September 21, 2023

Open Court


Andreescu seeks second major Thursday in Paris

ROLAND GARROS – They began as tennis’s version of a blind date, players who didn’t really know each other signed on for a common goal, without much expectation of reaching it.

Six days and four “tennis dates” later, Canadian Bianca Andreescu and Michael Venus of New Zealand will enter Court Philippe-Chatrier in quest of a Grand Slam title.

Andreescu and Venus reached the final with a 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4) victory over Andreescu’s BJK Cup teammate Gabriela Andreescu and her partner Nathaniel Lammons of the U.S. Wedneday. It was their first victory that didn’t require a match tiebreak, and yet it was still very tight.

Here’s what it looked like.

The difference maker, at times, has been Andreescu, who is playing mixed doubles at the pro level for the first time. She has come up with big serves and impressive returns at key moments to more than do her part.

“Obviously I knew who she was, and you see everyone around and recognize people’s faces and things like that, but I’d never gone and sat down at a table and said, ‘Hey, what’s up?,’ ” said Venus, who has known Andreescu’s coach Christophe Lambert for several years.

Before taking on Andreescu, Lambert had been the high-performance head for Tennis New Zealand. And in that capacity had been at the Tokyo Olympics with Venus and was always in contact. “Once he told me he was working with Bianca, I told him, ‘You need to hook me up with her as a mixed doubles partner,’ ” Venus laughed.

Andreescu had decided she would play the mixed before Roland Garros because she wanted to play more doubles. But, because of the ankle injury suffered in Miami, she was a little wary of the full three-set format at Grand Slams for women’s doubles. “We didn’t know how singles would go, how my ankle would feel. But it’s been going very well and I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Andreescu said.

Venus kept messaging Lambert, not even sure at first that it was serious. And then he just took the initiative and went off to sign them up.

At first, they weren’t even in the main draw. The combination of Venus’s doubles ranking of No. 17 and Andreescu’s singles ranking of No. 42 wasn’t enough to make a very tough entry cut. But the French wild card team of Nina Radovanovic and Arthur Bouquier were late withdrawals, and thus they squeezed in.

Read us

Mixed doubles – the Grand Slam crapshoot

Grand Slam mixed doubles is a bit of a crapshoot.

Not just the match tiebreak format, but the fact that many of the teams are pickup tandems; it’s fairly rare that mixed doubles team last for years – unless they win a major title, of course.

Last year in Paris, Wesley Koolhof and Ena Shibahara, both fine doubles players but players who had never met, teamed up for the title. The year before, Russians Elena Vesnina and Aslan Karatsev (the former back from maternity leave, the latter playing his first mixed doubles ever) were in the final.

And the seedings go according to the individual players’ doubles rankings in their own specialties, which have nothing to do with their mixed doubles partners, or even with mixed doubles at all.

There are plenty of local wild cards to tilt the draw. And then you occasionally have star players teaming up to throw a spanner into the works – Nick Kyrgios and Genie Bouchard at the US Open, Venus Williams and Jamie Murray at Wimbledon last year. Those teams rarely win, though.

Among the shock winners in recent years have been a very young Melanie Oudin and Jack Sock at the US Open in 2011, and Jarmila Gajdosova and Matthew Ebden at the Australian Open in 2013. Home-country advantage can factor in. But in almost all cases the male partner is an accomplished doubles player.

In this case, Venus was the 2017 Roland Garros men’s doubles champion with American Ryan Harrison.

Getting to know each other

Four matches in six days at a major, including three match tiebreaks, and you get to know a person.

These two have a generational gap, as well; Andreescu is just 22, and Venus is a 35-year-old, married father. And the world of men’s doubles specialists and top women’s singles players don’t necessarily collide too often.

No matter; tennis is the bonding language.

“Obviously I’ve seen her play quite a bit, so I knew how good of a tennis player she was and how well she moves and hits the ball and serves and returns and does all that,” Venus said. “But it was, for me, kind of the intangibles and how she sees what’s happening on the court and understands and reads the game that was really impressive. I was learning some things also from her, too.”

A flattered Andreescu returned the compliment.

“He’s just very easy going, very light-hearted, which I love because I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself and he calms me down when I’m upset, if I get upset,” Andreescu said. “His serve is amazing. He’s very good at the net, and nd I feel like a lot of him at the net is starting to rub off on me,” Andreescu said. “I feel like I have to step up my game every time, which is helping a lot. And he’s such a great person as well, off the court.”

You could see the chemistry growing through the week – especially as the first set they played against Nicole Melicher-Martinez and Kevin Krawietz in the first round was a bit of a disaster.

Wanting to make the big shots, Venus made a lot of errors instead. And Andreescu wasn’t really getting involved in much of the play, with three highly experienced doubles players on the court.

But by the time they met Dabrowski and Lammons on Wednesday, it was clear they had gelled quite a bit.

And Andreescu, who still seemed somewhat bemused when she couldn’t get a racquet on Lammons’ big serve, still made some returns when it counted. And she defended herself very well generally from the back court.

One notable return, at 5-5 in the match tiebreak in the quarterfinal against Marta Kostyuk and Marcelo Arevalo, stood out. Playing the deuce court, Andreescu handled the inside-out backhand return with power and precision to win that point, as the Cana-Kiwi team went on to win.

There was a similar moment in the second-set tiebreak against Dabrowski and Lammons, too. Just clutch.

In the crapshoot that is mixed doubles, those moments can make the difference.

Facing Kato and Puetz in the final

At noon on Thursday, Andreescu and Venus will play another unseeded team, Miyu Kato and Tim Puetz, in the final.

Kato got a fair bit of attention this week as she and women’s doubles partner Aldila Sutjiadi were defaulted out of the women’s doubles after a seemingly benign ball Kato hit across the court struck a ball girl. The resulting decision by the Grand Slam supervisor and tournament referee was fairly controversial, and Kato was stripped of her prize money and ranking points for the event.

But while there are provisions in the Grand Slam rulebook for pulling players out of their other events as well, it was (mercifully) decided that this relatively benign breach of the rules didn’t warrant that. And so Kato kept on in mixed (she defeated partner Sutjiadi in the semifinals).

Andreescu said she watched some of that match Wednesday.

But Puetz and Venus know each other well. They played most of 2021-22 together and won the Hamburg and the Paris Masters in 2021, Dubai in 2022 made the finals in Halle, Stuttgart, Cincinnati and Kitzbuhel last year.

Coincidence? WE THINK NOT

If they win, Venus said he may have to hit the hairdresser to make good on his promise to his daughter Lila.

“I think beginning of last year, at the Australian Open, we promised my four-year-old daughter that if I won another Grand Slam that she could dye her hair pink. So every week since then she’s pretty much been asking,” he said.

“Just being in the finals is freaking great. Obviously, winning would be even better,” Andreescu said. “But I think if we go out there and we play just like we’ve been playing, good energy, just that connection we have, I think we can do well.”

What about Wimbledon, coming up soon?

“We haven’t spoken about that. But, why not?” Andreescu said.

On June 10, 2017, two things happened at Roland Garros.

Andreescu won the girls’ doubles title with Carson Branstine on Court 2.

Venus won the men’s doubles title with Ryan Harrison on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

Nearly six years later, their worlds collide in Paris, on Chatrier, as they try to win their second major titles. Together.

About Post Author