May 31, 2016
The cold, rainy weather at Roland Garros created all kinds of problems for the big stars at the French Open – especially Agnieszka Radwanska and Simona Halep.
Number two seed Radwanska crashed out to the little-known Bulgarian, Tsvetana Pironkova. The popular Pole needed medical attention to a sore right hand and wrist at 0-3 in the third, though some massage from the trainer kept her in the fight for a while longer. She did at least claw her way back into contention, though it wasn’t enough.
Radwanska, who had led by a set and 3-0 before the extended rain delay, simply couldn’t find a way to turn the tide back in her favour when they resumed.
A deep, wounding backhand did terminal damage on the second match point and Pironkova clenched her fists in near disbelief. For Radwanska, another Parisian campaign was over.
Simona Halep suffered a similar reversal of fortunes in the rain-delayed denouement to her clash with Samantha Stosur, the veteran from Down Under who will now play Pironkova in the quarter-finals.
Meanwhile Novak Djokovic appeared to be nursing a neck injury as he struggled – but eventually began to gain the upper hand against Roberto Bautista Agut.
Novak’s vulnerability on his own serve and an uncharacteristic lack of ruthlessness when he had break points will be two of the most worrying features of his mediocre performance when the great man looks back on this one.
As for Serena Williams, she will hardly be discouraged by the news that two of her main rivals for the Roland Garros crown are no longer a threat.
Halep, a French Open finalist two years ago, was demolished 0-7 in the first-set tie-break that put Australian Stosur in control.
And she couldn’t turn the match around in the second set, so Stosur became the unlikely winner, 7-6, 6-3 and still gunning for glory at the age of 32, when many might have imagined her best tennis days were already behind her.
Stosur will see no reason why she can’t go at least one better and beat Pironkova too. It will be fascinating to see which woman can rise to the occasion a second time.
When the rain came down once more, late in the afternoon, Djokovic appeared to have averted the worst of the crisis that had seen him lose the first set to Roberto Bautista Agut 3-6.
The 28-year-old Spaniard was solid and plucky, refusing to let his head go down when broken. But it was Djokovic who really looked out of sorts early on.
At 2-4 behind in the first, he broke back only to be broken once more. Bautista Agut took both of his opportunities well in that opener and held on to take the set.
Novak’s statistics at that stage made for surprising reading. He had made 15 unforced errors in that first set and achieved only 38% success on both his first and second serves.
Djokovic had five break points in Bautista Agut’s first two service games in the second set. He squandered them all. At one point he had converted just one of eight break points in the match, though he did soon improve on that wastefulness to take the second set 6-4.
Djokovic was rubbing the back of his neck and shaking his head as strings broke on his racquet twice in the space of three points. A more dangerous opponent might have made him suffer even more.
Instead the world number one recovered to take a 4-1 lead in the third before the elements delayed proceedings further still.
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