Monday, June 6, 2011

My French Open top 10

Yellow chrysanthemums (Golden Flowers) bloom in Paris

Here, in ascending order, are my top 10 French Open happenings:

10: The tour in microcosm: 17-year-old Caroline Garcia of France, ranked number 188 in the world, stepped onto Court Philippe Chatrier with the obvious inention of dismantling Maria Sharapova. It was just the second round, so when Garcia began her seemingly relentless campaign against the 7th seed, it looked as though a huge upset was about to take place. Garcia took charge early and ran Sharapova all over the court. The French teen went up 6-4, 4-1 when the (perhaps) inevitable occurred: She fell apart mentally, almost froze in place, and opened the way for the experienced player to take over. Sharapova won eleven straight games, and it was over for Garcia.

9. The danger of Dulko: Gisela Dulko is so inconsistent that she isn't part of the tennis elite. But when she plays up to her potential, she can beat almost anyone, and she beat the 2010 runner-up, Sam Stosur, in the third round. Unfortunately, Dulko would later have to retire from the tournament because of injury.

8. Non ancora!: Defending champion Francesca Schiavone went down 1-6, 1-4 against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the quarterfinals. But if you're a follower of women's tennis, you knew it very likely wasn't over. It wasn't. Schiavone went on the kind of attack that only she can pull together, and won the match 1-6, 7-5, 7-5. Leave it to the Italian to give us a memorable thriller.

7. I'm still here: Though the complete demise of her career had been pronounced by any number of fans and "experts," Maria Sharapova made a run to the semifinals of the French Open, playing on the surface on which she has historically felt the least comfortable. So there.

6. Blow high, blow low: The wind is often a factor at tennis tournaments. Sometimes it's a big factor, and it certainly was in Paris this year. Not only did the swirling wind make it difficult for players to serve and to keep the ball in the court, but red dust frequently blew into their faces. Many matches were decided according to which player handled the wind better.

5. Wozn't to be: World number 1 Caroline Wozniacki not only didn't get past the third round--she was blown off the court by an in-form Daniela Hantuchova. World number 1 players who haven't won a major always say they feel no pressure, but does anyone really believe that? Nothing can take away from Wozniacki's enviable list of accomplishments, but her quarterfinal and third-round exits in Melbourne and Paris only serve to continue a less-than-enviable storyline for the Dane.

4. Allez!: Frenchwomen tend to be less than joyful about playing in the French Open because of the pressure they feel from French fans and the media. Marion Bartoli, in particular, has always more or less endured playing at Roland Garros because of the pressure--and because she has not especially enjoyed competing on clay. But year, she prepared very seriously, and she changed her attitude about the crowd. Bartoli embraced the enthusiastic French support, put on a high-energy show, and made it all the way to the semifinals. She lost to Francesca Schiavone, but hers was a personal triumph, nonetheless, and we were all the richer for it.

3. No seed, no problem: Andrea Hlavockova and Lucie Hradecka weren't seeded at the Open, but that didn't stop them. The Czech pair took out the 8th, 2nd, 3rd and 7th seeds and won the championship.

2. I'm still here, too!: Few thought Francesca Schiavone could win the French Open last year, and few considered her a player who could reach the final this year. But the fighting Italian did just that, though she was not able to defend her title. That was quite unfortunate, to be sure, but Schiavone's second straight run to the French Open final served to silence those who "knew" what was going to happen in Paris. Schiavone's spirited, stylish play has added so much creativity and joy to the event these past two years.

1. When we walked in fields of gold: What's better than being the first Chinese woman to reach the final of a major (Australian Open)? Being the first Chinese woman to win one! Li Na made sports history on Saturday when she completed a stunning run at Roland Garros. The 29-year-old Li disposed of Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova before denying a second French Open title to defending champion Schiavone. The champion, known for her hard and steady hitting, also displayed some great movement, unexpectedly good net play, and a keen knowledge of her opponents' strengths and weaknesses.

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