Tennis and tropical plants: New French Open court is wild

AP Photo
0 Comments

PARIS (AP) Tennis and tropical plants: The stunning new court at the French Open is, quite literally, wild.

Surrounded on all four sides by greenhouses filed with exotic plants, the Court Simonne Mathieu saw its first French Open match on Sunday, a triumph for tournament organizers who overcame strong opposition from critics who long sought to block construction in a 19th-century garden of the 5,290-seat arena.

Automatic sprinklers periodically doused the lush greenery from Africa, Asia, South America and Australia as Garbine Muguruza, too busy to notice, beat Taylor Townsend of the United States 5-7, 6-2, 6-2.

Muguruza, the 2016 champion, later gave a big thumbs-up to the sunken arena that is now the third-biggest at Roland Garros, after the 9,829-seat Court Suzanne Lenglen and the 14,962-seat showcase Court Philippe Chatrier that is in the process of being rebuilt.

“It’s a very cute court. It’s not small, but it’s, you know, cozy,” Muguruza said. “It’s like in a garden. It’s a different feeling.”

Spectators were impressed, too.

“It’s like being in a forest,” said Parisian Kelly Orsinet. “It’s relaxing and pleasant.”

Sinking the red clay court and surrounding it with tasteful modern hothouses filled with leafy plants prevented it from being an eyesore in its historic surrounds, the Auteuil gardens that date back to 1898 and are loved for their majestic steel and glass greenhouses for prized botanical collections.

Expanding into the gardens is part of a massive, partially completed 380-million euro ($425 million) revamp of Roland Garros, the smallest of tennis’ Grand Slam venues that can feel uncomfortably cramped in its busiest opening week.

Gilles Jourdan, the project manager overseeing the modernization, was on hand to savor the new arena’s atmosphere with its first crowd, a landmark in what has been a difficult birth, complicated by legal challenges from opponents.

Neighbors who overlook the site had “said `It’s a disgrace! A disgrace!” Jourdan recalled. “Fewer and fewer are saying it’s a disgrace now.”

“You can’t see the court. That’s very important and that was the most fundamental idea,” he said. “If you’re not flying overhead in a helicopter, you wouldn’t know there’s a court there.”

Like other showcase courts at Roland Garros, the lower of the arena’s two tiers is tastefully fitted with cream-colored, hand-finished seats of chestnut wood from eastern France. Upper-tier spectators, some of whom have a view of the Eiffel Tower, are seated on benches, because fitting seats up there would have blocked lines of sight, clogging the arena’s airy, open feel, Jourdan explained.

Named after the French Open women’s champion in 1938 and 1939, the Court Simonne Mathieu was about half-empty for the start of the match but continually filled as Muguruza fought back from her unsteady start in a westerly breeze that shook leaves on the tall trees overlooking the arena.

Modernization work will resume after the tournament. The Chatrier court, largely torn down after Rafael Nadal won his 11th title there last year, has been rebuilt but is still missing the retractable roof planned for next year.

In the meantime, organizers have done a good job of making the project-in-progress look spic and span for the next two weeks.

“It’s a bit like at the theater: You look backstage and go `Ooops,”‘ Jourdan said. “We’ve hidden everything, and 10 days after the tournament, we’ll start again.”

Cirstea beats Sabalenka at Miami; night matches rained out

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Sorana Cirstea advanced to her first semifinal of a WTA 1000 event in a decade, beating Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka 6-4, 6-4 at the Miami Open on Wednesday.

The 32-year-old Cirstea beat the highest-ranked opponent of her career by knocking off the second-ranked Sabalenka. Cirstea previously defeated No. 4 Caroline Garcia this month at Indian Wells and topped Garcia again in the second round at Miami.

“I think I’m a bit speechless,” Cirstea said. “I came out knowing that it’s going to be a really tough match. Aryna hits so hard, so I knew I had to hold my ground, and I’m very, very happy with my performance today.”

The 74th-ranked Romanian, who has two career singles titles, will face either Petra Kvitova and Ekaterina Alexandrova in the semifinals. The Kvitova-Alexandrova match had been scheduled for Wednesday night but was postponed to Thursday because of rain; also postponed was the men’s match between top-ranked Carlos Alcaraz and No. 10 Taylor Fritz.

