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Tebbutt: MARINO CONQUERS THE QUALIES

May 20, 2022
written by: Tom Tebbutt
written by: Tom Tebbutt

Rebecca Marino has steamrolled her three opponents in the Roland Garros qualifying event – with the matches getting quicker and more unidirectional each time.

On Tuesday it was 6-4, 6-3 in an hour and 26 minutes against Paula Ormaechea of Argentina. Wednesday she needed just 63 minutes to beat Ukrainian Katarina Zavatska 6-1, 6-2 and she completed a charmed run Friday with a merciless dispatching of Australian Seone Mendez 6-2, 6-0 in 55 minutes.

The consensus is Marino is at her best on hard courts but the three matches this week on the terre battue of Roland Garros make it difficult to imagine she could play any better on another surface. Friday in Court 7, she broke serve to 3-1 in the opening set and didn’t let up in putting away an opponent (below) who tried her best but was simply out-classed. Marino hit 17 winners to a mere four for Mendez and was 5/7 on break points to 0/4 for her No. 223-ranked opponent who won only two of her 12 second-serve points.

The win makes it nine Grand Slam tournament match victories in a row for Marino after she also qualified for the 2021 US Open and the Aussie Open earlier this year.

“I just felt really good today,” Marino said. “I was just trying to focus on myself internally and less about what she (Mendez) was doing. The thing about clay courts and the third round of qualies – it can turn on a dime. So I didn’t want get ahead of myself.”

The slower conditions – the match was delayed two and a half hours by rain – didn’t faze Marino. “I knew it would be more humid and a heavier court,” she said, “so I was just thinking abut staying light on my feet and staying low on the balls.”

The court, protected by tarpaulins during the morning rain, was not so damp and heavy as witnessed by the quick watering at the end of the first set.

As much as Marino has overwhelmed her opponents with aggressive play, she has also defended well this whole week. “That’s something I’ve worked really hard on,” she said. “I’ve worked on my return game as well – where I feel really comfortable right now, more the returning than the serving actually. Movement was good and I’m feeling good on the clay – transitioning quite well from hard to clay. I’ve given myself a bit more time (two pre-Roland Garros events on clay) than last year.

“My fitness coach (Sergey Nazarov) is here with me and it’s something I’ve worked really hard on. The off-season was just sprinting and moving for the drop shots and that sort of thing. The women see me as taller (six feet) and maybe my movement would be something to pick on, but I feel like it’s not really a hole in the game right now.”

After the win, speculation turned to who Marino might play in the first round. There are a number of high profile players that are matched against a qualifier including top-seeded Iga Swiatek, No. 9 Danielle Collins, No. 12 Emma Raducanu, No. 14 Belinda Bencic and Bianca Andreescu.

“Honestly, I didn’t look too close at where the qualifiers are placed,” Marino said. “Wherever I land in the draw, I land in the draw. I know some can get Swiatek and I think someone can get Andreescu but I think there’s a qualifier against a qualifier. I tried not to look too hard. I saw enough but I didn’t want to think too much about it because I still had to do my match today.”

She has practiced in main Court Philippe-Chatrier this year, so there would be a certain familiarity if she is assigned to one of main stadiums.

(Ed. Note: After all the conjecture, Marino will play No. 18-ranked Coco Gauff, 18, of the USA. As for Bianca Andreescu, she faces No. 170 Ysaline Bonaventure, 27, of Belgium.)

And although she ranked as high as No. 38 in another tennis life (2011), the No. 116 Marino is aware that she’s approaching the top 100. “That’s one of my mini-goals with the injury setback during this comeback,” she said, “but I’m not getting ahead of myself.”  

In the stands for the second set of the match was Bianca Andreescu, supporting her fellow Canadian – or maybe even scouting because Marino has a one in nineteen chance of playing her compatriot in the first round.

At the end of the match, Marino went over to celebrate courtside with Nazarov and Canadian Billie Jean King Cup team captain Heidi El Tabakh.

Marino’s best, and only, previous French Open main draw appearance in 2011 resulted in wins over Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain before losing to tournament 13th seed Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Whether she gets a chance to qualify for her fourth Grand Slam in a row at Wimbledon in four weeks will depend on her ranking being good enough to get direct entry to the main draw. Frank Dancevic set the standard for Canadian players when he qualified at four consecutive Grand Slams – but unlike Marino’s potential situation of four in a row, he did it all in one calendar year in 2011.  

DENIS WINS…SORT OF

Denis Shapovalov sat beside Court 11 late Friday afternoon – when the temperature had dropped considerably – watching his girlfriend Mirjam Bjorklund win her third round of qualifying match 6-1, 6-3 over Romanian veteran Mihaela Buzarnescu. It will be the first Grand Slam event main draw for the 23-year-old Swede.

Watching with Shapovalov were coaches Peter Polansky (in hoodie) and Adriano Fuorivia.  

The bible of the French Open for tennis fanatics in France has long been the sporting daily L’Equipe. Newspaper reading has become increasingly passé but L’Equipe, despite no longer having a lead columnist such past maestros Denis Lalanne and Philippe Bouin, is still comprehensive in its coverage.

Friday’s edition – with Carlos Alcaraz on the cover (the word ‘ocre’ is the colour of the courts at Roland Garros) – features an in-depth article on the 19-year-old Spanish prodigy. It includes the picture below of a 13-year-old Alcaraz with his idol Rafael Nadal.