Paris | Birthday girl Swiatek re-sets

Iga Swiatek celebrated her 23rd birthday in some style at the French Open on Friday, where she is bidding to win her 4th title, and 3rd in a row, while Coco Gauff, Marketa Vondrousova and Ons Jabeur were among those also to make it into the Last 16 in the top half of the draw.

Honestly, I think this is the advantage of having one day off. Because, yeah, sometimes it’s harder to keep the routine or something, but this time, actually, it helped because yesterday I wasn’t even practicing also because of the rain.  So, yeah, I could reset, and I could also rest, physically, because this match [against Osaka] was, for sure, demanding. Iga Swiatek

On another rain-interrupted day of play on the outside courts, Swiatek had the comfort of the closed roof on Court Philipe-Chatrier, where she took on Czech Marie Bouzkova in an encounter that saw the Pole returning to her dominant ways, and winning, 6-4 6-2, in an hour and 33 minutes.

“So I’m happy that I won, and I, kind of, gave myself a present,” Swiatek said afterwards. “I felt good today. Like, I can just proceed with having a solid tournament, even though I was in trouble against Naomi for sure.”

The World No 1, who trailed in the deciding set against 4-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka on Wednesday, saving a match point on her way to a 7-6(1) 1-6 7-5 win, feels lucky to still be alive in the draw.

“[I was] just overwhelmed with emotions,” she said. “I honestly thought that I’m going to be out of the tournament. Even though I felt something on court, it, kind of, hit me after. I was happy that I won, but I still felt, like, I was really on the edge. So, yeah, I just cried.

“I feel good physically, I had a day off yesterday, and I don’t feel like the match [against Osaka] stayed with me, but we’ll see at the end of the tournament.”

With her father Tomasz and elder sister Agata present in the stands, it was business as usual for Swiatek on Friday. Tomasz was a rower who represented Poland in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, while reports suggest that  Agata is pursuing a career in dentistry.

They both watched as she efficiently dispatched Bouzkova to safely seal a berth in the Round of 16 for the 6th year in a row.

“Honestly, I think this is the advantage of having one day off,” Swiatek explained. “ Because, yeah, sometimes it’s harder to keep the routine or something, but this time, actually, it helped because yesterday I wasn’t even practicing also because of the rain.

“So, yeah, I could reset, and I could also rest, physically, because this match was for sure demanding.”

Swiatek found it much easier to control the outcome of points against Bouzkova, the World No 42 who had beaten 29th-seeded Veronika Kudermetova in her opening round, but had missed much of the clay-court season due to injury, and played only 2 matches in the 6 weeks prior to Roland Garros.

In her first-ever meeting against the talented and versatile Czech, who has 10 career Top 10 wins to her credit, Swiatek broke serve 4 times, doubled Bouzkova’s total of winners to 32, and produced only 19 unforced errors.

The Pole won 7 of the last 9 games in total, although she needed 4 match points to finally finish her off, one on the Czech’s serve in the 7th game of the second set, while she was pushed to deuce from 40-15 on her own serve before closing the match out.

Swiatek’s win extended her unbeaten streak in Paris, and her clay-court run this year to 17 straight matches, while she has lost just 3 sets at Roland Garros during that time.

In fact, the Pole’s win-loss record in Paris stands at 32-2, and she has never failed to reach the second week.

Swiatek will next play Anastasia Potapova from Russia in the 4th-round, who fought her way past China’s Wang Xinyu, 7-5 6-7(6) 6-4, after 2 hours and 50 minutes out on Court 14. It is the first meeting between the two on the WTA Tour.

Coco Gauff, the No 3 seed, outplayed Dayana Yastremska to reach the Last 16 in Paris

© Clive Mason/Getty Images

Earlier in the day, Coco Gauff opened play on Chatrier, holding off a late fightback from Australian Open semi-finalist Dayana Yastremska to win, 6-2 6-4.

