Sunday, June 13, 2021

My French Open top 10

Here are my top 10 French Open phenomena and occurrences, in ascending order:

10. Not like it's anything important: Just the women's doubles final, which was shown on neither Tennis Channel nor NBC. Instead, it was shown on NBC's Peacock Channel, but not really--it was shown on NBC's Peacock Premium Channel, which means that viewers have to pay for the service. I'm all for premium viewing channels; if it weren't for these venues, we wouldn't be able to see most of the matches we want to see. But tossing a major final onto a premium channel (or even onto the regular Peacock channel, because that would force people who have no interest in the channel to have to download the app) is just not right. (In my own case, none of it matters, since watching the final would have required me to be up at 4 a.m., and that's out of the question.)

9. Diede doubles: Diede De Groot (aka Diede De Great) won her second French Open singles title, and her fourth French Open doubles title (with partner Aniek Van Koot--they were the defending champions). The top seed in both events, De Groot dropped only two games before she reached the singles final against second seed Yui Kamiji, whom she defeated 6-4, 6-3.

8. Czechapalooza!: The Czech team of Barbora Krejcikova, Katerina Siniakova and Linda Noskova wound up one match shy of pulling off a double sweep (Noskova lost her junior girls' doubles semifinal), but what they did pull off was impressive enough: Czech players won the women's singles title, the women's doubles title and the junior girls' singles title.

7. Remember my name: Desirae Krawczyk and Joe Salisbury reached the semifinals of the Australian Open mixed doubles draw this year, and in Paris, they did even better--they won the title, defeating Elena Vesnina and Aslan Karatsev in the final. Krawczyk is ranked number 17 in the world in doubles.

6. They have arrived: Coco Gauff, Barbora Krejcikova, Maria Sakkari, Elena Rybakina, Tamara Zidansek, and Paula Badosa all reached their first major quarterfinal at this year's French Open.

5. Living on the edge: They were 1-5 down in the third set, but why let a little thing like that get you down? Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Iga Swiatek were just about to lose to the top seeds, Hsieh Su-Wei and Elise Mertens, when they saved seven match points and went on to win the three-hour, eleven-minute match, 5-7, 6-4, 7-5.

4. Check my blood pressure: While it didn't involve the drama of being 1-5 down in the third and saving seven match points, the singles semifinal featuring Barbora Krejcikova and Maria Sakkari had plenty of drama on its own. Filled with twists and turns and some superb shot-making, the tension in the third set was almost unbearable--for the viewers. Krejcikova saved a match point, and a controversial line call caused many viewers and commentators to conclude that the Czech player had to win the match twice. When it was over, I was exhausted; I couldn't even imagine how the players and their teams felt.

3. Perseverance (see Pavlyuchenkova): Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a junior number 1, was Russia's next great hope, and--while she has had a good career--she had never reached the level that had been expected of her. In fact, until the 2021 French Open, Pavyuchenkova had never made it past the quarterfinals of a major. But at this tournament, the Russian made it all the way to the final after 52 tries--the most ever for a woman. The 29-year-old didn't quite make it all the way, but--as she said after the final--"I want to believe that the best is yet to come."

2. Next time, invite a friend: So you win your first-ever WTA tournament, then you immediately go to Paris and win the French Open singles title. It's time to let your friend and partner in on the action, and that's just what Barbora Krejcikova did. She and Katerina Siniakova, seeded second, won the doubles title, defeating Bethanie Mattek-Sands (and ending her 5-0 streak in women's doubles major finals) and Iga Switek in the final. This is the pair's second French Open title; they won in 2018, and they also won at Wimbledon that same year.

When they were juniors, Krejcikova and Siniakova got together at Roland Garros in 2013 when neither of them could find a partner. They went on to win the title that year (they won two other majors as juniors), and have been together ever since. (Now, if only they would grace us with that dance again!)

1. At home in the zone: Barbora Krejcikova had known the glory of being the number 1 doubles player in the world, but her dream of being a great singles player was stuck in endless rounds of qualifying, and sometimes even those weren't available to her; qualifying takes place very early in the life of a tournament, and if you're an elite doubles player, you often can't show up for qualifying because you're still playing at the business end of the previous event.

When she was still a teen, the Czech player paid a call on a local resident, the late champion Jana Novotna, and when Novotna saw her play, she took Krejcikova on and coached her. It was Novotna's training and belief that sustained Krejcikova's own belief in her singles skills. Last year, she reached the round of 16 at the French Open, and everything changed for her. Right before she entered the 2021 French Open, in just her fourth major main draw, she won the warm-up 250 event in Strasbourg, This was Krejcikova's first WTA singles title, though--it should be noted--she was the runner-up in Dubai, a 1000 level event--in 2021.

Popular tennis wisdom maintains that playing a warm-up tournament (especially all of the matches), then playing both singles and doubles in the upcoming major, is a recipe for disaster: if you don't collapse physically, you're likely to collapse mentally. This is a logical conclusion, but Krejcikova apparently decided to ignore it altogether and just immerse herself in red clay for three weeks.

The Czech player had already knocked out fifth seed Elina Svitolina, Sloane Stephens and Coco Gauff when she encountered an even greater challenge in the semifinals--Maria Sakkari. That match contained enough drama to legitimately earn the description "epic," and Krecjcikova won it. One could be forgiven for having insufficient mental and physical energy left after going through that ordeal, but this particular one was still in fine form. She went on to defeat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the final, but that still wasn't enough for the Czech wonder--she and Katerina Siniakova went on to win the doubles title. Krejcikova is now once again the world number 1 doubles player--as if she hadn't already acquired enough glory in Paris. 

Krejcikova's Roland Garros experience isn't just an amazing tennis story--it's an amazing sports story (though I doubt it will be recognized as such) and a touching story about belief and inspiration. How lovely, too, that Jana Novotna appears as a character in that story.


Todd.Spiker said...

You might also throw in "comebacks" from Cirstea (first RG 4r since '09), Kasatkina (best slam since '18), Stephens (maybe hope isn't lost, after all) and, of course, CSN. ;)

After all the controversy from the first few days, there ended up being an awful lot of stories coming out of this RG.

Diane said...

You’re right—those were significant comebacks, especially from Cirstea. I need to give them an Honorable Mention. It’s always hard to sort this stuff out—though it was pretty easy to know what not to include 🙄

Todd.Spiker said...


bill said...

Yes - a bonus and a grace note that Novotna figures in this outstanding edition of Roland Garros.