WEATHER REPORT UPDATE – SASCHA’S STORM ALMOST PETERS OUT: Every weatherman knows it. It comes with the territory. Sometimes you just get it wrong. You have to accept defeat. Maybe a heat wave stalls or you misread your barometer. Whatever – you got it wrong and you have to change your forecast.
In tennis, sages forecasted that Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori or Simona Halep would capture a Slam. Wrong. And a couple of days ago IT wrote a piece on Sascha Zverev – the No. 3 player in the world and the supposed next great thing. We called it, “A Sascha Storm is Comin.’”
But for about four hours today it seemed that Sascha was in a fog. His game was in the doldrums, his storm had petered out. At least on this day, the tide had turned. He was in a trough that he probably couldn’t climb out of. Clearly it was time for Inside Tennis to issue a new weather report. Never mind that Zverev has won three Masters, was the youngest player to get into the top 10 since 2007 and has the most wins of any guy on the tour this year. And never mind that the 6’6” kid won on clay in Munich and Madrid and really should have shaken tennis with a win over Nadal in Rome.
Today, clouds shaded the German’s talent. His backhand was errant. He was often a mess at net. His serve wavered, his rhythm was out of gear. He showered the court with errors, his intent was uncertain. “I just can’t figure out Sascha,” said broadcaster Nick McCarvel. “And I just don’t think he can.”
Time and again the German labored hard to deal with a shower of delicate drop shots by Damir Dzumhur, a clever and canny Bosnian who, according to Radio Roland Garros, “Skates on the clay in a good way.” The 28-year-old world No. 29 combines athleticism and speed with a nasty backhand slice and almost Nadalian defensive skills. Up 4-2 and 6-5 in the fourth set and 5-4 in the fifth set, he served for the match. He had a match point. But he didn’t have the ability to close. At crunch time, he played a truly wretched game and lost at love. Where’s the belief? There was a sudden change in the climate.
Simply put, Zverev found shelter from the Bosnian’s storm. He solved the drop-shot puzzle Dzumhur posed and resolutely problem-solved, improving his serve and his dominance off the ground to score the kind of gritty win every champion needs when he’s not playing his best.
And here are some sunny stats: his 6-2, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6, 7-5 win was his second consecutive five-set win, his first triumph over a top 50 player at a Grand Slam, and his first victory on Phillipe Chatrier Stadium.
But, unless this climate change turns out to be more radical than our worst fears, here’s one forecast we don’t think we’ll have to alter. This will not be the last match this star of the future will win on Chatrier.
A BUDDING BROMANCE: In his Wednesday press conference Alexander Zverev became enchanted by the delightfully exotic Yorkshire accent of a reporter. After Brit Jonathan Pinfield asked a long question, the German brushed aside the inquiry and asked, “Where are you from, buddy?” After Pinfield said he was from Yorkshire, Zverev said: “Nice. If they ever make a tournament there I’m coming just because of that accent. Love it. I didn’t understand a word you’re saying, but it’s not important.”
When Pinfield reiterated his question about the French Open being a possible turning point, Zverev replied: “Sure. Why not? Just because you said it so nicely, I’m going to believe that now.”
The duo sustained the bromance today when Zverev, in his press conference, called on Pinfield first and then promised to reach the final just so Pinfield could ask multiple questions with his delicious accent.
HE WHO LIVES IN A GLASS HOUSE: A month ago Romanian Ion Tiriac launched a wretched attack on Serena Williams, saying she was old and fat. He said she weighed 198 pounds and added, “I wish something else for the women’s tour.” So as he passes by you en route to his courtside seats at the French Open, you can’t but help notice his hefty gut and the inconvenient fact that the guy would do well to lose 40 pounds. BTW: You had to wonder what the judgmental Tiriac was thinking as he watched his fellow Romanian Simona Halep beat American wildcard Taylor Townsend, whose body is much larger than Serena’s.
