TENNIS-FRA-OPEN-FEATUREThe rain is putting a damper on things at Roland Garros. Delayed matches, half empty stadiums and the pungent odor of dead worms wasn’t what we expected on Sunday. Some things have gone to plan. Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have coasted through their opening round matches–Nadal suffered a slight scare against German big man Daniel Brands. On the women’s side Serena Williams is showing no signs of faltering. Maria Sharapova thrashed Canadian youngster Eugenie Bouchard in a battle of now vs. future. The French continue to hate Victoria Azarenka, not sure they even know about Red Foo.

However, there were some suprises. Andy Murray created a twitter sensation from the sickbay. Former champ Li Na bowed out early, losing to an American also ran. In fact the Americans, men and women, have been a revelation thus far. Left for dead by tennis wordsmiths, chain smoking Parisian bus drivers and the casual fan, the representatives of the red, white and blue have been great. 14 of them–10 women and 4 men–advanced the second round, the most since 15 accomplished the feat in 2003.

And finally, Gael Monfils  managed two scintillating performances, somehow blocking out the part of his brain that murmurs insane thoughts at the most critical junctures.

Time for a bit of a correction. Rain aside it’s been pretty good. Let’s dig a little deeper.

Rolly G unseats taking the biscuit as most popular phrase in Great Britain

Andy Murray has never been a good follow on Twitter.  A 26-year-old with a video game obsession isn’t a good follow. A 26-year-old that didn’t tweet for a year because he was ‘busy’ winning several major tournaments is a terrible follow. Muzzah was unable to compete at this year’s French Open, hindered by a bad back that needs rest ahead of Wimbledon. The tournament’s loss hasn’t been for naught.

Rolly G is now the unofficial name of the French Open. Monocles across Paris shattered when Murray, buoyed by another entertaining Monfils win, decided to break out the sort of innocuous slang term that has become the scourge of society. Meanwhile Andy has commented on what he has and hasn’t liked thus far. Not playing in Paris may have been the best thing to happen for us, the scum of society, so obsessed with tweets that don’t we want to see the best compete. Wait a minute….

 Are the Big 4 boring? 

They are according to Latvian playboy slash part time tennis player Ernests Gulbis.

Via Tennis.com:

“I respect Roger, Rafa, Novak and Murray but, for me, all four of them are boring players,” Gulbis said. “Their interviews are boring. Honestly, they are boring as crap. I often go on YouTube to watch the interviews. With tennis, I quickly stop. It is a joke.”

He’s right. The top players expend the majority of their energy on court. Regaling the press isn’t on their priority list. And while Gulbis does give a good quote every now and then he is at his most intriguing off the court. For someone known as a headcase that can’t string three decent matches together, perhaps the Latvian should spend less time watching the Inbetweeners on Youtube.

I’m not sure he’s watching the right clips either. Federer was visibly perturbed when asked about a potential Nadal-Djokovic semifinal, a question that disregarded his status as a contender, at least in Federer’s mind. Nadal’s ability to make it seem like he’s not the favorite in every clay court tournament he enters is an amazing feat in verbal gymnastics. The question is what do we want? If it’s the constant piss fest that inundates MMA pre fight festivities then it’s time we reassess our priorities. Unfortunately, Ernests might not be alone.

High socks are all the rage

Bethanie Mattek-Sands has been described as the Cyndi Lauper of the WTA. Girls Just Want To Have Fun, a seminal track no matter your gender, was her jam, solely because of her eccentric on court attire that screamed uncoventional. The narrative was a troubling one for reasons I will not get into here, but for a tour veteran like herself, BMS was lucky to have a ‘thing.’ On Thursday she made news with her play,  knocking off world number six Li Na in three sets, dealing with rain delays and the never say die attitude of the former French Open Champion.

In the summer of 2012 Mattek-Sands had fallen to 228 in the world. In two hours and fifteen minutes she was able to erase some of the memories of disappointments past. Playing every point with a solid mix of ‘it could be my last’ and ‘I have a plan’ is a dangerous combination. Unfortunately, one of the laziest narratives in the game was trotted out after the match.

In Gael we trust 

There is more than one redemption story at this year’s tournament. In January I wrote this over at Mind The Racket:

“Tennis has seen its fair share of characters. And while Jimmy Connors was the patriarch of the in-your-face-I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude, he would never be mistaken for a world-class athlete. Monfils is just that, hitting an insane winner and yucking it up for the crowd, sending our insular cortex into a frenzy in the process.”

Players like Gael Monfils are why we watch. Connecting with athletes so far removed from our lives is difficult at the best of times, but the way Monfils played–like he was actually having fun–made it easier. Five months ago it we didn’t know if the Frenchman would play this season due to lingering knee problems.  He entered Roland Garros as a Wild Card and promptly knocked off Tomas Berdych in a five set classic that contained everything a Monfils match usually does. High, lows and several ‘what in the hell?’ moments. He took out Gulbis in round two in a battle of two players that have all the tools, stashed in an incredibly shoddy toolbox.

He’ll face journeyman Tommy Robredo in round three, a guy, who at 31, is writing a hell of a story himself. Either it way it was a pleasure to see Monfils sliding, smiling and swinging once again. The quality is what we come for, the characters make us stay.