There is something about the Grand Slams that is 100% more exciting and spine-tingly than the other tournaments in the year: the high probability of upsets, marathon matches (2008 Wimbledon finals, anyone?) and high(er) quality play. This year’s French Open has reached its halfway point and as we go into the business end of the event (the finals are next weekend), I thought it would be nice to write a piece now. I would have written a preview, but with my luck. the fortunes of my favoured players would have all gone to pot…….don’t believe me? Look at the AL East Standings.
Having said that, the French Open is my favourite of all the Slams. Controversial, I know. But by all means, feel free to me why I’m wrong. Not that I have anything against Wimbledon- or Australia or NYC- I love Wimbledon; but there’s just a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ about the orange clay in Paris that just sucks me in year after year. Rafael Nadal’s 9 titles there may or may not have something to do with it. I am unabashedly a Nadal fan, have been since his first French Open win way back in ’05. 12 years ago for those of you counting. And while that may seem like a long time, consider this: in those 12 years, Nadal has won the title 9 times. a feat never done before at any Slam, let alone clay (which is notoriously the hardest surface to play on). Us sport-minded people like to talk about dynasties, but somehow, tennis is rarely, if ever considered. So, forget all those ‘team’ dynasties- yes, even my Patriots!- and consider that Nadal isn’t called the ‘King of Clay’ for nothing. This year, he goes for title Number 10 on a court that, come his retirement, should be named after him. Vamos!
This year’s edition of Roland Garros will be interesting for three reasons:
1. The women’s title will go to someone not named Serena Williams, who won’t be gracing a tennis court until next year because she’s expecting her first child. If this is somehow news to you then, surprise! It should also be mentioned that when she won the Australian Open back in Fenruary she was already 8 weeks pregnant. You go, girl! Serena Williams: GOAT? Never fear though, she will at least be in attendance in Paris, supporting sister Venus’ campaign.
2. Roger Federer surprised everyone when he withdrew from the tournament, and it’s not because of injury, because those days seem to be behind him. While he never gave a reason, it’s likely due to the upcoming grass court season and his desire to win another Wimbledon title before he eventually hangs up his racket. Given the short turnaround between the two Slams (2 weeks), it’s actually quite an astute move. Didn’t stop him from turning up anyway: he was spotted at Nadal’s first round match on Monday. Checking out the competition? Supporting a friend? You be the judge.
3. The absence of Maria Sharapova, who was denied a wild card entry by the French Tennis Association. Sharapova, who has been serving her 15 doping ban, made her return a few weeks ago in Hamburg, not too much fanfare, admittedly. Would she have been a contender for the title anyway? Debatable. But if it makes anyone feel better, she probably won’t be playing at Wimbledon either. Her next appearance in a Slam will probably come at the US Open in August unless she doesn’t qualify for that. Quite frankly, I’m surprised she’s not persona non grata everywhere.
SEEDINGS (TOP 10)
- Andy Murray
- Novak Djokovic
- Stan Wawrinka
- Rafael Nadal
- Milos Raonic
- Dominic Thiem
- Marin Cilic
- Kei Nishikori
- Alexander Zverev
- David Goffin
- Angelique Kerber
- Karolina Pliskova
- Simona Halep
- Garbiñe Muguruza
- Elina Svitolina
- Dominika Cibulkova
- Johanna Konta
- Svetlana Kuznetsova
- Agnieszka Radwanska
- Venus Williams
With Federer and Serena out, everyone moves up a spot in the seedings, including Milos Raonic, who is the first Canadian tennis player to ever be seeded this high. GO CANADA. And if anyone knows any of the players in the women’s top 10 (or seeded 11 through 32) not named Venus Williams, then you’re doing better than me! And I watch tennis!
DAY ONE- 28/05
I, for one, love that Slams start and end on a Sunday: it makes everything come full circle AND gives us all something to watch that isn’t football or motor racing or…….whatever else. Day 1 at Roland Garros was gorgeous: temperatures in the 30’s, blue skies. What’s not to like? Granted none of the big names were in action, but there were some good matches. Dan Evans flew the British flag on day one, and was promptly defeated in 4 sets by Spain’s Tommy Robredo. The story of the day, however, was the return of Petra Kvitova, the victim of a home invasion in December; she suffered injuries to her wrist and hand, had surgery, missed the Australian Open, and was likely to miss most of this season. However, she looked in fine form, dismantling her opponent, American Julia Boserup in straight sets 6-3, 6-2. Welcome back, Petra!
