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Roland Garros 2019 Day 5 Preview: Osaka, Anisimova and Fritz Featured

A fortnight-long festival of clay court tennis that happens but once a year, there’s always a lot to look forward to at the French Open. However, for the players who spend months building towards it, only to have their participation cut short by illness or injury, it can be equally heartbreaking.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly where Kiki Bertens and Bianca Andreescu find themselves after Wednesday. Bertens, the star of the clay season, forced to retire from her second round match with an undisclosed illness, and Andreescu, the breakout star of the sunshine swing, unable to even take the court for hers with a right shoulder injury.

Of course, dealing with the frailties of the human body is part of the game, but that doesn’t make it suck any less. Here’s hoping Bertens and Andreescu have a speedy recovery, and the next time we see them in Paris, they’ll be able to compete at their fullest/

Here’s your three to see on Thursday at Roland Garros:

Amanda Anisimova (USA) v Aryna Sabalenka (BEL) [11] – First on Court 1

I wrote while previewing Aryna Sabalenka’s first-round match that her 2019 had been “a tad underwhelming”, and whaddaya know? Now she gets the young woman largely responsible for it. Handing Sabalenka a third-round exit at the AO with a stunning 6-3, 6-2 beatdown, 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova was completely unfussed by the big-hitting Belarusian, who simply couldn’t find a way to dislodge Anisimova from the baseline, and the young American made her pay by constantly redirecting her pace at sharp angles. On clay it will be it will be fascinating to see if Anisimova can repeat the feat, but even if she doesn’t, the match-up of puncher and counter-puncher should make for a real popcorn affair.

Naomi Osaka (JPN) [1] v Victoria Azarenka (BEL) – First on Suzanne Lenglen

Giving a first-round performance was so bad that you could almost claim a tax write-off for a charitable contribution, it’s safe to say Naomi Osaka has a lot of work to do if she wants to make it three majors on the trot. Indeed, really the only thing that kept her in the tournament was that Anna Karolina Schmiedlova had no experience winning on such a high-profile stage, but you know who does? Victoria Azarenka. Simply put, this is an immense test for Osaka, and with Azarenka looking solid in her own first-round win over Jelena Ostapenko, it wouldn’t be outrageous for the Japanese to fail. That said, even if Osaka does come through, she’s going to be subjected to a few hours of punishing baseline tennis, and while it might not be too much fun for her, it definitely will be for us.

Taylor Fritz (USA) v Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP) [18] – Fifth on Court 6

A match that’s almost guaranteed to fly under the radar, do yourself a favour and make time for this tasty matchup between Roberta Bautista Agut and Taylor Fritz. A chance at immediate revenge for “RBA”, Fritz managed to best the Spaniard 6-7, 6-3, 6-4 last week in the Lyon quarterfinals, and has proven to be much better on the dirt than many of his serve-and-forehand, American-style counterparts. Not too shabby with the forehand himself, RBA isn’t going to be content to just grind Fritz out over five sets, and that means we should be treated to some explosive rallies and a real rollercoaster of a tennis match.

Roland Garros 2019 Day 4 Preview: Nishikori, Dimitrov and Bertens on Deck

There are close shaves, and then there are close shaves – Naomi Osaka had one of the latter on Tuesday.

Bageled in the first set, twice having to break in the second with Anna-Karolina Schmiedlova serving for the match, Osaka came within a whisker of being the victim in one of the most stunning upsets in Roland Garros history.

Thankfully for her, she managed to regroup, not just making it through to the second round, but also saving herself from the inevitable questions that would’ve followed about her preparation, hand injury, and yes, her split with Sascha Bajin.

Funnily enough, this marks the second year in a row the women’s number one seed stumbled out of the gates in Paris – Simona Halep dropped her first set of the tournament 6-2 to Alison Riske before bouncing back 6-1, 6-1 – and considering Halep went on to win the title, well… maybe it will end up being a good thing! I guess we’ll soon find out.

