September 29, 2020

One Round Down

In a French Open that we knew was going to be strange even before it got started, it should be expected that we'd be treated to more than a couple surprises in the first few days of action. From colder than normal conditions to questionable calls, from breakthrough performances to amazing flameouts, we've aleady gotten our fair share of drama, and we've only just completed the first round!

Twelve of the women's seeds and eleven of the men's have already been kicked out of the draws -- and while I'm not sure where that ranks on the list of records, it sure feels high up there -- and even those who survived were pushed to their limits. And a couple of players have already proven themselves to be ones to watch.

Of course, there are the ones you might have expected would shine in early rounds. Coco Gauff, the 2018 Girls' champion here, refound the magic that seemed to be flagging in "Cincy" and New York, ousting ninth seed and 2019 semifinalist Johanna Konta in her opener, while nineteen-year-old Jannik Sinner, who beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in Rome, got his second straight win over David Goffin, having previously bested him in Rotterdam at the start of the year. But they weren't the only ones.

Young Iga Swiatek, a surprise fourth rounder last year, is trying to prove that run was no fluke. After an upset of Donna Vekic in Melbourne and a tough fight against Victoria Azarenka in New York, she started her run here with a straight-set, hour long drubbing of last year's runner-up Marketa Vondrousova. She is now the highest ranked player in her immediate section of the draw and could very well get back to the second week.

And don't forget about Kaja Juvan, still trying to crack the top hundred in the rankings, but playing well above her position. She got a win over Vondrousova in Palermo -- not to mention one over Venus Williams in Acapulco, and took a set off Serena last year at Wimbledon. But her biggest win by far came in her first round here, when she beat three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber in about an hour. She'll face wildcard Clara Burel next and potentially Alizé Cornet after that -- and I kind of like her chances.

It's not just the ladies getting things done -- Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka is trying to make his first big statement at a Major. The 25-year-old has only made the third round once before, this year in Melbourne, but a win over Felix Auger-Aliassime in his first round may give him the confidence to go a little better. Clay's never been his best surface -- he's barely won one in five matches on these courts -- but with a second round against wildcard Hugo Gaston, he's got a chances to improve.

In the same half of the draw, qualifier Sebastian Korda -- son of former world #2 Petr -- was able to go at least one better than his only other Major main draw. Still ranked outside the top two-hundred, the 20-year-old, who took a set off Denis Shapovalov in New York, was able to get the best of Andreas Seppi in a pretty straightforward four sets. He'll take on big-serving John Isner in an all-American final next, but as I've opined before, he's an imminently beatable foe.

But then there are the stories no one saw coming.

Let's start with 17-year-old Clara Tauson, who battled through qualifiers for the right to meet U.S. Open standout Jennifer Brady. The young Dane faced match points in the decider but pushed her opponent into extra innings and finally closed the deal after nearly three hours. She next meets Danielle Collins, a semifinalist in Australia last year but not one who can't be overcome. And then there's Russia's Kamilla Rakhimova, who beat top-seeded qualifier Ann Li to make the main draw here. She went on to easily dismiss another summer breakout, Shelby Rogers, a quarterfinalist here in 2016, in a match that lasted barely over an hour. Next up is Maria Sakkari, who'll be a much tougher opponent, but this could just be the start of her successes.

On the men's side, there's veteran Lorenzo Giustino, seen above collapsing after winning a six hour epic against Corentin Moutet, 18-16 in the fifth -- the first tour-level win of his career. I don't know that I give him too much of a chance against Diego Schwartzman in his next round, but it sure will be fun to watch him try. But perhaps we could see better results from lucky loser Marc Polmans, who is somewhat unusually the only Australian left in the men's draw -- surprising given the recent successes of Alex de Minaur, John Millman, and others. The 22-year-old ousted my dark horse pick Ugo Humbert in his opener and might actually stand a chance against Cristian Garin in the next round.

Whether any of these guys can last well into the second week of this crazy French Open still remains to be seen, but at the very least, they've all given us something to talk about. Some might really be setting themselves up for big things down the road -- others might just prove to be flashes in the pan. But at a Major where we've already seen crazy things, they may never have had as big an opportunity as they do right now.

September 26, 2020

French Open 2020: Predicting the Final Four

It's been a long and twisty road that brought us here at last, inexplicably to the last Grand Slam of the year held, not in New York as per tradition, but at Roland Garros. In Paris. In the fall. Where things somehow look a lot different from what we're used to.

And despite organizers trying to put on a Major that's more "normal" than what we saw at the U.S. Open -- there have been qualifying rounds and fans will, for some reason, be allowed in the stadium -- there are a ton of questions that loom over more than just the action on court. While players like Roger Federer, Naomi Osaka, and Bianca Andreescu aren't making the trip as they recover from injury, others like defending champion Ashleigh Barty have pulled out over the risks and restrictions of traveling in the age of COVID -- some were forced to pull out when they or their coaches tested positive last week. And Serena Williams herself has expressed concerns -- with cases rising across Europe and in France in particular, who can blame her?

As for what we can expect in terms of the action -- well, it's hard to say. With a severely abbreviated clay court season players have largely had little time to get acclimated from the hard courts, and we have precious little evidence of what to expect. At the same time, the U.S. Open seemed to open the door for both a fresh slate of potential champions and an opportunity for those we'd all but written off to shine again. But, then again, there aren't nearly as many holes in the draw as there were in New York -- nine of the top ten men and seven of the top women are still in the draws -- so if we're going to see those new champions emerge, they arguably will have a little more work to do.

So with that all said, let's get to the details on how we can epect the quarters to play out and what will likely (hopefully) be the last appearance of my Confidence Meter. Here's a reminder of what it all means:

Like Serena at the French →
← Like Rafa at the French

Here we go!



First Quarter

Top seeded Simona Halep may have been the favorite in Paris, even if defending champion Ashleigh Barty had been able to make the trip to Paris. A long ago Junior champion at the French, Halep was runner-up twice before she finally broke the Grand Slam seal and brought home her first big trophy in 2018. And she is riding a solid win streak coming into this event, with titles at the last three tournaments she's played, two of which were on clay.

She'll be challenged early, with a first round against Sara Sorribes Tormo, who's coming off an ITF title in Cagnes-Sur-Mer, and has a potential third round against Amanda Anisimova who stunned her in the quarters last year. She's also in the same section as Johanna Konta, another 2019 semifinalist who (yikes!) opens against Coco Gauff, and recent standout Maria Sakkari, whose only title to date came on clay (she was also a semifinalist in Rome last year, though hasn't had any practice on the surface this season).

