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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Guillermo Coria will be remembered for succumbing to an awful case of leg cramps during a bizarre 2004 French Open final. Gastón Gaudio beat Coria for the title, a fact that reinforces a statement that has been made Ad Nauseam during the last eight years: we are lucky.
Coria had a nice career, winning nine titles and making just under six million in cash over the course of nine years. He, along with Lleyton Hewitt, Nikolay Davydenko and others filled the void until the next generation was ready to take over. There wasn’t one seminal moment that indicated they had arrived –Roger Federer was winning titles all over the place after his breakthrough at Wimbledon– but Coria’s loss to Rafael Nadal in the 2005 Monte Carlo final would mark the beginning of a streak that will never be repeated.
Eight years and 46 consecutive wins later, Nadal’s reign at Monte Carlo is over. The man who beat him consolidated his grip on Men’s tennis with a victory that underlined what it takes to beat Rafa on clay: relentless consistency. So often the challengers, Federer and Andy Murray chief among them, sought to end points quickly, knowing they could not combat Nadal’s bulldog demeanor from the baseline. Novak Djokovic can. Read the rest of this entry »
The idea is that it isn’t supposed to look easy. It being winning a grand slam, a task that demands an absurd amount of dedication. Novak Djokovic isn’t Roger Federer. We’re lucky for that.
Andy Murray had righted a wrong. After beating Federer in the semifinals–his first victory against the Swiss Maestro in Grand Slam competition– Murray couldn’t be overlooked. This was a 50/50 final. I boldly (code:drunkenly) claimed the Muzzah would win in four sets. Twitter is the devil.
Tennis players are incredibly open after a match, at least more so than their contemporaries in the ‘other’ sports. Canned cliches from professional athletes are where articles go to die. “At this level, it can come down to just a few points here or there. My biggest chance was at the beginning of the second set; didn’t quite get that. When Novak had his chance in the third, he got his.” Well said, Andy. Read the rest of this entry »