At a certain point in the fifth set it became futile. A notebook covered in blue ink and coffee stains wasn’t going to help. Put down the pen and enjoy this, idiot.
A friend who considers sport a needless distraction sent me a text in the fourth set. This match had officially crossed over into the mainstream. Every so often tennis will do this, when those days streaming a challenger circuit tournament in Hamburg pay off. When John McEnroe declares it the greatest of all time–he’ll do that.
Hyperbole? Yes. But this one was up there. Grievances, contested calls, wonderful shot making and a fifth set that didn’t want to end — the first semifinal on a Friday afternoon in Paris had it all.
It was nice to see Rafa challenged last week, but this is what we waited for. The best clay courter of all time against the best player in the world. Roger Federer, a draw no matter his form, exited at the perfect juncture, possibly sensing that this one wasn’t about him.
Five sets and over four hours later Rafael Nadal heads to the final. Read the rest of this entry »
The 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.
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The French Open has always held a sacred place in this tennis fan’s heart. Parisians aren’t like you or I. Fact is, they’re better. Whether it’s smoking cigarettes in the stands or vociferously booing players for no discernible reason, they do things their own way. Refined jerks add so much more to the sporting landscape with their hooting and demonstrative sighing than the casual fan. The game – nay, the world – would be worse off without them.
Here’s looking at you, Satan.
We head into the second major of the year with less questions to answer than expected. Rafael Nadal’s knees have withstood the rigors of the European clay court season. Serena Williams dispatched Victoria Azarenka with ease in Rome, proving the only person who stands a chance of stopping Serena from winning her second French Open title is Serena herself. The favorites have made an impressive case, one so strong that seeing someone other than Nadal and Williams leave Roland Garros with a garish trophy and fat check in hand will be quite surprising.
It’s the ‘others’ that will intrigue in Paris. The others being the group of players that have a shot – however fleeting – at knocking off the overwhelming favorites. On the men’s side three names come to mind, all with their own personal demons when it comes to taking down Rafa on clay, let alone at a major. Roger Federer will need divine intervention to win it all, and no, Robin Soderling is not walking through that door. Novak Djokovic is the only hope for the anti Rafa crowd and he’s coming off an uncharacteristic loss to Tomas Berdych. The Czech big man could be this year’s Soderling. Unfortunately the words ‘could be ‘ have been synonymous with Berdych’s career up until this point.
On the women’s side there is slightly more belief. Serena bowed out in the first round last year, losing to Virginie Razzano in one of the biggest upsets in French Open history. Azarenka will be there at the end, as will Maria Sharapova. Unfortunately for those two their head-to-head numbers against Williams are terrible (4-25 combined).
Two weeks in Paris awaits.
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