Also lurking in this quarter -- summer standout Shelby Rogers. The 27-year-old was ranked outside the top hundred when she shocked Serena Williams in Lexington, and she became the belle of the New York ball with wins over Elena Rybakina and Petra Kvitova to make the quarters at the U.S. Open. And she's actually had greater success on clay -- back in 2014 she made the final in Bad Gastein, with wins over Carla Suárez Navarro and one-time French finalist Sara Errani in the process. A few years later she reached the quarters in Paris too, losing to the ultimate champion Garbiñe Muguruza, so you certainly can't count her out on this surface.

And let's not forget wildcard Eugenie Bouchard. The one-time world #5 is a long way away from the heights of her career, when she made three straight Slam semis and one final (and won what's weirdly her only tour title to date). Since then she's infamously struggled with form and fell at the start of this year out of the top two-hundred in the world. But the still-young Canadian quietly beat top seed Svetlana Kuznetsova at an event in Istanbul during the U.S. Open and made her first tour final since 2016, where she only lost in a third set tiebreak.

If she makes the third round, she could face last year's surprise runner-up Marketa Vondrousova, fresh off the semis in Rome. Granted, Roland Garros was strange last year, with only one semifinalist ever having made the final four at a Major before (props to Johanna Konta). But Vondrousova, playing in just her third main draw in Paris, scored four wins over players ranked higher than her, arguably a more impressive run than that of eventual champion Ashleigh Barty. She opens this time against a very talented teenager Iga Swiatek, and while she is on-paper the favorite, this one could be much tougher than the seedings suggest.

My Semifinalist Pick:Simona Halep
Confidence Meter:She's riding a hot streak, and won't want to give it up

Second Quarter

Like with the U.S. Open's top quarter this year, it's really hard to get excited about any of the favorites in this section. Karolina Pliskova is the presumptive pick, and she did make the final in Rome just last week, but retiring in the championship match after winning just one game doesn't bode that well for her now. And while she made the semis here back in 2017, she continues to disappoint me at the Majors. Petra Kvitova, meanwhile, has had some decent results this year, but since her semifinal in Paris way back in 2012, she's never made it out of the fourth round.

So who could surprise us? Well, there's 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko who stunned Simona Halep in the final after having already beaten Sam Stosur and Caroline Wozniacki. But the now 23-year-old has never won a match at Roland Garros other than during that run, losing in the first round of her three other appearances. That's not to say she's totally a flash in the pan -- she made the quarterfinals at Wimbledon the same year she won in Paris and reached the semis a year later. But results this year have been mixed -- she beat Sofia Kenin during Fed Cup in February, right after the American's stellar run in Melbourne, but hasn't made much headway since. This week in Strasbourg, after rebounding to take the lead over top seed Kiki Bertens (she won by retirement), she lost a tight two setter to Nao Hibino with a combined twelve breaks of serve.

There's also Petra Martic, who made the quarters last year with a win over Pliskova, but she hasn't beaten -- or faced -- anyone in the top twenty this year; Veronika Kudermetova, who beat Pliskova at the Western & Southern (do you see why I have such little faith?); and young Leylah Fernandez, who reached the final in Acapulco and took out Sloane Stephens in Lexington.

But maybe keep an eye on Alizé Cornet, unseeded at the French, who has somewhat spectacularly played the last 54 Majors and, despite wins over Serena Williams, Aga Radwanska, and Caroline Wozniacki (that one was all the way back in 2007!), has never reached a quarterfinal. Isn't she about due? After a win over Sofia Kenin at the Western & Southerhn, she made the fourth round at the U.S. Open, beating Madison Keys on the way and putting up a helluva fight versus Tsvetana Pironkova. Her problem has been consistency, but perhaps she can get that under control now.

My Semifinalist Pick:Petra Martic
Confidence Meter:If she's ever got a chance, this is it

Third Quarter

This might be the toughest section of the women's draw, led by 2010 French Junior champion Elina Svitolina, who reached the quarters here in 2015 and 2017. She's really become an all-court player since then, with runs to the semis at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year. She made her post-lockdown return on the clay of Rome, where she was a two-time defedning champion, and was upset in the quarters by last year's surprise Roland Garros runner-up Marketa Vondrousova, but rebounded to take the title this past week in Strasbourg. She begins her campaign in Paris against Varvara Gracheva, who pulled off one of the most unbelieveable comebacks in tennis history in New York earlier this month, but the bigger threats lie elsewhere.

First, at least on paper, there's Serena Williams who, for the ninth time is going for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title. And as sacrilegious as it is to say, she's probably going to fall short again. The French has never been Serena's best Slam -- she has "just" three trophies here (compared to seven in both Melbourne and Wimbledon and six at the U.S.) and it's been the site of her only first and second round exits at Majors. And while she had a decent run in New York, she's also notched some surprising losses this summer, and even her wins aren't coming easily -- she's only got three straight set victories since Australia. To expect her to put all that aside when she hasn't made the second week here since 2016 seems to be asking a lot.

While Serena shouldn't have trouble in her opener -- she faces Kristie Ahn in the first round for the second straight Slam -- she might get a quick rematch right after that with her U.S. Open quarterfinal opponent Tsvetana Pironkova. The 33-year-old Bulgarian, a semifinalist at Wimbledon ten years ago and a quarterfinalist here in 2016, had a stunning run in New York, her first event in three years after giving birth, stunning Garbiñe Muguruza in the second round and even taking a set off Serena in the quarters. Her performance earned her a wildcard to the French and a first round match against 2014 semifinalist Andrea Petkovic, now ranked well off her highs. We could very well see Pironkova get the win, and maybe more than one.

Then there's Elise Mertens, one of the real workhorses on tour since the shutdown. She's played every week there was an event taking place except this past one, and has made deep runs in all of them, including her first ever Major quarterfinal in New York, where she demolished Sofia Kenin, and the semis in Rome, where she took Karolina Pliskova to three sets. I'm actually surprised her ranking remains as low as it is -- she's currently just in the top twenty and topped out at #12 in the world two years ago -- but she could do a lot to improve that in Paris.

