Before the Serena Williams and Garbiñe Muguruza face off on Philippe Chatrier for the 2016 French Open title, here are 10 points to ponder…
On the final Dropshot Edition of the 2016 French Open, Courtney Nguyen and David Kane preview what promises to be a thrilling conclusion to the two weeks on the terre battue, as World No.1 Serena Williams stands just one match from winning her 22nd Grand Slam title, which would tie her with Steffi Graf.
Across the net from the illustrious American is No.4 seed Garbiñe Muguruza, a 22-year-old playing in her second Grand Slam final in under 12 months, who is vying to become the second Spaniard to lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen after Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, who won the tournament three times.
Hear from the finalists and Sánchez Vicario herself as Nguyen and Kane give their analysis of the budding big stage rivalry between Williams and Muguruza.
Who has the edge in the second Grand Slam final of the season? Allez we go:
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Courtney Nguyen, Point: When World No.1 Serena Williams takes to Court Philippe Chatrier on Saturday for the Roland Garros final, she’ll be looking to match Stefanie Graf’s Open Era record of 22 major singles title, successfully defend her French Open title for the first time in her career, and capture her fourth French Open title. And she’ll be the underdog.
No really, bear with me.
Serena arrives at her second major final of the season on the slightest of sputters. In three of her last four matches she’s looked nervous, out-of-rhythm and, at times, injured. The World No.1 has dropped just one set en route to the final but looked far from convincing in her last two matches, a three-set win over Yulia Putintseva in the quarterfinals and a narrow straight-set win over Kiki Bertens in the semifinals.
After the semifinals she reluctantly confirmed a report that she was dealing with an adductor injury. Due to the rainouts and scheduling shuffles, Saturday’s final will be the 34-year-old’s fourth consecutive day of play.
Serena has not faced a Top 10 opponent all tournament and she’ll see a huge step up in quality when she faces No.4 Garbiñe Muguruza. The Spaniard brushed off a nervous, three-set opening win over Anna Karolina Schmiedlova to roll through her next five matches without losing a set. She is fit, she is healthy, and she is confident. And she has the confidence in knowing she handed Serena one of her worst losses ever at a Slam, a 6-2, 6-2 rout here in Paris two years ago. Muguruza is in-form. Serena has looked shaky.
But how much will that matter, if at all, in the final?
For all of Serena’s ups and downs, we know she wins on one significant metric: experience. That’s what got her through against Putintseva. The youngster from Kazakhstan was five points away from the win, but it was Serena who stood tall and found her best when her back was against the wall. Similarly, Bertens was up a break in both sets and held a set point in the tie-break. Serena snuffed out the charge by sheer force of will. Flash back to the third round when the American rallied from 2-5 down in the second set tiebreaker to Kristina Mladenovic to seal a 12-10 win.
This is simply what Serena Williams does. Even in a year when she’s perceived to be slumping, her run in Paris has vaulted her up to No.1 in the Road to Singapore Leaderboard.
“Obviously I want to do well and I would like to win tomorrow,” Serena said. “But, you know, I think Muguruza has been playing really well. She’s been playing a really aggressive game and going for her shots. Regardless, I think it will be a good match. I mean, last time we played here in France she was able to win the match.
“I learned so much from that match. I hate to lose, but when I do, you know, I hope it was worth it. That match was definitely one of those that was kind of needed and worth it.”
Serena holds a 3-1 edge in her head-to-head against Muguruza. All their matches have come at the Slams, with the most recent being the 2015 Wimbledon final, which Serena won 6-4, 6-4. Muguruza gave her a tough test that day but again, Serena’s willpower, weapons, and yes, experience, led to the win. Muguruza was green then and she will be less green on Saturday when she competes in her second major final. But again, Serena has been here before. Many times. And more often than not she’s come through.
In fact, all Serena needs to look back on for inspiration is her title run here in Paris a year ago. On the brink of defeat match after match, and suffering from a virus, she won five three-set matches during the fortnight, four in which she dropped the first set, including three back-to-back to win the title. As Putintseva so eloquently put it after her three-set loss: “I think the match was very close and very far from being on my side.”
That’s the pressure you feel when you’re up against the sport’s greatest escape artist, who has at her disposal some of the greatest weapons the game has ever seen. Muguruza will no doubt come out firing. But with a 21-5 record in Slam finals, Serena has the resources she can count on to get to the finish line.
David Kane, Counterpoint: Garbiñe Muguruza’s two weeks on the terre battue could easily serve as a microcosm of her season thus far. A slow start in the first round against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova caused many to wonder whether the Spaniard was ready to win the requisite six matches to reach her second Grand Slam final.
