Roland Garros, Paris May 27-June 10, 2018; 128 draw (32 seeds); Surface – Clay
Summaries taken from ATP articles (a little blend with others) with my blue notes… The final from BBC
Final: (1)Rafael Nadal d. (7)Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-3, 6-2
Nadal earned his 17th Grand Slam, three adrift of Roger Federer’s all-time men’s record. The Spaniard edged an intense opening set, tightening his grip in the second. And despite having cramp in the third he increased the tempo further, beating Thiem in his first major final when the 24-year-old returned long. “It’s a dream to win 11 times,” Nadal said. “It was important to play the way I did. It was a tough moment when I got cramp. He is a player who pushes you to the limit.” The victory means the past six Grand Slam titles have been won by either Nadal or Federer with the next generation of players finding it hard to break the veterans’ stranglehold on the game. Nadal is only the second player in history to win the same Grand Slam on 11 occasions after Margaret Court, who won 11 Australian Open titles between 1960 and 1973. However, it was not all smooth for Nadal, who missed four match points on his own serve before clinching victory when Thiem went long on the fifth. Nadal dropped his racquet at the baseline in celebration before turning to his box and raising both hands skywards. The Spaniard had been the hot favourite to win the second Slam of the year, after warming up with three clay-court titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome. The Majorcan has an air of invincibility at Roland Garros, losing only twice in 87 matches since making his debut in 2005, and again he delivered on his favourite stage. He had breezed through his opening four matches without dropping a set – extending his own personal best to 37 consecutive sets here – though falling short of Bjorn Borg’s all-time record of 41 by losing the opener of his quarter-final against Diego Schwartzman. That was about as disheartening as it got for the world number one. Against seventh seed Thiem he was at his destructive best, using his athleticism and mental resilience to wear the Austrian down with his relentless shot-making. Thiem, playing in his first Grand Slam final, simply had few answers to Nadal’s brilliance. Nadal had made slow starts to his service games against Schwartzman and in his semi-final with Juan Martin del Potro, but imposed himself straight away against Thiem by holding to love in the opening game and backing it up with a break in the next. Thiem did break back in the third game, but had to fend off more chances for Nadal on his own serve – particularly in a 13-minute sixth game – before the Spaniard struck in the final game of the set. Nadal also stamped his authority early in the second set, breaking again at the first opportunity, as Thiem started to become frustrated. The Austrian had a chance to break back for 4:3, but his opponent saw it off with a backhand down the line and closed out the set as the inevitable loomed. Only one player had ever beaten Nadal from two sets down at a Grand Slam – Fabio Fognini at the 2015 US Open. Nadal refused to ease off at the start of the third, missing five break points in two long service games for the Austrian, who eventually buckled with a wide forehand to trail 2:1. Nadal broke again for a 5:2 lead, then served out – after suffering cramp in his left arm and missing those match points – to win in two hours and 42 minutes. Thiem has long been heralded as a future Grand Slam champion – with the French Open seemingly his best chance on his favoured surface. The Austrian is the only man to have beaten Nadal on clay in the past two years, winning in two sets in the Masters events – the tier below the Grand Slams – in Rome and Madrid. But this was over best-of-five sets. And this was Roland Garros. Thiem showed a few nerves as he failed to find his rhythm in the opening two games and, after he briefly started to look like he could turn it into a contest, was eventually overwhelmed by the favourite. The world number eight started making mistakes on his backhand – usually his most potent weapon – as it disintegrated under heavy pressure. It left him standing with his hands on hips after losing energy-sapping points, wondering what more he had to do to break down Nadal. “What you have done – to win this tournament 11 times – is one of the greatest things in sport,” Thiem told Nadal on court afterwards. “I hope I soon get another chance here – maybe against you. But it has still been a great two weeks for me here.”
2nd semifinal: (1)Rafael Nadal d. (5)Juan Martin del Potro 6-4, 6-1, 6-2
There are few guarantees in the world, but since 2005, one thing has come pretty close. When the ATP World Tour’s stars take to the Parisian terre battue, odds are that Nadal will battle his way to the final. And this year, Nadal has been near his scary best. So it was no surprise that World No. 1 Nadal moved to within one match of lifting his 11th Coupe des Mousquetaires, defeating in-form No. 5 seed Del Potro in the Roland Garros semi-finals on Friday. “It was a good second and third set for me, of course, and a good hold in the first. [I had] good tactics and [a good] mentality in the first set,” Nadal said. “That gave me the possibility to play much better later on the match.” The Spaniard is just the second man in the Open Era to advance to 11 championship matches at a single Grand Slam, joining Roger Federer, who has won eight titles from 11 finals at Wimbledon. Nadal is now 10-0 in the final four on the Parisian clay, and 23-3 overall in Grand Slam semi-finals. His most recent loss in the semi-finals of a major came against Del Potro at the 2009 US Open, which the Argentine won. Nadal is now 33-3 in sets in the final four in Paris, losing one in 2005 to Federer and two against Novak Djokovic in 2013. “I have a very difficult match against a player that is playing great. I know I have to play my best if I want to have chances,” Nadal said about Thiem. “[The] good thing is [that] I played a lot of good matches this clay-court season. So Sunday is the day to give my best, is the day to increase my level even a little bit more. He was serving big and hitting very strong on his first shots. It was very difficult to stop that. And with my serve, of course he was playing well,” Nadal added. “He was playing a little bit too comfortable in the first set. That’s why I saved six break points in the first. So in every game that I served, I had problems. So, yeah, when he’s serving, it’s not in my hands. When I’m serving, [it] should be in my hands.”
