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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Spending all day – every day – immersed in sports is a bit like working at Pizza Hut and eating nothing but pizza. If one is unburdened by such matters as personal health and waistline size, pizza is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, too much of a wonderful thing is likely to leave one no longer believing the wonderful thing to be all that wonderful.
Sports are really, really great. However, the more time you spend reading and writing about a topic, the greater the chance its ugly little cracks and cobwebs will begin to emerge. This is why, over time, the focus of writers and fans alike becomes embittered by the more negative aspects of sports. The cheating. The discrimination. The exploitation. The inequality. It all becomes overwhelming. We forget why sports are so great, and why they fascinated us long before we grew caustic to what they could offer. And so, that’s where The Week In Sports Happiness comes into play.
Every week, I’ll present the ten things that are making me happy from the world of sports. It might be a particular article, it could be a winning streak, it may even be an animated GIF. No matter what, it’s from sports, it made me feel good inside, and I hope it does the same for you.
Without further ado, sports the good:
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I rewrote this article several times after the attacks in Boston. Security at sporting events would be a tangential part of a story that focused on what ifs. What if Günter Parche could tone down his Steffi Graf obsession. What if security at the Citizen Cup was able to prevent one of the defining moments in tennis history from taking place on April 30th, 1993.
Security theater was made for sporting events. The act of waiting outside of stadiums for pat downs and a jaunt through the metal detector was a ritual most of us – save for the nervous 17-year-old with a mickey in his sock – paid no mind. We were safe because a group of part-time employees took a course over the weekend. Their presence did not ensure protection. It wasn’t about that. Seeing a police car on the street late at night – those officers could be dirty cops. Observing an accused murderer finally being caught – he could be innocent. We rely on aesthetics for reassurance. The bombings in Boston changed that, just like the bombing during the 1996 Summer Olympics.
Before Atlanta and Boston was Hamburg. An event marred not by a terrorist attack, but an unhinged, knife wielding man who would alter the future of women’s tennis.
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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 visual evidence indicated otherwise, but that didn’t stop him from responding to his vanquisher’s question with a smile and congratulatory pat on the stomach.
Coming in to their match against each other on Thursday night, both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer faced question marks regarding their health. As Federer departs for a lengthy hiatus that won’t see him back on the tour until May, the focus shifts to him, as the greatest player of all time stares mortality in the face. There’s an expiry date on excellence. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s sadly dark. Doha is the scene of some of the best Women’s tennis matches we’ll ever see. Unfortunately, due to religion, politics and general idiocy the constant balancing act, as one ‘advice blog’ puts it, is incredibly archaic.
The travel blog in question, you can find it here, made me do a double take. A section entitled ‘Making friends in Qatar’ wasn’t the harbinger of truth. That’s my fault. Naivety is awful. Read the rest of this entry »