But the big threat here is Victoria Azarenka, for whom things look a lot different than they did at the start of the year. After pulling out of the Australian Open, losing her first match in Monterrey, and coming OHSOCLOSE to retiring, Vika has had one of the best runs since the lockdown, switching deftly from the hard courts of New York to the Roman clay, with a one-sided defeat of Sofia Kenin in the second round. The tenth seed in Paris, she's at her highest ranking since early 2017, and could well be going higher. To repeat her run, she might have to pull off another upset of Serena in the fourth round, but she must have the confidence now to do it.

And all that still doesn't cover all the possibilities of this quarter -- Ekaterina Alexandrova may be struggling a bit in recent weeks, but she's nevertheless had some solid wins this year; Yulia Putintseva, the surprise quarterfinalist in both New York and Rome, faces off against veteran Kirsten Flipkens; and a very talented Anett Kontaveit opens against Caroline Garcia, who beat Karolina Pliskova in her U.S. Open second round.

With all that talent, who's to say who could power through?

My Semifinalist Pick:Elise Mertens
Confidence Meter:With a quarter this strong, why not? 

Fourth Quarter

It's hard not to keep your eye on the players who currently hold Grand Slam titles, especially when there are only two in the mix, but I have to say I haven't been impressed by Sofia Kenin's performance post lockdown. Though she managed a follow-up to her Aussie trophy back in March in Lyon, she's been pretty quiet in more recent events and was absolutely decimated in her clay court opener in Rome by Victoria Azarenka. And it's not like she can't play on clay -- she first hit my radar last year when she beat Serena Williams at Roland Garros -- but she has a lot to prove in this go-around, and it will be critical to show her run at the start of the year was no fluke.

The other top seed in this quarter, Aryna Sabalenka, has been similarly "meh" in the back half of the season. Since claiming a title in Doha in February, she hasn't won more than one match at an event until Strasbourg last week. She did make the semis, pushing champion Elina Svitolina to three sets in her second match on Friday, but with a first round against Jessica Pegula, who beat her in "Cincy", she'll have to regroup quick here.

That opens the door for some others to shine here. Jennifer Brady will want to follow up on her U.S. Open semifinal run. Fiona Ferro, one of the only women other than Halep to win a clay court title this year, beating Camila Giorgi, Ekaterina Alexandrova, Anett Kontaveit, and former French finalist Sara Errani, in Palermo, will want to finally start gaining some traction at the Majors. And, of course, Ons Jabeur is just screaming to make her first big Major run.

Then of course, there's 2016 champ Garbiñe Muguruza, who came into the season having won just one match in the last seven months of 2019. But a second place showing in Melbourne, with wins over Elina Svitolina, Kiki Bertens, and Simona Halep, rocketed her back up the rankings. She had a slow start post-lockdown, falling well short of my expectations for her at the U.S. Open, but rejoined the land of the living in Rome, making the semis by beating Vika and Johanna Konta during the week. She's slated for a third round against Brady, but maybe this time she can pull through.

And I'm still not willing to count out Elena Rybakina, one of the hardest working players on tour before the lockdown. I will never not be impressed by the fact that she made four finals in six events and almost as many weeks before finally taking a walkover in Doha. I was hoping she'd get a chance to recover when play was halted, but it appears the constant motion is good for her -- she lost early at the Western & Southern, U.S. Open and Rome before getting her footing back in Strasbourg on her way to yet another final. She opens against Sorana Cirstea, a Cinderella quarterfinalist from 2009 who will want to prove she's still relevant after a big win over Johanna Konta in New York, but I kind of like Rybakina's chances to keep her streak going.

My Semifinalist Pick:Elena Rybakina
Confidence Meter:She seems to do the best when she's going non-stop


First Quarter

For the U.S. Open, this quarter was the one that I thought was the most obvious, with Novak Djokovic as yet unbeaten on the year and buoyed by the fact that he was the only one of the Big Three even entered in the draw. At the time, we didn't think his biggest threat would be himself, and while he regrouped enough to claim a record-breaking his fifth title in Rome last week, he doesn't seem quite in top form. I realize how strange it is to say that -- even several notches below his best, Nole is a bigger power than almost everyone else, but it does leave cracks.

Among those is Pablo Carreño Busta, the man who benefitted from his default in New York. He's in Djokovic's quarter again, and could face him in the quarterfinals. He's made it that far once before, and though he's had some of his best results on hard courts, he can still get things done on clay. He opens against John Millman, a talented player albeit one who's never won a match in Paris, so should be able to get a few wins in before he's really tested.

There's also Hubert Hurkacz, who notched a win over Dominic Thiem at the start of the year, Jan-Lennard Struff, who beat Denis Shapovalov in "Cincinatti", and Cristian Garin, who quietly picked up two titles during the Latin America clay court swing earlier this year and took Stefanos Tsitsipas to three sets in the Hamburg semis this week. The Chilean is playing just his second Roland Garros, and a deep run could really make a big statement. A potential spoiler to him, though, is France's Ugo Humbert, who stunned Daniil Medvedev on his way to the Hamburg quarters this past week -- he also won a title in Auckland to start the year. Unseeded, he'd likely face Garin in the second round, and if he can survive might just be able to keep his momentum going.

All that said, though, this really is Nole's quarter to lose. And if he can keep his cool -- certainly not a given -- there may be no stopping him.

My Semifinalist Pick:Novak Djokovic
Confidence Meter:You gotta go with the odds here

Second Quarter

This one should be Rafael Nadal's for the taking, and in all likelihiood it will be. But near the end of what's been a very unpredictable year, we've set one more milestone this clay court season -- it's the first one since 2004 in which the 12-time champion has not yet won a title on the surface -- and there's no reason to believe we're in the clear yet. Rafa was stunningly upset by Diego Schwartzman in the quarterfinals of Rome, his first event back since the shutdown. That shouldn't necessarily scare us loyalists -- he's often had hiccups before the French and still come away with the title. And this year, when there was so little time between events, he didn't have that much of a chance to get his footing. Hopefully he does so quickly in Paris.

There will, after all, be plenty of others hoping to take advantage of any rust, not least of whom is Alexander Zverev, fresh off his first Grand Slam final in New York. He's made the quarters here the last two years, though never faced a real threat on those runs, and to go one better he'll likely have to get through Nadal first. Still, he will likely want to make up for squandering a two-set lead in the U.S. Open championship.