But Muguruza recovered, and has looked better and better as the tournament progressed, easing past 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in straight sets and weathering the storms – both literal and figurative – to outlast Shelby Rogers in the quarterfinals.
The first Spanish woman in a French Open final since Conchita Martinez in 2000, Muguruza could become the second-ever from Spain to lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen after Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, who won the event three times (1989, 1994, 1998). But Muguruza admits she found herself idolizing another of her compatriots as she grew up and into the game.
“With Arantxa, the problem was that I was very young. I didn’t watch her. I watched her after, when I was, you know, more into tennis. But when I was that young I was not even watching tennis, so I didn’t catch her.
“But I caught more of Rafa when I was younger and like looking at him here, you know, every year winning, like, ‘No way! He did it again and he did it and he did it!’ So I think he inspired me more.”
Barring a slight hiccup when it came time to serve for the match, her semifinal victory over 2010 finalist and No.21 seed Samantha Stosur was her most emphatic of the fortnight, one that featured 20 winners and five aces, three of which arrived in the final game to extinguish a late Stosur surge.
Her biggest result may have been at Wimbledon, but her breakthrough came in Paris, when she stunned World No.1 Serena Williams in the second round en route to the quarterfinals. Her rivalry with Williams has been reserved for the game’s biggest stages, as all four of their matches have come at major tournaments; though the last two matches have gone the way of the American, Muguruza led by a set at last year’s Australian Open and played tough through two sets at the aforementioned All England Club encounter.
While Muguruza has soared, Serena has struggled, getting within five points of a loss to Yulia Putintseva in the quarterfinals and edging past an injured Kiki Bertens on Friday.
“I think that she and I are players who like dictating the game. We like dominating the game. I think I’m going to fight for each point. There will be moments when she’ll be dominating, and maybe at times I will be dominating.
“I think I can be a tough opponent, too.”
Muguruza has built a reputation for hot streaks throughout her surge up the rankings, yet her 2016 had been a season of subtle gains and steadily improving results, narrowly losing to Victoria Azarenka in Miami and Madison Keys in the semifinals of Rome.
Her coaching partnership with Sam Sumyk seems to have come into its own after a rocky start. Ahead of Saturday’s final, she could have few better in her corner than the former coach of Azarenka, who helped the Belarusian reach the No.1 ranking and earn back-to-back final wins against Serena in 2013.
“I have learned a lot how to control my emotions inside the court and outside the court. I think it’s very important, because sometimes it’s not too good to show them or to not be in control of them.”
The Spaniard has made no secret that the French Open is a tournament she grew up dreaming of winning, and at 22 years old, she just may be ready to make that dream come true.
“Here at Roland Garros, it’s special for Spanish people. I think for everyone, but Roland Garros in Spain is, like, everything. I don’t know. It’s like a second home here.”
-All photos courtesy of Getty Images.
Eugenie Bouchard got a cold welcome in The Netherlands, where she is set to play the Ricoh Open next week in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
Maybe they were basking in the glow of having their first Roland Garros semifinalist since 1971 in Kiki Bertens. Maybe they were unaware the festivities in Paris are winding down, as the tournament enters its final stage. Or maybe, just maybe, the Dutch are incredibly adept at constructing the perfect burn.
Whatever the reason, this exchange between Bouchard and a Dutch border control agent escalated quickly:
Immigration entering Holland:
Him: Purpose of trip?
Me: Tennis tournament
Him: Oh, shouldn't you still be in Paris then?
— Genie Bouchard (@geniebouchard) June 3, 2016
Bouchard lost in the second round of the French Open last week to Timea Bacsinszky. The Dutch immigration officers must not follow Genie on Twitter. She’s been training and relaxing in London since leaving Paris.
A bit windy London pic.twitter.com/W4rwioiDIz
— Genie Bouchard (@geniebouchard) May 31, 2016
The Ricoh Open begins on June 6th. Jelena Jankovic, CoCo Vandweghe, and Jelena Ostapenko are in the draw, along with Belinda Bencic, who is scheduled to make her return after a lower back injury.
A Wimbledon finalist in 2014, Bouchard is scheduled to play a full grass court schedule over the upcoming weeks. After the Ricoh Open she will head to the WTA’s new grass court event at the Mallorca Open, then to the Aegon International in Eastbourne, England before heading to Wimbledon.