1st semifinal: (7)Dominic Thiem d. Marco Cecchinato 7-5, 7-6(10), 6-1
Thiem, one of the most consistent clay-court performers of the past three years, booked a place in his first Grand Slam championship final at Roland Garros on Friday. The seventh-seeded Austrian played with great focus to end the fairytale run of Cecchinato, saving three set points in the second set tie-break of a victory over 2 hours and 17 minutes. “The second set tie-break was the big key to the match, 100 per cent, because obviously he felt all the matches from the past two weeks after that,” said Thiem. “If he would have won the tie-break, he would [have been] full power, for sure, in the third set. So it was good for me that I won it… I expect that he will be a really good player on clay. You don’t get to a Grand Slam semi-final by accident. He beat really good players.” Thiem, who is the first Austrian to reach the Roland Garros final since former World No. 1 Thomas Muster triumphed in 1995, trails Nadal 3-6 in their Head2Head series, but did beat the Spanish superstar in the Mutua Madrid Open quarter-finals last month. “Of course there is pressure, especially in Grand Slam finals, because I have gone a very long way now and I don’t want to lose the final,” said Thiem. Thiem is riding a nine-match winning streak, which includes his 10th ATP World Tour title at the Open Parc Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Lyon (d. Simon). Earlier in the year, he also picked up a red dirt trophy at the Argentina Open (d. Bedene). Cecchinato, who beat David Goffin and Novak Djokovic en route to the semi-finals, admitted, “It was a special tournament for me. I played two sets at the same level [as Djokovic] against Dominic Thiem. [My] level is very good at the moment [and] I am very, very happy.”Stats of the match
4th quarterfinal: (5)Juan Martin del Potro d. (3)Marin Cilic 7-6(5), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5
Del Potro will return to the Top 4 of the ATP Rankings for the first time since February 2014 on Monday after advancing to the Roland Garros semi-finals for the second time (also 2009). The sixth-seeded Argentine fought back from 1:3 down in the third set on Thursday to beat Cilic, in a rain-interrupted two-day victory over 3 hours and 50 minutes. “I’m feeling so, so happy that I made the right decision for play here,” said Del Potro, smiling. “I am doing well. Of course, I didn’t expect to get in semi-finals a couple of weeks before. But now I’m here, and I’m still alive. Physically I’m good, and hopefully I can be ready for tomorrow. Everybody knows that I was close to quitting this sport two years ago, but I never give up. I have been trying and trying every day to fix the problem in my wrist. And in the end, I got it, and now I’m having a great present, looking forward for the future. Of course, I didn’t expect to be in the Top 5 again, to reach semi-finals at the big tournament after all my injuries.” Del Potro will now look to improve upon his 5-9 ATP Head2Head record against World No. 1 Nadal, the 10-time Roland Garros champion, who also battled hard to overcome Del Potro’s compatriot, No. 11 seed Schwartzman, earlier on Thursday. In their two completed clay-court matches, Nadal beat Del Potro 7-5, 6-3, 6-2 at the Paris major in 2007 and 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-6(0) in the 2011 Davis Cup final. Del Potro, who will rise from World No. 6 to at least No. 4, a position he last held on 10 February 2014, improved to 11-2 lifetime against Cilic, with his fifth straight clay-court match win against the Croatian. The pair had resumed their Paris clash at 6-all, 5:5 in the first set tie-break, after rain had suspended play on Wednesday night. Cilic did well to avoid danger on Wednesday while serving at 5-all, 0/30, when rain first suspended their match. The Croatian recovered, saving three break points to hold for the sixth straight time. But he was not able to take advantage of two straight return points won on Del Potro’s serve in the tie-break, losing the final four points to fall a set behind. The first to serve on Thursday afternoon, the Argentine was immediately aggressive with his forehand to earn a set point, despite trailing 3:5 in the tie-break Wednesday. Cilic came under pressure in the second set, including a 16-point fourth game. Through six games, Del Potro had won 12 of his 15 service points, while Cilic had earned 17 of 28, but the tables soon turned. Cilic became ultra aggressive, using his forehand to dictate play. Two break points for Cilic went begging at 3-all, but two games later Del Potro struck a double fault on break point, as he appeared to be distracted by a member of the crowd, who he immediately went to talk to. Clearly annoyed, Del Potro channelled his energy to break back immediately with Cilic committing three straight groundstroke errors. However, Cilic refocused to win 17 of the next 25 points, with Del Potro striking a forehand long – his 13th error to end the 66-minute set – and took a 2:0 lead in the third set. Miraculously, having saved one break point at 1:3, Del Potro went on a charge and clinched 19 of the next 22 points. Del Potro took control at 6:5 in the fourth set, sealing his first break point chance when Cilic lost his concentration and struck his third crosscourt backhand long. Del Potro did not need a second invitation, closing out the next game to love.
