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31.05.2019 Tennis

Roland Garros: 5 things we learned on Day 5 - Monfils sees the light

By Paul Myers - RFI
RFI/Pierre René-Worms
MAY 31, 2019 TENNIS

For the showman incarnate Gael Monfils, love and tennis go together like canals and Venice while there's no business like slow business for Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep.

Why do easy? Part I
A top seed is supposed to breeze through the opening rounds of a Grand Slam tournament. But Naomi Osaka, the queen of the women's circuit, is subverting that convention. In her first round match against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, she lost the first set without winning a game and twice gave the Slovakian the opportunity to serve for the match. Schmiedlova couldn't compose her nerves enough to capitalise on such munificence. Osaka, in her second round match against Victoria Azarenka, again flirted with the edge but she gave an insight into her thinking. “If I win the toss, I always choose to serve … and then I get broken right away. But I want to learn how to win - I'm kind of stubborn in that way - by holding immediately. I think that that would get me off to a good start.” Her world domination plan did not work at all in the first set. Azarenka took that 6-4. And the 29-year-old led 4-2 in the second set. Osaka levelled at 4-4 and eventually broke the former world number one to take the second set 7-5. Osaka held on to win the decider 6-3 after nearly three hours on court. As for the defending champion Simona Halep, she served for her match against Magda Linette at 5-4 in the second set. She blew that and lost the set. She served for the match at 5-2 up in the decider. No thanks. Linette coughed up her own serve to let Halep win it 6-3 and plough on.

Why do easy? Part II
Victoria Azarenka had battle royals with the likes of Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki while climbing to the top of the world rankings on the back of two triumphs at the Australian Open. Lately though she's dropped down the lists after taking time out to have a child. She has also struggled with injuries. But she is a fearsome hitter and at times made top seed Naomi Osaka look like an ingénue. “The first set was, like, I got rolled,” admitted Osaka after their second round match. “Technically, like, she kind of killed me in the first set.” Azarenka, who has reached the semis at the French Open, paid tribute to Osaka's fighting spirit. “She's definitely putting in work and achieving that,” she said. "I do understand playing with confidence but it's all credit to her. She's the one who is creating it and handling it well.” So what next for Azarenka? More hard work. “It was very frustrating for me up to the moment that I realized that I need to do some things differently,” she explained. “Once I started doing them, I started to fall in love with this process of getting better and stuff." She added: “You know, I'm sitting here with a loss but I know what I need to do better so it keeps me optimistic and I do enjoy this.” Au revoir, Azenenka.

Coaches, coaches everywhere
Serena Williams got past the Japanese qualifier Kurumi Nara 6-3, 6-2 to set up a third round meeting with 20-year-old Sofia Kenin who should be on her guard. A journalist asked Williams why she didn't use the drop shot since Nara was standing so far back behind the baseline. “I don't know. I didn't think about it, to be honest,” said Williams. “I'll take that to mind, though. Thank you. Yeah, I have a really good drop shot. I really need to use it more often. I really appreciate that. Thank you."

Wannabe
Novak Djokovic looked tasty as he breezed into the third round on Day 5 with a solid deconstruction of the unheralded Swiss Henri Laaksonen. It was 6-1, 6-4, 6-3. The victory keeps him on course for a fourth consecutive Grand Slam title. No one has pulled that off since Djokovic in 2016. This wondrousness is down to two men. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. But mainly Rafa, says Djokovic. The two have met 53 times since their first clash in the quarter-final at the French Open in 2006. Djokovic lost that one but he has gone on to win 28 of the 54 encounters. “I'm really honoured to be part of one of the greatest rivalries in sport,” beamed Bigmyselfupovic. “We have faced each other more times than any two players in history. And it keeps going." Egovic added: "I am the player I am today because of him, for sure, because he was always making me improve. And I think it's also vice versa.” Does Roger get a squib of appreciation? Kind of. Djokovic didn't really attribute much of his “uberness” to the Swiss maestro. The Serb has faced Federer 47 times and has won 25 of the matches. “It's one of my biggest motivations to win against Rafa or Roger at the biggest events,” added Djokovic. “That's as big of a challenge as it can get in tennis for me.” Yes, Novak. But are you as loved as Roger and Rafa?

Love is in the air
Gael Monfils advanced to the third round after beating fellow Frenchman Adrian Mannarino. He will play compatriot Antoine Hoang for a place in the last 16. Hoang, 23, caused a shock by beating the Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco. Monfils, 32, is seeded 14th and should win the encounter. But you just never know with Monfils. He is capable of beating anyone and imploding just as effectively. However, those in the know say there is a new sobriety about him. It's whispered that it's due to his lady love Elina Svitolina. She has brought rigour to his vigour. Monfils, though, says: 'Non!' “Just to make things clear," he declared. "With Elina, it's wonderful. It's cool. It's fabulous. But sometimes people forget I changed coach and he does excellent work.” Warming into his rant, Monfils added: “And people put too much focus on Elina. She helps me, yes. But my coach is new and he's really helping me a lot. And people say: 'Well, he's more stable in his love life'. But my coach? Well, he loses the credit that he deserves.” The diplomatic corps awaits, Monsieur.

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