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French Open 2023: Djokovic V Khachanov, Sabalenka Powers Past Svitolina In Quarter-Finals – Live

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A hold apiece means Djokovic leads 2-1 but this is just early sparring – we’re not yet sure how whoever wins will win, serves currently dictating play. Which is how Khachanov needs it – Mac, now in co-comms, notes that he’ll have to do so better than he ever has before to get a result here.

Khachanov has decent power but the other players, I’m told, do not have massive respect for his hands – though they’ve improved lately. Djokovic holds comfortably enough for 1-0.

And … play, Djokovic to serve.

Earlier, Khachanov told Europsort he was planning to make Djokovic doubt himself; er, good luck with that one, old mate.

Here come our men!

Saba tells Mats she’s got big respect for how Svito has come back and wishes her all the best. Backhands down the line were part of her tactics, but that’s all we’re getting.

Email! “Alas for Svitolina,” begins Amar Breckenridge, “who like husband Gael hits out at our local club in Nyon, Switzerland, the track from Hamilton that applies seems more to be Helpless.

Oh man, and what a tune that is. This pod on it is excellent too, but back to the point, it’s true that she was and not because she didn’t play well, Saba is just different gravy.

Distraction from Brexit* public service announcement: here is a podcast with forensic musicological deconstruction of ‘Satisfied’ from Hamilton.

— Rafael Behr (@rafaelbehr) June 12, 2019

Coming up next: Novak Djokovic [3] v Karen Khachanov [11].

That was fearsome stuff from Sabalenka, who is the complete player now. She looked so strong throughout that match, power as it’s always been but movement, fitness, shot-selection, composure and timing better than ever. No hoping to win, she expects to win, and her ability to dictate rallies by opening her shoulders makes her a very serious prospect. I’ve seen very few women hit the ball as hard as she does, and I’d be staggered if she doesn’t make the final.

Saba, who meets Muchova next, thanks the crowd, laughing that though they’re waiting for Djokovic, she’s going to assume they’re there for her. She wants to focus on herself so goes for her shots, and when told she looks comfy on clay, says she played on it loads as a kid so doesn’t know where the idea that she’s a hard-court specialist came from. She laughs, but she’s deadly serious – she’s not having people doubting her skill and versatility – and is looking forward to her day off tomorrow, planning to rest up and enjoy the city.

Aryna Sabalenka beats Elina Svitolina 6-4 6-4!A performance of tremendous competence from Sabalenka, her power and skills way too much for an opponent who properly turned up and gave it all she had. Sabalenka waits at the net but Svitolina only gives her a thumbs up, presumably to say nothing personal, but refuses the customary handshake and embrace because she’s a Ukrainian unwilling to fraternise with a Belarusian given Belarus’ support for Russia.

Elina Svitolina walks straight to her chair, refusing to shake the hand of Sabalenka. Photograph: Lisi Niesner/ReutersWell, she gets to 0-30 … then Sabalenka absolutely clobbers a forehand winner cross-court, a nasty, kicking serve out wide and clean-up forehand follow. This is terrific stuff from Saba, who’s worn Svitolina’s best and made clear there’s a significant gap between the two. But we wind up at deuce, Sabalenka clipping the net on match point and watching as the ball shoots fractionally over the sideline … but she soon earns advantage…

Svitolina holds for 4-6 4-5, forcing Sabalenka to serve for it while, at change of ends, a band in the crowd strike up Bella Ciao. I’m not sure even El Professor could save her here, but.

The problem Svitolina has is that she’s not really got a way of hurting Sabalenka; she’s reliant on prolonging points in the hope her opponent eventually misses. Well maybe once, but not no more, and as I type that a crushing backhand whizzes down the line for 30-0. Chrissy, speaking in awed tones, worries she’d have had no response to flat power of that ilk, suggesting that perhaps Steffi Graf’s slice, keeping the ball low, might work – but even that would be less effective this year, as the warm weather means a higher bounce. Muchova, though, plays that shot nicely so perhaps she might make something of it, but in the meantime a hold to 15 takes Sabalenka to within a game. Svitolina 4-6 3-5 Sabalenka

Svitolina ploughs through a hold for 4-6 3-4, but it’s hard to see a way for her. It’s incredible how solid Sabalenka looks now, still going for lines with big power but without hinting that she’s a few bad shots away from collapse.

