Swift or slow, ugly or beautiful, a win is a win
There are, statistically speaking, two outcomes to any tennis match: a win or a loss. But those wins come in all shapes and sizes – and Sunday gave us a look at four very different routes to victory at the midpoint of a major.
There’s a reason Dominic Thiem is considered a genuine contender at Roland-Garros this year and a potential candidate to assume the world No.1 ranking in the not-too distant future. The Austrian No.6 seed, a semi-finalist here a year ago, booked a repeat showdown of that final-four encounter with Novak Djokovic with a quickfire 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 victory over Horacio Zeballos in the last 16.
“I was enjoying basically every second of the match,” said Thiem, who barely put a foot wrong over the course of the 109-minute enounter. “The clay court I'm feeling great on. And then also the conditions here are almost perfect for my game. I like the balls a lot. I think you really feel the balls with the racquet.”
On Lenglen, it showed. Thiem lost only three points on his first serve and broke Argentine Zeballos seven times, ending the match with with 24 winners and 17 unforced errors.
Such is the 23-year-old’s form and confidence (this, his 33rd win of the season, leaves him trailing only Nadal’s 39 victories in 2017), it is easy to overlook the fact that Thiem is through to just his second Grand Slam quarter-final – and, for a second time, without dropping a set.
“It's still something very special to enter the second week,” he said. “I think it's a quite big difference between third round and fourth round. It's always something special to be in the second week. It's only my second quarter-final, so it feels very, very good to me.”
Up first on Chatrier, Elina Svitolina and Magda Linette were playing catch-up after Saturday’s rain washed out four third-round matches in the women’s draw, which may go some way to explaining the No.5 seed’s scratchy performance against the world No.94.
Another of the pre-tournament favourites, Svitolina arrived in her new home city of Paris with clay-court titles in Istanbul and Rome and currently leads the WTA Race to Singapore. While Sunday’s error-strewn performance was hardly one she will recall fondly in years to come, sometimes you’ve just got to find a way to win.
“It was very strange match, because she was playing good,” admitted Svitolina, who hit five double-faults and made 25 unforced errors during the 6-4, 7-5 win. “And I was playing okay, but I think today was enough. On important moments, I played very good and that's what made the difference.
“But for the rest, you know, my game that I showed today was enough. I was very happy that I could finish in two sets. I was 0-30 down, 4-5 down, and I played some great tennis. So this is what I'm proud of. And, yeah, I'm looking forward for next match.”
“Is difficult to explain you my emotions at the end of the match,” said Pablo Carreno Busta, who welled up during his on-court interviews after beating Milos Raonic, 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-7(6), 6-4, 8-6 on the 'Bullring' No.1 Court.
“It was the best victory of my career, in one of the best moments and the best places. This match you dream [of] when you are young: playing Roland-Garros, five sets, four hours and a half. It was really tough – really tough. But I just tried to do my best. I enjoyed – I suffer, but I enjoyed. And of course if you win, you enjoy more.”
It was a sterling performance from Carreno Busta, and the latest landmark in what has been a banner season for the 25-year-old Spaniard. It was also one for the grinders, and further proof that defence is every bit as potent as attack in tennis, particularly on the clay. The Spaniard hit only half as many winners as Raonic – 46 to 92 – but crucially only a third as many unforced errors: 28 to 84.
Carreno Busta’s reward for his first top-10 win? A quarter-final showdown with nine-time champion, Rafael Nadal.
“For me, Rafa is the best player on this surface,” Carreno Busta said. “He's a really good friend, so it will be a really special match for me. I will try to enjoy this match and learn a lot. I will play against the best. And then we'll see – maybe I play and I lose easy or maybe I play and I win easy. You never know.”
Prior to Roland-Garros 2017, 19-year-old Jelena Ostapenko had wins at every Grand Slam except Paris. Now, having booked her place in the quarter-finals with a 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory over former finalist Samantha Stosur, Paris has now played host to half of her major match wins – and counting.
“If I play my game, I always, I think I'm aggressive player, and if I play my game I have my day, I think I can play good and everything can happen,” said Ostapenko, who faces former world No.1 Caroline Wozniacki in the last eight.
Anyone who watches Ostapenko can see the box-office appeal. Her shot-making is prodigious, her game is smart and brave, and her extrovert nature leaves little mystery for those lucky enough to sit courtside. Every smile, shrug, head tilt and grimace tells the story.
Ostapenko leads her head-to-head match-up with Wozniacki 3-0, including wins on clay in Charleston and Prague this season. Little wonder she talks in such confident tones ahead of one of the biggest matches of her career – though her childhood heroine may also play a part in such poise.
“When I was growing up, my idol was Serena, because I really like the way she played, and she's like a great champion,” Ostapenko said. “I was kind of following her the whole time. When I was a child just always watching her matches.”