Jun 02, 2022

2022 Roland Garros Men's & Women's Semifinals Writeup

The last two days of tennis have been so ridiculously good. Monumental performances and career changing stuff.

Nadal vs Zverev :

The reports coming out of the Nadal camp this year have been grim. Like a parent delivering bad news to a particularly plump child whose goldfish was not prepared to experience the joys of sharing a Mountain Dew Codered with a friend, Rafa has been easing us into his retirement. But like that child, our goldfish is about to rise to the top. Whether by design or by coincidence, Nadal has fooled us again. The press conferences and the 5-setter with FAA were enough to have books set the line for Novak at -225. While these lines are generally based off estimated public perception in these high profile situations, it did seem like a reasonable expectation. Nadal’s movement was clearly limited in the Auger-Aliassime match; he was able to move but it looked at times like he didn’t want to, a minor but significant contrast to the usual level he brings when the outcome is in question. Djokovic was playing some high level tennis, and had rolled past a guy who might be considered an even match against Felix. Nadal talking about any match being his last makes it pretty clear that his foot is already an issue impacting his ability to compete, and having limited nobility against Novak sounds like an impossible task especially considering Novak’s dominant victory last year where Nadal seemed to hit a physical wall.

I did feel Nadal’s camp started to get into the guilt-trip territory a small bit with the requests for a day-match. It’s one thing to lobby for your preference, but to interject the possibility of it being Nadal’s last match feels a bit “last resort”. In a situation like this, the tournament is always upsetting one camp so they went ahead and business’d it up and put the match at night. Both players started this match with the same plan. Nadal’s strategy here was clearly to redline his game early and try to blitz Djokovic. He broke in the first game, a 10 minute marathon that saw some of the best tennis in the tournament. It mirrored the way their match last year started, and with the foot issue looming most spectators were wondering how long Nadal could go. He went on to close out the first set, and went up an early break again in the second. The belief in the Nadal camp started to go up, but when Djokovic was able to break back the atmosphere changed. At only 6-2, 4-3 the match was already 2 hours long and the rallies had been grueling despite the cooler temperatures. Nadal looked a bit less sharp than he did in the first, and when he conceded a late break to lose the set I was honestly expecting Djokovic to pull away the same as he had last year. The good news is, I don’t know a damned thing. Nadal broke early against in the 3rd and secured a second to close out.

There wasn’t a point in this match that Nadal took off, and there were many opportunities to bow out. With Novak up a break and serving for the 4th, Rafa played some of his best tennis. When they wound up in the tiebreaker, he started with 3 perfect points and I can say that if it were his last match it would also be one of his greatest. It sounds from reports like Nadal is hanging it up after this event until he can come up with a treatment that works for his foot, but for now it seems like he has a medical method to make it playable. The next match will be a strange test, but one I think Nadal will gladly accept. The finish line is in sight, and Alexander Zverev has somewhat made a habit out of folding up in these moments.

Zverev’s match with Alcaraz made me wonder if Novak and Rafa could really put on as good of a show. Zverev showed up ready to compete, making balls and testing Alcaraz’s offense rather than his usual pushmode tennis. When he had balls to take up the line with his backhand, he crushed them. This was all a bonus on top of his serve, a weapon which basically won him this match. While Zverev was breezing through service games, Alcaraz was saving break points. The kid is incredibly clutch, but the cumulative pressure ended up making him just slightly worse in this contest. A 3rd set win made me wonder if the classic Zverev collapse was incoming, but he never really had a lapse in this one. It may be the best match that Zverev has ever played, and one effect of the media hype seems to be that most players feels pressure free playing him since they’re expected to lose. I don’t want to rehash the whole match since most people saw it, but if you can find a replay the 4th set tiebreaker is probably the best tiebreaker I’ve ever seen.