3rd quarterfinal: (1)Rafael Nadal d. (11)Diego Schwartzman 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2
Nadal might have seen his consecutive sets streak at Roland Garros snapped at 37 on Wednesday against Schwartzman. But while the Spaniard fell short of Bjorn Borg’s record of 41 straight sets on the terre battue, the top seed charged ahead Thursday after two rain delays, beating the Argentine. Ten-time champion Nadal clinched the two points he needed as play resumed Thursday afternoon to level the score at a set apiece against Schwartzman of Argentina in their quarter-final. And from there, the Spaniard did not look back. “I played more aggressive. I continued the level of intensity that I played after the first stop. And in my opinion, the match changed,” Nadal said. “Of course he’s a tough opponent, and he’s going to always be a tough match. But at the same time, I think after the first rain delay, the match changed a lot because I played more aggressive with high intensity and the things were more on my side.” Nadal has now won 24 of 25 matches overall, and by virtue of reaching his record 11th Roland Garros semi-final, the Spaniard became just the third man in the Open Era to advance to the final four of one Grand Slam championship 11 times, with the other two players being Jimmy Connors and Roger Federer. The left-hander is into his 27th major semi-final overall, which moved him ahead of Andre Agassi for fifth spot in the Open Era. Schwartzman carried the momentum into the second set, with Nadal struggling to find groundstroke timing and rhythm. Schwartzman led 3-2 when rain in Paris halted proceedings, after three straight breaks of serve. But upon the resumption of play, after a 40-minute interruption, it was all Nadal, who got the crowd involved and in 20 minutes led 5:3, 30/15 when the weather stopped play for a second time. Play was officially cancelled for the day at 7:30 p.m. local time on Wednesday. And once they resumed on Thursday, the World No. 1 maintained his momentum. Nadal took full advantage of the drier conditions, immediately controlling points and keeping Schwartzman well behind the baseline, therefore making it more difficult for the Argentine to be aggressive. Whereas Nadal’s baseline shots stayed in the No. 11 seed’s strike zone on Wednesday in the muddier conditions, balls regularly jumped toward the top of the 5’7″ star’s frame upon resumption. Nadal used the change in court positioning to his advantage, pushing the speedy Schwartzman so far back that he did not move to a forehand drop shot that Nadal used to earn a double-break lead in the third set at 4:1. The Argentine began to find his range again as Nadal served for the set, extending the game, which lasted more than 14 minutes. But an overcharged backhand gave the top seed a two-set-to-one lead. Nadal needed to stave off four break points in the game, but came up with sensational tennis to snuff out each opportunity. On one of those break points, he appeared completely out of the point as Schwartzman stepped into the court to look for a putaway, but a flicked defensive forehand that clipped the line allowed the Spaniard once again to be aggressive and charge ahead. And if the World No. 12 had any hopes of digging into the red dirt and battling back, he saw those chances slim significantly when Nadal broke for 2:1 in the fourth set as the Spaniard once again took advantage of Schwartzman’s deep positioning with a forehand drop shot. The Argentine earned a point to get back on serve in the next game, but once again fell victim to the top seed’s drop shot. After securing a second break, one would think Nadal would cruise. But he was forced to save three break points as he served for the match, doing so successfully with yet another drop shot, a heavy forehand winner and a backhand laser down the line, before closing out the 3-hour, 42-minute encounter with his 34th winner and a celebratory leap.