The German's first big test could be Alex de Minaur, who had his own Cinderella run in New York, but it could also come from qualifier Marco Cecchinato, someone I did not realize made the semis here in 2018, beating Novak Djokovic in the process, but had to play qualifiers to make this year's main draw. Well off his career highs, the Italian nevertheless has proven he can be a force on these courts.

Then there's young Jannik Sinner, the nineteen year old who beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in the second round of Rome just last week. He begins his first ever French Open main draw against David Goffin, a man he upset earlier this year in Rotterdam. If he passes that test, he actually has a pretty clear field for a few rounds and could potentially set up a fourth round against Zverev. That's asking a lot, I know, but weirder things have happened.

My Semifinalist Pick:Rafael Nadal
Confidence Meter:
Yes, only 4! I'm nervous!

Third Quarter

In what must be a first, if not at least a very, very rare event and one that hasn't happened in a looooong time, this quarter features TWO (yes, caps and italics are both appropriate here) first round match-ups between former Grand Slam champions: Dominic Thiem, who finally broke the seal earlier this month in New York, versus 2014 U.S. Open champ Marin Cilic -- the last two first-time winners -- and Stan Wawrinka versus Andy Murray. We could talk for hours about these two matches alone, but there's a lot more to get to, so I'll make it quick. Thiem has been a finalist here two years straight and has won all three meetings against Cilic -- I can't imagine he'll be tested too hard early. On the other hand, Wawrinka and Murray have split their (only?!) two meetings and love five-setters -- whoever wins their battle will have to regroup quick for the next round.

That could make for an interesting opportunity for Dominik Koepfer, who they might face next. The one-time Tulane star spent most of the year on the Challengers' tour and in qualifying events, but as a qualifier in Rome he took out Gael Monfils (and pushed Novak Djokovic to three sets) and this past week scored a win over Yoshihito Nishioka in Hamburg (and pushed Roberto Bautista Agut to three sets). He's playing his first ever French Open and might just be able to manage a few wins while he's here.

And what about Monfils, the other top seed in this quarter? He's not necessarily the best clay courter, and it's been a while since the 34-year-old Frenchman has done well here. He last made the quarters in 2014 and the semis way back in 2008 -- and he's had a rough restart to his season, losing his openers in Rome to Koepfer and in Hamburg to Yannick Hanfmann. But he was on a real roll ahead of the lockdown, picking up hard court titles in Montpellier and Rotterdam before making the semis in Dubai. He opens his Paris campaign against Alexander Bublik, who underhand aced his opponent in the Hamburg quarters, and while I would love to see Monfils do well, he may not be the biggest threat.

That's not to say there aren't other threats lurking -- Casper Ruud is seeded at a Major for the first time in his young career, and after a run to the semis in both Rome, where he beat Karen Khachanov and Matteo Berrettini, and Hamburg, where he took out Fabio Fognini, he could feature prominently here. He's slated for a third round against Thiem, who he's never played before, and might just be able to put up a fight if he gets there.

And then there's Diego Schwartzman, the man who against all odds kept Rafael Nadal title-less on clay this year. The Argentine, who's only won a handful of smaller titles in his career, shocked the undisputed GOAT 🐐on this surface with a straight-set win in Rome, his first victory over Rafa in ten tries. He followed up with a solid win over Denis Shapovalov in the semis and put up a nice fight against Novak Djokovic in his first Masters final. In Paris, he starts against a barely unseeded Miomir Kecmanovic, but the Serb still hasn't gotten a foothold at the Slams, so if Schwartzman can manage the win, he could well make another run to get back in the quarters and maybe even go further than that.

My Semifinalist Pick:Diego Schwartzman
Confidence Meter:I'm just rooting for him so much...

Fourth Quarter

The last quarter of the draw is headlined by a couple of guys who certainly have the potential to be the next generation's standard bearers for the sport but seem to keep coming up a little short. Daniiel Medvedev got so close to breaking into the upper echelons at the U.S. Open last year, and I was frankly kind of surprised at how easily he lost to Dominic Thiem when trying to defend his runner-up points -- he should have had a 2-1 set lead in the semis and instead lost in straights. He then skipped Rome and strangely lost his opener in Hamburg to Ugo Humbert, not exactly a promising start on what's by far his worst surface historically.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, who won the year end championships last year, remains an underperformer in the Majors. He was upset by Borna Coric in a long third round in New York and by Milos Raonic in straight sets in Melbourne -- he's only made it past the fourth round once. He's trying to build momentum on clay though -- after dropping his Rome opener to Jannik Sinner, he's playing for the title tomorrow in Hamburg. But with the final on Sunday, the same day first rounds start in Paris, he's going to have to bounce back fast to make a deep run again.

Either favorite is vulnerable to upsets -- Medvedev opens against Marton Fucsovics, who ousted Denis Shapovalov in Melbourne and Grigor Dimitrov in both "Cincy" and the U.S. Open. The Russian has won the pair's only two previous meetings, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the tables turned this time. And Filip Krajinovic, on pace to meet Tsitsipas in the third round could also be a spoiler -- he beat Dominic Thiem at the Western & Southern and in Andrey Rublev in Rotterdam at the start of the year. He's a lower seed but may outshine his expectations.

But let's talk more about Shapovalov and Rublev too. The former was a little quiet at the start of the year, but really broke through at the U.S. Open, beating David Goffin and very nearly making the semis during a spectacular five-setter against Pablo Carreño Busta. And he got right back to work in Rome with wins over Ugo Humbert and Grigor Dimitrov on his way to the semis. Now ranked at #10 in the world, the young Canadian is really proving himself on all courts. He opens against veteran Gilles Simon and could meet Tsitsipas in the fourth round, but he's got it in him to pull off some upsets.

Rublev, meanwhile kicked off this year red hot, winning titles in Doha and Adelaide before reaching the fourth round in Melbourne. He also reached the quarters at the U.S. Open, and after a fairly early exit in Rome, he's playing the Hamburg final tomorrow. Like so many potential contenders, he'll have to turn around quick if he wants to make a statement in Paris, but he might just be able to do it.

My Semifinalist Pick:Denis Shapovalov
Confidence Meter:It just feels like his time to break through

With all that said, there's a lot of other storylines to watch at this year's French Open -- from the history-making qualifications of Mexico's Renata Zarazua, who made the semis in Acapulco and is the first woman from her country to make the main draw in Paris, and Mayar Sherif, who following in the footsteps of Ons Jabeur did the same for Egypt. And Sara Errani, a finalist back in 2012 will try to get her first win in a Major main draw in three years.