The trick is here again. Nadal’s foot and interviews make me feel like he’s going to have a hard time with Zverev. Zverev is serving great, and has challenged Nadal in the past (though mostly on indoor hardcourt). There comes the wrench though. There’s rain in the forecast for Friday. If the roof is closed, that’s a nice boost for Zverev. Nadal’s main strategy of isolating the backhand won’t work great here either, since Zverev has one of the best backhands on tour. It all adds up to a spot where Zverev should definitely win a set. But let’s review. Djokovic who was slated to win the tournament and expected to beat Nadal in this spot only won a single set and it was one where Nadal was up 3-0. It is incredibly hard to win games against this guy, and with two matches to go to make history and casually secure the GOAT title until Novak wins another major is something that Nadal won’t let slip through his grasp. So going in, I did expect Nadal to win in 3. It just feels like a spot where you simply “must” secure the bag. This may bring pressure, but on the flip side of that argument pressure tends to only focus players whose preparation is legit. There is no problem when you are that good. A lot at play here, with Zverev probably the favorite to win his first major if he wins this match. He may find the same level he had against Alcaraz, and pressure Nadal. It’ll be interesting to see Nadal’s return position since he may struggle with Zverev’s power if he stands in and standing deep may not be an issue because of his foot.

This is a gift of a match, and I’m pulling for Nadal. I also think that playing Djokovic may exhaust him, but two days of rest is enough and the level that they played will likely leave Nadal’s tennis very sharp in this next one. Nadal in 3-4.

Cilic vs Ruud :

While the top half of the draw was putting on world class performances, the bottom of the draw was smashing racquets and unfriending each other on facebook. Holger Vitus Rune, aka Tiffany from Adventure Time, had a long day with Casper Ruud. Rune’s play was solid, but he looked like he wasn’t physically ready to win this match yet. The bickering over line calls seemed to bother both more than it should, and the handshake reflected a silent rivalry. Seeing Ruud shake his head at Rune’s attitude was akin to a blowup from him, but Rune will grow up eventually or he’ll continue to lose. By the fourth set Rune’s body looked to be tightening up. He still played a decent match, but Ruud was just too consistent. The knock on Ruud is that he doesn’t blow anyone off the court, but he certainly never beats himself either. His forehand is kicking up wonderfully this week, and he has been steady in a very uncertain section of the draw. Keeping his nerve and composure seems automatic for him, and that’s great in this next match.

Marin Cilic is the Sloane Stephens of Kevin Andersons. Just when you count this guy out, he shows up and watching one set of his offensive play is enough to have tennis fans everywhere pulling for him. 33 aces today, and that was the story of his match with Rublev. Rublev threatened a number of Cilic’s service games but he was able to serve perfect in key moments. For Cilic, his defense was tested and he looked just capable of hanging on long enough to win this duel. Some noise is being made about Rublev giving up a replay on a ball that was called out on the left line in the 5th, but it was 1-1. You’re there to play a match and put on a show for fans. If a call is agitating your opponent in what was otherwise a tremendous match, it’s the right move to just replay it and move on. Rublev wins the good dude award for today.

Ruud presents a similar challenge to Rublev but I think it may be a tougher one. Rublev’s defending to his backhand wing today was good, but not great. Cilic was able to stretch him wide and earn errors for most of his points, and these are shots that Ruud will make back into play. The key for Cilic will be taking care of his first serve. It’s going to be tough for him to win second serves points, and since Ruud plays more conservative than Rublev it’s going to wear down Cilic more even if he’s doing okay in those spots in the early going.

Cilic is a player who can take the racquet out of his opponents hands, so the danger for Ruud is in letting him hang around late in sets. If Cilic has a big opportunity he’ll go big. I do think that Ruud’s ball will make it tough on Cilic though. Marin had some poor contact quite often when he was defending to his forehand side. That spells trouble against Ruud’s heavy forehand which get similar lateral movement to Del Potro at times. Cilic certainly could win, and I wouldn’t really recommend betting late rounds of tennis tournaments anyway, but I think Ruud’s resume is there to win this match. He just shut down Hurkacz in peak form. That’s a similar service level to Cilic. He just ran through Rune who beat Tsitsipas and Shapo, two players who’d be heavily favored over Cilic. It’s a great run for Cilic and I’d happily see him in the finals. I think Ruud is going to be too hard to score on though, and the errors Rublev made in his frustrated patches just won’t be there with Casper. Ruud in 4.

