1. It has happened.
What a match from Novak Djokovic today. The first set went like my brain before the match: “Nole’s definitely got this! But wait, I can’t count out Nadal! No, Nole’s just better this year. He’s got this.”
And then, after Djokovic got the first set under his belt, it was all over. Nadal’s forehand lost all range, Djokovic’s game lost all hiccups, and it looked like you’d expect a Djokovic/Nadal match at any other location in 2015 to go.
It turns out Roland Garros isn’t automatic for Nadal–Nadal was just really and truly that phenomenal for nine out of the last 10 years.
Here’s my piece on the match for Bleacher Report, and I’ll have more thoughts published elsewhere tomorrow. (Follow my twitter for links.) Overall, I think this says much more about Novak than it does Rafa. Just a huge step for him.
2. TIMEA BACSINZKY.
Timea is into the semifinals of a Slam, and tomorrow she will face Serena Williams, in a match that it’s safe to say she likely won’t win. So, let’s appreciate her now, how far she’s come, how far she still can go.
Louisa Thomas wrote a great piece on her for Grantland:
Then, in 2013, she was 23 and about to quit tennis, working at hotels and restaurants as an intern and planning to attend hotel management school in the fall. She was putting the game behind her, taking control of her life. For years, she had felt suffocated. Playing tennis had never been her choice, she would later say. It was her way of getting love; it was her way of ensuring that her family was happy. When she lost, her parents fought. She felt that her home was a “prison.” Her father pushed her, hard. “It’s happening a lot, especially in tennis, because — especially in women’s tennis, because for sure, as a woman, as a young girl, you can never go against the power of the dad,” she told Tennis after a match this March in Indian Wells. “You have no money or nothing.” Her only way of rebelling was to dictate what she did between the court’s alleys. Her father would tell her to go cross court; she would go down the line.
Ben Rothenberg has a great piece on her for The New York Times as well:
Now at peace with her childhood and her personal life, Bacsinszky has been able to reach heights in her tennis ability that she never could before. But she insisted that her self-healing was for a purpose far larger than sports.
“I mean, I have never worked on myself for my tennis; I worked on myself because I think it makes the life easier if you have more peace inside of you,” she said. “Then you get angry less times in a day. Then you lose less energy. You feel better when you go to sleep. You just enjoy more your life, and your life is more like enjoyable every day. So you look forward like to fall asleep and to wake up in the morning.
3. Andeeeeehhh Muuurrraaaayy
Look, if you listen to our podcast at all, you know that Andrew and I were split on this quarterfinal–I thought David Ferrer would take it, he was firmly in the Murray camp.
Well, obviously, he was right. Murray was incredibly impressive today from what I saw, and from what the scoreline showed me. He was aggressive and unrelenting, and why I don’t think he will beat Djokovic in the next match, I do think he’ll give him fits, moreso than Nadal did today.
(Abigail is filling in for Andrew today. She’s a contributor to The Changeover and has her own blog, The Tennis Obsessed.)
1. Sara Errani Cannot Do Serena Williams. Ever.
Serena Williams has had an abysmal tournament.
“Oh!” you say. “But she’s made the semis, hasn’t she?”
Yes. But did you see how she made the semis?
Serena has impressed for all the wrong reasons at Rolly G this year: by playing The Comeback Queen. A shadow of her typical dominant self, she had been thoroughly erratic in her previous three rounds (see my recent Changeover piece for descriptive details.) Yet displaying incredible desire and extraordinary willpower, Serena has scraped through – leaving her competition stunned.
Sara Errani, a regular victim of Serena Williams, was up against her once more today. The dark memories of the 2013 semis – in which she won just 16 points against the American in a 46 minute loss – may have haunted her, but their recent, wind-plagued clash in Fed Cup (where Errani stole a set) would have encouraged.
However, it seems the wind was very much a factor in that match. Despite the many complimentary headlines, Serena still hasn’t hit top form. In her 6-1 6-3 victory over Sara she often hit with little power, precision and thought. When she was sharp, she was sharp. When she wasn’t… well, she wasn’t.