2nd quarterfinal: Marco Cecchinato d. (20)Novak Djokovic 6-3, 7-6(4), 1-6, 7-6(11)
The 25-year-old Italian pulled off his biggest win yet on Tuesday, beating 2016 champion Novak Djokovic to reach the semi-finals in Paris. Cecchinato, No 72 in the ATP Rankings, becomes the lowest-ranked Roland Garros semi-finalist since No. 100 Andrei Medvedev in 1999. The Palermo native is also the first Italian man to make a Grand Slam semi-final since Corrado Barazzutti at the 1978 Roland Garros. “I’m very, very happy,” Cecchinato said. “When I won the first match in Grand Slam, I feel good. And match by match, I feel now I can won also the next round… it’s a special moment for me.” Before Paris, however, Cecchinato had never even won a Grand Slam match, losing at the 2015 US Open (l. Mardy Fish), 2016 Australian Open (l. Nicolas Mahut), 2016 Roland Garros (l. Nick Kyrgios), and 2017 Wimbledon (l. Nishikori). Cecchinato fell in the final round of Roland Garros qualifying last year. But he’s put it all together this fortnight, and he executed his game plan well – mixing in aggression with touch – to stun the former No. 1 player in the ATP Rankings on Court Suzanne-Lenglen. Cecchinato jumped out to a one-set lead by hugging the baseline and taking the ball early. He also played a thinking man’s game, drop shotting Djokovic with success. After the first set, Djokovic received treatment on the back of his right shoulder and his neck, and the Italian broke to start. But the Serbian began to step into the court and dictate with his forehand more often. Djokovic had three set points with Cecchinato serving at 5:6, but the World No. 72 saved them all and converted his first such opportunity with a forehand winner behind Djokovic in the tie-break. Something changed, however, in Cecchinato in the third set as he was broken four times. He chatted more often with the umpire about line calls and looked flustered. The fourth was more of the same, as Djokovic remained focused and Cecchinato’s shotmaking – backhands on the line followed by drop-shot winners – was lacking. Until it wasn’t. Cecchinato, perhaps sensing his time was running short, held for 1:3 and broke Djokovic at 3:5 to get back on serve. In the tie-break, the Italian saw his first match point erased at 6:5 when Djokovic retrieved a drop shot and reacted well with a backhand volley. “Just a pity that I couldn’t capitalise on the chances in 4:1 in the fourth set and some break points,” Djokovic said. “But he came back and credit to him.” The Serbian then had set points at 7:6, 8:7 and 9:8, but Cecchinato’s defence kept Djokovic from forcing a fifth set. And at last, on his fourth match point, Cecchinato hit a backhand winner past a charging Djokovic to prolong the best – and most surprising – tournament of his career.
1st quarterfinal: (7)Dominic Thiem d. (2)Alexander Zverev 6-4, 6-2, 6-1
Thiem is inching closer to peak form in Paris, where he reached the semi-finals for the third consecutive year in five appearances at Roland Garros. The seventh-seeded Austrian served intelligently and controlled his single-handed backhand to draw errors from Zverev, who appeared to be hindered by a left leg complaint midway through the second set, in a quarter-final victory on Philippe-Chatrier Court. Thiem, who has won 25 of his 30 clay-court matches this year, avenged his recent Mutua Madrid Open final loss to Zverev in one hour and 50 minutes. He now leads Zverev 5-2 in their Head2Head series, including a 4-1 mark in red dirt matches. “It’s never easy if your opponent obviously is not 100 per cent,” said Thiem. “But he’s one of the fittest guys on tour, and even for him it’s maybe a little bit too tough to play three five-setters in the first rounds of a Slam. So I expected, somehow, that he [would be] a little bit tired, but still I’m happy how I finished the game. I let him run. I was doing what I had to do, and so I’m satisfied.” When asked how he reflects on his two previous semi-final appearances in Paris, Thiem admitted, “I’m a better player in general, for sure. There was another year of work where I improved and developed my game. I think this year I’m physically and mentally fresher than I have been the past two years. I know how to handle a Grand Slam now, how to get that deep in such a tournament, and I think everything gets better with experience.” Thiem, under the guidance of his long-time coach Gunter Bresnik, will now recharge and prepare to play Cecchinato for the first time in the semi-finals on Friday. Thiem sliced his backhand low, forcing Zverev to hit up into the ball throughout the first set. The Austrian capitalised on his first break point opportunity on Zverev’s serve at 3-all, 15/40, when he slightly mis-hit a backhand crosscourt deep, which dipped late for a winner. Thiem completed the 39-minute set with his second ace, one of 10 winners. Zverev, with three consecutive five-set wins in his legs, began to fatigue in the second set, helped by Thiem dragging him around the court. Zverev lost his groundstroke shape and paid the price in the third and fifth games with backhand errors that handed Thiem a 4:1 advantage. At the change of ends, Zverev had strapping applied to his left hamstring and was clearly frustrated by his inability to make inroads into Thiem’s service games. Zverev left the court at the end of the set, but upon the resumption of play Thiem maintained his momentum. The Austrian drew Zverev to the net for a backhand pass to break in the third set opener and came close to taking a 5:0 lead, but was unable to convert three break point chances. Zverev was clearly unable to move as effectively as he had done in victories over Ricardas Berankis, Dusan Lajovic, No. 26 seed Damir Dzumhur and Karen Khachanov, but refused to give up.