On Nadal, Federer and more from Roland Garros
Posted: Sunday June 11, 2006 4:08PM; Updated: Sunday June 11, 2006 5:16PM
Fifty things from the French Open:
•Rafael Nadal put the confectioner's sugar on a stunning clay court season by defending his French Open title. Who would have thought his toughest test in Paris would have come from Paul-Henri Mathieu?
•Justine Henin-Hardenne won her fifth Grand Slam final on Saturday and, given the way she plays matches during the critical stages, you have to believe she ain't done. A thought discussed over dinner the other night: her ability to extract all she can from her game is a more meaningful form of sportsmanship than conceding points or declining to retire from a Grand Slam final.
•Through the quirks of the rankings, Roger Federer actually increased his points lead by reaching the final of the French. Still -- his protestations to the contrary -- it's hard to imagine him leaving Paris a contented man. His oddly neutered play in the final, provoke a vexing question: how do we anoint a guy the best ever when it's now longer clear he's even the best in his era?
•Jonas Bjorkman and Max Mirnyi defended their doubles title again beating the Bryan Brothers in the final. Sadly, the match was played after the women's final, before 1,000 fans, max. For the duration of the match -- a good one that ended 7-5 in the third -- not a soul sat in the massive box behind the baseline. Question: why not put this match on at 1:00 before the women's final and play a super-tiebreak in the third set if need be? Doubles ought to be tennis warmup band; not its afterthought.
•If you're Svetlana Kuznetsova, you leave Paris pretty upbeat. Sure, you wish you'd have played a notch higher in the final. But as someone struggling to win matches not that long ago, your career is back to where it ought to be.
•Lisa Raymond and Sam Stosur, the best in the business, won the women's doubles beating Daniela Hantuchova and Ai Sugiyama in the final. Good for Adam Ross of Seattle for wondering if this is the first final in which the four players weren't from different countries but different continents.
•You hope that Nicole Vaidisova will recall the 2006 French Open for her beating the top seed, Amelie Mauresmo, and a five-time Grand Slam champ in Venus Williams, and not for failing to serve out a trip to the final. The guess here is that she'll be fine. Not unlike Sharapova -- the comparison can't be avoided -- she has big reserves of poise that belie her age. If you're looking for a Wimbledon sleeper, you could do worse than her.
•Unseeded Martin Klizan won the boys title, besting Canada's Phil Bester in the finals. To the delight of copy editors everywhere, Agnieszka Radwanska beat top-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuckenkova in the girls final. Oh, for the days of Kim Po and Beth Herr.
•Japan's Kei Nishikori and Argentina's Emiliano Massa won the boys doubles. Pavlyuchenkova teamed with Sharon Fichman to win the girls doubles.
•Katarina Srbotnik and Nenad Zimonjic won the title in mixed doubles, an event that loses considerable interest once Martina Navratilova is out of the draw.
•Speaking of crowds, those Frenchies can be a tough bunch. You get the feeling that after Nadal outlasted France's P-H Mathieu, Nadal never quite got back in the crowd's good graces.
•An early Coach of the Year candidate: Ricardo Piatti. He not only oversees Ivan Ljubicic but is the man credited with helping to develop Novak Djokovic.
•Not to take too much away from Ljubicic for reaching a Slam semifinal for the first time in his career. But several of you joined me in noticing that he did so without having to face an opponent ranked in the top 75!
•One of the bonuses of attending a Slam is watching the juniors and trying to peg future stars. As we wait for last year's "find," Juan del Potro, to pan out (he lost to Juan Carlos Ferrero in Round 1), we'll tip Pavlyuchenkova. Northern Californians take note: she's playing World TeamTennis for the Sacramento Capitals.
•Anyone else starting to think that David Nalbandian might simply be cursed in Majors? It's become all but inevitable that he breaks down, either mentally or physically, late in the tournament. Last Friday, of course, he won the first set against a sluggish Roger Federer and, barely an hour later, retired with an abdominal injury.
•Kevin of New York was among at least a dozen of you asking why the first seed would play the third and not the fourth seed in the semis. The answer: At the Slams, the organizers put the top seeds in the opposite halves and then sprinkle 3-4 randomly. They put 5-8 in their own octet, but sprinkle them arbitrarily. Why? Best we could come up after consulting the ITF: a) it's tradition b) it adds an element of surprise and b) when the ranking positions (and thus seedings) are deeply entrenched, it avoids reduces the possibilities of having the same match-ups in every semifinal, Slam after Slam.