Staying with the women, it was a tough day for top seed, Germany’s Angelique Kerber, who found herself dumped out in straight sets by Russian Ekaterina Makarova. Much was made of her lack of form so far this season, considering how far she rose up the ranks last year; those in the know will remember that last season she usurped Serena at the top of women’s tennis for several months, only to end the season at number 2. For obvious reasons, she is the de facto top seed, but nevertheless, her early departure opens the door wider for an already wide open field.
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez def. Gilles Müller (26)
Ekaterina Makerova def. Angelique Kerber (1)
Monica Puig def. Roberta Vinci (31) It should be noted that, despite being unseeded, Puig is the defending Olympic champion from Rio 2016.
DAY 2- 29/05
Day 2 dawned with more anticipation than the previous day with both the men’s and women’s defending champions in action and the King of Clay holding court on Suzanne Lenglen. What could possibly go wrong? Nothing, if your name was Nadal, Djokovic or Muguruza. Quite a lot went wrong for poor Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The Frenchman, seeded 12th at his home Slam, was facing an unseeded Argentine, Renzo Olivo, which looked to be a relatively easy victory……..or so you would have thought. Instead, what transpired was a 4-set marathon, won by Olivo the following morning (after only 8 minutes on court) when the match was called due to darkness. To be fair, it was pitch-black when the tournament referee called it, and as we all know, the venerated clay in Paris is yet to have floodlights (or a roof) installed. Not that Tsonga went down without a fight, he clawed his way back in the 3rd and made some fabulous shots, but give credit where its due, Olivo played a heck of a match.
Nadal, though, had an easy time of it, downing Frenchman Benoît Paire in straight sets 6-3, 6-4, 6-1. Meanwhile, Djokovic wasted no time in dispatching Spain’s Marcel Granollers, also in straight sets, and defending women’s champion Muguruza saw off Italy’s Francesca Schiavone in straight sets. Good day at the office then! Also in action, Milos Raonic, who cruised through his match against Belgian Steve Darcis. Fellow Canuck Françoise Abanda also made it through to Round 2.
UPSETS (7) including:
Fernando Verdasco def. Alexander Zverev (9)
Jiri vesely def. Jack Sock (14)
Nikolox Basilashvili* def. Gilles Simon (31)
* remember this guy, his name will come up again. No spoilers here!
DAY 3- 30/05
Day 3 saw Andy Murray take the court for the first time. His clay court season has not been going well, with several losses on the surface leading up to Paris. Its safe to say that clay is not his favourite surface. Nevertheless, he saw off Russian Andrey Kuznetsov in 4 sets .Compatriot Kyle Edmund also saw action and came through against Portugal’s Gastão Elias. Unfortunately for Jo Konta it was not to be, as she departed after a 3-set loss to Su-WEi Hsieh of Taipei. Flying the Maple Leaf on Day 3: Eugénie Bouchard who made it safely through to the next round, defeating Japan’s Risa Ozaki in 3 sets, despite nursing an akle sprain. Stan Wawrinka, despite a second set tiebreak against Slovakian Jozef Kovalik, went through as well.
Renzo Olivo def. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (12)
DAY 4: 31/05
It was business as usual for Djokovic and Nadal on Day 4 as Dutchman Robin Haase and Portugal’s João Sousa found themselves summarily and swiftly dismissed from Paris. For Raonic, however, he endured a scare from Brazilian Rogerio Dutra Silva, but prevailed in 4 sets.
Britain’s Aljaz Bedene saw his tournament come to an end at the hands of Jiri Vesely, that being said, he seems to have a bright future ahead. Petra Kvitova’s return was short-lived as she lost to American Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Raonic’s compatriot, Abanda, was decimated by Caroline Wozniacki 6-0, 6-0, bringing her tournament to a rather unceremonious end.
Most of the day’s matches were played with few fireworks, but there’s always one…………..in the match between American 25th seed Steve Johnson and unseeded Croatian Borna Coric (you may remember he beat Andy Murray a few weeks ago), both became unhinged: Johnson argued repeatedly with the chair umpire, while Coric, after he had lost, took his frustrations out on his poor tennis racket, and a water bottle. I’m sure it won’t be the last time we see broken rackets!