Alexandrova advanced on Tuesday when Bianca Andreescu suffered a left ankle injury and left the court in a wheelchair. On Wednesday, the 22-year-old Andreescu tweeted that she tore two ligaments in her ankle and will be out indefinitely.

“It’s tough to say exactly how long it will take, but let’s just say it could’ve been much worse!! I’m going to take it day by day, and I am optimistic that with the right work, rehab, and preparation, I’ll be back on court soon,” the 2019 U.S. Open champion said in her social media post.

Sabalenka had six double faults, three of them on break points, and made 21 unforced errors to just nine for Cirstea.

“I guess people like to keep count of the age, the years, the results, but I never do that. I just mind my own business, work hard, do my thing, believe in my game, work with my coach Thomas Johansson – we just started in December and so far, I think it’s going great,” Cirstea said.

In the men’s draw, 11th-ranked Jannik Sinner beat Emil Ruusuvuori 6-3, 6-1.

Elena Rybakina hits 10 aces in Miami for 12th straight win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina extended her winning streak to 12 matches by delivering 10 aces – her fourth consecutive outing with at least that many – in a 6-3, 6-0 victory over 25th-seeded Martina Trevisan in the Miami Open quarterfinals.

Rybakina has 46 aces through four matches at the hard-court tournament in Florida and a WTA-leading 201 this season.

The 23-year-old, who represents Kazakhstan, improved to 20-4 in 2023, including a run to the Australian Open final in January and a title at Indian Wells, California, last week.

She is trying to become only the fifth player to win the women’s trophies at Indian Wells and Miami in the same season. Top-ranked Iga Swiatek did it a year ago; she withdrew from Miami this time because of a rib injury.

“Of course it would be amazing to achieve something like that,” the 10th-seeded Rybakina said about the prospect of completing what’s known as the Sunshine Double, “but it’s still far away.”

So far in Rybakina’s career, 13 of her 18 semifinal appearances have come on hard courts. She will face No. 3 Jessica Pegula for a berth in the final after the American fought off two match points and outlasted No. 27 Anastasia Potapova 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (2) in a match that ended just before 1:30 a.m. after play had been delayed by rain.

“I haven’t been that physically tired in just a really long time,” Pegula said. “Just the humidity was taking so much out of me, and I haven’t been able to play in humidity like that in a while. It was just really tough, so really, it was just pure will.”

Trevisan reached the French Open semifinals in 2022.

In fourth-round men’s action Tuesday, No. 2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas was beaten 7-6 (4), 6-4 by No. 14 Karen Khachanov, while defending champion Carlos Alcaraz, Taylor Fritz and Jannik Sinner all beat seeded opponents in straight sets.

Alcaraz, who returned to No. 1 in the ATP rankings last week, got past Australian Open semifinalist Tommy Paul 6-4, 6-4 to set up a meeting against Fritz, the top-ranked American man and seeded ninth in Miami.

Fritz compiled twice as many winners, 22, as unforced errors, 11, and only dropped serve once during a 6-3, 6-4 victory over No. 7 Holger Rune. That put Fritz into his first quarterfinal in seven appearances in Miami – and his first matchup against Alcaraz, a 19-year-old from Spain who won the U.S. Open in September for his first Grand Slam title.

“I’m really excited for it,” Fritz said. “I think that a lot of people are really excited for that, too.”

No. 10 Sinner eliminated No. 6 Andrey Rublev 6-2, 6-4 and has yet to drop a set in the tournament.

Sinner’s next opponent will be unseeded Emil Ruusuvuori, a 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 winner against No. 26 Botic van de Zandschulp.

No. 4 Daniil Medvedev, forced to start late and off his scheduled court after the rain, beat Quentin Halys 6-4, 6-2. He will face American Christopher Eubanks, who edged Adrian Mannarino in a pair of tiebreakers.

Khachanov will play Francisco Cerundolo, a semifinalist in Miami last year, in the other men’s quarterfinal.