Saturday's French Open: Familiar results at French Open as Nadal, Swiatek advance

Associated Press
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Paris — Iga Swiatek closed out her latest French Open victory and raised a triumphant right fist. Rafael Nadal won less than half an hour later and celebrated with a left uppercut.

The two defending champions make for a potent one-two combination at Roland Garros, where both won going away Saturday to reach the fourth round.

Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates after defeating Britain's Cameron Norrie during their third round match on day 7, of the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, Saturday, June 5, 2021.

Swiatek rallied from a break down in the opening set to beat Anett Kontaveit 7-6 (4), 6-0. Nadal was unfazed at losing serve twice in a row in the second set and eliminated Cameron Norrie 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.

Nadal, 35, advanced to the round of 16 at a Grand Slam for the 50th time. He's trying to add to his record 13 French Open crowns and seeks his 21st major title, which would break the men’s record he shares with Roger Federer.

As Nadal spoke to the crowd after his match, fans reminded the Spaniard of his title total by shouting “treize!” — 13 in French.

“Can you repeat that?” he responded in English with a smile.

Nadal will next play 19-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner, who is seeded 18th.

“He's young, he's improving every week, he has big shots," Nadal said. “I need to be solid. I need to be aggressive too. I need to make him play from tough positions. It’s the fourth round — you can't expect an easy opponent.”

Nadal knows that from experience. Federer and Novak Djokovic are the only other men to reach the fourth round at 50 major events.

Federer raised his total to a record 68 trips to the round of 16 at majors by getting past Dominik Koepfer 7-6 (5), 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4), 7-5 in a match that ended at nearly 1 a.m.

Swiatek, 20, has won 20 consecutive sets at Roland Garros and that streak was in jeopardy when she trailed Kontaveit 4-2. The title holder dominated from there and lost only 12 points in the second set.

“It’s good to have matches like that, because it keeps you down to earth, and you have to be careful on every point,” Swiatek said. “I’m just happy that I’m able to play really solid in really important moments.”

The eighth-seeded pride of Poland next faces 18-year-old Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk, who has reached the round of 16 at a major event for the first time.

Sofia Kenin advanced to the fourth round for the third consecutive year by winning a seesaw all-American match against Jessica Pegula, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4. Kenin is the highest-seeded player left in the women's draw at No. 4, and she has shaken a slump with her return to Roland Garros, where she was the runner-up to Swiatek in October.

“This whole year hasn’t been so great in terms of my tennis,” Kenin said. “I've had some early round exits. I'm just happy that I'm finally finding my rhythm and playing some good tennis again.”

The top-seeded Djokovic didn't face a break point en route to a 6-1, 6-4, 6-1 victory over unseeded Ričardas Berankis.

Sinner beat Mikael Ymer 6-1, 7-5, 6-3 and was joined the round of 16 by another Italian 19-year-old, Lorenzo Musetti, who outlasted Marco Cecchinato — also from Italy — 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

Another teen, 17-year-old American Coco Gauff, advanced to the fourth round in Paris for the first time. She led 6-1 when her opponent, Jennifer Brady, stopped playing due to a left foot injury.

Gauff next faces No. 25 Ons Jabeur with a shot at her first berth in a major quarterfinal.

“When I first came on tour I felt like I had pressure to win,” Gauff said. “I realized I've just got to be myself and have fun on the court, and I will say, I'm having fun even in the pressure moments.”

Kenin blew a 3-0 lead in the opening set against the No. 28-seeded Pegula, but then began stepping into the court to take charge of rallies, especially with a backhand that produced two dozen winners. She hit 48 winners overall to 18 for Pegula.

Kenin had 10 double faults and was broken five times but held her final four service games to close out the win. The 2020 Australian Open champion, who was sidelined by an appendectomy in February, improved to 10-8 this year.

“I'm happy it's clicking during the French Open,” the 22-year-old Kenin said. “I love the court, I love the clay. It’s a good surface for me. My game is not where it was at the Australian Open in 2020 but we’re getting there.”

American Sloane Stephens, who is ranked 59th and out of the top 50 for the first time since 2017, advanced by beating 18th-seeded Karolina Muchova 6-3, 7-5. Stephens, the runner-up in 2018, will next face Barbora Krejcikova, who upset fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-2.

Djokovic advanced to the round of 16 at the French Open for the 12th consecutive year and said he made necessary adjustments on a cool, cloudy afternoon.

“Maybe for those watching it looked simple, but it wasn’t,” he told the crowd in French. “The conditions were different. How do you say in French ... the bounce was lower. I think I coped well.”

