Clay jinx

WRECKORDER - FGS Gujilde (The Freeman) - October 8, 2020 - 12:00am

The French Open is back in its old habit. Unpredictable. Last week I favored Simona Halep to win another clay crown, only to be knocked out in straight sets in the fourth round. I also picked resurgent Victoria Azarenka whose upsurge was reversed way too early, and Serena Williams didn’t play her second match due to injury.

The last seeded women standing in the quarterfinals are Sofia Kenin and Petra Kvitova. They both own slams, but outside of the red mud, which means Roland Garros will have a new queen.

Not surprising. The clay court crowns the unexpected, or the virtual unknowns.

In the upper half of the draw, Argentinian qualifier Nadia Podoroska upset third seeded Elina Svitolina to book a semi-final match against Iga Swiatek, the conqueror of Halep from Poland, the country known for the magician, Agnieszka Radwanska for her tricky shots. Kenin faces compatriot Danielle Collins, another virtual tennis unknown but seems familiar. Michelle Pfeiffer is young again.

Petra Kvitova is up against Laura Siegemund of Germany, another country we knew about because of the great Steffi Graf and heir apparent Angelique Kerber. Barring another upset, Kenin and Kvitova could meet in the semis. The women’s championship is assured of an unseeded finalist who could pull an upset.

But that is the distaff side. The men’s side has been predictable for the last 14 years, crowning only the three kings, giving one of them a dozen. But this year the French Open also rewarded the sinful. Italian Jannik Sinner upset perennial slam hopeful Alexander Zverev in the fourth round, only to be castigated in the quarters by the king in straight sets. Behave when the Mallorcan bull rages.

Nadal hasn’t dropped a set en route to the semis where he will meet Diego Schwartzman who dispatched his tour best friend, newly-crowned US Open champ Dominic Thiem, in five pulsating sets. Thiem finally succumbed, after coming out of a narrow five-set win against home crowd favorite Hugo Gaston in the earlier round. He must be tired chasing those drop shots.

Listed at 5’7’, Diego Shortman is one of the shortest in men’s tour but also most dangerous. While he lost all nine matches to Nadal before, he beat Rafa in the Italian Open a week before Paris. Could he be the David to Goliath Nadal?

Novak Djokovic also brings with him a flawless match record to the quarterfinals. And it looks like he wouldn’t have a hard time reaching the finals. My older brother Fulton sees the Nadal-Djokovic final I so fear. Not only is Novak the last man to beat Rafa in Roland Garros, he also beat Nadal in their two subsequent meetings in a major, the 2018 Wimbledon semi-final in five sets and the 2019 Australian Open final in straight sets.

But Wimbledon is grass, down under is hard. Paris is clay. But then it’s Djokovic. But it’s Nadal too. We will never know, the semi-finals are not yet through. Didn’t LeBron James remind his overconfident teammates it ain’t over yet? They may have paid for their sideline antics that irked the man of discipline. The Heat is on. Even if you are just a win away, stop playing around while playing. The lake may not be too cold to douse the heat.

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