Jun 07, 2021

2021 Roland Garros ATP & WTA Quarterfinals

Some great and surprising matches in this round of 16. 230DentistAppt continues to lead the WTA bracket challenge, and tomtennis has just passed d1ngal1ng for the first time in the ATP challenge.

Djokovic vs Berretini :

If you wanted to crush a young rival’s spirits, that match was the perfect recipe. Lorenzo Musetti was expected to be Djokovic’s first test, but he played the first half of the match as if Novak was his first test. He had the answer in all the net exchanges, and his clean hitting had Novak not so much in trouble but in real danger of losing the match. The “first half” issue was the storyline though, as Musetti never got a look at control after the second set. Novak’s level stayed high, and once he got the lead Musetti couldn’t find his way into rallies. He fell into a common trap against Djokovic where you attempt to create a probing offensive shot from everywhere on the court while Novak just guides the ball in and waits for you to miss. Musetti acquitted himself tremendously, but he hit a wall physically and mentally and despite only winning 1 more game in the match, he had to endure a long and inevitable march towards a loss. There’s not a lot more crushing than being shown the victory and having it taken away, and Djokovic could not have scripted a more mentally challenging precendent to establish early in their h2h history. Musetti started to reach for his abdomen a few times in the 5th set, and it seemed like his withdrawal was some % frustration and some % physical breakdown. Interestingly, many betting sites cancel bets if a player withdraws, so his checking out at 6-7, 6-7, 6-1, 6-0, 4-0 caused a lot of people great relief and great frustation.

Berretini and Federer was like most things we get too excited about; destined not to happen. Federer winning one more Wimbledon, Serena breaking Margaret Court’s record, a good ending for Game of Thrones. Etc. I hate getting involved in internet disputes, because both sides manage to be some % right, yet never acknowledge that. Pointing that out is also unpopular, because people tend to want teammates for their views so badly that they declare those adding nuance or playing devil’s advocate to be actual enemies. It is a tricky thing to navigate one’s ego in a dispute, and clinging to our own opinions as some part of us that can be harmed by a disagreement leads us to act a bit ignorant at times. Here are some Federer thoughts I’ve had over the past day that illustrate the lack of a cohesive “correct” view :

-Federer likely should have skipped Roland Garros. He was not going to win the event, and was not match-ready.

-Had Federer reached out to RG and told them he was not ready and would likely have to withdraw, they almost 100% would have said “this is fine, please play anyway we would love to have you.” Federer is an icon, and him in the event makes it exciting.

-Federer’s withdrawal bothers a lot of us because of the situation surrounding it. Berretini was likely going to win, and as infrequently as the big 3 have lost over the years, a spot where it seems like they’re up against it is exciting and it’s easy to feel robbed of that. It’s also fair to say that the withdrawals of the top players in these spots often seem like they’re managing their image more than their body.

-Federer and his team may have thought they were completely fine and healthy heading into this. There is no way to replicate a grand slam; nobody is going to play a match a day for a week to lead up to an event and there aren’t players available of the ATP caliber to do so even if you wanted to. This may just be unfortunate.

-It’s a major and so it should be respected and not a “warmup” event but it’s also only one of thousands of events that Federer has played in his career. He hasn’t withdrawn too many times and while the players he beat earlier could be argued for, Cilic had chances and lost his nerve, and Koepfer behaved like a child when things didn’t go his way.

-Federer being sharp and healthy for Wimbledon is probably the most exciting storyline this season will produce. It is exactly what we wanted, and part of the “this is messed up” reaction is that we feel robbed of watching more of Federer in this one.

-In the back of our minds, we know that these players are not selfless magical ambassadors for the human race. Medical timeouts when players are losing, taking a timeout after a time violation to discuss things with the ump, and avoiding losses that they don’t want to take are well within the realm of things we want to be able to point out but can never really say with absolute certainty. This is one of those spots. We’ll never get the full story and so it shouldn’t be surprising that no one can quite agree on what the right attitude is.

-It is better for the tournament for Berretini to be fresh against Novak. His explosive offense is contingent on his legs being fresh and he has had fatigue issues in the past where he begins to just look dazed and confused.

Anyway, there are many ways to look at it, but Berretini has a big task ahead. Musetti’s early success against Djokovic should give him a bit of inspiring, since the young talent has a much smaller serve and forehand than Berretini. This will be a sprint for Berretini, and another marathon for Djokovic. If Novak can win one of the first two sets, he should have this locked up. Berretini has had some trouble with the grinders that he played in the earlier rounds (Taro Daniel/SoonWoo Kwon) and Novak’s returning is likely to take away a lot of time for him if he’s reading it well. Berretini has the proverbial puncher’s chance, but what we are seeing thus far (from Musetti/Sinner) is that 3 full sets of world class offense is very difficult to produce. The biggest serve and the biggest forehand left come along with one of the most ineffective backhands. Berretini is having an amazing season and will have a shot in Wimbledon, but it’s hard to really paint him as winning this. Djokovic’s set losses to Musetti could easily have been wins, and although I think Berretini has a better chance than Musetti, I think the scoreline will be worse. Djokovic in 4.