There's also the comeback stories of Kei Nishikori, playing his first Major of the year, and Jack Sock, who's currently ranked out of the top 300 but battled through qualifiers to get a first round against big-serving Reilly Opelka, and the potential young upstarts like Mackenzie McDonald.

Of course, even with all the potential drama, all eyes will be on Rafa, who despite my 4-ball rating remains the favorite for a thirteenth title here, and Serena, who despite my lack of faith could make history on the clay of Paris. And either one of them could bring us some real magic over this next fortnight.

But what I most hope for is that we are able to get through this event without any catastrophic issues among the players, their teams, or anyone in attendance. The U.S. Open did a decent job managing the new normal we live in, but it wasn't without its faults, and hopefully those in charge at Roland Garros can learn from any mistakes. After all, the last thing we need is for any infection or outbreak to change the entire storyline of what's happening here.

So as we all cross our fingers for a safe and exciting last Grand Slam of the year, let's just hope it's all worth it.

September 21, 2020

When in Rome...

No matter how much has been said about it, it still feels weird that, at this point in the year, we're talking about the clay court season and the lead up to Roland Garros. And with only two weeks between the last two Slams of the year, we had to pack a lot of action into an exceedingly short time. But with the Rome Masters now in the books, and Hamburg and Strasbourg underway, we did get some indications of what we can expect when we finally make the trip over to Paris. And, as always, we're bound to be in for a couple surprises.

Let's start with the ladies, who actually got in a couple weeks play on the surface before the U.S. Open, both in Palermo and Prague, and at an event concurrent with New York in Istanbul. But it wasn't just those who'd been acclimated to the clay that shined this past week. Victoria Azarenka, who made a stunning run to the final in the Big Apple, got right back to work at the BNL Internazionali d'Italia, avenging a loss in Lexington to Venus Williams and shredding defending Aussie Open champ Sofia Kenin, oh-and-oh. And Yulia Putintseva, the somewhat surprising quarterfinalist in New York, got a second straight win over favorite Petra Martic in Rome and took out a recently meh Elena Rybakina before retiring in the quarters.

There were some other standouts too -- Marketa Vondrousova, one of last year's many surprises at Roland Garros, seemed to get her year back on track after what's been an unimpressive 4-8 record so far this year. A decisive quarterfinal win over Elina Svitolina, who was playing her first tournament since March, made that all-important statement as she looks to defend her French Open runner-up points. And Garbiñe Muguruza, who lost early at the U.S. Open, losing to Tsvetana Pironkova in the second round, battled through a tough draw, besting Sloane Stephens, Coco Gauff, Johanna Konta and Victoria Azarenka to make the semis.

Ultimately though, the final featured the top two seeds in the draw, with Simona Halep, who skipped the U.S. Open but took a title in Prague this summer and repaid her Melbourne loss to Muguruza on Sunday, taking on defending champion Karolina Pliskova, who, since opening the year with a title in Brisbane, has struggled to make the laters rounds of events. The title match didn't quite live up to potential, though, as Halep ran off with the first set in twenty minutes and an injured Pliskova retired after the third game in the second. It was the Romanian's twenty-second career title and her third in a row, giving her a win streak of fourteen straight matches. And as she looks to reclaim the title she won in Paris more than two years ago, she might just have established herself as the player to beat.

The men's side of things in Rome was no less dramatic and saw its own fair share of surprises emerge. I'll get to the "big" one (was it just one?) in a moment, but it's worth starting with some of the more under-the-radar players that made a splash this week. Denis Shapovalov, who came OHSOCLOSE to making the semis in New York, went a long way to prove not only that was no fluke, but that he can be a true force on clay too. After a test from Ugo Humbert, he went the distance again versus Grigor Dimitrov, withstanding three three-setters in a row during his semifinal run -- a pretty impressive show of endurance considering he played 22 sets at the Open.

Meanwhile Casper Ruud, a breakout star in the pre-lockdown portion of the season, continued his march higher with a win over former U.S. Open champ Marin Cilic and another against surprisingly consistent Matteo Berrettini, who he'd lost to in New York. It was his first Masters semifinal appearance, and his third trip to the final four this year. Not bad for a guy who kicked off the season outside the top fifty.

The real Cinderella, though, was former college star Dominik Koepfer, who made it through qualifiers with wins over Gilles Simon and Mikhail Kukushkin and then stunned Gael Monfils in the Frenchman's first match since a solid winning stretch in February. Koepfer made it all the way to the quarters and even took a set off Novak Djokovic before finally ending his run. It could bode well for where the young-ish German is heading from here.

Of course the shocker of the event came when two-time defending champion Rafael Nadal, going for his tenth title in Rome, fell in straight sets to Argentina's Diego Schwartzman in the quarters. It was the eighth seed's first win over Rafa in ten tries, and his first victory over any of the Big Three. He'd go on to the final, where he eventually lost a two break lead and the match to Djokovic, but what's by far the biggest win of his career could put him on a much different path than we'd expected when we make it to Paris.

Of course, what Nole accomplished in Rome was in itself spectacular. The world #1, whose only loss this year came under the most unusual of circumstances, wasn't playing his best all week, had a few outbursts, and was tested by players who he should have beaten easily. But at the end of the day, he walked away with the trophy, a record 36th at the Masters. Does his dominance, and Rafa's hiccup, signal a changing of the guard at Roland Garros? Not necessarily. Nadal will continue to be the player to beat at the French Open until he isn't, and one loss at his first event in seven months, should not be taken as an omen.

But we certainly have started to see the next generation start to step up -- whether by default or not -- and given the circumstances, this could be their best opportunity to rise to the challenge.

And with just six days to go before the final Major of the year, there's no better time to do it.

September 13, 2020

Fourth Time's a Charm

It seems only appropriate that, to cap off an unprecedented and wildly unpredictable U.S. Open, we get an outcome as crazy as the one we just saw.

In a little over four hours, after losing the first two sets and getting down a break in the third, Austria's Dominic Thiem somehow fought back against first-time Major finalist Alexander Zverev to win his very first Grand Slam title. He was the first man to do so in more than 70 years in New York.

