Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks ahead to the latest in tennis. Today, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews day 5 of the 2021 French Open.

Against all odds, Carla Suarez Navarro is back in our lives.

For the first time in more than a year, the 32-year-old Spaniard stepped on a tennis court for her first round match at this year’s Roland-Garros. That she went on to lose 6-3, 6-7(4) and 4-6 against Sloane Stephens was beside the point.

She was back on a tennis court and merely had to worry about playing tennis. That in itself was a victory.

After announcing last year that the 2020 season would be her last before retirement, the global pandemic hit and halted things for everyone everywhere, including tennis. The sport came back in August, but Suarez Navarro didn’t compete. Then in September, she announced that she had been diagnosed with cancer and was stepping away from the sport.

Cancer diagnosis

Winning what she called “the most important match of my life,” because that’s what she did earlier this year when she was declared cancer-free, helped put things in perspective. In light of this, Suarez Navarro decided to delay her retirement by a full year. “My mind, it comes like, ‘I cannot retire this year.’ Or, if I retire, it’s not the way that I dream,” she recalls. “I was thinking that 2021, I can come back and do all the big tournaments and also say goodbye to my fans.”

It’s easy to forget that the Spaniard’s big breakthrough came way back at the 2008 French Open when, as a 19-year-old, Suarez Navarro made the quarterfinals. It was her first time making the main draw of any major event on the WTA, though she would go on to equal that quarterfinals result another six times (and counting).

Here’s to hoping we still have a few months left before we say goodbye to Suarez Navarro. Still, we’ll remember the former No. 6 player in the world as a versatile and determined talent. We had missed her because of cancer and we’ll miss her when she retires.

Day 5 preview

Let’s move on, for now, to the three matches of day 5 that we’ve chosen to highlight. As for the full schedule, you can find it here.

Court 7: Philipp Kohlschreiber vs Aslan Karatsev [24] (Second match of the day)

How about a little bit of clean ball-striking? On one side of the net, we have men’s tennis’s new demigod Aslan Karatsev, who’s by no means all that dangerous on clay court—but underestimate him at your own risk. Next up for the Russian is veteran Philipp Kohlscreiber, a man now in his 20th professional season. Maybe one day we’ll appreciate him a bit more than we have all this time: there’s something to say about the consistency of (almost) always making the fourth round of Grand Slams events.

Court Philippe-Chatrier: Marin Cilic vs Roger Federer (Not before 4pm local time)

Roger Federer will always do numbers whenever he steps on a tennis court. Even when he plays at an event where he has just about no shot of winning it all. And even when he plays an opponent who’s a mere approximation of the formidable force that he used to be, like Marin Cilic here.

Court Simonne-Mathieu: Fiona Ferro vs Jennifer Brady [13] (Third match of the day)

Jennifer Brady has played excellent and wonderful tennis ever since we brought back matches last year, making the US Open semifinal before reaching the Australian Open final this year. (There’s also a first round loss at the French Open in between the two, but we don’t need to dwell on that one.) There’s really no reason for Brady to lose this match and from there, it should be smooth sailing until at least the fourth round. Should be.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG


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