French Open: Dark clouds spread gloom as Grigor Dimitrov and Na Li follow Stan Wawrinka to the exit door
Paris has been coloured grey these past few days, perhaps foretelling a story of grief for its unsuspecting victims. Stanislas Wawrinka’s late evening exit yesterday followed a surprising defeat for Kei Nishikori earlier in the day. The gloom for the seeded stars deepened today, when Grigor Dimitrov and Na Li followed each other to the exit door in quick succession. While the Bulgarian upstart was undone by an in form Ivo Karlovic, who served just as well as he was playing off the ground, Na Li was a bigger surprise. The second seeded Chinese star made a meal of her match against Kristina Mladenovic, a woman ranked 103rd on the WTA tour. It appears the clouds hovering over the city, have succeeded in muddling the minds of these celebrated players.
Dimitrov, who many considered a dark horse, ahead of this edition of the French Open came unstuck very early in his match against Karlovic. He played a lose service game that ended with a limp backhand into the net to hand Karlovic the break. The 2’08” Croat used the opportunity well to retain the advantage and take the first set. Any hopes that it may have been a small blip were put paid when Karlovic earned another decisive break in the 11th game of the second set before holding to take control of the match.
Dimitrov fought on gallantly through the third set, but Karlovic was on top of his serve denying the Bulgarian any chance at finding a way out of the hole. As soon as Dimitrov lost the first point of the breaker on his own serve, the red flags were out for the Bulgarian. With the match on his racket, Karlovic fired yet another ace, his 22nd of the match, to complete the upset victory.
The 11th seed was desperate to follow through on his good showing at the Australian Open (a teary exit in the quarters against Rafael Nadal), but any hopes at a deep run at the Frnech Open fell victim to his struggle for consistency.
Dimitrov takes serious exception to being compared to Roger Federer, but he might want to consider seeking the great man’s counsel to try and understand the mechanics of sustained performance. On the evidence of that 4-6, 5-7, 6-7(4) loss, that is something he could use if he is turn from crown prince to king one day.
Meeting the media after the match, Dimitrov sought to make light of the loss and look ahead to the build up for Wimbledon. “I had a good clay court season, so I'm not putting my head down," he said. "It's just going to motivate me even more, and I'm going to come back even stronger.”
“Actually, that gives me extra time for me to rest a little bit and just get ready for the upcoming weeks on grass. That's something really exciting to look forward to.” Strong words under the circumstances and manner of his loss, so he will have his task cut out when he resumes his tour with the tournament in Eastbourne.
But Dimitrov’s optimism cannot mask the shocking nature of this result – Karlovic has not won a match at Roland Garros since 2007 and though in form, he is a 35 year old veteran that should have been defeated by Dimitrov.
Moments later, there was a bigger shock in store as Na dropped the ball against Mladenovic. The 21 year old from France surprised herself with a strong performance that saw her keep it together in a full length match against a top level opponent.
The first set lasted an hour and featured as many as five breaks of serve, vitally Mladenovic clinched it to surge ahead in the contest. As expected though Na came back stronger in the second set, turning the tide in her favour with a strong finish.
But despite having the momentum on her side, Na’s game dropped a notch even as Mladenovic continued holding up her end of the deal. The third set turned quickly into an embarrassingly one sided affair as the Chinese fell to a disappointing 5-7, 6-3, 1-6 loss.
The departure of Dimitrov and Na weaken and already skewed draw, dealing the tournament a significant blow. The Bulgarian’s exit means that the only seeded players remaining in Nadal’s quarter are David Ferrer, Kevin Anderson and Andreas Seppi.
The women are struggling for depth anyways, with hardly any woman showing the promise to contend for the title – outside of Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Na Li. With the exit of the world No.2, the winner between Williams and Sharapova is likely going to be the overwhelming favourite for the title. Incidentally, the last time Sharapova beat Serena was a long way back – at Los Angeles in 2004.
Barely into the third day of the tournament, organisers must be scouring for information. At the rate at which we are dropping the big guns this week, they could indeed be left with the unpleasant prospect of introducing some of the second week cast to the world.
Already the withdrawal of both Nicolas Almagro and Tommy Haas means that we shall have at least one first timer in the quarterfinals, possibly even a qualifier. Watch this space, we could have some more gloom being scripted for the seeded stars.