Sunday, June 11, 2017

My French Open top 10

original photo by Daniel Ward
Here, in ascending order, are my top 10 French Open occurrences:

10. Canada finally in the mix: Gabriela Dabrowski became the first Canadian woman to win a major title when she and partner Rohan Bopanna won the mixed doubles event in Paris. In the final, Dabrowski and Bopanna fought off two match points to defeat Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Robert Farah, 2-6, 6-2, 12-10.

9. Conspicuous by their absence: Two-time French Open champion Maria Sharapova and three-time French Open champion Serena Williams did not compete in this year's event for reasons that were ridiculous and delightful, respectively. Also missing was Vika Azarenka, who--though not known for her clay court play--is nevertheless a top player. And, sadly, among the missing was Laura Siegemund, who has been setting the clay courts on fire lately, but suffered a serious injury right before the event began.

8. This Court is closed (no repairs anticipated): Margaret Court just won't shut up. And while she has a right to practice her religion and express her beliefs--when those beliefs are contrary to masses of actual evidence, then their expression becomes harmful, and there is going to be backlash. I find Court's obsession with everything gay/evil quite interesting.

7. 1 really is the loneliest number: Angelique Kerber, the world's number 1 player, went out in the first round, a victim of Ekaterina Makarova. There's no shame in getting beaten by Makarova (though, on a clay court, that was pretty strange). And sometimes top players get upset in the first round. But Kerber's career has been on such a downward slide that she wasn't even considered a favorite going into the French Open, and she should have been.

6. They love Paris in the springtime: The French players were true stars in this year's French Open. One of them, Kiki Mladenovic, seeded 13th, was a favorite to win the whole thing. She took out former finalist Sara Errani, and she took out defending champion Garbine Muguruza, who was also a favorite to win the whole thing. Mladenovic was on a roll, but fell to Timea Bacsinszky in the quarterfinals. Meanwhile, Caroline Garcia and Alize Cornet had the misfortune of having to play one another in the round of 16. Garcia won that match, but she, too, fell in the quarterfinals, beaten by Karolina Pliskova. But it was a spectacular run by the French stars.

5. More to come: They didn't win the French Open, but both Elina Svitolina and Karolina Pliskova solidified their roles as important players on the tour. Svitolina, of course, is probably still quaking from the hurt put on her by Simona Halep just as it appeared obvious that the Ukrainian star was about to advance to the semifinals. Pliskova did advance to the semifinals, and Halep got her, too. But who thought the Long Tall One was going to do so well on clay?

4. They can't stop winning!: Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova did it again. They won their second French Open doubles title and their third major doubles title in a row. Mattek-Sands and Safarova have now won five majors together, and a Wmbledon win would give them a Career Slam.

3. The bittersweet times of Simona Halep: I've written so much about Simona Halep in the last several days, and I don't want to re-hash what I've written. My final take is this: She really has made a turnaround in attitude: Her miraculous defeat of Svitolina in the quarterfinals is all the proof I need. But brain-wiring is a tricky thing, and sometimes, nerves kick in even when you think you may have conquered them. Also, sometimes you find yourself face to face with a grinning, grimacing, "Isn't Roland Garros a blast?" hitting machine. Halep isn't the only top player who, on a given day, would have been overwhelmed by Ostapenko. Here's hoping Halep keeps the faith because many of us would love to see her lift that (or any big) trophy.

2. The Rock returns: This event has been so thrilling and so full of surprises that it's easy to "forget" some of the earlier big moments. But surely nothing could have touched our hearts more than seeing Petra Kvitova enter Court Philippe-Chatrier. Well, except maybe seeing her play--and win her first match. She lost her second match, but by the very close score of 7-6, 7-6. And it didn't matter at all. Petra had returned, and a month earlier than what had been projected as her earliest possible return time. Kvitova won't get all the feeling back in her fingers for a while, but she's able to play, and that is, as far as I'm concerned, the best thing that will happen all season.

1. They say it's your birthday: Those of us who have watched Jelena Ostapenko for a while were aware of her somewhat scary tennis skills. But there was so much more to be done--the taming of her emotions, learning some discretion in shot selection, finding a better serve. And there is still plenty of work for the young Latvian to do (I can only imagine, if she fixes her problems areas, what she might become). But that didn't stop her from pulling off one of the greatest upsets in tennis history.

The first Latvian player to win a major, the first unseeded woman to win a major since 1933 (and the first one in the Open Era), the first woman to win a major as her first WTA victory since
1979--Ostapenko crashed the record books the same way she crashed the dreams of Simona Halep and Timea Bacsinszky. It's just how she does things.

Ostapenko turned 20 the day she beat Bacsinszky (who was also observing her birthday) in the semifinals. So why not just party through the weekend and, on your way out, pick up the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen?

The ballroom dancer turned tennis pro started her campaign with a defeat of Louisa Chirico, went on to take out Olympic gold medal winner Monica Puig, the talented Lesia Tsurenko, former French Open finalist Sam Stosur, former world number 1 Caroline Wozniacki, and friend Bacsinszky, before she got to the highly favored 3rd seed (and former finalist) Simona Halep. Ostapenko entered Roland Garros (only her eighth appearance at a  major) as a teenager, and--299 winners later--left as a member of the tennis elite.

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