The National Bank Open, formerly Rogers Cup

Damien’s Spin: Next generation on full display at Roland-Garros

June 5, 2019

The wheels of the tennis world rolling mercilessly on, waiting for no man or woman.

Or teenager.

Canada’s Bianca Andreescu was the hottest 18-year-old in women’s tennis before being injured in March, and her early withdrawal due to the same shoulder problem in Paris ended up putting the spotlight on two other teenaged talents.

Amanda Anisimova, the 17-year-old American, became the youngest woman to reach Round of 16 since Martin Hingis in 1998. Anisimova then beat Spanish qualifier Aliona Bolsova Zadoinov to get to the quarters, making her the first player – male or female – born this century to make a Grand Slam quarter final.

Born in New Jersey of Russian immigrant parents, Anisimova grew up in Florida with her father, Konstantin, as her coach. Her older sister played for the University of Pennsylvania.

Anisimova didn’t think too much of the fuss over her age.

“I have no idea who did what at what age,” she said. “People tell me and then I forget after a second. I don’t really care about it too much. I’m in the present and I want to do good and I hope for good results, but I don’t really think about how old I am.”

Left-hander Marketa Vondrousova of Czech Republic, meanwhile, crashed into the semifinals at Roland-Garros, continuing her superb play this season. After beating Petra Martic in the quarterfinals, the 19-year-old improved her record to 26-5 since the Australian Open, making it to at least the quarters in every tournament she entered.

“I think she’s the best mover on tour,” said Martic after losing to Vondrousova 7-6 (1), 7-5. “She reminds me of (Simona) Halep with her style.”

2019 not Serena’s year so far

Serena Williams an also-ran?

Seems an exaggeration. But unless she can find a way to play more tennis, and soon, that’s where we may be headed.

Williams, seemingly stuck at 23 Grand Slam singles victory, just one short of Margaret Court’s record, made her earliest exit from a tennis major since 2014 at Roland-Garros, losing to American Sofia Kenin in the third round. Williams last Grand Slam title was more than two years ago at the 2017 Australian Open, and having a child combined with a variety of injuries has left her without the necessary court time to compete against all the young guns on tour.

She seems to understand that. After losing to Kenin, she spoke openly about possibly trying to prepare for Wimbledon by playing one of the grass court warmup events for the first time in eight years.

“I’m definitely feeling short on matches,” she said. “I have some time on my hands. So maybe I’ll jump in and get a wild card (at) one of these grass court events and see what happens.”

Since losing to Naomi Osaka in the controversial final of the U.S. Open last September, Williams has played only 12 matches, and one of those, a loss to Garbine Muguruza at Indian Wells, she retired after the first game of the second set.

Even for the arguably the best female player in history, that’s just not enough time on court, particularly at age 37. It’s not that she no longer has the game to win, and win Grand Slams, but her inability to balance her commitments to her family and stay healthy enough to compete has put her at a disadvantage.

In losing to the 20-year-old Kenin, she wasn’t even able to take advantage of the fact the Roland-Garros crowd was very much on her side, and not very happy with the American for repeatedly checking ball marks.

“I don’t really care,” Kenin said of the boos. “I knew I just had to show the crowd, like “Listen, Sonya Kenin is in the house.”

If you’re confused, Kenin goes by both names, Sofia and Sonya.

Nerves got the best of Osaka

Naomi Osaka, like Serena, also exited on the middle Saturday at the French Open, continuing her peculiar season.

Karolina Pliskova was also beaten early, so Osaka held on to her world No. 1 ranking. But her loss to Katerina Siniakova, the No. 1 doubles player in the world, left many scratching their heads.  Since defeating Petr Kvitova in the Australian Open women’s final in January, Osaka has suffered a series of perplexing losses, most to players ranked well below her.

That includes defeats at the hands of Kristina Mladenovic (Dubai), Belinda Bencic (Indian Wells), Su-Wei Hsieh (Miami), Anett Kontaveit (Stuttgart), Bencic again (Madrid), Kiki Bertens (Rome) and now Siniakova, No. 42 in the world in singles.

Osaka, 21 admitted to suffering from a case of nerves at Roland-Garros and even stress headaches as it was her first time as the top seed in a Grand Slam event. Siniakova echoed that, saying she felt Osaka wasn’t playing with same confidence and went into their match with the plan to disrupt her confidence.

At least one commentator, former Grand Slam champion Mats Wilander, questioned Osaka’s openness on the nerves issue, suggesting it simply revealed her weaknesses to opponent.

The loss to Siniakova ended Osaka’s Grand Slam winning streak at 16. She was extremely disappointed at her press conference, but later said end the streak was “the best thing that could have happened.”

(Feature photo: Mauricio Paiz)