different way and it’s not true. If anything, I feel like we should encourage each other, and the success of one female should be the inspiration to another.
“Before her incident of drugs or not, I just feel like she was doing good before that. So I feel like now she’s doing well again, and I have never had any hard feelings toward her.”
— Maria Sharapova (@MariaSharapova) April 17, 2017
A lot has changed for both Williams and Sharapova, and the excitement surrounding this match-up – which was flagged the second the draw was made 10 days ago – is certainly palpable here in Paris.
“I think any time you play against Serena you know what you’re up against. You know the challenge that is upon you. Despite the record that I have against her, I always look forward to coming out on the court and competing against the best player. I will look forward to doing that,” Sharapova told reporters at the French Open following her ruthless 6-2, 6-1 victory over sixth-seeded Karolina Pliskova on Saturday.
Sharapova hasn’t defeated Williams in 14 years and is frank when it comes to discussing the reasons behind that drought.
“I think there is a lot of things in her game that she’s done much better than I have. I mean, the records don’t certainly elaborate on that. Numbers don’t lie,” said the Russian five-time Grand Slam champion.
“But of course, I came into Europe and Stuttgart with not a great record, not playing great tennis with a lot of injuries, and have been able to turn that around a little bit.
“Been able to put myself in this position of playing better tennis. That’s what I continue to work for, of course. You don’t put those hours on the back courts in Bradenton-frickin’-Florida to just show up at events like this and not bring it.”
Some might be surprised by the way Sharapova eased past Pliskova but not the latter’s compatriot Petra Kvitova, who saw her 13-match winning streak come to an end at the hands of 25th-seeded Estonian Anett Kontaveit on Saturday.
“It’s not a surprise to me, actually. I think that she’s playing great game. She had a great run in Rome as well. She loves to play here. Otherwise, she’s not winning two times here,” Kvitova said of Sharapova.
“Maybe the score a little bit surprised me, but I think that she’s on the good way back, and that’s how it is. I think it’s a big win for her confidence.”
Williams, who has played just seven matches this season, considers Sharapova the favourite entering this showdown.
“She’s been playing for over a year now. I just started. So I’m just really trying to get my bearings and trying to feel out where I am and see where I can go,” said the 36-year-old Williams.
“But I think this will be another test. I think this is just one of her best surfaces, and she always does really, really well here. So this would be a good opportunity for me kind of to see where I am and just hopefully continue to go forward.”
Romanian world No. 1 Simona Halep, who was scheduled on the new Court 18 located on the far end of the Roland Garros grounds, survived a tight first set against Andrea Petkovic before the German suffered a knee problem early in the second. Two-time Paris runner-up Halep booked a place in the fourth round with a 7-5, 6-0 victory and next faces in-form Belgian Elise Mertens.
“Today was a little bit different, because the court is pretty small, and I felt that all the people were on court with me,” said Halep, whose bizarre court scheduling was met with outrage from many fans online.
“So it was tough to adjust myself, coming from Chatrier it’s a bit difficult. But I just needed a few games and then I think I played okay. I think I played well.”
Reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens fought tooth and nail, stopping Camila Giorgi twice from serving out the match to defeat the Italian 4-6, 6-1, 8-6 and set up a fourth round against Kontaveit.