Still, Errani was dispatched from the competition in one hour and six minutes – her combination of topspin and depth not enough to trouble Williams, and her serve of no effect. A match in which she was pulled apart by a woman playing at 50% of her abilities tells us one thing:
Sara Errani cannot do Serena Williams. Ever.
2. Rafa Entered A Champion, Departed A Champion, And Will Return A Champion.
It hasn’t really sunk in that Rafael Nadal is not just out of Roland Garros, but out in the quarter finals, and out to Novak Djokovic in straight sets. And the thought that Rafa – who for so many years has shown how much he cares – will not be hoisting aloft the victor’s trophy come Sunday, is one too painful to consider.
I was one of the few who kept fervent belief that Rafa would add a 10th victory to his record haul, and I sustained that belief (to some extent) throughout the first set. In that set, Nadal resurrected from 4-0 down to 4-4, and although Novak was playing with a solid game plan (think drop shots, taking the ball high, etc), Rafa found just enough depth in his shots – and hustled like a pro – to put pressure on the Serb. Ending 7-5 in Nole’s favour, it was close.
However, alarm bells went off when Rafa failed to capitalise on break points at 3-3 in the second. Everyone – including him – seemed confident that however short his forehand landed, and however few times he hit the lines, this was where the Spaniard did his thing and ran off with the set.
No. Not only did Djokovic hold serve, but he broke in the next game. When he served out the set, the world – and Rafa – were left stunned.
When imagining Novak beating Rafa at the French, I think most of us would have expected it to be greeted with phenomenal cheers and wild Djoko-Celebrations. In actual fact, during that last set, Court Philippe Chatrier – and much of the tennis world – seemed enveloped in a poignant sadness. Broken in the first game, Rafael Nadal did not look like Rafael Nadal. And it wasn’t just because he couldn’t find his game. We waited and waited for his trademark fighting spirit to unearth, his passionate fist pump to reappear. But it didn’t happen. It just wasn’t his day. Rafa seemed washed in tiredness, resigned to fate, and – whilst he wasn’t exactly giving up – it was as if he was feeling ten French Opens of uninjured victories taking their toll.
To watch it unfurl was almost too much.
Novak didn’t flinch as he built a 5-1 lead on the nine time champion. The crowd had withdrawn themselves from the match, viewing it in respectful (but, honestly, ridiculous) silence.
And for the third straight time, a double fault ended a Djokovic/Nadal Paris clash. But this time, it fell from the Spaniard’s racquet.
The applause for Novak was polite – but as Rafa, the legend, left the stadium, showing his appreciation to the crowd, they responded with a roar worthy of a nine time Roland Garros Champion.
Twitter was wild throughout the match – but it erupted afterwards. And to my shock, the initial reactions followed this theme:
Let's beat the rush and congratulate Nadal on an era…
— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) June 3, 2015
The curtains had barely swung closed, and already people everywhere were calling off Nadal’s career on his behalf! I suppose that because (despite doubting) no one dared to write Rafa off prior to the match, this subject wasn’t broached. Yet now that the unthinkable had occurred, and Rafa’s 2015 struggles were plain to be seen, the torrents unleashed.
It was the Roger Federer’s 2013 situation all over again. But thankfully, Nadal knew what was coming. And he knew that Roger had made a comeback.
Roger and Rafa have always been steadfastly defensive of their Golden Era. And this is what Rafa has to say to all you doubters:
— Roland Garros (@rolandgarros) June 3, 2015
"There is only one sure thing, I want to work even harder than before to come back stronger." A determined #Nadal looks forward to RG 2016
— Roland Garros (@rolandgarros) June 3, 2015
Rafael Nadal is not giving up yet. And if he’s not giving up, then what right have we to?
3. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga Could Well Be Your Roland Garros Champion!
Think about it: Novak was incredible today, yes – but he had an under par opponent in Nadal, and a game plan specifically made for him. Tsonga is a whole different prospect, and also a guy who’s had four match points against Djokovic here in Paris. Admittedly, the guy could just as easily lose to Stan as beat Novak or Andy… but we know he has the ability, the crowd and the heart to send him all the way.
This is the beaming Frenchman’s biggest shot at Grand Slam victory.