Djokovic next faces Musetti, who is playing in his first Grand Slam event.

“He is a big challenge to me,” Djokovic said. “He will not have much to lose. I'm sure he’s going to come trying to play the tennis of his life.”

Jan-Lennard Struff, a 31-year-old German, matched his best Grand Slam effort by advancing to the fourth round when he beat 18-year-old qualifier Carlos Alcaraz 6-4, 7-6 (3), 6-2.

Federer struggles past Koepfer to reach French Open last 16

Paris — Roger Federer was honest with himself, and everyone else, before the French Open, saying he knew he didn’t have any chance of winning the title. He arrived in Paris, after all, having played just three matches over the preceding year-plus following two knee operations.

Still, neither he, nor anyone else, probably expected Federer to have such a hard time getting out of Week 1 at Roland Garros. Eventually, he avoided what would have been his earliest loss there since 2004 by pulling out a 7-6 (5), 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4), 7-5 victory over 59th-ranked Dominik Koepfer that began Saturday night and ended as 1 a.m. approached — with no crowd present because of a COVID-19 curfew.

Federer, a 20-time Grand Slam champion who turns 40 on Aug. 8, was last bounced from the French Open in the third round 17 years ago; since then, his successes there included winning the 2009 trophy and reaching four other finals (losing to Rafael Nadal each time).

Switzerland's Roger Federer plays a return to Germany's Dominik Koepfer during their third round match on day 7, of the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, Saturday, June 5, 2021.

But Federer couldn’t hit through the court or successfully employ the attacking tactics he enjoys, perhaps because of cloud cover and temperatures in the low-60s Fahrenheit (teens Celsius), which made for cooler, heavier conditions than in recent days and slowed shots down.

He never quite could wrest complete control against Koepfer, a 27-year-old left-hander from Germany with zero tour-level titles, a losing career record, a best ranking of No. 50 and only one previous run as far as the fourth round at a major.

Adding to the oddness of it all was the lack of spectators, who almost assuredly would have tried to offer a boost to Federer, a popular player who might not have many — any? — more French Open appearances in him at this stage of his career.

Scheduled night matches are new this year at Roland Garros, and ticket-holders are being ushered out of the place before 9 p.m. as part of precautions instituted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It meant that applause, and the occasional shout, on Court Philippe Chatrier was pretty much limited to the handful of players’ guests. The sound of shoes scraping the crushed red brick or shots leaving rackets were accompanied by the clang of Federer angrily hitting balls off courtside advertising signage between points or his self-criticisms upon delivery of some of his whopping 63 unforced errors — 23 more than Koepfer.

Koepfer’s serving became increasingly effective in the middle sets, yes, but the biggest issue for Federer was his own propensity for mistakes.

The second-set tiebreaker illustrated that well: From 2-all, Federer netted a backhand, sailed a forehand long, missed another backhand and yanked a forehand off-target to give set points to Koepfer, who played college tennis at Tulane. A wide backhand ceded the set.

In the third, Federer fell behind by a break but managed to recover. When his drop shot drew a wide reply to end that tiebreaker, he shook his right fist. On the other side of the net, Koepfer grabbed his own throat. Koepfer showed more frustration in the fourth, when he disagreed with a line call, walked over to the ball mark, then leaned over to spit at it.

That drew a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct from the chair umpire and a point penalty. Down a break, Koepfer broke back and extended the fourth set until Federer broke in the next-to-last game, then served out the victory.

It put Federer in the round of 16 at a major for the 68th time, extending his men’s record — ahead of Novak Djokovic, who got that far for the 54th time earlier Saturday, and Rafael Nadal, who raised his total to 50.

They are all in the same half of a Grand Slam draw for the first time, and all face Italians on Monday. The No. 8-seeded Federer goes up against No. 9 Matteo Berrettini, No. 1 Djokovic meets unseeded Lorenzo Musetti, and Nadal takes on No. 18 Jannik Sinner.

If Federer and Djokovic advance, they will play each other in the quarterfinals; the winner of that matchup possibly would face Nadal in the semifinals.

Federer made plain last month that he viewed this event as more of a way to prepare for a title bid at Wimbledon, which begins June 28, than any kind of opportunity to break his tie with Nadal for the most Slam trophies for a man.

“I’m just realistic and I know I will not win the French — and whoever thought I would, or could, win it is wrong,” Federer said at the time. ”Of course, crazier things might have happened. But I’m not so sure in the last 50 years at the French Open, somebody just walked up at 40 years old, being out for a year and a half, and just (went) on to win everything."

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