And then there were four. Who will be left standing in Paris for Saturday’s Roland Garros final? We preview today’s semifinal action right here on WTATennis.com.
 Serena Williams (USA #1) vs. Kiki Bertens (NED #58)
Head-to-head: Williams leads, 1-0
Key Stat: Bertens has won 12 matches in a row to reach her first Grand Slam semifinal.
Serena Williams has won 10 matches in a row. Kiki Bertens has won 12 matches in a row. Something will have to give on Friday as the tour’s two hottest players collide with a spot in Saturday’s final on the line in Paris. Bertens prolonged her magical run on Thursday when she defeated Timea Bacsinszky in straight sets to become the first Dutchwoman to reach the Roland Garros semifinals since 1971. But the 24-year-old will have to steady herself for one of the toughest challenges in tennis when she takes the court against top-seeded Serena Williams on Friday. Williams, arguably the best big-match player of all-time, owns a 26-4 record in Grand Slam semifinals and has won 12 of her last 13. Bertens, who hits an extremely heavy ball, will have to go big or go home against Williams. After suffering an injury to her left calf during the win over Bacsinszky, she’ll likely take a more aggressive approach against Williams, hoping to get the World No.1 on the run early and often. “I have some problems with my calf,” she admitted on Thursday. “I’m just gonna prepare again for tomorrow, do everything what I can with the physios, and we will see how it is.” Williams was disappointed with her effort against Yulia Putintseva in Thursday’s quarterfinal, and was quick to admit that fact in press. “I just was not playing my best,” Williams said. “I kept missing, just misfiring. Honestly, at one point I didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.” Williams scraped through the second set and then dominated the third in vintage fashion to advance. She knows she’ll need a more Williams-like effort to survive Bertens’ bullets on Friday. “Obviously she has a big serve and a big forehand,” Williams said. “She really moves the ball around well… I have to do something better and different if I’m going to stick around.”
Pick: Williams in two
 Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP #4) vs.  Samantha Stosur (AUS #24)
Head-to-head: Stosur leads, 1-0
Key Stat: Stosur owns a 2-2 record in Grand Slam semifinals
2010 Roland Garros runner-up Samantha Stosur has found her groove in Paris in what will be her last event with her longtime coach David Taylor in her box. Can the 32-year-old Aussie prolong Taylor’s coaching career for one more day? To do so she’ll have to get past a scorching-hot Spaniard who is looking more and more impressive with each passing round. Garbiñe Muguruza has won her last ten sets on the terre battue and is wearing the calm, collected expression of a champion in the making. Already a Wimbledon finalist, the Spaniard is hungry to prove that she’s an all-surface maven this weekend. Muguruza overcame a slow start to defeat Shelby Rogers in the quarterfinals on Wednesday, but is well aware that another slow start could mean the death of her dream in Paris. “I need to dictate play from the very beginning of the match,” Muguruza said afterwards. “I know that my opponent started in full swing; I shouldn’t wait for my opponent to dictate play.” Stosur hasn’t been this deep at a major since she reached the semis at Roland Garros in 2012, but the 32-year-old has demonstrated remarkable poise throughout the fortnight, weathering difficult conditions, a tricky draw and an injured left wrist to reach the final four. Now she knows the margins are thin and the intensity will be high, but it’s a challenge she appears more ready to accept than ever. “I probably have more belief in some ways now than what I did then,” Stosur said, referring to her lone Grand Slam title in 2011, after defeating Tsvetana Pironkova in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. “You don’t know if you can do that. Now I know I have done that. I know I can do it.”
Pick: Muguruza in three
Around the Grounds: The French duo of Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia is the highest-seeded team remaining in the doubles draw. The fifth seeds will take on Russia’s Margarita Gasparyan and Svetlana Kuznetsova for a spot in the doubles final on Friday. The other doubles semifinal will be contested by seventh-seeded Russians Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina and the unseeded Czech duo of Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova.
By The Numbers
3 – Number of players to own more than three Roland Garros singles titles (Evert, 7, Graf, 6, Henin, 4).
26 – Williams has reached 26 major finals, compared to three for the other three semifinalists, combined.
27 – Bertens is projected to reach a career-high ranking of 27 as a result of her semifinal appearance in Paris. She could go as high as No.10 if she wins in the title.
1977 – The last time a Dutchwoman reached the semifinals of a major (Betty Stove, U.S. Open).
2 – Number of players born in the 1990’s remaining in the draw (Muguruza, Bertens). The only player born in the ’90s to have previously won a major is Petra Kvitova.
-Chris Oddo, wtatennis.com contributor