Here’s your three to see on day four in Paris:

Kei Nishikori (JPN) [7] v Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) – Second on Philippe Chartier

It’s been a minute since we’ve seen Jo-Willy Tsonga in the second-round at Roland Garros – he didn’t play last year after knee surgery, and he was bounced in his first match in 2017 – but here in 2019, he’s back, with a tasty contest on deck against Kei Nishikori. Considering his seeding and 5-3 head-to-head advantage, there’s no denying Nishikori comes into this one the favourite, but even in his diminished state, Tsonga can take solace in the fact he’s won their one-and-only contest on clay – a 6-1, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3 rollercoaster here in 2015 – and with the crowd behind him, he definitely has a shot to do it again. Indeed, if Tsonga serves well and starts crushing the ball early, the upset will be on, but in any case, watching the Frenchman crunch forehands while Nishikori does the same with backhands seems like a pretty good way to spend a few hours.

Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) v Marin Cilic (CRO) [11] – Third on Simonne Mathieu

If Grigor Dimitrov wants to regain his mojo here at the French Open, he’s going to have to do a lot better than his sloppy first-round performance over Janko Tipsarevic, and yet with Marin Cilic on deck, he doesn’t have much time to find a higher gear. Historically more of a fast-court player, Cilic has made back-to-back quarters here in Paris, and will get an extra boost from his 4-1 advantage (all on hard) in the head-to-head over Dimitrov, making him a strong favourite – and yet, this is Grigor Dimitrov we’re talking about. If the Bulgarian does manage to step it up, the clay should help him put Cilic on the back foot with his spin and depth, and that should make this a truly fascinating encounter.

Viktoria Kuzmova (SVK) v Kiki Bertens (NED) [4] – Fourth on Philippe Chatrier

One of the favourites to win here in Paris, if Kiki Bertens is to be taken seriously as a contender, she’ll first have to come through this potentially tricky encounter with Viktoria Kuzmova. Already this year the two have played two three-setters, Kuzmova taking the first in Dubai before Bertens returned the favour in Miami, so there’s every reason to expect another close contest here. That said, this also provides an opportunity for Bertens to make a statement, which she would definitely be doing if she came through in straights.

Roland Garros 2019 Day 3 Preview: Delpo, Azarenka and Sabalenka in Action

Roland Garros 2019 Day 3 Preview: Delpo, Azarenka and Sabalenka in Action

Serena Williams forced to fight back, Wozniacki ousted, and a 16-year-old winning her first ever match at tour level – just another ho hum day of grand slam tennis in Paris.

In all seriousness, Monday was just another illustration of what makes these tournaments so special. Everyone, from a journeywoman like Vitalia Diatchenko, to an absolute neophyte like Diana Parry has the capacity to surprise, and that means the top dogs can take nothing for granted.

Here’s your three-to-see on Tuesday at Roland Garros:

Juan Martin Del Potro (ARG) [8] v Nicolas Jarry (CHI) – First on Suzanne Lenglen

Of all the great rivalries in tennis history: Federer-Nadal, Serena-Venus, Borg-McEnroe, Evert-Navratilova perhaps none has been more hard fought than Juan Martin Del Potro against his own body, and once again he comes into a major tournament trying to shake the rust of a major injury layoff. His gammy knee hopefully in the past, he’ll need to be firing on all cylinders against Nico Jarry, who comes in with some good form having lost narrowly to Sascha Zverev in the Geneva final. Standing 6’6 himself, Jarry possesses firepower similar to that of Del Potro, but combines it with superior mobility, which means the Argentine will be under constant pressure to attack before the Chilean can do it to him. If Del Potro is his old self, the Best Sportsbook Promo Code has him weather the storm today, but anything less, and the Tower of Tandil could very well find itself toppled.

Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) v Victoria Azarenka (BLR) – Second on Simonne Mathieu

Suffice to say, it’s been a rough twelve months for Jelena Ostapenko. Heading into Roland Garros last year, she was the defending champ and world number five, since then, she’s recorded just 18 wins against 25 losses, fallen to 40 in the rankings… and now she gets Victoria Azarenka. Only four rankings spots behind Ostapenko, Azarenka comes in having shown flashes of her old self in recent months, and while the erratic Latvian is likely to feel the pressure of returning to the scene of her triumph, you can bet the Belarusian will come out free swinging. Hopefully, we see some of the “old” Ostapenko here, which if so would make for a fascinating encounter as the Latvian looks to end points before Azarenka can create the angles to counter – either way, expect a cracking three sets of tennis.

Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) [11] v Dominka Cibulkova (SVK) – Third on Simonne Mathieu

Tipped to be the breakout star of 2019 after a strong finish to the 2018 season, so far this year has been a tad underwhelming (albeit only in singles) for the 21-year-old Sabalenka, and after failing to win a single match in either Madrid or Rome, she now gets 2009 RG semi-finalist Dominka Cibulkova first up. Their only career meeting a very entertaining 7-5, 6-3 affair won by Sabalenka in Wuhan last year, it will be interesting to see if the Belarusian’s pure offense will stand up against the more measured approach of Cibulkova on this surface, and in any case, it should take three topsy-turvy sets to find out.

2019 Q1 Report Card: Who Makes the Grade Through April?

I might be the only one, but it certainly doesn’t feel like we’re just three months into the 2019 tennis season. Between “Serena v Roger” at the Hopman Cup, the Australian Open, Federer handing the baton to the next generation… only to immediately take it back, the emergence of Felix Auger-Aliassime and Bianca Andreescu, and the full Nick Kyrgios Experience in Acapulco, we’ve already been given enough more than enough material to overreact to. Any other sport, you couldn’t ask for that much in a whole season, and yet, it’s only April. Gotta love tennis.

So, before something else crops up for us to lose our collective minds over, I thought I’d take the opportunity to hand out some grades for the goings-on so far:

The AO Champs: A-

A grade that is either too generous or not generous enough, 2019 has given us two very different tales for Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka. In Melbourne, both were not only on top of the tennis world, but looked like they’d stay there for the foreseeable future, and yet their recent results would suggest they’re not as far removed from the pack as we previously thought. A combined 5-6 in post-AO matches, both have legitimate questions they have to answer heading into the clay swing – Djokovic, whether at 31 and on the back of three-straight majors, he can still be a week-in-week-out monster, and Osaka, as a freshly-minted number one, whether she can manage the target that is now painted on her back, to say nothing of the upheaval in her own camp.

Rafael Nadal: B-

So far at least, 2019 has been a weird year for Rafa Nadal. He was the undisputed in-form player of the tournament at the Australian Open… until he ran into Novak Djokovic, who simply took him apart in the final. Then he let Nick Kyrgios get under his skin in Acapulco, before bouncing-back in Indian Wells with a nice run to the semis… where he pulled out with an injury that has sidelined him since. I suppose based on reputation alone you have to still install him as favourite at the French Open, but both in terms of health and ability to beat Djokovic, it’s hard to feel that much confidence.

Roger Federer: B+

No, Federer’s not just getting this grade to rile-up Rafa fans. Is it an amusing by-product? Maybe… In any cas, I feel this is a fair grade for Fed, given his recent performances would seem to warrant a higher mark and yet, he deserves to be knocked for his disappointing Australian Open exit as well. Indeed, his form from Dubai onwards has probably been his best since Shanghai 2017, and it’s crazy to think that at 37, he’s still straight-up punking guys who have nowhere near the miles on his legs, but there’s no getting around that loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas in Melbourne (0-12 on break points!). Certainly there’s no denying a red-hot Federer is still a danger for anybody, but the question remains as to whether on those days when he doesn’t quite have it (like against Tsitsipas), his B-game is enough to grind out the Ws.

