Helped by key double-fault, Murray tops del Potro in Paris

Leave a comment

PARIS — Andy Murray benefited from a double-fault by Juan Martin del Potro in the opening tiebreaker and then looked more and more like the No. 1 player that he is during a 7-6 (8), 7-5, 6-0 victory at the French Open on Saturday.

The third-round match between a pair of past major champions was much tighter than the straight-set scoreline might indicate.

“Yeah, I expected a very tough match. And the first set was very, very important, I think, for the rest of the match. Whoever had won that first set had big momentum,” Murray said. “In these conditions, when it’s slow and heavy, to be coming back is difficult.”

He needed nearly 3 hours to get past the 29th-seeded del Potro at Court Philippe Chatrier under a cloud-filled sky. It was a rematch of the 2016 Rio Olympics gold-medal final won by Murray.

Del Potro had four set points in the opening set but lost each one, including that key double-fault while ahead 7-6 in the tiebreaker. After Murray converted a third set point of his own when his opponent’s big forehand landed barely wide, del Potro rested his head on the net and stayed put for several seconds, the very picture of disappointment.

“Too much frustration,” del Potro said. “I couldn’t believe I lost that set.”

Murray is a three-time Grand Slam title winner and was the runner-up at Roland Garros a year ago. He has not had a great season so far, though, particularly on the clay-court circuit leading up to the French Open, but he now has reached the fourth round for the eighth time in 10 appearances in Paris.

“I’m starting to feel better. I was really looking forward to the French Open,” Murray said. “I had struggled the last six or seven weeks coming in.”

Del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, was playing at his first French Open since 2012 because of a series of operations on his left wrist. Under constant pressure from an aggressive foe, del Potro had some trouble from Murray’s drop shots and wound up making far more unforced errors, 43-28.

Also on Day 7, 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic beat Feliciano Lopez 6-1, 6-3, 6-3, and next meets big-serving Kevin Anderson, who edged Kyle Edmund 6-7 (6), 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-1, 6-4. Fernando Verdasco easily got past No. 22 Pablo Cuevas 6-2, 6-1, 6-3.

Victories by Alize Cornet and Caroline Garcia gave France three women in the fourth round of this tournament for the first time since 1994. Kristina Mladenovic advanced to that round by winning Friday.

The unseeded Cornet was a surprisingly easy winner against No. 9 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, 6-2, 6-1, while No. 28 Garcia edged Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan 6-4, 4-6, 9-7.

France, which last put a trio of women into the final 16 at any major at the 2008 U.S. Open, is guaranteed at least one quarterfinalist this time, because Garcia now meets Cornet.

“I think the crowd is going to be excited,” Cornet said. “We will try to give them a good show, a good game. The crowd support is like a bonus, an extra energy.”

Simona Halep, the 2014 runner-up, said the torn ligament in her right ankle is no longer an issue and proved that by defeating 26th-seeded Daria Kasatkina of Russia 6-0, 7-5.

“Well, now, it’s pretty OK,” Halep said about her ankle. “I can run. I can slide everywhere. I can move pretty well.”

In other third-round action, former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki beat 18-year-old CiCi Bellis of California 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 in a match suspended late in the second set Friday night; and No. 21 Carla Suarez Navarro eliminated No. 14 Elena Vesnina 6-4, 6-4.

Nadal-Djokovic semifinal suspended after 3rd set

Getty Images
Leave a comment

LONDON (AP) It was the kind of tennis that Wimbledon’s Centre Court crowd would gladly have watched all night long.

The show being put on by Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal was so good it could have been an instant classic had they been able to finish their semifinal before the tournament’s 11 p.m. curfew.

Instead, the two players – and a disappointed audience – were sent home after the third set on Friday with Djokovic leading 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9) following a tense tiebreaker that had more entertaining rallies than some entire matches.

The two players didn’t even get onto the court until after 8 p.m. because of an earlier marathon semifinal won by Kevin Anderson and when Djokovic converted his second set point in the tiebreaker – having saved three of Nadal’s – the clock had ticked a couple of minutes past 11. That left organizers no choice but to call it a night, although the announcement from the chair umpire led to a scattering of boos from some fans who clearly wanted more.

Most of them will have to watch the rest on TV.