I didn’t expect to be going back to this, but Svitolina could use Laurens, Mulligan and Marquis de Lafayette because she’s ultimately utterly outgunned. Sabalenka holds comfortably for 6-4 4-2, and this feels like five to over.

Oh yes! Sabalenka sends Svitolina charging to hither and yon, but she just doesn’t have at her disposal the power that her opponent does, a booming forehand making 15-30 and a dismissive return, also a forehand, giving her two points for a second consecutive break. But Svito responds well, hitting lines with consecutive serves, before Saba saves game-point with a backhand return that’s too good. So we go back and fourth through deuce and advantage, Sabalenka raising her fourth break point of the game then sealing it with a barrage of terrifying forehands. She leads 6-4 3-2 and looks for all the world like a semi-finalist and potential winner.

Now it’s Sabalenka serving two doubles in a game, giving Svitolina a sniff at deuce. For all the good it does her, Saba unleashing two weapons-grade inside-out forehands, cross-court from corner to corner, to seal her hold for 2-2 in set two.

Making first serves is the key to making Svitolina competitive, and she’s doing a decent job in this set, saving break point when Sabalenka nets. But a colossal backhand down the line opens the angle for a forehand spanked to the opposite corner and this time the break point disappears when she overhits another attempted winner, just. Ach, but a second double fault of the game gives Sabalenka another opportunity to break back, and when Svitolina nets we’re on serve once more. This is what happens when you’re good and you know you are: when you need to step up, you do. Svitolina 4-6 2-1 Sabalenka

Now then. Forced out wide, Svitolina goes cross, then sent back even wide, she smokes a winner down the line for 15-30. So Sabalenka hits a nails second serve then cleans up with a forehand into which she hurls the entirety of herself – that’s confidence, that is – but a double leaves her facing her first break point of the match. And when Svitolina finds decent length on the return, Sabalenka nets a forehand! That’s the break, and this is a really good match. Svitolina 4-6 2-0 Sabalenka

…and she should make it too, coming in only to pick the wrong side and put a backhand straight into Svitolina’s slot, an excellent riposte cross-court making deuce. An ace follows, then a double – Sabalenka is victimising her second serve forcing her to go for more – but she hangs on for a crucial hold. Svitolina 4-6 1-0 Sabalenka

There’s something special about seeing a player or team make a breakthrough that immediately makes them better – France winning the World Cup in 1998 is a good example, as they improved massively and not just because they replaced Stéphane Guivarc’h with Nicolas Anelka. Similarly, Sabalenka plays with so much more authority and confidence now she’s a Grand Slam champ – she’s not lost a set so far in this competition, though Sloane Stephens made her play two tight ones – and she earns a break point in game one of set two…

The new Sabalenka is a fearsome beast, opening the game with an ace, then a service-winner out wide. She does then send a forehand long, but from 30-15 she quickly secures the set and this is Svitolina’s problem: however solidly solid she plays, at some point, class is likely to tell. Svitolina 4-6 Sabalenka

Aryna Sabalenka takes the first set. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/ReutersA rasping backhand down the line gives Sabalenka 15-all, but at 15-30 she opens the court with another, only to stray long down the line. Svitolina does seem to be targeting that flank – almost every serve has gone that way along with plenty else – and when she goes again, dropping long, Sabalenka has break point, the first of the match. A second serve again goes to her backhand and she clambers right into it, smoking a winner down the line, and after change of ends she’ll serve for the set. Small margins. Svitolina 4-5 Sabalenka

Ach, Svitolina grooves in for the putaway that’ll give her 0-30 … only to overhit a ball with fewer less pace on it than she expected. From there, the game vanishes, but she’ll be heartened there chances for her even if she failed to take them. 4-4 it is.