The win is especially sweet after Thiem's heartbreak in Australia at the start of the year. The 27-year-old and two-time French Open finalist had squandered a 2-1 set lead over heavy favorite Novak Djokovic in Melbourne and didn't seem to recover well after that.

He lost to world #128 Gianluca Mager in the Rio quarters on his favorite clay surface, and though he played -- and won -- a lot of exhibition matches, including ones on the ill-advised Adria Tour over the summer, he was absolutely crushed in his opening round of the Western & Southern just ahead of the Open.

But he turned things around when it counted.

Even before Djokovic's unfortunate exit in the fourth round, Thiem was looking solid on court. His only real challenge in the early rounds came from 2014
champ Marin Cilic, who managed to take a set off him, but he rolled over a very talented Felix Auger-Aliassime in the quarters and absolutely crushed last year's runner-up Daniil Medvedev in the semis.

On the other side of the draw Zverev, who started out the year with mixed results -- he lost all three of his matches at the inaugural ATP Cup but then made the semis at the Australian Open -- was the ostensible biggest beneficiary of Nole's default. Still he'd dropped sets in four of his first five matches and found himself down 0-2 sets to Pablo Carreño Busta in the semis. He seemed primed to reverse his fortunes in the final though, when he came out firing from the get-go, building what seemed to be an insurmountable lead.

But in stark contrast to what we've seen on the women's tour, where it seems debut appearances in Major finals seem to be an advantage, this time Thiem's "experience" won out. While both men had an opportunity to serve out the match, and both men failed, it was Dominic who was able to convert his third match point in the fifth set tiebreak.

With the win, he became the first first-time Grand Slam champion on the men's side since Cilic in 2014 and the first man born in the 90s to claim a big trophy. It's weird to think that, once Nole was out, Thiem was essentially the elder statesman left in the field, both the oldest and one of only two quarterfinalists who'd made a final at a Major before. So this was ostensibly his title for the taking. The fact that he had to fight so hard for it, might just indicate we really are on the verge of a new era in men's tennis.

Sure, you could argue that, without having to face any of the Big Three at the Open there is something of an asterisk after Thiem's title. But we saw over this fortnight glimpses of what's to come in the men's game. Whatever your thoughts on the quality of this final, we did certainly see a lot of great shots, fight, and heart in the field.

And with the French Open now around the corner, and the likelihood that both Rafael Nadal and Djokovic will be there to vie for the title, we'll soon see whether all of their runs -- especially Thiem's -- were just flukes or a true sign of what's to come.

And here's hoping they all make it a good one.

September 12, 2020

A Champion for a New Generation

After two of the strangest weeks we've seen in tennis -- and more than seven months since our last Major winner was crowned -- we finally have a new Grand Slam champion in Naomi Osaka, who came back from a set and a break down against Victoria Azarenka to claim the 2020 U.S. Open title.

Maybe it's unfair to call Naomi a "new" champion -- the 22-year-old stunned the world two years ago when she took out Serena Williams in this final in straight sets. A couple months later she won her second crown in Melbourne, and with her victory today she become the first woman since Jennifer Capriati to go 3-for-3 in her first Major finals.

And what an exciting way in which to do it! Azarenka -- who had ended a year-long losing streak in a big way last month, winning the title in "Cincinatti", ironically when Osaka pulled out of the final with a hamstring injury -- was riding a ten-match winning streak coming into Saturday's championship round, capped by a glorious comeback against Serena in the semis, where she notched her first ever win over her long-time rival at a Major. She came out swinging in the final two, breaking Osaka three times to take the first set in 26 minutes and getting an early break to start the second.

But it was almost all Naomi after that. As she said after the match, it would have been embarassing to lose the match in under an hour so she fought her heart out, forced a decider and took the lead in that early. Serving it out at 5-3, she came out on top in what might have been the best point of the match, when Azarenka swiped a return into the net. And somehow, after nearly two hours, she was the one holding the trophy.

But it feels like the win meant so much more than the glory of the title -- over the last few months, Osaka has grown in to a true activist for causes well outside tennis. In June she quietly traveled to Minneapolis, the site of the murder of George Floyd, to show her support for those protesting police violence. At the Western & Southern Open, she withdrew from her semifinal to make a statement about the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin -- an act that caused the entire tournament to pause play in solidarity. And for each of her matches at the U.S. Open, she wore a mask bearing the name of a different Black man or woman killed by law enforcement.

It's a kind of advocacy we don't see from most players much older than Osaka, but she and the likes of Coco Gauff and Frances Tiafoe have done a lot to take up the cause, helping to bring a new generation of voices to light. What have these actions accomplished? Well, to hear Osaka tell it, at least they've gotten us talking -- and hopefully those conversations can effect real change. And as her platform keeps getting bigger, her impact can only grow.

A couple months ago, when the pandemic was just getting underway and lockdown was really taking hold, Osaka told CNN she was trying to get over her "crippling" shyness. Well, it seems clear over the last few months, that she has really found her voice.

And for the good of the sport -- and the good of the world, here's hoping she keeps using it.

September 10, 2020

A Couple Early Predictions Ready to Come True

Well here we are in the final stretches of what's been a very different and extremely surreal U.S. Open. We knew coming into this that we'd be in for some surprises, but I'm not sure anyone could have guessed what the last week and a half had in store for us. But as I look at the eight players still vying for the title, it strikes me that a couple things I'd been hoping against all hope for at the start of the year might actually be about to come true, under the weirdest of circumstances.

Don't get me wrong -- I don't mean to brag. I certainly didn't expect a global pandemic would wipe out half the tennis season and keep a vast number of the sport's top players out of the mix for the second, and possibly third and last, Major of the year. And I would never have thought an undefeated Novak Djokovic would be defaulted in the fourth round and set off a firestorm against an unassuming lineswoman.

But a combination of luck (good or bad, depending on how you look at it) and dogged hard work has put a couple of my 2020 predictions within reach. So let's take a look at them in a little more detail, starting with one that will absolutely happen this weekend.

Prediction #1: Someone not named Rafa, Roger, or Novak wins a Major

While I could not have possibly known this would be a result of 1) knee surgery for Roger Federer, 2) a pandemic keeping Rafael Nadal from defending his U.S. Open crown, and 3) Novak Djokovic smacking a ball in frustration and hitting a lineswoman in the throat, we nevertheless have guaranteed a first-time Grand Slam winner on the men's side. It might not be Juan Martin Del Potro (😢) or Frances Tiafoe (who actually had a reassuring run in New York this year) as I'd hoped, but it will be a new name, nevertheless.