Swiatek vs Kasatkina :

Here we are. The semifinals. This is huge for Kasatkina. She has had some real patches of tough losses, and her press conferences are always fun, but often make it seem like she can lose confidence at times. Nothing a little grand slam semifinal can’t fix. The price for Swiatek here is a whopping -1100. That is unheard of for a semifinal of a grandslam, and probably the highest price Kasatkina has ever played against. Daria bested Kudermetova in a long match that featured high level defense from both. It was a good level, and Kasatkina and Gauff this week have really been at an absurdly high level when it comes to covering the court. This writeup feels like it’ll be too short, but Swiatek is answering questions before the next matches even begin. If Pegula and Kasatkina meet, it’s likely a close match.

Pegula hung in early with Swiatek, but Iga just never stops supplying offense. It can look like a problem in the error-prone games, but staying the course on going after her offense pretty much gets her back in the match immediately. The pace she plays at is something that it seems few can deal with, and her forehand movement is something that the tour honestly seems to need time to adjust to. Second serves are not safe around Iga, so Kasatkina will need to really be careful. Kasatkina has one of the smaller serves on tour, and if she does have a good day serving, I do think she lacks the pace on the ball to really hit past Swiatek or force her into errors the way Zheng’s big hitting did. Swiatek’s progress coming at the same time as Gauff’s level-up is really exciting, and it seems like Barty’s departure ushered in a really exciting time in women’s tennis. Swiatek in 2.

Gauff vs Trevisan :

Leylah Fernandez made many people remember her remarkable US Open run this week, as she stepped up her game to the highest level in the most important moments. She’s a great competitor, so it was tough to see her on crutches after her match with Trevisan. It sounds like she has a stress fracture in her foot, which is something you can play on but only with constant pain. Hopefully it’s a speedy recovery for her, because we all need some tiny marching in our life now and then. Her exit means Martina Trevisan’s life has changed. When Stefanos Tsitsipas made the AO semifinals, critics left him alone for a good 2-3 seasons. Quarterfinals of a major is “pretty darn good”, but pundits will always want more. The semis seems to be the place where your career is considered a success, and achieving anything that removes the pressure of trying to prove yourself can really open up a player’s game. Trevisan seems to have gotten better between rounds, and in early rounds she was playing with a lot of height (moonballs almost) where now she’s hitting drives and winners. I’m 0-3 on predicting her exit from the tournament, and I’m ready to get hurt again.

Gauff is defending better than anyone in the tournament. It is samurai level stuff how she’s covering the court, and her forehand crosscourt is creating short angles that are really difficult to create off of. Her and Stephens played a great match but it was one where Sloane looked a little flat. She hits the ball so well that I think at times her court positioning isn’t her priority, but Gauff got away with some short balls in this. If it feels like your opponent is getting everything, it’s often because you’re not proactively moving to the ball. With Gauff in form, it’ll be important for Trevisan to try to take time away. In the hitting department Gauff hits a heavier ball, but Trevisan is looking for more accuracy in her shots where Gauff is looking to slowly construct the point. It’s a beautiful contrast in styles to see, with Gauff planning to eventually be hitting the ball right past you and Trevisan looking to force errors and probe her opponents defense. This is a match where nerves may come heavily into play. This is the first everything for these players. First semifinals, first finals if they get to serve for it, and lots of other thoughts may come. The good news is that both are playing at such a high level that they’ll likely be able to execute even if that’s the case.

The ball is in Gauff’s court here. Trevisan is playing great tennis but if Gauff can play error free she is eventually going to be able to open the court up with her power. It isn’t just defense either, she’s been hitting really feathery dropshots and her instincts at net are top tier since she’s pretty much a doubles specialist in her spare time. Great time for the tour. Gauff in 3.