Sabalenka isn’t quite hitting her spots yet, and when she misses a second backhand of the game, Gael Monfils, Svitolina’s husband, clenches and shakes his fist. The match is going closer to how she wants it to than how Sbalenka does, and though she has to pass through deuce for her hold, on game point she finds a monstrous flat serve out wide to the backhand, and that gives her 4-3. In co-comms, Chrissy is impressed, and there’s little praise finer than that. Svitolina 4-3 Sabalenka

Elina Svitolina serves in the opening set. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/ReutersAnother hold apiece, and there’s not much in this so far. I thought Sabalenka would make a dent in the Svitolina serve by nailing a return or two, but so far that’s not been the case and we’re now at 3-3.

Chris Evert is co-comms, which reminds me that she was my first crush to remind you that Gods of Tennis, a sort of sequel to God of Snooker, is on the BBC and she’s involved. So far I’ve only watched Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe, plus a bit of Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, but she and Martina have a episode too, and I’m sure it’s great – their friendship, well covered in ESPN’s 30 for 30, is so moving. Anyhow, describing herself, she says “I respond well to pressure” which, frankly, is an incredible thing to be able to to say of yourself. Anyhow, Svitolina holds comfortable for 2-1, then makes 40-30 when Sabalenka serves and Chrissy notes that she’s starting to elongate the rallies, confident she’s got more patience than her opponent. Sabalenka does serve out from there, finding a really nice stretch-volley and raising her arm to the crowd, but this boiling nicely. Svitolina 2-2 Sabalenka

Calvin Betton, our resident coach, notes, that really, the tournament needs Sabalenka to win this as, of those left, she’s the only player with a chance of beating Swiatek. He also says reckons “This is straight-up huge hitter against a ball-chaser, couldn’t be more of the case,” but as I type that Svitolina cracks a backhand to the body as Sabalenka comes in. It gives her 40-30, so Sabalenka thrashes a pair of backhands, coming in again – she mustn’t want to get involved in long rallies, because that’s what her opponent wants – to make it 1-1.

A mahoosive backhand from out wide scorches down the line to give Sabalenka 15-all, and that might just be this match in microcosm: her ability to hit shots beyond the ambit of her opponent. But Svitolina wears it well, holding to 30, and skips to her seat confident she’s in the match.

And away we go, Svitolina to serve.

We can’t ignore the political subtext of this match: Svitolina is Ukrainian and outspoken on the war with Russia; Sabalenka is Belarusian and prefers to stay quiet. Whether it has any impact on the match remains to be seen, but the pressure is all on Saba, who is expected to win; Svito is playing with house money having found equilibrium in her personal life.

Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka await the coin toss. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/ReutersComing up next: Elina Svitolina v Aryna Sabalenka [2].

Oh wow, I’ve just realised this is the first interview I’ve heard without the victor either praising the crowd or being incited to praise the crowd. Perhaps that’s because Chatrier is nauseatingly empty, I’m not sure, but I’m intrigued to know why, if you’ve paid for three matches, you’d not be there to enjoy them.

Muchová has reached her second Slam semi, the first being Australia in 2021. “How important was this first set?” she’s asked; “Very important” comes back the reply, at which point Fabrice realises that perhaps the answer was in the question. So he asks about her beating Sakkari in round one and the confidence she might’ve taken; she says it was funny as they’d played last year too, ands was pleased to win. She’s not sure she’ll watch the next match live, but she’ll definitely watch it, and is understatedly but extremely chuffed.

Karolína Muchová beats Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-5 6-2!Muchová left Roland-Garros on a stretcher last term, forced to retire from her round-three match against Amanda Anisimova. But she’s playing nicely now, and meets either Sabalenka or Svitolina next.

Pavlyuchenkova lands a return on the line, but a kicking second serve forces her to shank the next one wide. Muchova, though, makes 15-all then creams a forehand winner down the line … but then at 3-all another excellent return lands on the baseline, she can’t return it, and Pavlyuchenkova has a point to retrieve a break; Muchova plays it well to force deuce.