•Andre Agassi arrived in England last Tuesday, a week before his first match at Queen's. If -- as you have to believe -- this is a last hurrah, at least he's taking it seriously. His first-round opponent? Tim Henman.
•And you thought Henin-Hardenne lacked a sense of humor. Check this out.
Also, sure it sounded mighty scripted -- reminiscent of the Ross Perot line, "I'm all ears" -- but when asked about the Australian Open debacle, she joked: "Well, I think I have digested that wrong choice of word, by the way (smiling). But hard to swallow, I'll put it that way. No, that's not a good word either. Well, let's talk about something else."
•Squash lovers take note. Here's Roger Federer on his tell-me-you're-kidding, back-to-the-net slapping winner against Nalbandian. "It's all paying off, my squash over the years with my father early on. ... I enjoy the sport. Yeah, helped me out in the semifinals of the French Open, that's not bad."
•So, Kim Clijsters: You're the second seed in Paris and a former two-time finalist. You lose an uninspiring semifinal match to your rival, Justine Henin-Hardenne, and with it a chance to regain the Nlo.1 ranking. How do you feel? "If people would have told me I was going to play a semifinal here this week I would have been really happy."
•It's easy to be bullish on Novak Djokovic's game. But, at the same time we're encouraged not to play so slowly, can we get him some p.r. help, pronto? His assertion that he was controlling the match against Nadal -- a 4-6, 4-6, ret. defeat in which he never had the lead -- was patently absurd. After beating Gael Monfils, the player he dubiously defeated at the 2005 U.S. Open, he crowed: "I am very happy especially because I beat Gael in front of his home crowd."
•Martina Hingis was the darling of the first week before running out of steam against Kim Clijsters in the quarterfinals. She ought to take two things away from the tournament: 1) the days of her simply getting out-slugged are in the past; 2) if she is going to challenge for Slams she needs to upgrade her fitness.
•Quote of the week award goes to Franklin Johnson, the USTA president. Asked (presumably by the AP) what he made of the American's dismal performance in Paris he remarked: "I'm not unduly alarmed." The concept being "duly alarmed" is worth pondering. Incidentally word is that the USTA is moving its training center to ChrisEvert's Academy where there are --get this! -- courts surfaced with clay.
•One of the event's more memorable moments came during the James Blake-Gael Monfils match. After a fan heckled him for questioning a call, Blake invited the fan to hop over the rail and check the mark for himself. The fan did. Blake was vindicated.
•Blake's previous match, a win against Nicky Almagro was one of the more impressive performances of the whole tournament. And it augurs well for the U.S./Russia Davis Cup tie, which will assuredly be played on clay. On the other hand, Blake's inability to win five-setters can't possibly be reassuring to Cap'n Pat.
•Both tours are missing a huge marketing opportunity. So long as the trainers get so much court time -- and so long as no one seems particularly concerned about the legion of injuries that sidelines SIX former champs and occasions retirements in Grand Slam semifinals -- why not at least get Per Bastholdt et al some clothing deals? Surely there is an ambitious agent who could make this happen.
•As you've no doubt heard, Andy Roddick is taking on Jimmy Connors as a mentor/consultant. Mark Hodgkinson reported this early on in the London Daily Telegraph. Asked for confirmation by a Florida newspaper, Roddick's agent, Ken Meyerson responded "There is nothing to it. Absolutely nothing."
•Speaking of Andys in transition, after his success in San Jose -- and, not coincidentally, since abruptly firing his coach, Mark Petchey Andy Murray has been in free fall. Word is that Brad Gilbert is the most likely new coach. Hope Murray brushes up on knowledge of Sleepy Floyd and Jim Plunkett.
•What do the Bryans, Andy Ram, Mike Llodra and Alex Waske have in common? They were all theft victims in the men's locker room.
•Here's an unpleasant question that was kicking around the press room: where was Evgenia Litetskaya?
•So you get out of the Metro station at the Roland Garros stop and adidas has plastered the walls with images of their players. First-round loser Paradorn Srichaphan, non-starter Guillermo Coria (replete with red kaballah bracelet) and Anna Lena Groenefeld, who in fairness reached the quarterfinal. Call us crazy, but might it not have prudent to include Henin-Hardenne in this campaign? Speaking of Coria, go easy on him: we hear his shoulder problems have been compounded by some personal issues.
•Want to meet a rich person? Find whoever it was that bet money Julien Benneteau would be the last French player remaining in either the men's or women's draw.