The match will resume at 1 p.m. local time on Saturday, before the women’s final between Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber. At stake is a place in Sunday’s men’s final against the man who was partly at fault for keeping Nadal and Djokovic out there so late. Anderson’s win over John Isner lasted 6 + hours and went to 26-24 in the fifth set.

Djokovic-Nadal had clearly been the headline act of the day – they have five Wimbledon titles between them and met in the 2011 final while Anderson and Isner had never made the semifinals before – and their tennis was at another level from the earlier match. Even Anderson said he could feel during his match that the crowd would rather be watching the next one.

“They’ve paid to see two matches, and they came pretty close to only seeing one match,” Anderson said. “I can feel the crowd (get) pretty antsy for us to get off the court. They’ve been watching us for over six hours.”

While Anderson-Isner was mostly a serving duel with a few longer rallies thrown in, Djokovic and Nadal repeatedly slugged it out from the baseline, chasing each other around the court and coming up with spectacular winners from every corner.

Many of the best points came in the tiebreaker, including a 23-shot rally that Nadal finished off with a forehand half-volley drop shot to set up his first set point.

It was one of three successful drop shots from the Spaniard in the tiebreaker alone, but Djokovic answered with one of his own to save the second set point at 7-6.

He eventually went up 10-9 with the help of a backhand passing shot and an errant shot into the net by Nadal brought the entertainment to an end – for now.

It led to the unusual situation of both players leaving the court to a huge ovation – and applauding the fans in return – but without there being a clear winner or loser.

To be continued.

Former No. 1 Kerber tops Ostapenko; into second Wimbledon final

AP Images
Leave a comment

LONDON – It was clear right from the opening game of Angelique Kerber’s Wimbledon semifinal how things were going to go. She was not going to dictate or control much.

She was, instead, going to employ spectacular defense and solid, steady play, while letting her opponent, Jelena Ostapenko, be the one to determine the outcomes of nearly every point.

It worked. The 11th-seeded Kerber reached her second final at the All England Club by avoiding too many mistakes and using a seven-game run to seize control for a 6-3, 6-3 victory over the 12th-seeded Ostapenko on Thursday.

“These are the matches I was working for as a young kid,” Kerber said, “and to stand here again in the final at Wimbledon is great.”

Kerber is a former No. 1 and a two-time major champion, both coming in 2016 at the Australian Open and U.S. Open. That was also the year the German was the runner-up at Wimbledon, losing to Serena Williams in the title match.

She could find herself up against Williams yet again: The 36-year-old American was scheduled to face No. 13 Julia Goerges of Germany in Thursday’s second semifinal on Centre Court.

Williams took a 19-match Wimbledon winning streak into the day. She won the grass-court tournament the last two times she played it, in 2015 and 2016, before missing it last year while pregnant. Williams gave birth to a daughter in September.

The left-handed Kerber was mainly a passive participant in the early going against Ostapenko. That first game consisted of eight points: Three were unforced errors by Ostapenko, including a double-fault to begin the proceedings; the other five were winners by her, including a 100 mph ace to close the hold.

Five games in, Ostapenko led 3-2, and the numbers were still tilted toward her. She had 14 winners and 10 unforced errors, while Kerber had three winners and – this was key – zero unforced errors.

There were no drawn-out points in the early going, no lengthy baseline exchanges, essentially because Ostapenko wouldn’t allow it. The Latvian plays an aggressive brand of first-strike tennis that carried her to the 2017 French Open title as an unseeded 20-year-old.

Kerber, in contrast, bides her time, working the back of the court to get everything back over the net, often kneeling to get low enough to reach shots.

Eventually, Kerber’s style ruled the day. She went on a half-hour run in which she took the last four games of the first set and took a 3-0 lead in the second. Ostapenko’s strokes were missing and she grew increasingly frustrated, slapping a thigh after a miss or leaning forward and putting her hands on her knees after others. By the time she flubbed a backhand while falling behind 5-1 in the second, she dropped her racket and screamed.

It took Kerber two tries to serve out the victory, getting broken to 5-2. But unlike in the quarterfinals, when she needed seven match points to win, this time it required only two, with the match ending – fittingly enough – on a forehand by Ostapenko that sailed wide.

The final tally told the story: Ostapenko had far more winners, 30-10, but also far more unforced errors, 36-7.