Nadal vs Schwartzman :

I am extremely tempted to go into the archives and pull out the last writeup I made for Diego and Rafael. Schwartzman and Struff had a very strange yet straightforward match. Struff managed to lose from 5-1 up with set points, and Diego let a similar 4-0 lead slip in the 3rd but was able to close out. Struff Schwartzman looked a lot like the other matches today. The mercurial offense looks great in early rounds, but as things progress the more complete and defensive players seem to just outlast their opponents. It would require the redline level to be the baseline for a player to really turn in the kind of offensive performance it would take late in Roland Garros to beat one of these top guys, and we’d have seen that earlier in the season if it was going to happen. Think of how clear it was that Thiem was working consciously to hit every single ball as hard as he could in the years leading up to his Roland Garros successes. Struff is a great hitter and has proven very consistent in majors due to his physical strength, but he just got outlasted today.

Nadal and Sinner was the best match in terms of rallies, but Nadal just seems to be able to elevate his game for longer than his opponents. Sinner did well to open up the court with inside out forehands early on, and this is the best formula for beating Nadal. The forehand to Nadal’s backhand seems like a safe place to sit, but the player hitting their forehand tends to be working a lot harder and with not much to show for it in terms of results. Nadal is able to reflect the pace and furthermore, the angle he creates when he does go sharply crosscourt opens things up way too easily for him to find the reliable forehand crosscourt. If you manage to get back to centercourt, Nadal’s ability to spin the ball adeptly down the line also makes for another easy winner. This is the theme with Nadal; he seems to find wide open spots when he finally does uncork something offense. His patterns are near perfect, and his speed is probably the best on tour. The accumulation of peak effort for his entire career means that Sinner’s early surge was good enough to get the lead, but it also meant that Nadal’s ballstriking was up a notch as well. As Sinner faded, Nadal stayed there. A brilliant comeback down 0-4 in the second saw Jannik get back on serve, but Nadal doesn’t stop competing and broke immediately for 5-3. At some point in the future, we will see Nadal get tired. It has to happen eventually, but an opponent will first have to put in the type of physical training that he does to create the situation that ushers it in. Sinner plays great, but the sheer number of shots it was taking for him to win rallies meant that it would take a worldclass performance for him to win today’s match.

The Nadal Schwartzman contest is wonderfully entertaining, since Diego’s backhand does extremely well against the height that Nadal generates on his shots, but it is almost always Nadal who is a game or two better in each set. Diego can play a more consistent challenger throughout the course of the match, but he doesn’t have the offense to get through Nadal. Nadal’s ability to cover the court mean he’s able to play a very conservative shot selection. He focuses on getting a lot of RPMs on his forehand and keeps his backhand in difficult spots for his opponents to create angles out of. It’s simple yet relentless. Nadal in 3.

Zverev vs Davidovich Fokina :

“I don’t like Zverev” I whined consistently round after round. There will be none of that here. In the match with Nishikori, Zverev finally looked like he did when he first got on tour. He hit his serve hard rather than attempting to display the form he’d been coached to, and he hit his backhand down the line. It has been 5 actual years since he hit his backhand down the line like that, and it spells instant success for him. The backhand down the line is the shot so many great baseliners win behind. Kenin, Djokovic, Goffin, Halep, etc all manage to open up the court so well by reflecting pace and power down that beautiful line. Nishikori didn’t look bad at all, but he just seemed like a small child who’s hooked a fish that is entirely too big for him to pull in.

