Polish Lasses at Roland Garros
by

Paris

Agnieszka Radwanska seemed to find her the combination of grace and grit that has made her immensely popular with tennis fans over the past several years, breaking Alize Cornet at 15 in the first game of the second set. She made two of her impossible saves from the baseline and closed with a soft drop shot.

On the next game Miss Cornet converted the third break point with a drop shot of her own to even the score. And that, shockingly, was it: the match ended in a little over an hour, 6-2, 6-1 for the French Miss.

The killer was Aga’s inability to get into the match. The normally graceful and combative top ten star repeatedly was caught flat-footed as Alize applied a combination of groundstrokes followed by soft drop shots.

It was the third round of the French Open and, truth be told, Miss Radwanska does not like the French Open. She hates clay. She said she was glad it was over, after by all evidence doing her best to get it over quickly. She is off to the green pastures of England and Wimbledon, where she has always done much better.

Aga is impishly pretty, with a temperament to match, by turns lively and frustrated. That is how she plays, and perhaps explains in part why although she is usually near the peak on the women’s circuit, she has never won a major. She wins often, including the limited-draw WTA finals a couple years ago, and no one expects less than the best from her, but it may be that these days you cannot win the Slams with her kind of game.

It is always a pity when intelligence and graceful style are undone by intelligence and power. You want intelligence, style, and power. Not to generalize, but this applies to life. I can hear someone saying, Sure. Well, yes, sure. Three qualities, all in short supply despite a growing humanity. Go figure.

What Aga was doing was not displaying her intelligence, nor her style, except in spurts, and she never relies on power despite perfectly good counterpunching skills from either wing. Alize hit to her feet as she followed a shot in to the net, passed her at the baseline, changed pace with a drop shot just over the net, wore her down in a long baseline rally: that was how Miss Cornet broke her in the fourth game and this pretty much summed up the whole match.

The misery ended after scarcely 80 minutes, at least it was a nice morning — it rained later — appropriately enough with another well-done drop shot by Miss C. Aga caught it, a surge of the old never-say-die, but Alize sent a backhand passing shot right back. So.

The women’s draw is rather more uncertain than usual this year, with several past champions or finalists out of the picture, notably Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. Benefiting from this are a group of rising French stars, who will be well represented in the quarters.

No such joy in Krakow. Magda Linette, who is not from Krakow (hometown: Poznan), dashed Poland’s last hopes with a loss to Odessa’s own Elina Sivitolina, who outshot and outlasted her over two close sets in Suzanne Lenglen stadium the day after Aga’s exit at Chatrier.

Miss Linette, whose name is reminder of the deep historic ties between France and Poland, looks like a model, and was splendid in a white outfit that fluttered in the breeze. She played gracefully — face it, better than her compatriot — but the fifth-seed Miss Sivitolina, who is charming too, played better. She hit harder and she was shrewder in moving the ball around and more successful — or more attentive — to the clutch points. Notch one up for Ukraine in its hour of need, so.

So that makes two so’s. I would prefer not to get to the point of today’s dispatch, but duty obliges. By some horrible twist of the fates of tennis, Venus Williams lost her groove, her energy, her focus, and her round-of-sixteen match on the court central at Chatrier yesterday and — despite my devotion to the old fair-and-accurate — I feared for my own ability to never, ever, partake of a cover up. My friend Stanko, however, observed that I would get nowhere pretending it had not happened, because it was on TV. Anyway thousands of people saw it live.

Miss Williams had been playing well through three rounds, no question, and looked fit, strong, graceful as ever. But after a splendid first-set comeback, she lost her energy. She began putting an uncharacteristic number of shots into the net or out of bounds, as the smaller Timea Bacsinszky, who beat her here last year, stepped on the pedal.

Miss Bacsinszky, 11 years younger than the 36-year old American champ and seeded 30th to Miss W.’s 9th, is a fine, courageous player, easily the best opponent Miss Williams met in the tournament. She clobbered the balls, hit down the line, stayed dangerous on every point.

She is one of a small number of players who can counter Venus’s power, and she never let up. She ran more, placed better. They both hit winners a-plenty, but Venus missed at least half again as many shots she could’a. (These are called unforced errors, a designation I have always questioned because it takes two to, etc.). She lost control of the flow of the points, and with them the match.

The French Open is the only Slam Miss Williams has never won, and she will try again. With Kristina Mladenovic’s win over Gabrine Muguruza, in another victory for France’s Cinderella, it is the end of something. The domination of title holders (like Miss Muguruza)? The presence of at least one Slam winner (like Miss Williams) in the final? Or does it confirm the arrival of a great cohort of French girls, led by Miss Mladenovic?

We report, you decide.

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