Nope, Pavlyuchankova holds easily enough, forcing Muchova to serve for it – which she’ll do following a sit-down and a banana. She leads 7-5 5-2.

This is only Muchova’s 17th main draw of a Slam and she’s playing her fourth quarter-final – an extremely respectable return. She knows she’s going to win this and has stretched her legs with the line in sight, serving out to love; at 7-5 5-1 she’s a game away, and I’d not be shocked if she sealed it with a kiss break.

Yeah, this is over. A careless service-game from Pavlyuchenkova and Muchova breaks to 15 without having to do very much. She leads 7-5 4-1 with two breaks, and it’d take an almighty capitulation or legendary purple patch for her to lose from here.

Is Muchova tightening with the finish line in sight? She delivers a double then shanks a forehand, handing Pavlyuchenkova deuce … before quickly securing her 7-5 3-1 advantage. She’s looked the better player from the start and still does now.

Muchova makes deuce with a terrific backhand drop – her disguise was worthy of Transfer – but Pavlyuchenkova digs deep to serve out from there, sealing the game with an ace and getting onto the board in set two, trailing 5-7 1-2.

Throughout this match, Pavlyuchenkova has looked more comfortable returning than serving and she quickly makes 0-15. But Muchova finds consecutive cross-court forehands, the second from a lovely angle and kicking with top, that breaks the sideline for a winner. From there, she closes out, consolidation sealed when Pavlyuchenkova does all the hard work then runs in for a putaway … and dumps it. Muchova leads 7-5 2-0.

Pavlyuchenlova, of course, reached the final in 2021 – the opportunity of a lifetime really – which she lost to the unheralded Barbora Krejcikova. Women’s tennis being women’s tennis, which is to say the least predictable sport in the world, she’ll hope to force her way back there, but it’s beginning to look like order is being restored with Sabalenka and Iga Swiatek looking a cut above the rest. And, as I type that, a lob drops long and Muchova breaks in the first game of set two; she leads 7-5 1-0.

This time, Muchova serves out authoritatively and to 15; she leads Pavlyuchenkova 7-5.

A succession of unforced errors from Pavlyuchankova hands Muchova 15-40 and dear oh dear, “we won the war but was was it all for” as Alexander Hamilton once rapped. A double fault, and Muchova will shortly serve for the set a second time at 6-5.

We join the action at a crucial time, Pavlyuchenkova having broken back for 5-5 with Muchova serving for the set.

PreambleGood morning and welcome to Roland-Garros 2023 – day 9!

After a week and a bit of premier jousting, the real gear gets under way this morning with the start of our quarter-finals, and naturellement there’s plenty to go at plenty at which to go.

We begin with an unseeded battle, Karolina Muchová taking on Anastasia Pavlyuchenko. The former has done nicely out of a fine first-round dismissal of Maria Sakkari, snaffling the number eight seed’s pleasant path through the draw. As the better athlete with the bigger weapons, she’s the favourite to progress, but her opponent has dismissed the more taxing roster, so is also in excellent nick.

Following that we’ve a belter of a match. Elina Svitolina is one of the feel-good stories of the fortnight, having recently returned from injury and maternity to rediscover her best form. But if she’s to progress any further she’ll probably need to play better than she ever has before, because Aryna Sabalenka is no longer the talent who conjures new and exciting ways to lose but a grand slam champion hungry for more and in her absolute prime. She may, of course, be affected by the political furore around her – tired of being asked questions about Belarus’ support of Russia, she’s stopped attending press conferences to protect herself – or it may fire her to greater heights. We shall see.

And finally, we’ll bring you Novak Djokovic’s tussle with Karen Khachanov. On the face of things, it looks a gimme for the goat – I can’t decide whether I just like the alliteration or if I genuinely believe him to be the best ever – but he can sometimes things difficult for himself. Khachanov, meanwhile, has grown into a far more confident player over the last year or so, and is aiming for a third straight major semi. He believes he can do it, and that makes him dangerous.

Donc, on y va!

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