In Paris, the reigning US Open champion has reached 2 quarter-finals and the 2022 final, which she lost to Swiatek.

The 20-year-old American failed to serve out the match when she was leading 5-2 in the second set, but she saved 3 break points in the 10th game before getting herself over the line to make the Last 16 for a 4th straight year.

“When it was time to close out, and the games were getting close and tight, I was trying to just remind myself I’m in the better position,” Gauff said. “I’m the one up a set and double break, so I was just reminding myself of that.

“There are times when you’re down a set and a break, and you have to tell yourself it’s OK. It’s just really psyching yourself out.”

There is another thing that Gauff likes to tell herself these days: “Billions of people don’t even know who you are. So the matches aren’t as big as they feel sometimes.”

Gauff will play Elisabetta Cocciaretto for a place in the quarters, after the unseeded Italian upset Russian 17th seed Liudmila Samsonova, 7-6(4) 6-2, in the opening match on Court Suzanne-Lenglen.

23-year old Cocciaretto is ranked 51 in the world, and playing in the 4th round of a Grand Slam for the first time.

Gauff has played her twice before, and won both times, most recently in February in Dubai, but they have never played on clay, which Cocciaretto loves.

The American described the Italian opponent as a fighter: “I know I have to go in there with a strong mentality,” Gauff added.

Ons Jabeur is finding her form on the clay at Roland Garros, beating Leylah Fernandez on Friday to reach the 4th-round

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Also on Lenglen, Tunisian 8th seed Ons Jabeur got past Leylah Fernandez from Canada, 6-4 7-6(5), teeing up a 4th-round match with Clara Tauson, after the Dane followed her surprise 2nd-round upset of 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko by knocking out former finalist Sofia Kenin.

Jabeur continues her quest to become the first Arab and African woman to claim a Grand Slam title with a hard-fought win over the left-handed No 31 seed, taking an hour and 53 minutes to fend of the former US Open finalist, and saving a set point at 5-4 in the second set in the process.

It was Jabeur’s 4th win in their 4 career meetings, and marks the Tunisian’s rebound on the red clay after a challenging start to this year, losing 6 of her first 8 matches in 2024.

Even a return to the green clay of Charleston, where she is a former titlist, did not bring her a win, although she lost to the eventual champion, red-hot Danielle Collins.

When her form is solid, Jabeur knows she can make the Roland Garros quarter-finals, as she did just last year.

“Just reminding everyone that I’m still here,” Jabeur said with a laugh. “It’s also nice to prove for myself, because I’ve been in a bad place for months, trying to get back, and gain back my confidence. But, again, to be in the second week, it’s really important for me, and for the hard work that I did.”

Jabeur has come within touching distance of Grand Slam glory in the past, reaching the last 2 Wimbledon finals and the 2022 US Open title clash, but the 29-year-old has not been able to cross the finish line.

Ever since losing last year’s Wimbledon final, it has felt as if there has been a weight on her shoulders, and, on Friday she said as much, revealing that ‘sometimes I sleep at night, and I only think about what I should have done differently’.

The 3rd-round meeting with Fernandez presented a tricky challenge, and they exchanged breaks midway through the opening set before Jabeur took control of the contest on serve.

Limited success with her trademark drop-shots against the fleet-footed Fernandez, Jabeur quickly found herself trailing 1-3 in the second set, but managed to grab the next 2 games to level, before saving a set point in a 5-deuce game and, eventually, completing the win with an ice-cool show in the tiebreak.

“Everybody knows Leylah, she plays very well. She’s a very aggressive player,” said Jabeur. “I knew that I had to finish the match before the third set, and I won some points at the right moments.

“It was a bit tough on serve but I’m very happy to win.”

After the match, she talked about not feeling pressured to live up to her ‘Minister of Happiness’ moniker.

“I feel like if I am the Minister of Happiness, I need to be 24/7 happy, you know, which is wrong,” she said. “I feel like it’s wrong, and I’m sending the wrong message as well.

