It’s Not a Magic Wand, Part 3

Earlier installments: Part 1 Part 2

Watching blowouts can be fun. Tennis is at its best when two players meet on an even plane, but it’s enchanting to watch one player fire on all cylinders for an entire match, utterly mowing down their opponent in the process. This morning, Daria Kasatkina destroyed Camila Giorgi, who isn’t a player one typically destroys — Giorgi has a ton of power, so matches against her are usually won by forcing her to misfire often. Kasatkina elicited plenty of errors with both consistency and depth, but she was also offensive whenever she got a chance.

At first, the match was shaping up like a normal Giorgi match. She was blasting away, making a bunch of winners and missing a bunch. Kasatkina, serving at 2-1, 15-30 about 15 minutes into the match, hadn’t hit a single winner herself. From there, though, Kasatkina crushed a forehand winner down the line to even the game, then flashed several more untouched groundstrokes past her opponent in the next few minutes. Giorgi got her punches in, as always — there were plenty of awed gasps from the crowd at her outrageous winners — but she had Kasatkina’s offense to contend with on top of her own errors.

Early in the second set, there was already an urgency to the Giorgi fans’ applause. Her father vaped. It was obvious that Kasatkina was in the zone. Giorgi got into one of Kasatkina’s service games, at 1-2, but saw a pair of break points wiped away, and from there, the rout was on. Asked about her errors after the match, Giorgi simply said “this is me.” She was right — she played as she usually does, but Kasatkina blunted her weapons and struck back with some of her own. Now into the quarterfinals, Kasatkina has lost only 14 games this tournament, a laughable average of 3.5 per match. Next up is a very winnable match against Veronika Kudermetova.

During the night session, Marin Čilić dismantled Daniil Medvedev with such totality that I felt bad for Medvedev by the end. Čilić’s performance was less nuanced than Kasatkina’s in that he got to be the aggressor virtually the entire time (in part due to Medvedev’s lack of baseline power), while Kasatkina had to defend and attack well, but Čilić had the added challenge of going up against the world #2. Clay is not Medvedev’s best surface, but he made the quarterfinals at Roland-Garros last year, and has reached a general level of mastery that he should not be losing in straight sets to anyone, anywhere. Yet against Čilić, it didn’t even feel like Medvedev did much wrong, even though he won only seven games.

Čilić swept forehand after forehand past Medvedev. He won 90% of the points played behind his first serve, which is an obscene number in any situation, but especially against a great returner on clay. Medvedev’s fantastic defense didn’t get him anywhere because Čilić’s shots were too fast, too heavy, and too consistent. The match, scheduled for the marquee night session (I expected it to go four or five sets) was over almost as soon as it had begun.

The day featured all kinds of notable results — Iga Świątek lost a set, for instance! Qinwen Zheng saved five set points in their opener and rebounded from 5-2 down in a tiebreak to stun the 2020 champion, causing trouble with heavy groundstrokes and delicate drop shots. Though Zheng faded after the first set, impacted by cramps from the start of her period (as she stated in a brave press conference), the match was notable. It felt like Świątek, who hadn’t been near her best in the third round either, was starting to look vulnerable. Given her 32-match-and-counting winning streak and overwhelming favorite status at this tournament, vulnerability is potentially a huge deal.

That wasn’t all — the ATP side, after seeing few upsets in the first couple rounds, saw its second (Medvedev) and fourth (Tsitsipas) seeds bow out. Tsitsipas’s exit, in particular, felt important. For a while now, he’s been off his games. Since making the Roland-Garros final last year, it feels to me that he’s played his best tennis in just one match, the Australian Open quarterfinal against Jannik Sinner. This clay season, Tsitsipas had been able to fall back on his prowess and strong B level, but his best stuff constantly eluded him. The dip in form finally caught up to him, with Holger Rune taking him out in four. Tsitsipas had been the heavy favorite to make the final from the weaker bottom half of the draw, and this loss feels like a potentially crucial moment. He’ll drop over 1000 points from his run to the final last year, and considering he hasn’t improved much, if at all, in the past year, he may have to make some major changes to what he’s doing.

Still, even on a day that offered plenty of relevant news about the tournament’s future, what stuck out most were Kasatkina and Čilić’s masterclasses. The matches were sometimes hard to look at — such was the plight of their unfortunate opponents — but they were impossible to look away from. Tennis is all about errors. You’ve got unforced errors, forced errors, mental errors. Winning is often accomplished as much or more by simply not making a mistake than by hitting an excellent shot. Yet for a while, Čilić and Kasatkina seemed to have the game entirely figured out.

Published by Owen

Owen has been a tennis fan since Roland-Garros in 2016. Initially a Federer fan, his preferences evened out the more tennis he watched and the more he learned. He started a blog (https://racketblog.com/) in early 2019. In the summer of 2021, he got a media credential at the ATP 250 event in Newport, Rhode Island, and got to talk to a few players, including former world No. 5 Kevin Anderson and rising star Jenson Brooksby. Owen will argue to the death that the 2009 Australian Open semifinal between Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco is the greatest match ever, he hates that one-handed backhands are praised so often for their subjective elegance (sucking praise away from the more effective two-handers), and he thinks the best part of tennis is its scoring system, the mental and physical challenge not far behind. You can follow him on Twitter @tennisnation.

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