French Open | Wozniacki powers into last 16 as Svitolina stumbles
World No 2 Caroline Wozniacki raced into the fourth round of the French Open with a resounding victory over home hope Pauline Parmentier on Friday.
The reigning Australian Open champion needed just an hour and 18 minutes to dismiss her 74th-ranked French opponent in Paris, crushing hopes that the Frenchwoman might trouble the second seed.
I feel pretty good. I think I played some solid tennis, and I'm happy to be through to the fourth round here again. You know, it gets harder and harder with every match. I'm happy to be here. Caroline Wozniacki
Instead, the 32-year-old found herself facing the dreaded double bagel, as the Great Dane went up 6-0 5-0 after only an hour when, at deuce, Parmentier found a winner to earn a game point and raised her arms in mock celebration.
She actually went on to win the next three games, but it was only delaying the inevitable as Wozniacki easily went through 6-0 6-3.
“I feel pretty good. I think I played some solid tennis, and I’m happy to be through to the fourth round here again,” said Wozniacki, who now plays Russia’s Daria Kasatkina.
“You know, it gets harder and harder with every match. I’m happy to be here.”
With little to talk about in terms of the tennis, Wozniacki reflected on her friendship with Serena Williams, who is storming through the opposite side of the draw, unseeded on her comeback after giving birth to a baby daughter in September last year.
Wozniacki can only meet the American on court in the final at Roland Garros, something that looks unlikely given the 23-time Grand Slam champion’s lack of match practice but Serena has surprised us all before.
While Wozniacki insists she would give her all should they clash on the court, the 27-year-old is glad to have Williams back playing again.
“I have a huge amount of respect for Serena, and I think she has a lot of respect for me, too,” Wozniacki said.
“I think that’s why we can have this great friendship, because I think if you have two great players and we know our value on the court, and when we are out there, we’re going to compete at our highest level and at the best of our abilities.
“We do our job on the court, and we do as best as we can, and whoever wins, once you’re off the court, it’s different.
“I think it’s great to have a friendship like that on tour, because it gets lonely.
“That’s why I think it’s great for me I have been lucky that David [Lee, Wozniacki’s boyfriend] has come for a couple of tournaments now and has been here quite a bit this year, which has been amazing for me, and he’s been such an amazing support, and just kind of gotten me to relax off the court and do other stuff.
“I think it makes a huge difference.”
American 13th seed Madison Keys overcame a second-set wobble to beat Japan’s Naomi Osaka 6-1 7-6(5) to set up a last-16 clash with Romania’s Mihaela Buzarnescu, who stunned 4th-seeded Ukrainian Elina Svitolina, 6-3 7-5.
A match between two of the biggest hitters on the WTA Tour failed to really catch fire on a cool and half-empty Suzanne Lenglen Court with Keys helped on her way to the first set by a succession of wild errors from Osaka.
For the second year running, the champion of Rome was among the Roland-Garros title favourites, only to fall far short.
The 23-year-old Svitolina had been tipped as one of the potential winners this year but she never found her groove against her Romanian opponent.
She dropped serve five times and made 29 unforced errors, bowing out on the first match point when she buried another forehand into the net.
Afterwards it was noticeable that when rolandgarros.com asked the World No 4 whether she had believed she could win the tournament here, she did not answer in the affirmative.
“I didn’t consider myself as…” she started, then checked herself. “There are good players who are probably in better form than me that played better clay court tournaments.
“Of course I believed that I can play well in the Grand Slams, but I didn’t really think that I’m the favourite, you know, the number one favourite at this tournament. I don’t want to think those ways.
“I didn’t know much about her because she has risen so quickly.
“I couldn’t find my rhythm in this match and I couldn’t fight. I was struggling and she was playing great tennis, really on the ball. She completely deserved to get that win.”
In a sport played without a clock, Buzarnescu, who turned 30 last month, is quickly making up for lost time.
She played her first professional match in 2004 but, before this week, she had never won a match in a Grand Slam main draw and before last year’s US Open, she had never even played one.
She was a talent as a teenager, and was ranked as high as fourth in the world as a junior but as her contemporaries soared, Buzarnescu stalled.
A shoulder injury kept her off tour for six months when she should have been transitioning from the junior circuit to the professional ranks and during that period, sponsorships from Adidas and Wilson lapsed, leaving her with little financial support.
As she struggled to fund her fledgling career, Buzarnescu developed a left knee injury that required two surgeries which proved unsuccessful in easing her pain, and after breaking into the top 150, she was again forced out of the sport.
Buzarnescu used the time away from the tour to work toward a Ph.D. in sports science, studying the psychomotor development of junior tennis players between the ages of 12 and 14.
“I said, ‘Well, if I’m not going to play tennis, maybe it would help me on my résumé, to have a job somewhere in Romania or abroad,’” she said.
She finished the degree in December 2016. She had returned to playing by then, but continued to struggle with her knee.
“Nobody else actually believed [I would play again],” she said. “Which was really bad.”
Then came what Buzarnescu calls a miracle: The pain in her knee suddenly began to subside while she was playing in a Dutch tennis league last spring.
“I went there with pain, and then suddenly, the pain went away,” she said. “I just said, ‘Yeah, O.K., Let’s go. Let’s play.’”
With a powerful, swooping lefty forehand, Buzarnescu bullied Svitolina as quickly as she could in each rally and triumphed.
Meanwhile, employing a vicious topspin forehand modelled on her idol Rafael Nadal’s weapon-of-choice, Daria Kasatkina recovered from a mid-match blip in her match to reach the last-16, defeating Greece’s Maria Sakkari 6-1 1-6 6-3.
In a topsy-turvy third-round match, with both players dressed in matching blue sleeveless outfits, they split the opening two sets with identical 6-1 scores on the new sunken Court 18 where anyone wandering in at that stage might be forgiven for seeing double.
The trend continued for the first four games of the decider as they swapped breaks before Kasatkina told herself ‘some rude things’ to get out of the rut.
The inner mumblings worked wonders as she finally produced the kind of shots that had impressed Chris Evert so much that the American great had picked the Russian 14th seed as the ‘one who will definitely be dangerous at Roland Garros’.
The 2014 junior champion reached the fourth round of the French Open for the first time, and was quizzed about what she had learnt from Nadal.
“A lot, a topspin forehand, movement on the court and fighting spirit for sure. Because I watched Rafa a lot, I started to spin the ball,” responded the 21-year-old, who flashed 11 forehand winners compared to just two from her backhand, told reporters.
“The first time I saw him he was fighting like an animal and he continues to do that.
“We have to suffer a lot during a tennis match and even today I was suffering, like in the third set. But this is something you have to go through to win a match.”
A heavy spell of rain at Roland Garros meant play was later cancelled for the day with Petra Kvitova, the eighth seed and 10th seed Sloane Stephens unable to start their matches.