“What I want to always say is I get angry, I get sad, and I accept these feelings, and it’s OK to do that. It’s not a happy life all the time. I would be lying to everyone else and lying to myself, obviously.

“For me is to be real to myself, real to you guys. I cry all the time. I can be feeling sad, but if someone, you know, makes a nice comment or tells me something nice, it would completely change my day, so I try to do the same.”

Marketa Vondrousova is cruising through the draw, and defeated wild-card Chloe Paquet in straight sets on Day 6 of the French Open

© Clive Mason/Getty Images

Up next for Jabeur is the unseeded Dane, Clara Tauson, who stunned former runner-up Sofia Kenin, 6-2 7-5.

Tauson is a former top-ranked junior, who has beaten 2 Grand Slam champions, Jelena Ostapenko and Kenin, in her last 2 rounds.

Despite those big wins, this is Tauson’s first Last 16 showing at a major, and Jabeur’s 10th, and the 8th seed will try to bring all of that experience at this level in order to hold off the World No 72.

Another runner-up here in recent years, Marketa Vondrousova, ended the run of French wild-card Chloe Paquet, 6-1 6-3, on Court Simmone-Mathieu.

Vondrousova, who became the first unseeded player to win Wimbledon last year, was a beaten finalist at Roland Garros in 2019, and the Czech kept alive her dream of returning to the final with her straight-sets win over the Frenchwoman.

“I think she was fighting until the end,” Vondrousova said. “You know, the crowd was behind her, so it was tough. But overall it was a great match.”

The 5th seed began strongly, breaking to love in the opening game, and although Paquet responded immediately with a break of her own, Vondrousova went on to win the next 5 games to take the first set with ease.

29-year old Paquet had never reached the 3rd round before, and her struggles continued in the second when Vondrousova took a 3-0 lead, but the Frenchwoman rallied and broke to pull it back to 4-3 down.

The Czech left-hander responded, and broke again to move within one game of victory, and while Paquet forced a break point, Vondrousova held and moved into the 4th-round after an hour and 32 minutes.

Qualifier Olga Danilovic edged past Donna Vekic after over 3 hours of play, and will meet Marketa Vondrousova next

© Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images

The 24-year-old will now play Serbian qualifier Olga Danilovic, who had upset 11th seed Danielle Collins around 16 hours earlier, and had her hands full with Donna Vekic, whom she eventually took down, 0-6 7-5 7-6(8), after 3 hours and 8 minutes of play.

Their 3rd-round match finally got underway after rain delays on Court Simonne Mathieu, directly before Vondrousova took to the same court.

“Yeah, I saw the whole match because I was playing after them, so I saw everything,” Vondrousova said. “It was very tough, and she’s a great player. I know her since we were juniors, so yeah, it’s going to be very tough on clay.

“She’s doing an amazing job, it’s also fourth round and second week, so I think anything can happen now.”

Danilovic was bagelled in the first set by the Croatian, who coughed up a double-fault in the deciding tiebreak in she had led 6-2, when was within 4 points of victory.

Three points later, though, Danilovic whipped a forehand down the line to win the tiebreak, 10-8, and the match, and the Serbian collapsed to the floor, laughed for a second, and then wept with relief.

She could barely speak after it was done, sobbing with joy and thanking the crowd.

“Sometimes, in tennis, you have to suffer.”

Danilovic has had her fair share of suffering, with injuries continuously disrupting the display of her serious talent, which only needed a run of matches to come to the fore.

In the breaker, she wavered, as Vekic did, but stayed grounded and balanced when it mattered, sliding for drop-shots with intent, and leaning into the ball to free her left arm, and lasso it around the court.

For a moment in Paris, sitting in the dirt, and overcome with emotion as the crowd cheered all around her, she could feel that she had made it.

Now the round of 16 begins, against Vondrousova, whom Danilovic has met once before, and the Czech came out on top when they faced each other at the United Cup in January.



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