Day 10 of the French Open confirmed some ATP truths and helped disprove a WTA theory that size matters.
The little big ones: Sara Errani is listed on the WTA website as standing 5-feet, 4.5-inches tall. I’ve seen Errani in hallways, press rooms, and strolling on city streets. Let’s just say it must have taken some creative use of measurement to get her that tall. But the beauty of tennis — in particular, clay court tennis — is that height really doesn’t matter. This is a surface that has rewarded players who stand on both sides of the ledger in every way, whether you’re tall or short, utilizing power, craft, speed, or shotmaking. Errani knows this well. Two years ago her Fed Cup teammate, Francesca Schiavone, stunned the world when she beat Sam Stosur to become the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam singles title. Schiavone, who stands a hair taller than Errani, did it by beating counterpunchers, shotmakers, and power players, using her speed, craftiness, and plain ol’ guts.
Whereas Schiavone came out of nowhere to make her magical run to the 2010 title, Errani has put together, match by match, brick by brick, a career season, one that’s seen her tick off milestone after milestone. Don’t forget, she made her first Slam quarterfinal in Australia earlier this year before falling to Petra Kvitova. From there, she’s been incredible on the red clay, winning three singles titles and three doubles titles (plus two more in dubs on Madrid’s blue clay and hard courts in Monterrey), and pushing her ranking up from No. 45 at the start of the year to No. 24 heading into Paris. But the doubts remained. Was she a legitimate threat at major events or not? Her titles had come at lower level tournaments where she didn’t have to beat anyone of note. She came into Roland Garros having failed to beat a top 15 player in almost four years and was 0-28 in her career against top 10 players.
But Errani’s spent the last week shutting down those doubters. She beat Ana Ivanovic in the third round for her biggest win of the year, then followed that with a straight-set drubbing of 2009 Champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, and today she finally got her first career top 10 win, beating one of the hottest players on tour in Angelique Kerber. On a day with heavy conditions that took some of the pop off Kerber’s groundstrokes, Errani used her superior court sense to win 6-3, 7-6 (2).
“I don’t have too much power so I have to think more,” Errani told reporters after. She credited a change in rackets at the beginning of the year that helped her close the power gap with the bigger hitters, and her fitness work during the offseason.
While Errani concedes her lack of power forces her to rely on her wit and guile on court, Dominika Cibulkova has never seen her stature as an inhibitor. A small woman with a big game, Cibulkova amazes in how she stands toe-to-toe with anyone and throws haymaker after haymaker until she punches someone out. Sometimes that someone is her opponent, and sometimes it’s her. You never know what you’re going to get from Cibulkova on any given day (just ask Victoria Azarenka), but you do know she’s always dangerous.
So how did Sam Stosur choose to deal with Cibulkova’s potential knock-out power? She pulled that old cartoon move of stiff-arming your opponent in the head so that they can’t land a punch. This was always going to be a tough match-up for Cibulkova, as Stosur’s heavy topspin forehand and kick serve virtually guaranteed that Cibulkova wasn’t going to get balls in her hitting zone consistently enough to control the rallies.
So it’ll be Stosur vs. Errani for a spot in the French Open finals. The last time Stosur was an overwhelming favorite against an Italian here in Paris it didn’t exactly end well for her. Then again, the last time Stosur made it deep at a Slam by quietly working through her draw, while all the spotlights were on one of the other WTA glamour girls, she seemed to do just fine for herself.
The reminders: Did today’s incredible dueling, simultaneous, insane men’s quarterfinals teach us anything new? No. Did they go towards reinforcing some basic truths that have fast become the building blocks of our understanding of how the ATP works? Absolutely. Here are a few:
• Down match points, no one is a cooler cat than Novak Djokovic. No one. He doesn’t just save them. He wins them.
• Juan Martin del Potro can suck the air out of a room with a single forehand.
• Many men can take two sets from the top guys. Few can take three.
• Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is France’s great and only hope. And that’s not going to change anytime soon.
• Roger Federer is still be as ruthless as ever.
Quote of the Day: “I was tired; I was frustrated; I was disappointed. You get all kinds of feelings going through your mind. You want to break your racket. You want to shout. You want to cry. You want to laugh and say, ‘Oh, come on, that’s a joke.’ How could I lose this match? You sort of want to wake up.”
– Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, on what was going through his mind after the match as he sat on the bench with a towel over his head.
Not-So-Much Quote of the Day: “I have to say that she played unbelievable today. You know, her topspin and her serve, I mean, she played like a man, and it’s really hard to play against a man.”
– Dominika Cibulkova, describing what it felt like to play against Sam Stosur.
P.S.: Dear WTA: Please send a memo out to your players explaining why comments like this (other players have said the same thing about Stosur, Serena Williams, and others) do your tour and your players no service.