2017 French Open: Review Of The Semifinals

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Nine time champion Rafael Nadal and 2015 champion Stanislas Wawrinka will have the additional incentive of no. 2 ranking at stake when they clash in the final of the French Open in Paris on Sunday, while Simona Halep or Jelena Ostapenko will become first time slam winners as the ladies clash for the final on Saturday.

Wawrinka, no longer a shadow of his more illustrious Swiss countryman Roger Federer, began the semi final with the form of a player who had not dropped a set in five matches at the Championship this year and broke in the eighth game to take a 5-3 lead. Murray broke right back and in the ensuing tie-break the 3rd ranked Swiss gifted two easy points and even squandered a set point at 6-5 on his own serve as Murray won the last three points to clinch the tie-break 8-6.

Wawrinka responded brilliantly and from 3-3 in the second set won six consecutive games to take a 3-0 lead in the third set. Murray too fought back as he broke in the fifth game but Wawrinka consolidated by breaking serve in the sixth game for a 4-2 lead. Murray broke back again and it looked like the pattern of service breaks would continue but Murray levelled at 4-4 and even had two chances to break in the ninth game for a 5-4 lead. He finally broke in the eleventh game and then served out the third set 7-5.

Following five service breaks in the third set neither player faced break point in the fourth set. An ill executed drop shot at 2-3 in the tie-break proved fatal for Murray as Wawrinka took the tie-break 7-3 to force a decider. Murray looked crestfallen and it seemed like a cakewalk in the final set as Wawrinka broke thrice to take a 5-0 lead. Murray got on the board with a break of his own but promptly lost his own serve to lose the match. Wawrinka hit a staggering 87 winners in his 6-7(6), 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(3), 6-1 win on court Philippe Chatrier lasting four hour and thirty four minutes.

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Dominic Thiem, who had upset defending champion Novak Djokovic in the last eight, got off to a flying start as he broke Nadal in the opening game of the match. The Spaniard responded right away and Thiem wasted opportunities in the third game for a break and also squandered his serve in the fourth game despite fighting back a 0-40 deficit. Thiem wasted two more break points and Nadal clinched the first set 6-3. The fourth seeded Spaniard once again saved two more break points in the second game of the second set and from there on Nadal was never in trouble despite having to hold serve throughout the second set which he won 6-4.

The final set was just a formality and Thiem who had bageled Djokovic in the third set in the quarter final was at the receiving end as he too lost 0-6. The final score was a routine 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 for Nadal, match lasting two hours and seven minutes. He has never lost a final at Roland Garros and leads the Swiss 15-3 in their head to head. Nadal will be hoping for a third “La Decima” of the season, having completed his tenth title in Monte Carlo and Barcelona in April.

Wawrinka has never lost a grand slam final having beaten Nadal for a maiden grand slam title at the 2014 Australian Open and then Djokovic at 2015 French Open and 2016 U.S. Open. He will be looking for a fourth major and should he win Wimbledon next month will complete the career slam, becoming only the ninth male player in history to do so.

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Prediction: Nadal is 42-6 for the year with a 23-1 record on clay this season. Wawrinka is 26-8 this season and riding a 9 game winning streak. Nadal has only lost 29 games en route to the final and will be super fresh. Wawrinka too is super fit but the stakes are too high for the Spaniard as he aims to win his first major since 2014 at Roland Garros and move ahead of Pete Sampras as both are level at 14 titles. Tough to call the winner, maybe Nadal in four tight sets, perhaps five.

In the ladies semi finals played on Thursday, the two birthday girls, unseeded Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia edged the Swiss 30th seed Timea Bacsinszky in the opening match in a hard fought 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-3 to become the first unseeded player since Mima Jausovec of Yugoslavia in 1983 (loss to Chris Evert) to reach the final at Roland Garros. The 47th ranked celebrated her 20th birthday by beating Bacsinszky who was making her second appearance in the semi final having reached there in 2015. Ostapenko has beaten the Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig, 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur and former world number one Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark so far in this tournament.

Ostapenko next faces the third seeded Simona Halep of Romania on Saturday as both players aim to lift their maiden grand slam title. Halep, who lost the 2014 finals(loss to Sharapova) and who saved a match point in her quarter final against the Ukrainian Elina Svitolina, kept alive her hopes for the world no 1 ranking as well as she took out the second seeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in exactly two hours. Halep converted 3 of break points out of 12, while Pliskova who served 7 aces could convert 2 out of 8.

Prediction :- 25 year old Halep is now a seasoned campaigner with 15 titles on WTA tour, whereas Ostapenko who just turned 20 on Thursday is still to win a WTA event. The young Latvian, born in Riga the Capital city of Latvia has little to lose against the Constanta born Halep who has so much at stake. The defensive skills will suit Halep on the red clay, but expect the hard hitting Ostapenko to give a tremendous final. Halep in two tight sets, possibly three.

– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy. You can reach him at the email: sportzcosmos@gmail.com]

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