The Davidovich Fokina line against Delbonis was a bit of a puzzle. Delbonis was a bit of a favorite at -140, and it felt like a clear position of “ADF is too tired” by the books. It was correct, he was tired. It didn’t matter though. Fokina beating Ruud makes him a pretty big $ draw, and Delbonis played well but he just doesn’t possess the variety nor the movement that Fokina does. It was a good showing for Delbonis and this event has really supplied wins to struggling players right when they need them, but it’ll be a tough couple weeks ahead as we go into the grass season. For Davidovich Fokina, a match against Zverev is a welcome opportunity, but it’s coming at the wrong time. Zverev has struggled at the French, but mostly in early rounds. He’s had trouble with good baseliners, but just beat one of the best of them in straight sets. Fokina has hit an extremely high level in this event, but the best of it was against Ruud and there seems to be some physical fatigue building. I think the extra defensive ability and reach of Zverev will make this a tough contest for ADF. Zverev’s serve is working, and his speed getting forward to dropshots should pressure ADF into some errors and forced shots. This could be close as far as the scoreline, but it’s hard to see Zverev following up such a great performance with the type of frozen in time issues that he’s had in the past. Honestly, Zverev’s ability to pull away via steady play as matches progress is a very scary prospect for the rest of the tour. We watch Novak and Nadal seem inevitable as the sets go by, and it has seemed that way for Zverev as well. If Fokina starts quick he can certainly apply pressure, but it’s a smaller game going up against a player whose only real downside has been that he just didn’t seem mentally prepared to compete in the past. Zverev in 4.

Tsitsipas vs Medvedev :

Yay! There are many among us who would like these two to be forced to become roommates. Lock em in a room and let em bicker! We want drama! C’mon drama! I’m not sure we’ll get it here. For all of Medvedev’s complaints about clay, he’s play well this week. He made barely any errors against Garin, and I thought Garin’s consistency would let him frustrate Med, but he was content to just keep moving the ball and it made for a very tiring prison for Garin. When Garin did manage to draw Daniil wide, he came up with some brilliant winners and really showed that he’s another class than Garin right now.

Tsitsipas took PCB on a tour of the court. It feels like Tsitsipas should have, but it’s one of the first times that he has just looked like he’s not even on the same tier as the guys outside the top 10. Tsitsipas’ serving has always been the hallmark of his quality play, but he seems to just be operated at a higher level than his opponents. Medvedev has won almost every single one of their clashes, but he is an underdog here. Tsitsipas was able to return Isner’s serve so he’ll be able to somewhat negate Medvedev’s biggest weapon, and he was able to move the ball well enough to really unravel Carreño-Busta which bodes well against Medvedev’s defense. I don’t want to fall into the trap of insisting that Medvedev has some mental hurdle to overcome on the surface, but Tsitsipas is a huge step up from Christian Garin, who was helpless but made the match last a very long time. This is one that I expect to get very good very fast. As well as they both are playing I can’t imagine either winning in straight sets, and the higher you go in tennis in terms of quality the more likely players are to exchange momentum and sets. There is a lot of pressure off Medvedev here because of his clay struggles, and this will allow him to settle into a very “see what works” gameplan. As a result, I expect him to be a bit passive in the first set. On the flip side, Tsitsipas has been dominant through this early clay season and given their H2H, this is his best chance to score a dominant victory. He’ll likely look to establish himself as the player controlling things early on, and I’d expect him to have some lapses in the 2nd and 3rd as a result. The problem for Tsitsipas will be errors, and the problem for Medvedev will be lack of matches at this level. No result would really surprise me here, but Tsitsipas comes in at a higher visible level despite Med’s consistency. Tsitsipas in 4.

Gauff vs Krejcikova :

These are not the names expected to be in this quarter of the draw but based on their performance thus far this is the correct matchup. Gauff really got a bit passive for a long stretch on tour and it’s a common problem. When you’re winning a lot of matches, your game tends to open up and your offense surfaces as a result. When the outcome is in doubt, it’s very easy to just fall into trying to outcompete your opponent. This stretch did bring errors with it, as when you finally earn the opportunity to go for a shot, you miss. We all fall victim to desire in a metaphorical sense, and realizing you’ve earned the point is the quickest way to tighten up and make errors. Some wins last week and this week have opened Gauff’s game up again though, and the time spent playing defensive tennis means that she’s very consistent now when she needs to be. Jabeur got outworked, but Gauff’s power was also a deciding factor. When she’s playing well it’s easy to see that she’s going to win a ton of titles in her career, and she definitely has a chance in this next match. Krejcikova had the potentially easier match, but won in a similarly dominant fashion. Her play has improved from last week, and I think she’ll have a slight edge coming into this one. Both players are coming off title runs, and Gauff hasn’t lost a single set this week (Krej has dropped 1 against Krystina Pliskova). It feels like Gauff is inevitable but might be a bit less suited to the moment. Even as I type that though it feels wrong. Krejcikova isn’t any more comfortable at this stage of the French Open, so I’ll just look at tennis. Gauff has more power, but Krejcikova has more variety. Gauff has the higher ceiling, but Krejcikova is more established in the style she’s currently playing. Clay is about consistency, and I’d give a tiny edge to Krejcikova here. Krejcikova in 3.

Sakkari vs Swiatek :

To be added later if Swiatek wins. If she loses, WE RIOT!

