By Sandra Harwitt
And then there were two. As in two Americans – one woman and one man — left in the singles main draws at the French Open. And the two still standing — DRUM ROLL, PLEASE — Sloane Stephens and John Isner.
If they played Grand Slam events every week of the year Sloane Stephens would be in the money.
It seems like the best of the best brings out the best in the American lass, who has now reached at least the fourth round at her last six Grand Slam tournaments. The 19th-seeded Stephens is now into her third consecutive fourth-round at Roland Garros compliments of a 6-3, 6-4 win over 22nd-seeded Ekaterina Makarova of Russia.
She finds the above personal statistics “pretty cool, I think.” And so do we.
But here’s where it all gets complicated.
Stephens just doesn’t seem to play to a similar level at the every day, run-of-the-mill tournaments and that’s a significant problem when you need consistency and continuity of results. The real kicker is that Stephens relays she hasn’t figured out why she is so afflicted with this double standard: top of the charts tennis at the majors, lackluster performances elsewhere.
She is well aware of the issue and doesn’t deny it. But why it is she has no answers, although on Saturday a pesky reporter did his utmost to get into her head for an answer.
“Like I said, ‘if I had the answer, I would definitely let you guys in on something,” answered Stephens, smiling, to one of a number of attempts of said reporter asking the same question in a different way of which none elicited a telling response. But we admire the attempt.
Truth be told, maybe Stephens doesn’t get it or doesn’t have enough experience to figure it out. But her coach ,Paul Annacone, should be right there with the answers, he certainly has the experience.
Stephens just might not be the type of personality to get up for what she considers routine matches at routine tour stops. And when she surprised all by journeying to the 2013 Australian Open so early in her pro career, which included an upset over Serena Williams in the quarterfinals, the adrenaline of that fortnight might have led her to believe every tennis match at every tennis tournament should deliver that kind of high.
Anyway, that’s just food for thought for the Stephens camp.
And just so no one went away empty-handed from the press conference — it would be such a shame not to learn something from the session — we found out that Stephens takes care to select the right headbands for the right on-court outfits: “I have about 250 headbands. I have so many. I can wear a blue outfit and have blue; I can wear purple and have pink and the logo might be like matching my outfit. It just depends. But have a lot.”
So a big thank you to my colleague who inquired on the head bands because I’ve really been worried about whether she might run out.
Stephens will take on fourth seed Simona Halep of Romania in the next match. Interestingly, the 22-year-old Halep doesn’t seem to suffer from just getting up to play at the majors where her best result was reaching the 2014 Australian Open quarterfinals. While Stephens is awaiting her first career title, Halep’s already won seven, including the Doha trophy in February.
Isner Inks Second Week Spot
As for Isner, on Friday the man with the personal motto “Tiebreakers Are Me,” reached his first career French Open fourth round. He did so with — shock of shocks — a few tiebreakers. Yes, the 10th-seeded Isner prevailed over the 17th-seeded Tommy Robredo of Spain 7-6 (3), 7-6 (3), 6-7 (5), 7-5 win. Actually, what was the biggest shocker was that somehow Mr. Tiebreaker decided to break Robredo’s serve in the second to final game of the match and then held serve to score a fourth-round place.
“That guy is really good, very good, especially on clay,” said Isner, after the match. “So for me it’s a very good win. Happy with how the match ended and very happy with how I served, obviously. You know, I think it could have been better throughout the match. But, you know, just as my first two matches, I’m moving on, so very happy with that and look forward to my next one.”
Three matches played here and eight tiebreakers accounted for. Somehow, heavens knows how, Johnny boy only played two in his opening match against French wildcard recipient Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
Now, let’s get to talking the tiebreaker situation. Here’s Isner on his relationship to the pointed decider of sets.
“Yeah, for me, it’s a situation I have been in before, and it’s also a situation I think that favors me a little bit and I have exhibited that this week, so far,” Isner said. “I’m always pretty confident when I get in that situation, and I think it’s shown so far. But at the same time, I could be home right now on my couch in Florida and not talking to you guys, because my matches have been very, very close. Fortunately for me, I have been able to pull through on all of them. If it gets to that situation again, as this tournament progresses, I will be confident.”
It’s not much of a secret that Isner has an advantage in tiebreakers with a serve of his standards. Hey, he’s as tall as the Jolly Green Giant without being as green as Jolly or Kermit the frog. But there’s a downside to it all. Relying on a successful record in tiebreakers is nice, but you tend to end up playing long matches — longer than necessary — and that zaps energy. So when talking about being home on the couch, there’s the theory that if his matches concluded quicker he could at the very least be back with his feet up on the hotel.
Isner’s next challenge will be Tomas Berdych, the sixth seed here at the French Open. He’d have an easier time if he’d get on top of the Czech early on instead of waiting to play an inevitable tiebreak. Just saying.