Winds of change blow on day of upsets at French Open
Paris — On a Sunday of upsets among the women at the French Open, revenge was a dish served up in an autumnal chill by a Polish teenager.
And it was only partially business as usual for the men, too. Rafael Nadal advanced, but his opponent in his 14th quarterfinal at Roland Garros will be dangerous debutant Jannik Sinner. By making the men’s last eight as a newcomer, the 19-year-old Italian matched a feat last achieved by Nadal himself, in 2005, on his march to the first of his 12 titles in Paris.
So impressive has Sinner been on the clay that his 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win against U.S. Open finalist Alexander Zverev hardly seemed like an upset, despite the 68-spot gulf separating them in tour rankings. Sinner pulled the sixth-seeded German this way and that with precision groundstrokes and unfurled his wingspan to make 21 winners at the net.
Zverev said he was sick, so feverish and short of breath that “I shouldn’t have played.”
Sinner said that from his side of the net, his opponent seemed “quite okay, you know, because in the third and fourth set he was running quite a lot.”
Against fourth-round foe Sebastian Korda, a 20-year-old qualifier who idolizes him so much that he named his cat “Rafa,” Nadal was — excuse the pun — practically purr-fect, winning 6-1, 6-1, 6-2.
Korda lapped it up. His long-term sights are set on winning at least two Grand Slam titles, one more than his dad, 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda. In the meantime, the spanking from Nadal was “definitely the best moment of my life.”
“Super awesome,” he said. “I asked him for a signed shirt when we were tapping rackets and he said, ‘Yeah, no problem.’ So I have one in my bag right now. So I’m super stoked.”
Nadal has yet to drop a set in his pursuit of a 13th French Open crown that would be his 20th major title overall, tying Roger Federer’s record.
Although Nadal and Sinner have practiced together, their match will be the first between the 34-year-old and the youngest man in a Grand Slam quarterfinal since Novak Djokovic in 2006.
“A big challenge,” Nadal said. “Amazing potential. He move the hand very quick and he’s able to produce amazing shots.”
That’s also true of the new generation making a mark in the women’s draw of this French Open where most everything feels unusual because of its coronavirus-enforced shift from May-June. The golden leaves and cold of autumn have added to a sense of cyclical change.
Against the player who humbled her 6-1, 6-0 at the same stage last year, 19-year-old Iga Swiatek turned the tables on top-seeded Simona Halep, sending the 2018 champion packing 6-1, 6-2 with powerful groundstrokes and exquisite net play to advance to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Halep, who also lifted the title at Wimbledon last year, never got into her stride under the roof on Court Philippe Chatrier and was unable to exert any pressure on the now-confident Polish player who wilted with nerves in their fourth-round meeting last year that was over in just 45 minutes.
Swiatek used that defeat as fuel.
“A huge lesson,” she said. “I knew that I can, like, play differently and I can finally show my best tennis.”
Halep lasted just 23 minutes longer this time. She never had a break point against her opponent who racked up 14 against her, breaking her twice in each set and keeping her serve under near-constant stress.
“She was everywhere,” said Halep, who had been on a career-best winning streak of 17 matches. “I will have a chocolate and I will be better tomorrow.”
That upset was followed by another moments later. Italian qualifier Martina Trevisan ousted fifth-seeded Kiki Bertens, winning 6-4, 6-4. Swiatek and Trevisan will now play each other in what will be a first Grand Slam quarterfinal for them both.
Argentinian qualifier Nadia Podoroska also advanced, beating Barbora Krejcikova, ranked No. 114, 2-6, 6-2, 6-3. The 131st-ranked Podoroska, who lost in the first round at her only previous Grand Slam, the U.S. Open in 2016, will face third-seeded Elina Svitolina from Ukraine. The semifinalist last year at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open advanced 6-1, 6-3 against Caroline Garcia of France.
Halep and Bertens had been among just six seeded women in round four. Sixth-seeded Serena Williams’ pursuit of a record-tying 24th major title ended with an Achilles injury after her first-round win. Week two’s crop of new faces speaks to the depth of women’s tennis.
“At this level nobody surprises anybody anymore,” said Halep. “Everyone has a big level.”
The 159th-ranked Trevisan tossed her racket in delight after sealing her victory with a backhand lob from the baseline that Bertens, who’d been serving to stay in the match, could only watch as it soared over her head and plopped in. Trevisan didn’t see the ball land but the reaction from her Dutch foe told her the match was won.
“I saw the face of Bertens that was a little bit sad, so I said, ‘Yeah, it is in,’” she said.
Trevisan dropped tennis for about 4½ years from late 2009 to early 2014, and recently wrote in a blog post that she had dealt with anorexia after her father, a former professional soccer player, battled medical problems. Trevisan is playing in only her second Grand Slam. She was a first-round loser at her first: the Australian Open this year.
Swiatek, who reached the fourth round this year at Melbourne Park, has said that having recently passed her school exams, she now wants to fully focus on her tennis, to see whether she should make a career of it or head to university.
Based on the evidence in Paris, the books can wait.
“I have, like, time to grow up,” she said. “”It’s, like, perfect for me doing it one step after another.”