SERENA STUFF: Serena‘s current ranking of 451 seems rather surreal…Unless there’s a change, Serena won’t be wearing her body suit at Wimbledon. She’s already submitted her outfit for approval by the Brits…What are the seeding folks at the French Open (who refused to give Serena a seed) thinking, now that she’s into the third round? She beat No.17 seed Ash Barty yesterday. Serena’s game took a quantum leap against Barty. For the first time since her return we saw ample and sustained examples of the ferocity that’s long intimidated her foes. Yesterday she said she went all out so she could someday tell her daughter Olympia that she gave it her all.
AMERICANS STILL IN THE SINGLES DRAW: Serena, Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, Steve Johnson, John Isner.
ALMOST SEXY QUOTE OF THE DAY: When speaking of an upcoming match between Gael Monfils and David Goffin, Gigi Salmon said, “It will be a lot of sets.”
SPECTACULAR KNOCKDOWNS: No one falls and tumbles to the clay with more spectacular effect than the 6’6” Sascha Zverev.
THE END OF ETIQUETTE: “The clock struck four, but nobody is about to get a cup of tea,” said British commentator Chris Bowers as the tight Djokovic vs. Roberto Bautista Agut battle warmed up.
GO FIGURE: Both Sascha and Mischa Zverev are still in the tourney…If both Serena and Sharapova win Saturday, they could face each other in an intriguing fourth round match.
NICE TENNIS CAREER, BUT NO TENNIS DRESS: Madison Keys, who just dismissed Naomi Osaka, started playing because, as a kid, she was inspired by Venus Williams, and wanted to have a tennis dress like hers. Yet in a huge reveal, she told Inside Tennis that she never did get a dress. But, oh well, she noted, at least I’m here almost 20 years later as a tennis professional.
UP FOR GRABS: When we last checked, five different WTA players could emerge out of the French Open as No. 1. Simona Halep has a narrow lead and remains the current leader, but Caroline Wozniacki, Garbine Muguruza, Elina Svitolina or even Caroline Garcia could claim the top spot. Update: Svitolina just lost, so for now she’s out of the race.
A TALE OF TWO PARISES: Jack Sock had a fabulous fall. He swept to the title in the Paris indoors, winning his first Masters ever and also qualifying for the season–ending ATP championships. But he’s struggled big time since. And the French Open was as disappointing as the Paris Masters was uplifting. In his second round loss he said he felt some of the ump’s calls impacted the match. According to Tennis.com, after losing the fourth set tiebreaker he told the ump, “I can do whatever I want as a player. You wouldn’t be here without me. Now I’m going to the toilet.” Later he asked, ”Can I request a new ref?” Sousa responded. “You’re atrocious.”
TIMELY PENALTY: Allison Riske was given a time violation warning before the start of her match against Simona Halep.
HOW CONFIDENT ARE FOLKS THAT NADAL WILL WIN? A Radio Roland Garros broadcaster said, “We’re not listening to the final. It’s over.”
FIFTEEN MINUTES OF FABULOUS FAME: Argentine Marco Trungelliti – who drove 650 miles in ten hours just to play and win his opening round in the French Open – was dubbed “the People’s Lucky Loser.” His feel-good tale was said to be tennis’ best one-day-story in years. But in a kind of “battle of the Marcos,” Trungelliti went down meekly to Italian Marco Cecchinato 6-1, 7-6, 6-1. It was a grand and happy 15 minutes of fame for Trungelliti which, according to one voice in the press room “only cost him a rental car.” When asked to summarize his topsy-turvy experience of being out of the French Open and then driving ten hours to get back into it, he told IT the word would be “different.” BTW: our favorite 15-minutes-of-fame characters include Alexandra Stevenson, who reached the 1999 Wimbledon semis, was named one of People magazine’s most fascinating persons, and was interviewed by Barbara Walters. Then she disappeared so to speak, as did British teaching pro Marcus Willis, who had to win seven qualifying and main draw matches before he got to play Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2016.