If we were to give such a puzzle to a reader who had no idea what was going on on the French capital’s courts, he would probably remember the names of Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka. After all, they have crossed paths twice in the last couple of years at the same competition – in New York in the US Open. Or at least the name of Alexandra Sasnovich would be on the tip of the tongue.
No, she didn’t. Second racket of the world and Irina Shymanovich, 214th in the world ranking, fought for the third round. Yes, yes, at the age of 25 the citizen of Minsk not just got to the main draw of the “major” but overcame the starting barrier as well. Where she ran into, alas, a compatriot. Much more titled and sophisticated, but almost a year younger.
That’s why it would be fundamentally wrong to position Shymanovich as a kind of a new star. She has been familiar to Belarusian fans for a long time, even though she appeared on TV very rarely. And it’s easy to imagine a scenario where she won’t be in the near future. One must understand that the circumstances were favorable for the landmark result in Paris. Irina was lucky both with the toss in the preliminary stage, and in the first round, where she got the Hungarian Panna Udvardi, who was far from being the most dangerous. Her game is flawed and visible to the naked eye.
At the same time it is worth to say something else. In the fight against Sabalenka the fourth-seeded player of Belarus was not a background, against which Aryna was warming up, as one might have thought on the eve of the match. Many people speculated only about how many games the Belarusian could take from the other, and they settled on rather modest figures. Shymanovich did resist Sabalenka. Moreover, if she had avoided a match with the vice-champion of the ranking, she could probably go further through the net. Looking at her, it’s easy to find opponents who seem to have lost to the current version of Irina in a head-to-head match.
And she certainly doesn’t need to despair at the outcome of her defeat. After all, the lowest-rated opponent who has lost to the winner of the Australian Open trophy this season is the Romanian Sorana Cirstia who was on the border between the first and the second fifty. I don’t need to remind you where Szymanowicz is now. In a word, the chances to cause a sensation were evidently low.
Though, again, Irina gave a fight to her more skillful competitor. After the exchange of games at the beginning of the first game, Sabalenka went on the break. She did not show any emotions on this occasion, as if she was making it clear that she had done her job, she had done what she had to do and what was expected of her. Usually after such breaks, the outsiders’ game against Aryna fell apart. Everything fell apart. They hit to the wrong place with the wrong power.
Though, again, she gave a fight to her more skilled opponent. After exchanging games at the beginning of the first game Sabalenka led away. She did not show any emotions on this occasion, as if she was making it clear that she had done what she had to do and what was expected of her. Usually after such breaks, the outsiders’ game against Arina fell apart. Everything fell apart. They hit the wrong shots with the wrong power.
What was the surprise when already in the next game, Shymanovich made a reverse break, restoring the balance in the score. Some imposing gave way to perplexity and irritability in Arina’s behavior. She seemed to understand that she was stronger than her opponent, but she could not bring herself to play to her strengths.
Undoubtedly, on hard court a lesser-known tennis player would have had no chance against one of the best on the planet right now. Aryna was an order of magnitude more powerful. But if on the ground she had to put in every stroke, on a faster surface she would win back her shots trivially by the sheer pace. But here Shymanovich could catch many sharp passes. Moreover after some of them she even counterattacked with shortcuts which disconcerted Sabalenka. It was not so much because the tricks were successful, but because of the fact that Irina dared to do them from almost “dead” positions, where she could just walk up to the ball and pass it to the other half of the court.
That, however, was the only plan of the game for Shymanovich, if, indeed, she had any plans to duel with Sabalenka. She had to surprise, to eliminate errors, to find non-trivial solutions over and over again. And up to a certain point, she succeeded.
Who knows how the match would have turned out if Irina had brought it to a tie-break in the first game. Unfortunately, she lost the most important game, which lasted more than twelve minutes.
Things were not as easy for Sabalenka in the second set as they might have seemed. Right after the break she lost her serve again. And she gave her opponent almost no gifts – she hollowed out points with her smart serve. The only thing was on the short distances. On a long distance Aryna’s superiority in speed had its effect.
Well, now she is the only player who can win the title in Paris. Magdalena Fresh or Kamilla Rakhimova – in the third round will meet someone of this pair.