Brighter days beckon for those leaving Paris

For players who came up short at Roland-Garros 2021, it is a chance to find the silver linings

Maria Sakkari, Roland Garros 2021, semi-final© Cédric Lecocq/FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

It is said that what defines a champion is not winning but rising after defeat.

Some fallen contenders at Roland-Garros this year will have few problems dusting themselves off quickly and turning their focus to the grass or beyond to the Olympics.

For others, their missed opportunity in Paris will linger longer.

Sakkari dare not look too far ahead

There is no more harrowing defeat than that from match point up and Maria Sakkari is open in her assessment of coming up short by  the narrowest of margins in the women’s singles semi-finals.

The Greek 17th seed stood one point from reaching her first Grand Slam final when she had unseeded Czech Barbora Krejcikova on the ropes on Thursday only to capitulate 9-7 in the decider.

“Yeah, I have to be deadly honest: I got stressed, starting thinking that I'm a point away from being in the final. I guess it's a rookie mistake,” Sakkari said. “Good thing is that if I give myself a chance again to be in that position, then I know that I don't have to do it again.

“I think it's human emotions, but I think I'll learn from it. When it was match point and I was serving for the match, I was thinking that I'm very close to make the final. I think I won't make that mistake again.”

Medvedev sees the humour

For those who exceeded their Roland-Garros expectations, defeat in the immediate aftermath can be a little easier to digest.

Given his four first-round defeats on the clay in Paris, second seed Daniil Medvedev had plenty to be satisfied about with a run to the quarter-finals this year.

Always quick to make light of a situation – often at his own expense – the narrative that he had fallen for the terre battue was cheekily tempered in his parting Twitter post. “Almost a love story #clay. See you next year,” he tweeted.

The Russian was assured of retaining his world No.2 ranking as he switched his focus to grass, but he reiterated that progress had been made on clay at what was typically his weakest major.

“But before coming here, if anybody would tell me I would be in quarters losing to Tsitsipas in a tough match, I would sign. I will not lie, I would sign, especially being 0-4 in the first rounds before," Medvedev said. "So I think great tournament, great fight today. Was fighting until the last point.”

National pride fuels Swiatek

Defending women’s champion Iga Swiatek looked to be soaring after she raised the bar in a stunning fourth-round defeat of Marta Kostyuk, but her groundbreaking Greek friend, Maria Sakkari, promptly clipped those wings.

Swiatek, the only top 16 seed left standing in the quarter-finals, was not overly thrilled with her level but was looking ahead to representing Poland at the Tokyo Olympics after Wimbledon.

“This is my next goal because I don't know how I'm going to play on grass,” she admitted. “I don't know if I even remember how to play on grass, so we're going to see how that's going to go. I'm not putting, like, any expectations or any pressure on me because really I just want to learn how to play on it. Probably I'm going to say that for few more years.

But, yeah, for sure we're going to prepare more for Olympics and my next peak is probably going to be Olympics.”

Thiem’s time for reflection

Following three Grand Slam finals, losing to Rafael Nadal twice in Paris and Novak Djokovic at Melbourne Park, Dominic Thiem’s hoodoo finally lifted when he claimed last year’s US Open trophy.

While the Austrian carried that momentum to the ATP Finals, he admitted his confidence this season had taken a hit. Desperate to turn around his fortunes on his best surface, the fourth seed lost in the opening round in Paris for the first time this year.

“I mean, it's amazing to reach such a big goal [winning a major], but at the same time something is different after,” Thiem said.

“As I said before the tournament, it's a big learning process, and despite the loss, which hurts so much, I still hope I can bounce back stronger than before. But, well, right now I don't know when the moment is coming.”

Barty searches for silver lining

It is an extra bitter pill to swallow hitting form leading in, only for injury to strike when it matters most, on a Grand Slam stage. So it was for top seed Ashleigh Barty, who arrived in Paris as a favourite to add to her 2019 trophy, having won the title in Stuttgart and finished runner-up in Madrid with wins over the likes of fellow contenders Aryna Sabalenka and Swiatek.

Her struggles were laid bare as she scraped her way through the opening round and indicated a deep run would be tough after a freak hip injury sustained in practice at the weekend.

That ailment all became too much when the 25-year-old was forced to retire hurt during her match with Magda Linette.

“It's heartbreaking. I mean, we have had such a brilliant clay court season, and to kind of get a little bit unlucky with timing more than anything to have something kind of acute happen over the weekend and just kind of run out of time against the clock is disappointing,” Barty said.

“It's disappointing to end like this. I've had my fair share of tears this week. It's all good, everything happens for a reason. There will be a silver lining in this eventually.”