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Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic plays for the French Open title against Australian Ashleigh Barty. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic plays for the French Open title against Australian Ashleigh Barty. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)|Associated Press
Tennis

Tennis Saturday: Abrams picks the French Open Women’s Final - Ash Barty vs. Marketa Vondrousova - and comments on Roland Garros controversy

Match begins at 9 am EDT.

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

FRENCH OPEN
Stade Roland Garros
Paris, France
Saturday, June 8, 2019
Women’s Finals

Ash Barty over Marketa Vondrousova
The women’s final is as surprising an event as could be expected with two players competing for the title who no one ever would have predicted two weeks ago. The big names in the women’s game were all beaten (or pulled out) early, until 3rd seeded Simona Halep made her exit in the quarterfinals to American teen sensation Amanda Anisimova. We went into Week 2 without Naomi Osaka, Karolina Pliskova, Angie Kerber, Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka, and Elina Svitolina. Serena Williams, who hasn’t yet figured out what everyone else has--that she’s yesterday’s news, didn’t last long enough to make barbecued brisket. Caroline Wozniacki, the popular Dane, lost in the first round and called her opponent “lucky”. Kiki Bertens, the hottest player on the Tour, lasted all of four games before defaulting in Round 2. And the hottest player before Bertens, Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu lasted a bit longer than Wozniacki, actually winning a match before defaulting her second round match. But the tournament has introduced the world to two stunning teenagers, Anisimova, and Marketa Vondrousova, a 19-year old from the Czech Republic, who will do battle with Australian Ash Barty for the title here in Paris today.

The French Open has already caused enough controversy to last the next 51 weeks. Tournament Director Guy Forget has taken heat for moving the two women’s semifinal matches from the main stadium court to two secondary courts, and the top four ladies had very few fans watching them play for a spot in the finals. The WTA Tour, not surprisingly, has complained rather loudly about the apparent shun. The weather caused the Men’s and Women’s semifinals to be played on the same day, Friday, but the stadium court was reserved for the four top men, and the fans were presented with Nadal/Federer and Thiem/Djokovic. The WTA has a point, but what other solution remained? Taking the 2 and 3 seeded men, or the 1 and 4 seeded men, and put them on an outside court?

Since the dramatic weather continued, and the players had to compete in 57 degree temperature with rain and hard, swirling wind gusting up to 40 mph, Forget decided to call the second men’s semi after it was a set apiece and Thiem up a break in the third, a decision that Thiem (and a lot of others) vociferously decried. Djokovic, long known for his gamesmanship in addition to his game, simply left the grounds when the match was suspended for a short rain delay, forcing Forget to reschedule the remainder of the match for today, even though there were still over three hours of sunlight left in Paris and the rain was no more than a drizzle.

Now, Thiem has two things to complain about, and each one rightfully so: First, after his Round of 32 win over Pablo Cuevas the Directors moved his required press conference while it was in progress because Serena Williams, who had just lost, told the Director that she wanted to fulfill her press requirement right then, and wouldn’t wait around until the two occupied rooms were open. (On the Tour, the accepted behavior in this situation is that the player still left in the draw gets precedent. Williams had just lost, Thiem was still in, having just won.) Second, with the wind swirling in his semi-final match against Djokovic, an obvious advantage for the Austrian (because of the massive amounts of topspin he uses to control his shots) and a disadvantage for Djokovic (because he hits the ball so flat), Forget let himself get played by the world’s No. 1 player by moving the remainder of his match to a time when the wind would be less of a factor.

Let’s not forget, additionally, that the French Open pays the players much, much less than the other three Grand Slam tournaments. Add in the anger of the WTA for the French showing little respect for the ladies’ semifinals, and the disappointment of Thiem and the ATP Tour for getting bumped by a losing women’s player demanding first access to the already occupied press rooms, and Thiem, again, for having his playing advantage seemingly taken away by the power play of an entitled fellow competitor, and you have a 2019 French Open that the two Tours will be discussing ad nauseam for the next eleven months.

Now, for the finals. After all that’s happened this past fortnight, I’m afraid that the finals will be a climactic disappointment. As good as Vondrousova has shown herself to be, Barty is the odds-on favorite, and for good reason. She changes the angles, depth, and trajectory of her shots frequently enough to control the play. She fights like a junk-yard dog. And she controls her emotions. With these advantages, I like the Aussie to win this title with little real resistance from Vondrousova. But look at the bright side: we’ll be talking about this tournament for a long time to come.