Sunday, June 9, 2013

My French Open top 10

Sculpture, Centre Georges Pompidou
Here, in ascending order, are my top 10 French Open happenings:

10. So this is what it feels like to win: The now-legendary Esther Vergeer totally dominated the women's wheelchair events for so long that it became unnecessary to check results--Vergeer won everything. The champion retired this year, however, and--while we may have expected to see a more familiar name on the last line of the draw--it was German teacher and athlete Sabine Ellerbrock who won the French Open.

9. My inky flowers can beat your golden flowers: Bethanie Mattek-Sands, her arm heavily tattooed with flowers she recently referred to as her "Zen garden," put the hurt on 2011 champion Li Na in the second round. Mattek-Sands, whose big game has been repeatedly hampered by injury, pretty much played "Li Na style," and she did everything better than Li, beating her 5-7, 6-3, 6-2.

8. The charm of Paris--better if shared: Lucie Hradecka, who--with partner Andrea Hlavackova--won the women's doubles title in 2011, won the mixed doubles title this year with partner Frantisek Cermac.

7. What's Paris without a floor show?: Tennis is sport, but it can also be theatre, and nobody knows that better than France's Marion Bartoli, who always puts on at least one memorable performance at every big tournament. She didn't waste any time at Roland Garros, delivering her show in the first round. Bartoli and Olga Govortsova played for 3 hours and 12 minutes, not counting several rain breaks. There were plenty of double faults, match points saved, and very lengthy games. From the Frenchwoman, we got what we expected--repeated fist pumps, shadow-swinging, jumping up and down, stern glares to the box. Bartoli won 7-6, 4-6, 7-5. As for the show--you either like it or you don't. I do.

6. Fighting Italian stays in the fight: I don't think many observers thought that Sara Errani would make it to the semifinals this year, but that's exactly what the 2012 runner-up did, and she took out Sabine Lisicki and Agnieszka Radwanska along the way. Errani would go on to lose in the semifinals to Serena Williams.

5. Did those women miss their flights?! What were all those players from the USA doing hanging around in Paris after the early rounds had been played?  American women made up 25% of the round of 16--who would have thought it? In addition to Mattek-Sands, there were Serena Williams, Jamie Hampton and Sloane Stephens. Varvara Lepchenko made it to the third round, in which she was defeated (for the first time) by Angelique Kerber.

4. Is that a helicopter I hear overhead? Just when you think she's too "out of it" to make a return, Jelena Jankovic shows up playing some really good clay court tennis. She won the tournament in Bogota, and made it to the final in Charleston (and took a set off of Serena Williams). Jankovic also made it to the final 16 in both Stuttgart and Rome. At Roland Garros, she made it to the quarterfinals, won a bagel set against Sharapova, and then lost her mind again and went out of the tournament. But really, what can you expect from the 2008 Stuttgart champion who chose the red Porsche as her prize because it matched a pair of her heels? That's my JJ.

3. Nothing to prove on clay: Defending champion Maria Sharapova ended this year's tournament as the runner-up, but she did so in style. Sharapova took out Zheng Jie, Sloane Stephens, Jelena Jankovic, and Victoria Azarenka. Not bad. The Russian had to once again meet her nemesis, Serena Williams, in the final, but Williams' 6-4, 6-4 victory was hardly a beat-down. Sharapova wasn't as good as her opponent, but she was very good, and she showed, yet again, that she has solved her clay court issues.

2. We're Russian, too!: The biggest Russian victory at this year's French Open took place in doubles, as Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina beat top seeds and defending champions Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci 7-5, 6-2 to win the championship. Errani and Vinci were the favorites, but it shouldn't come as a surprise to fans that the team of Makarova and Vesnina was able to pull this off. Both excellent doubles competitors, the combination really seems to work for them.

1. "Patience on red clay" gets a new meaning: Think about Serena Williams' lone Coupe Suzanne Lenglen, sitting atop a shelf all those many years with no one to talk to. No silly anecdotes, no shared war stories--why, those shiny flat Venus Rosewater bidules don't even speak French! But Williams does, and so does her Wilson Blade.

For the past year, Williams has been learning a lot about how to be patient on a clay surface and carve out points she can win quickly on grass and hard courts. And since her only other French Open win took place in 2002, she has also had to exercise a lot of patience in terms of adding at least one more Paris victory to her list of incredible accomplishments. She did that today, beating defending champion Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-4.