Update : No riots. It’s not right to say this is the finals, but this is one of the last contenders who would not be notching the win of their career if they got through here. Sakkari’s fitness is well documented, and her defending is exactly what is necessary against Swiatek. Sakkari was pretty much in control from start to finish against Kenin. Swiatek had a much tougher matchup against Kostyuk, who could have easily wound up in a third set. She had some break points, and lost some rallies to Swiatek lobs and volleys that were good by a very small margin. Kostyuk’s power and returning have always been there, but this run should give her a bit more belief in the coming months and her game should translate well to grass and hardcourt. Iga puts zip on the ball and employs more fluid variety than anyone on tour. To beat her it feels like a player would need to constantly return the ball in difficult spots, which is how Barty was able to unravel her in their last matchup.

Sakkari’s training off the court and her fight on the court have led to this moment. Defend against the best and utilize her serve and power to strike when she has a chance. The only hiccough she had against Kenin was a late match break of her own serve, but she quickly broke to win. This is going to be a great match. Sakkari is too good to be blown off the court, and Swiatek hits the ball too big and has every shot you could ask for. Sakkari may flinch since this is her deepest run at a major, but this is a bit closer than the -350 price tag they’ve put on Swiatek. Swiatek in 3 but whoever wins should take the title.

Rybakina vs Pavlyuchenkova :

The announcers made a big deal over Rybakina not reacting to winning matches. “She never reacts when she wins, but surely she will here.” It’s cool to beat Serena, but it’s odd that they think her existence transcends someone’s personality. Part of the problem is always the Tennis Channel announcers not being allowed to realistically discuss the chances of Americans (the anouncer in Sakkari Kenin seemed to act like Sakkari had just arrived on tour and called her “the woman from Greece” about 50 times), but they may just live in a bubble themselves. It seems like they don’t follow the tour much unless they’re being paid to watch and announce a match, but that’s another story. Rybakina is a calm and composed competitor. The strangest thing about her beating Serena is that it did feel so unexpected. Rybakina has a huge serve, and is one of the tallest players on the women’s tour even though her bio alleges that she is only 6’0” (or 1.83 meters). Her groundstrokes are powerful and fast enough to expose Serena’s movement, and that was the story in this match. Serena suffered from the usual troubles with footwork, and benefitted from her usual tenacity and power. She could never wind up off tour as long as she wants to play because her serve and ballstriking are just a cut above what the WTA has to offer, but more and more players should start to beat her in the same way that they’ve started to beat Venus. It’s really hard to outrun the ball, and when you have to play offense on every shot to protect your movement, you tend to tire out quicker and give your opponent easier decisions since they know sending one more ball back can earn them the point. It wasn’t a bad performance by Serena, but a solid one from Rybakina. Her backhand down the line was very important to this win, and Serena showed her experience in staying the course and acknowledging that Rybakina was playing at a level that would earn the victory if she kept it up. Rybakina has promised this sort of result in the past but not shown up, so it was a bit of a statistical outlier, but well in line with her talent.

Pavlyuchenkova continues to win, and her and Azarenka was extremely enjoyable and the perfect warmup for Rybakina. Pavs bested Sabalenka which is the type of offensive serving she’ll see, and she outdueled Azarenka which is a similar type of shot selection. Rybakina’s shot selection is very well mixed although she tends to hit at the same speed on every shot. Pavs should win this. It feels scary to say that in any situation in this event, because everyone is competing so well and the results have been so unique, but she has outlasted two players that I’d be backing against Rybakina. She’s moving better than Serena can, and redirectin the ball nicely down the lines. Pavlyuchenkova in 3.

Zidansek vs Badosa :

Zidansek has been one of the wilder results at a tournament that is comprised solely of wild results. She’s won behind her forehand but is actually one of the few clay specialists on the women’s tour, so it’s a little surprising that she’s beaten Cirstea (with a slight injury) and is still a 2:1 underdog against Badosa. Part of that is certainly the markets at play. Badosa was one of the better young phenoms on tour, and this year has seen her grow in confidence and with it have come a lot of great results. She’s probably the best athlete left in the event besides Sakkari, and her sleight height and pace advantage are proving major problems for her opponents. This could still be close though. Badosa has proven that she can play her style of tennis from the baseliner longer than her opponents. She’s had struggles and has seemed inevitable to make the finish line as things stretch on in the third. I would expect more of the same here since the question Badosa’s defending has really been asking is “are you going to miss?” Zidansek may find her own movement to be her downfall, but her offense is legit and she will likely get a look at this early on. Badosa has to be the favorite to come out of the bottom half of the draw, and it’s hard to dispute given her recent play and experience. Badosa in 3.