By Jane Voigt
A week ago 256 players stepped into the starting gate at the 2017 French Open. Today that number will dwindle to 32, if the weather holds.
Who’s worked their way through to the second week — round 4 or the round of 16, as it’s called — creates another gateway. The players poised to possibly make a deep run are ones with fewer errors, more consistency, and a resilient mind.
THE WISE STAND-OUTS
Venus Williams, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Samantha Stosur
The top four seeds on the men’s side are all over 30. But they have nothing on these three standouts, who all landed on the same side of the women’s singles draw.
Venus Williams, who will be 37 in two week, is the oldest woman to reach the fourth round of a major in the Open Era (since 1968). This is her 20th appearance in Paris and she’s never won. Her best result was recorded in 2002 when she finished second. Williams’ game thrives on fast surfaces, having won Wimbledon five times and the U. S. Open twice. But this year her name has been passed around as the possible champion.
“‘I have played well here a number of times. Sometimes it didn’t work out,’” Williams said, as reported by The New York Times. “‘I think sometimes clay can be tricky — sometimes a player catches fire and you don’t have a good day. I think this year I’m playing really well strategically, and I’m enjoying it.’”
Her section of the draw tightens, starting tomorrow, when she’ll face Timea Bacsinszky. The Swiss, who’s seeded 30, beat Williams last year in the fourth round. That was last year, though.
“There really is no reason to stop,” she continued. “‘I’ve got a lot of fun out here, and I enjoy it. I love it. I’m good at it. So, why not?’”
Svetlana Kuznetsova, 32, has revived her game over the last year, solidifying her spot in the top 10. She’s seeded number 8 this year. The WTA Insider picked her as one of five women to win Roland Garros, having won it in 2009. The Russian moved to Spain to train on red clay, early in her career. She still loves it and of these three women, has the best all-court game for the surface.
“‘Probably this is my biggest trouble; that it’s [Roland Garros] too special for me,’” Kuznetsova said. “‘And all matches are becoming emotional. I’m praying every day just to go and play my game and just leave emotions in a basket. But, you see, I wouldn’t be me. We say in Russia, this is my cross I have to carry along my days.’”
She will play Caroline Wozanicki (No. 10) tomorrow. This morning, the Dane eliminated the youngest person left in the tournament — American Cici Bellis — after their match was cut short last night due to darkness.
Kuznetzova and Wozniacki are neck-and-neck in their head-to-head record — 6-7 — with Caroline in the lead. They’ve never met in Paris or in any clay court tournament; yet, they have played each other in five majors most recently Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, 2016. They split the wins.
Samantha Stosur was a shoo-in to take the title in Paris in 2010. She’d won Charleston in what became one of the most thrilling finals in that tournament’s history. She trounced Vera Zvonareva, 6-0, 6-3, in 53 minutes, earning only her second career title. She has nine now. That same year, Stosur was the runner-up to Justine Henin in Stuttgart and a quarterfinalist in Madrid, two clay-court tournaments that test players going into the French Open. Tennis, though, is a cruel partner at times. Stosur was upset in the 2010 final by an inspired Francesca Schiavone.
Stosur has lots of points to defend this year, having advanced to the semifinal in 2016. She hasn’t dropped a set or faced a seeded player, yet. But, she’d probably agrees with Venus. “I’m not looking for any tests. I’m looking to run away with it,” The WTA Insider posted on Twitter.
Unlike Williams and Kuznetsova, who next face Grand Slam veterans, Stosur will take on 19-year-old Jelena Ostapenko. The Latvian was this year’s runner-up in Charleston, which has, to some extent, been a predictor for Paris outcomes. This is her second French Open and already her best, having reached this prestigious round.
Ostapenko is a go-for-broke player: big serve, which can be inconsistent, big forehand, and big emotions. She’s fun to watch and will be a contrast in style against the subdued Stosur. Although this is the deepest she’s ever gone at a major, she’s not foreign to competition. At seven she began to compete in ballroom dancing, until she hung up the glitz for a tennis racquet. Now, she does both as a way to balance her life.
“I have the dress, the shoes — everything has to be matching,” she said, The Times of India reported. “I go to the club and dance with the teacher there; he’s a professional dancer.”
Ostapenko has two wins over two-time Wimbledon champion, Petra Kvitova, and a 2-0 record over Wozniacki, a possible foe if both advance to the quarterfinal. Lesia Tsurenko, who lost to Ostapenko Thursday, implied that she could win the tournament if she continued to play as well as she had in their match.
It’s hard to imagine that a teenager could get past the likes of any one of the three women. As mentioned, Venus is here for the 20th time. Kuznetsova and Stosur for their 14th. They are accustomed to the pressure that comes with the territory in the second week of a major. They are wise. They are, well, older. And that’s what makes Jelena dangerous. She can recover quicker and has no memory of past failures. All she sees is a field of red clay, like a ballroom make just for her.