Move over, seasoned Coupe Suzanne Lenglen, and make room for a a shinier version. There's plenty to talk about now.


Todd.Spiker said...

Of course, now it has to be asked: After the "Serena Slam" began in Paris in 2002, could Williams be about to fashion a sequel to the original? After all, Paris has always been the most elusive of the four for her (and she's the defending champ at two of the other slams, and a five-time winner in Melbourne).

Todd.Spiker said...

Personally, I think she'll win Wimbledon again, but the toughest "get" of the other three will be the Open, which has sort of now replaced Paris as the slam home of Serena's "it's always something" troubles. If she can win in NYC, though, it's hard to imagine her focus on taking the AO again wouldn't prove to be fruitful.

Diane said...

I agree. The U.S. Open could be her stumbling block; it seems like something always is. I wish she could have gotten an actual Grand Slam (who knows?--she might still do it).

TennisAce said...

I think last year's USO win took the 'something always happens" narrative out of NYC. The crowd really appreciated both women and I have to say it was one of the first matches that I watched at the USO where I would have been really happy no matter who won that contest.

Frankly speaking I think Serena suffered from the Clijsters' effect. As long as Kim was in the draw she would suck everything away from every other player.

Diane said...

Karen, I love "The Clijsters Effect."

Anonymous said...

That is an odd idea. "Suck everything away from every other player"??? Such as what? Attention? Motivation?
I don't buy it. A rational person would not care about that at all. "That" meaning attention. Especially media attention. Talk about weakness of self-confidence. Is this the age of wilting little flowers? Jeez. Serena suffered from fear of opprobrium from the New York crowd, thanks to her own treatment of the linesperson who called her for a foot fault. I don't buy the foot injury story, and I don't buy the hematoma. She needed the pity play to get back in everyone's good graces. Then, she blew it again against Stosur. Despite her prevarications, we all wished her well, and maybe, just maybe, lately she has become a better person through introspection. Evidence? Serena has been much nicer, as when sincerely she praised Kvitova's performance in Doha. That was a first. I sense a new sensitivity, even empathy in Serena. It is salutary and now I'm ready to like Serena, tangled feet, greatest serve of all time, fighting spirit and all.

sabey said...

Anonymous, Serena had been on the receiving end of some very bad line calls and officiating at the US Open before. She even got an official apology from the USTA after the terrible line calls in the match against Capriati. This is not at all to excuse her behavior but the lines people and other officials at the US Open have has a less than stellar record making calls against Serena as well. Your theories about her foot injury are laughable. Your bias against Williams is clearly clouding your judgment.
The clijster’s effect was sort of a real thing as she did know how to play nice and get the media to act like lap dogs.
It always seemed strange (and telling) to me that American crowds supported her over both the Williams sisters (long before the foot fault issue).

Anonymous said...

I don't care how the media treats the players. I care about the game. The players should not care about who the media favorites are or are not. They know who is what and don't need outside interference. So, they should ignore it. I've always loved Venus for her game, her elegance. Serena is a mixed bag. Just sayin'....

Diane said...

I think the players are all pretty hip about the media. "Kimmy" is someone the media made up. Clijsters knew that.

As for Serena, she isn't giving herself those injections because she thinks needles are cool.

TennisAce said...

Oh man, sometimes I wish people would stop posting as Anonymous just so we can actually refer to them by their names especially when they post stupid stuff.

The Clijsters Effect is real. Take the Williamses out of it and I give you Justine Henin. Same country, better athlete and better player and more accomplished and yet Henin suffered so much as a result of the Clijsters' Effect. Some of it was of her own doing, but she was competitive and so in some instances I excuse her behaviour, but when your compatriot's family basically implies that you are a drug abuser and same compatriot does not apologise or distance herself from said comments, yeah, all that nice girl stuff just goes out the window for me.

Even in the whole Serena/Sloane debate, prior to this I could not recall seeing Clijsters tweet anything directly to Sloane, and all of a sudden, she has started to tweet congratulatory messages to Sloane especially since the whole shebang. She is a pot stirrer (and I am using that term nicely).

The media has this thing where they believe every player owes them something. Kim came back because she wanted to get into the Hall of Fame. She also wanted to win Wimbledon to ensure that she had something that Henin did not have. I will be interested to see who is on the ballot with her when she gets nominated for the Hall of Fame. I hope Davenport & Mauresmo are there with her because then she won't get elected the first time around.