This prediction nearly came to fruition back in Australia, when Dominic Thiem, who'd already beaten Rafa and Alexander Zverev, had a 2-1 set lead over Nole in the final, but the Austrian couldn't quite close the deal. Now, as the semifinalist with the most experience in Major championship matches, he might have the best shot at closing the deal. But we can't count out the other contenders.

Zverev reached his second straight Slam semi with a win over Borna Coric in the quarters, but he's dropped a couple sets here and there. And I can't help but feel like a win by Pablo Carreño Busta, the "beneficiary" of the Djokovic default, would be most fitting. And the Spaniard has a chance -- while you might assume he's a clay specialist, three of the former world #10's four titles have come on the hard courts, and he showed us just how much talent he has in his come-from-behind win against Denis Shapovalov last round. He's lost his one previous match against Zverev, but I sure would like to see him reverse that fortune

But probably the strongest player left in the field is last year's runner-up Daniil Medvedev, who seemed to revel in the hatred of the New York crowd in 2019. Well, the fans are gone this time around, but the 24-year-old Russian hasn't lost a beat and has been clinical in his wins over the first five rounds. He's the only man standing who hasn't lost a set this event, and though he's got a slight losing record against Thiem (1-2), something tells me he's going to be loathe to do so now. And I wouldn't be surprised if he goes one better on his breakout run from last year.

Prediction #2: Vika re-enters the top ten

This one was in real danger right off the bat in 2020, with Victoria Azarenka pulling out of the Australian Open and alluding to the fact that she might even retire this year. She lost her first match back in Monterrey, then got sidelines from the shutdown, and dropped her opener to Venus Williams in Lexington.

Boy, have things turned around since then, though. She took out four higher ranked players in "Cincy", including seeded Donna Vekic and Johanna Konta, and while she benefitted from a walkover by Naomi Osaka in the final, she picked up her first title since 2016 and cut her ranking from #59 to #27. Single digits are certainly in sight too, now that she's made the semis at the Open, notching wins over Aryna Sabalenka -- who beat her here last year -- and a talented Karolina Muchova, before absolutely dismantling a very talented Elise Mertens last night.

Next up, though, is Serena Williams, who's beaten Vika in 18 of their previous 22 matches, twice in the finals here. This one promises to be a battle, too, with Serena still chasing that elusive 24th Grand Slam title, a feat she's come up short at in her previous eight tries. But despite early losses in Lexington and the Western & Southern, she's looked good so far this tournament and might just be ready to close the deal.

Still, while this semi certainly has the makings of a final, the winner is far from guaranteed a title. Naomi Osaka, who denied Serena in one of those attempts is still the oddsmakers' favorite for the championship, and since pulling out of the W&S final has looked strong and healthy. And summer standout Jennifer Brady, the only one of these women who's never won a Major -- never even made it out of the fourth round -- has been on fire in New York, not dropping a set in any of her singles matches yet. She might just have what it takes to give us two first time titleists this event.

Win or lose, though, Azarenka is certainly on her way up the rankings, and with a few months of tennis back on the calendar, there's no telling what she'll be able to do with the time.

By the way, I haven't been completely off base with my other two predictions for the year, either. Perhaps we haven't yet seen huge things from Dayana Yastremska, Anastasia Potapova, or Amanda Anisimova this year, there's still time for them to make a splash on clay. Meanwhile we've seen some new candidates for the Next Big Thing, from Iga Swiatek to Jannik Sinner.

And while John Isner remians the top-ranked male player in the U.S., some controversial comments during an Atlanta exhibition and a first round exit at the U.S. Open could indicate the start of a reckoning for the big man. Whether a full one comes to bear, well, we'll certainly see over the next few weeks.

After all, there's still a lot of tennis left to come this year, and if this event is any indication we'll be in for a lot more excitement to come.

September 6, 2020

Half Way Through -- Where We Stand

So it appears I really suck at predicting semifinalsts at Grand Slams.

Three rounds in to this year's very strange U.S. Open, and only three of my eight selections are still alive. And while those standing are still looking strong and could very well fulfill my expectations, so many others have really asserted themselves in a way I could never have predicted.

The Women

Let's start with the first quarter of the ladies' draw where top seed Karolina Pliskova was upset by Caroline Garcia in the second round. It was the first "huge" shock in the women's draw -- which somewhat shockingly had more seeds emerge out of the first round than the mens -- but something I frankly saw coming. I also expected Jennifer Brady, a winner over Ashleigh Barty, Elina Svitolina, and Garbiñe Muguruza this year and a champion in Lexington, to do well, but that's where my foresight ends.

Yulia Putintseva, who's made a couple of Roland Garros quarters, has only won two matches here once, and Petra Martic, who'd I'd written off as a vulnerable eighth seed, both have been on point in their first few matches, and the fact that one of them will play for a spot in the final four is pretty surprising. But it appears we cannot count out 2016 champion Angelique Kerber who, at #23 in the world, is well off her best tennis, but seems to like winning that way. She's currently down a set to Brady in the fourth round, but she's certainly pulled off bigger comebacks in the past and might just be ready to do it again.

On the end of the draw, my complete Hail Mary pick of Johanna Konta was shocked by a resurgent Sorana Cirstea, but I take some comfort in the fact that my other one to watch, Elise Mertens, has been looking strong this first week. One of the players forced to suspend her second round match and pick it up again the next day, she's technically played three days in a row but kept her level high. And Aussie champ Sofia Kenin is comfortingly playing well again, after losing her first rounds in Dubai, Doha, and Cincinnati. She was pushed by Ons Jabeur last night, but clinched the win in reassuring form.

But you might have to keep an eye out now for two-time finalist Victoria Azarenka who, after a title run in "Cincy" is now riding an eight-match win streak, absolutely crushing Aryna Sabalenka, her vanquisher here last year, in the second round. Next up is a talented Karolina Muchova, one of my Cinderella picks in Melbourne. The 24-year-old Czech scored a huge win over Venus Williams in her opener and survived a big test from Cirstea yesterday. Unseeded Azarenka is actually one ranking spot below her seeded next opponent, but something tells me her experience could help her pull off the win -- and maybe help another one of my predictions come true.

