‘I have it inside of me’

May 29, 2022

The French Open is the only Grand Slam where Angelique Kerber has not gone further than the quarterfinals.

‘I have it inside of me’

Germany's Angelique Kerber may be one of the older players on the WTA Tour, but she's playing with fresh energy.

The 34-year-old three-time Grand Slam champion has only reached the quarterfinals of a major or better once since 2018, but she won the WTA event in Strasbourg coming into the French Open and is now into the third round after beating teenager Elsa Jacquemot, 6-1, 7-6 (2).

Her first-round victory against Magdelena Frech took almost two-and-a-half hours of running and competing, but that's the same way she has pulled herself back up towards the top of the sport again.

''I think you have to fight in tennis. It's part of the game, as well," she told reporters at the French Open. "Everyone can play tennis. At the end, it's just one, two points which decide matches. I have it inside of me."

Kerber entered Roland Garros with a 7-8 mark on the season, but she keeps pushing herself, and has finally begun to feel more assured.

"Yeah, last week gives me again a lot of confidence, so I just try to take it with me. But of course, you're getting older, you have to fight so much more against the young players," she said. "There are so many good players right now on tour, and it's a new generation. So I just try to be there and try to still improve my game and enjoying still my tennis."

It's more surprising that her resurgence has come on clay-the French Open is the only Grand Slam where she has not gone further than the quarterfinals.

"Everyone knows that clay is not my favorite surface. For me, it's just this year I just try to play every single match and not looking too much ahead and trying to keep it up," Kerber said. "Of course it's not an easy tournament for me when you look back. But I'm not looking back right now, just trying to be in the moment and enjoying my win."

And she's doing the same with her career.

"I'm thankful that I can still play, that I'm healthy, that I [am] still beating the young players, that I can be on the big stages. That's why I [am] still doing this... I'm trying to [keep] working hard and then you play for these matches when you are having the crowd, feeling the energy.

"I love this sport. I play for the sport. This is why I'm still here. I hope that I can still be a little bit there and, playing the best tennis, enjoying the moments on and off court."

American hopefuls

Memory and resilience were the themes surrounding the success of four Americans who won matches on Day 5 of the 2022 edition of Roland Garros. So it was that Shelby Rogers, Madison Keys, Mackenzie McDonald and Jessica Pegula have advanced to the third round.

As is usually the case at Roland Garros, the victories took place in toothpick-by-toothpick fashion, these matches including their share of emotional challenges, tenacious opponents, and the distinct test of competing on a surface where it's virtually impossible to sprint to victory.

In an all-American showdown on Court 7, the 50th-ranked Rogers earned a mild upset win over ninth-seeded Danielle Collins, 6-3, 6-4. These two had split their only prior two matches. Rogers, a French Open quarterfinalist in 2016, jumped off to big leads in each set-4-0 in the first, 5-1 in the second. Collins persevered, winning four straight games to even the first set, only to falter at 4-all. A variation on that pattern came in the second, Collins catching up to 5-3. But this Collins comeback was also a case of too little, too late. Rogers now moves on to play 20th-seeded Daria Kasatkina on Saturday. Their only prior meeting happened more than five years ago, Rogers winning in Miami in rollercoaster-like fashion, 6-4, 5-7, 6-0.

Keys had an intriguing assignment today: take on an experienced and streaky native daughter, Caroline Garcia, on Court Philippe Chatrier. Once upon a time, Garcia had enough power and versatility to be a solid Top 10 player. But she has faded and is currently ranked 79th. Keys too has had her share of ups and downs. Ranked 56th at the end of 2021, a semifinal run in Australia this January once again showed Keys' tremendous serve-forehand combo. She's now vaulted up to No. 22.

Keys began this match in sharp form, going up 5-2 in the first set-by that stage having won all 16 points on her serve. After a slight hiccup, Keys closed out the set, 6-4. The second set was tighter, the two on serve on all the way to 6-all. At this stage, Keys earned an early mini-break and pulled away to win the tiebreaker, 7-3. Saturday she'll play 16th-seeded Elena Rybakina for the first time.

On Court 12, the 60th-ranked McDonald walked out to play one of the most dangerous players on the tour, 22nd-seeded Nikoloz Basilashvili. Memory for McDonald was double-edged: He'd beaten Basilashvili the only previous time they'd played, a straightforward 6-3, 6-2 win earlier this year in Rotterdam. But then there was what happened in Paris at this same stage a year ago, McDonald losing to 22nd-seeded Cristian Garin after going up two sets to love and holding two match points. Roland Garros was also the spot where McDonald in 2019 had suffered a serious hamstring injury that forced him off the tour for remainder of the year. In the wake of that, resilience kicked in, McDonald last year named Comeback Player of the Year by the ATP. Today, in less than two hours, McDonald won 6-3, 6-1, 6-4, advancing to play Jannik Sinner.

While McDonald took down a seed, a seeded American, No. 24 Frances Tiafoe, was not so fortunate. Only on Tuesday, after six prior first-round losses, did Tiafoe gain his first singles win at Roland Garros. And today it was hard to consider Tiafoe a heavy favorite versus his opponent, 48th-ranked David Goffin. The 31-year-old Belgian has long been an extremely formidable opponent, earlier this month in Madrid holding four match points against Rafael Nadal. Over the course of nearly three hours on Court Simonne-Mathieu, Goffin rallied to turn the tables just when it mattered most, 3-6, 7-6 (1), 6-2, 6-4. The Belgian goes on to face 12th-seeded Hubert Hurkacz. Goffin won their only prior match, just a few weeks ago in Rome, 7-6, 7-6.

But when it comes to matters of memory and resilience, it's hard to top the emotions 11th-seeded Jessica Pegula has faced in just two matches. In her Roland Garros opener on Tuesday, up against Wang Qiang, Pegula led 6-2, 5-1 and saw nine match points slip through her fingers before at last closing it out on her tenth. On Thursday, taking on 36th-ranked Anhelina Kalinina on Court 7, Pegula led 6-1, 5-1, but failed to convert three match points when serving for the match at 5-2. Kalinina went on to win the second set, 7-5. In the third, Pegula served at 4-1, dropped three straight games, lost five more match points, and was finally able to close it out on her ninth.

There it was: two rounds, 19 match points-but, yes, two victories. Pegula's next opponent is 24th seeded Tamara Zidansek, the only Roland Garros 2021 semifinalist to have made it to the third round this year. Their head-to-head is 1-0, Pegula winning in Auckland in 2020.

Perhaps Pegula spoke for all when she cited Roland Garros, its demands and, invariably, her own unusual journey this year through the City of Light: "I think especially on the clay you don't get as many free points, so you really start to feel it. And yeah, of course I was kind of laughing to myself looking up at my coach like, I cannot believe this is starting to happen again." --Tennis.com

‘I have it inside of me’