2016 Roland Garros is proving to a quirky affair this year. Beyond the constant dodging of thunderstorms, questionable court scheduling, and withdrawal of mega stars, several surprising names are finding Roland Garros success. Agnieszka Radwanska, Tsvetana Pironkova, and Venus Williams have all advanced deep into the draw despite games more suited for grass of England and despite the presence of very heavy, wet conditions at Roland Garros.
Surprising Names Are Finding 2016 Roland Garros Success
Leading the way in this grass court assault on the terre battue is Agnieszka Radwanska. Although seeded #2, Radwanska has been very forthright over the years in acknowledging that clay is not her preferred surface, and her results on clay have only helped to support her claims about her own game. At the French Open, Radwanska has only advance to the quarterfinals once, in 2013. Although Radwanska grew up playing on clay courts in her native Poland, she changed her game a great deal to find success on the WTA upon turning pro. Shortening strokes, learning how to use her opponents pace against them, etc to find more success on the hard courts that dominate her season. However, this French Open, Radwanska has looked like a clay court specialist. As one of the best drop shot and lob makers on tour, Radwanska has used both very efficiently to move through the draw that was full of potential complications. A second round meeting with the ever dangerous Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia, and a third round meeting with the very in form and clay love Barbara Strycova. The latter proved possibly one of the most entertaining matches of the year, with both pulling magical shots from incredible places on the court (literally both players were making shots while on their butts at one point).
Radwanska is in the midst of a round of 16 match with yet another grass court specialist Tsvetana Pironkova from Bulgaria. Pironkova is most famous for her unconventional form and for her success at Wimbledon. A former semifinalist (in 2010) she followed that performance up with a quarterfinal run in 2011. She also has beaten Venus Williams twice at Wimbledon. As one could naturally see Radwanska’s game transferring well to clay, it is more difficult to imagine Peronkova’s game doing so. A hard, flat hitting striker of the ball, Pironkova enjoys moving forward into the court, which has been an unconventional style in Paris for many years now; however, this style has carried Pironkova to the 4th round with quality wins over clay court queen Sara Errani (in an easy straight setter) and Sloane Stephens (four-time round of 16 qualifier).
The most heartwarming grass court success story of this tourney has to be Venus Williams reaching the round of 16 for the first time since 2006. The hard-hitting, high-risk 35-year-old has never won the French Open and has only made one final, losing to her sister Serena in 2003. Leading into this tourney, TV commentators and Twitter-sphere alike had reasoned it would be best for Venus to not even play the French, skip the clay court season entirely and prepare for her favorite slam, Wimbledon. However, Venus, always known for loving the game and to compete, came to Paris ready to play. Showing no ill effects from her auto-immune issues, Williams has been confident and lethal on court. Serving well and fast, hitting forehand and backhand winners alike, she has even continued to approach and find success at the net with her screeching overhead and nimble volleys. In one of the most undramatic three setters of the tourney, Williams bageled French villain Alize Cornet in the third set of their third round encounter. The only dramatic moment happening when the chair umpire warned Venus about on court coaching. Venus’s reply became instant Twitter gif and meme heaven ( “I’m 36 years old and I have never been accused of coaching. That’s just not what I do…don’t even go there.”) Williams has a tough road ahead of her with a 4th round encounter with last year’s semifinalist and very in form Timea Bacsinszky.
With grass court looming for these women, they have nothing to lose as they move forward in their tourney runs. The opportunity for points, prize money, and professional success all prove to be a bonus for these women with their favorite tournaments still poised ahead of them in 2016.