The third quarter of the women's draw is where the most disruption has happened. Yes, Serena Williams making the fourth round shouldn't be a surprise -- though that outcome looked to be in question after she dropped her first set to Sloane Stephens yesterday -- but given her losses so far this summer, it certainly wasn't a given. For a spot in the quarters, she set up a rematch with Maria Sakkari, the woman who came back from a set down in "Cincy" to pull off the upset. Serena's not usually the type to let you get away with two wins in a row, but she has dropped straight matches to Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu in recent years, so the Greek is certainly hoping she can capitalize.

But the real surprise has been Tsvetana Pironkova, a semifinalist at Wimbledon a decade ago. Since then she's retire, had a baby, and in the most unfortunately timed of announcements, decided to come back to tennis in March. But you can certainly see why -- she simply stunned my pick for this quarter, Garbiñe Muguruza, in the second round and went on to take out 18th seed Donna Vekic yesterday. With a fourth round against fellow veteran Alizé Cornet, who beat Sofia Kenin last week in Cincy and benefitted from the retirement of Madison Keys last night, she could very well make another break for the later rounds.

In the last quarter of the draw, the only one on the ladies' side where I picked the favorite to advance, Naomi Osaka has so far lived up to my expectations. But that's not to say there were no surprises here. Osaka, the oddsmakers' favorite to win the title, has dropped sets to Misaki Doi and Marta Kostyuk, so could be challenged by Anett Kontaveit in the next round. The 21st ranked Estonian put up a fight against the 2018 champion last week and has been on point this week. I wouldn't be surprised if she put up a big fight against the heavy favorite again.

I am frankly a little disappointed by the showing from Jessica Pegula, who has far outplayed her #63 ranking this year with wins over Caroline Wozniacki and Aryna Sabalenka. I thought she had the potential to be a spoiler in this section, and while she looked strong early, she fell in the third round to a strong Petra Kvitova. Instead it appears the Cinderella for the tournament will again be Shelby Rogers, a one-time quarterfinalist at Roland Garros who stunned Serena this summer in Lexington. Still ranked #93 in the world, she picked off one of my favorites, Elena Rybakina, in the second round and followed up by beating compatriot Madison Brengle a round later. Repeating her success against Kvitova will be a harder task, but if she can do it, this would certainly push her to new heights.

The Men

The men's draw has seen plenty of drama of its own, but top seeded and top ranked Novak Djokovic continues to dominate, dropping only one set to Kyle Edmund and inching closer and closer to an undefeated 2020 season. With a fourth round match against Pablo Carreno Busta it appears he's soon to take one step closer.

I am pleasantly surprised, though, by the showing from David Goffin, the other favorite in this quarter, who hasn't done too much this year since beating Rafael Nadal at the ATP Cup. I thought he might get tested and possibly upset in the first round by big-serving Reilly Opelka, but he seemed to handle the challenge well, going on to also easily defeat a strong Filip Krajinovic, who took out Dominic Thiem last week in "Cincy". Then there's young Denis Shapovalov, who started this year with so much hype, but came to the Open with a 5-8 record on the season and a handful of opening round matches. This week he's lived up to his seeding, but after a five-setter against Taylor Fritz -- where he had to come back from 1-2 sets down -- he might be spent in his next round.

I tried to hedge my pick for the second quarter of the draw by choosing two potential semifinalists, but that didn't work out too well for me. Roberto Bautista Agut had the upper hand, ousting Tennys Sandgren in the first round, but yesterday squandered a 2-1 set lead over surprising standout, and PTPA founding member, Vasek Pospisil, who'd already beating countryman Milos Raonic in the second round. It's by far the best showing from the Canadian on these courts -- he made the quarters at Wimbledon back in 2015 -- and against Alex de Minaur, who had his own 1-2 set comeback against Karen Khachanov yesterday, he might just be able to keep it going.

And while the advantage still lies with second seeded Dominic Thiem in this section, I've been impressed by young Felix Auger-Aliassime too. He's another one of those players who came into 2020 red hot and, unlike Shapovalov, seemed to make good on it. He reached the finals of two straight events in the late winter, Rotterdam and Marseille, and while he lost to Sandgren early last week in Cincy, his shot-making was clean and precise. After a tight opener in New York against Thiago Monteiro, he's looked unstoppable and against Thiem, a man he's never met before, could pull off a big upset.

For some strange reason I picked John Millman to surprise us in the third set, even though I knew how dominant last year's finalist Daniil Medvedev can be. And the Russian, happy to play the part of villain at the 2019 event, has been exactly that in his first week back, not dropping a set in his first three matches. Next up he faces Frances Tiafoe, who took out Millman in the second round and is finally living up to the expectations I've had for him. I'm not saying he will beat the world #5, but it sure will be fun to watch him try.

But maybe more impressive this week has been Matteo Berrettini, who I, maybe unjustly, thought would be a flash-in-the-pan. Last year's surprise semifinalist only played two events this year, racking up an unimpressive 2-2 record, but he's found his game at the Open again -- perhaps thanks to one ardent follower who's found a way to get around the no-fan policy this year. The Italian hasn't dropped a set yet, and though he faces a very talented Andrey Rublev in the next round, he might just be ready to keep going.

And finally the last quarter of the men's draw was stacked with young talent ready to make a name for themselves on the Slam courts. Stefanos Tsitsipas certainly put up a fight to make my prediction come true, but ultimately fell in a five-set, four-plus hour match that ended at one a.m. to Borna Coric, a man who we've been waiting for years to live up to his potential. He's never made the quarters of a Major, but with a fourth round agaist world #63 Jordan Thompson, he might be able to do it -- if he recovers in time.

But, of course, you have to assume the favorite for this section is now squarely Alexander Zverev, who made the semis in Melbourne this year too. He's dropped a set in each of his matches so far this first week, but next faces who has to be the biggest surprsie on the men's side, 99th-ranked Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, a 21-year-old from Spain playing in his first U.S. Open and only his third Slam ever. He's been tested, of course, needing five sets to get past Dennis Novak in his opener, and dropping a set in each of his next two matches too. He's clearly the underdog in his next match, but stranger things have certainly happened before.

Of course, with a week left to go at the U.S. Open, there's still a lot of game left to play, and any of the players still in the running could conceivably pull off some big wins. Will experience win out in the end, or will that new blood finally start asserting itself in both draws? Only time will tell.

And maybe, just maybe, one of these days I'll get the draws right.