•So it seems that Serena Williams is indeed working with Nick Bollettieri. Thanks to Caroline on Wilson, N.C.,.for passing on this link.
•This should be mandatory reading for every tournament director or boxholder. The writer is absolutely correct: time and again, I saw real tennis fans denied entrance to matches while premium courtside boxes went unfilled. Paul Smith of Edgewood, Ky., take it away:
"I'm watching the French Open and the so called marquis televised matches are sparsely attended in the expensive seat area. Obviously the seat is sold but the ticketholder isn't there yet or is dining on the grounds but it gives the impression that the event is not well-attended. Why not allow people without tickets to buy, at a discounted price, a ticket that can be used in any empty seat in the box seat area until the actual seatholder arrives? Let the real tennis fan get a glimpse of the action (even if it is only for half the match) and have the Grand Slam event look like it is well attended rather than looking like a Tier II event. In any case, it is embarrassing and doesn't say much for the sport when one of its premier events has a few thousand of the best seats sitting completely empty as the best players in the world are competing."
•For the first time at a Grand Slam, Dinara Safina outlasted her brother. Safina had a terrific spring, including a run to the Rome finals. But her quarterfinal implosion against Kuznetsova -- to borrow from those ads: "from zero to 6-0 in just 11 minutes!" -- was straight out of big bro's playbook.
•Donald Young lost in the fourth round of the juniors.
•Anastasia Myskina has vowed to quit tennis if she doesn't make improvements and compete for Slams. She lost 6-4, 6-1 in the fourth round to Henin-Hardenne.
•Tons of you continuing to ask about the "early" Sunday start. Here's our take: It's hard to whack the Slams too hard for desiring an additional session, particularly on a weekend. But instead of picking a few matches from one half of the draw, why not establish a firm scheduling policy? For instance: he No. 3, No. 6. No. 9 and No. 12 seeds (will be in action.) That way, the day the seedings come out, those players affected can prepare accordingly and won't have any surprises sprung on them Saturday afternoon.
•From the just asking department: overseas readers, what's the deal with that Richard Quest guy on CNN International?
•Shahar Peer -- who waxed Elena Dementieva and took a set off of Martina Hingis in the fourth round -- will part ways with Oded Ya'akov and have a new coach for Wimbledon. Nevertheless, more than a few players pegged her for the top 10. Peer also, we should note, expressed an interest in playing the Dubai event. "Why not? I heard it's really, really nice place. It's great tournament. I hope in the next two years I'm going to go."
•The USTA will conduct ballperson tryouts for the 2006 US Open on Thursday, June 29 at 4 p.m. Registration begins at 3 p.m. The rain date is Friday, June 30. "Prospective ballpersons will be evaluated on their running, throwing and catching skills. There are two different positions requiring either quickness and hand-eye coordination (net position) or a strong throwing arm (backcourt). The US Open is the only grand slam tournament that requires its ballpersons to throw the ball across the full length of the court rather than roll it along the sidelines."
•Kevin Kim may have lost to Nadal in round two but he wins the tournament's award for best metaphor. What was it like playing against Nadal? "It felt like you're in the Sahara and you just see the hills and there's no ending."
•Remember Romina Oprandi, the zaftig Italienne who qualified in Rome, reached the quarterfinals, and had a match point against Svetlana Kuznetsova? She was the first seed in qualifying and lost in three sets to Julia Vakulenko. Brutal sport, tennis.
•For whatever reason -- and this is probably a good discussion for another time -- tanking really seems to be on the decline. But RichardGasquet's 6-0 fourth set against Nalbandian, punctuated with a casual double fault on match point, was as weak an effort as we've seen in years.
•At the risk of sound like Page Six: Which prominent NCAA tennis coach was slithering around the players lounge, shoring up his connections with overseas junior coaches?
•Keep former Australian player Andrew Kratzman and his family in your thoughts this week.
•Trivia: Which two countries have furnished the most men's French Open winners? Answer (according to the French Open Web site): the U.S. and Australia.
•Before I forget, put this in your PDA: When Gianni Clerici is inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame next month, try and get hold of his speech. Just trust me on this.
•A few of you noticed this written Freudian slip from the French Open Web site:
(4) Maria Sharapova (USA) v Alicia Molik (AUS)
•As part of my intrepid European reporting, I've come to learn there's some kind of a soccer tournament going on in Germany. Keep an ear to the ground and you might hear some news about it in the next weeks.
Have a great week, everyone. We'll be back next week with the usual format.
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