The country of Canada: A

To be fair, Canada seems like a pretty cool place most of the time, but specifically when it comes to tennis, right now they’re absolutely killing it. Between Denis ‘El Shapo’ Shapovalov, Felix Auger-Aliassime, and Bianca Andreescu, they’ve got the three most exciting prospects in the game, and really with the results they’re racking up, it’s hard to even call them prospects. At 19 (although 20 in a few days), 18, and 18 respectively, Shapovalov, Auger-Aliassime and Andreescu have already proven they have the game, and as long as they keep progressing, there’s a realistic chance Canada ends up the next Serbia – or even exceeds them – as an out-of-nowhere tennis superpower.

The country of Australia: Incomplete

Even for a country that has seen the highs (28 Davis Cups, 7 Fed Cups, and more grand slam champions than you can poke a stick at) and lows (every time Andrew Ilie tore his shirt off) that Australia has, tennis down under is in a very curious position, as in 2019 we’ve seen plenty of both. Between the ugly Bernard Tomic-Lleyton Hewitt spat that played out in Melbourne, everything (good and bad) going on with Nick Kyrgios, and Ash Barty slicing and dicing her way to the Miami title, it’s as possible to paint a negative picture as it is a positive one – it’s entirely up to your interpretation. Personally, I’m just happy to see one of my countrywomen winning a big title again, but if the big headlines continue to be made from off the court… and in the grandstands… and underneath the umpire’s chair… and on instagram… well, we’ll be back to the old narrative of asking “what’s wrong with Australian tennis?”.

WTA tour: A+

Forget the conclusion of March Madness, when it comes to sporting unpredictability at its finest, there is no better offering currently than the WTA tour. Sixteen tournaments in, we have sixteen different champions, and make no mistake, this isn’t just Osaka, Halep, Pliskova, et al. farting away winnable titles, this is women like Belinda Bencic, Su-Wei Hsieh, and the aforementioned Andreescu and Barty earning their own spotlights, such is the depth of talent on offer. That said, there’s no denying tennis is a sport that feeds on star-power, but at least in the short-term, this level of parity has made for a very entertaining product, and really, it’s hard to ask for much more than that.

Aryna Sabalenka: C-

Yes, I know she won the Sunshine Double in doubles, but as a singles player, it’s hard to grade Sabalenka any higher. Starting the year as the undisputed “next big thing”, the 20-year-old Belarusian certainly got off to a good start by winning in Shenzhen, but has been something of a disappointment since. Sure, she’s cracked the top ten, but on the back of last year’s impressive US Open swing, it seemed like she would take a bigger step forward and emerge as a consistent presence at the big tournaments, and yet she went out with 3R, 4R and 2R exits in Melbourne, IW and Miami respectively. For a player with all the goods right now to be a top player, that’s simply not good enough.

Stefanos Tsitsipas: B

Beating Roger Federer, making his first major semi-final, and breaking into the top-ten, Stef Tsitsipas (and while we’re here, the first “s” is silent) has every right to be chuffed with his season so far, and this grade would be even higher if it weren’t for one thing – scheduling. Already this year, he’s played nine tournaments, and that’s simply far too much for any tennis player (I’m looking at you, Dominic Thiem) to balance fitness with form. Then again, maybe it’s best he stays on the court…

Stefanos Tsitsipas’ social media game: F

The whole “teasing Naomi Osaka about her Michael B. Jordan crush” was funny the first time, the 50th? Not so much. I can’t decide if he’s keeping it up because he likes Osaka, or wants MBJ for himself. Either way, it’s getting old.

That super-jacked Miami line judge: A+

Probably my favourite peripheral character at a tournament outside of Wimbledon’s Evil Colonel Sanders, this guy always gets plenty of play in Miami, and with good reason. For whatever age he is, dude is straight-up killing it with the pythons covered in tribal tattoos, and this year he really outdid himself with an extra helping of bling that was probably stolen from the set of a Migos music video. If this guy isn’t the next president of the ATP, I’ll be very disappointed.