Horacio Zeballos def. Ivo Karlovic (23)
Oms Jabeur def. Dominika Cibulkova (6)
Bethanie Mattek-Sands def. Petra Kvitova (15)
DAY 5- 01/06
Day 5 rolled around with all the big names (well, not all, but you get the point) still in play. The most newsworthy story of the day was Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro being an exemplary model of good sportsmanship when he consoled his opponent. Nicolas Almagro, after the latter went down with a knee injury. Poor guy was in tears on the court! J.M. (Can I call him that?) was there, helping him off the court, sitting next to him, and generally being a gentleman. He even carried Almagro’s bag for him, as well as his own!!! So, kudos to Juan Martin del Potro for showing that good sportsmanship is not dead, and for generally being a gentleman. Well, they do say tennis is a gentleman’s game. Honestly, the guy has more bedside manner than I do!!!! If you want to check it out for yourself, here’s a link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqnkVUvgutU
Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka sailed through their matches against Martin Klizan and Alexandr Dolgopolov respectively. Kyle Edmund put an end to Renzo Olivo a day after the latter’s stunning 4-set win over Tsonga. Shame.
Karen Khachanov def. Thomas Berdych (13)
P. Martic def. Madison Keys (12)
Veronica Cepede Royg def. A. Pavlyuchenkova (16)
Magda Linette def. Anna Konjuh (29)
Alize Cornet def. Barbora Strycova (20)
DAY 6- 02/05
Day 6 saw two important things: another act of excellent sportsmanship and a superb performance from Rafa Nadal. And by domination I mean annihilation, decimation, domination, beatdown if you prefer. I mean, at some point, I felt sorry for his opponent…..sort of.
But let’s start with another example of classy gentlemanly behaviour and sportsmanship (because we like that sort of thing). After taking a horrific tumble during his match, Belgium’s David Goffin limped off the court with the trainer and into the locker room. His opponent, Argentina’s Horacio Zeballos, when it was decided that Goffin could not continue, carried Goffin’s bag to the locker room before returning for his own. This coming a day after his countryman, J.M. (del Potro), was seen consoling his injured opponent. Classy fellas, these Argentines!
Now, might as well just address the elephant in the room…………or blog post, whatever. RAFAEL. NADAL. OWNED. IT. But when you have 9 French Open titles, I guess you’re entitled to a complete and utter decimation every now and then. AmIright? That brings us to Nikoloz Basilashvili (I told you his name would come up again), who, unfortunately, was on the receiving end of a Nadal trouncing. This is a guy who’s tshirt and shorts both featured skulls, surely in an attempt to at least look intimidating. Heck, the guy had already beaten two world class players in Gilles Simon and Victor Troicki. But on this day, he was outclassed and outmatched by the King of Clay, who, let’s be honest, barely broke a sweat in the hour and a half he was on court. Even when he was serving for the match and there was thunder and lightning around Roland Garros, Nadal looked every inch the champion. Its safe to say he got his swagger back. Its safe to say Basilashvili wishes he hadn’t gotten out of bed.
Fri 2 Jun
Round of 32·Philippe-Chatrier
Its not every day, a tennis fan sees a scoreline like this, especially in the men’s game. I’m pretty sure the one game, Basilashvili did win, was a pity game to save him the embarrassment of a ‘triple bagel,’ which incidentally hasn’t happened in several decades!! Is this a sign of things to come from Nadal?
And both Djokovic and Raonic won as well, as a side note.
UPSETS- 3 including
Pablo Carreño Busta (20) def. Grigor Dimitrov (11)
Horacio Zeballos def. David Goffin (10) – retired
DAY 7- 03/05
Day 7 was a bit of a letdown, as rain suspended play for the whole evening and caused disruption to earlier matches. Andy Murray saw off our gentleman friend J.M. while his comrade, Kyle Edmund saw himself ousted, after a good run, by South African Kevin Anderson. Stan the Man (Wawrinka, not Musial) also went through comfortably before the heavens opened.
On the women’s side, Alize Cornet scored an upset victory over 9th seed Agnieszka Radwanska, ensuring at least one Frenchwoman would go through to the next round.
Fernando Verdasco def. Pablo Cuevas (22)
Carla Suarez Navarro (21) def. Elena Vesnina (14)
Alize Cornet def. Agnieszka Radwanska (9)
DAY 8- 04/05
Honestly, I was not intending to take this ‘half-baked’ article through to Day 8, but today was an interesting day. I mean, for everyone not named Nadal, who cruised easily through his match against countryman Roberto Bautista Agut. The scoreline was not as…..let’s go with gaudy, as Friday’s, but dominant nonetheless. Djokovic also had a relatively easy day at the office, seeing off Spain’s Albert Ramos Vinolas in straight sets. In the upset category, Milos Raonic, Garbiñe Muguruza, Sam Stosur, Venus Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova all waved ‘au revoir’ to the clay. I’m gutted that Raonic is not going through to the second week, however, it does mean that I don’t have to a) pick sides between him and Nadal and b) watch Nadal (potentially) decimate him.
Pablo Carreña Busta (21) def. Milos Raonic (5)
Karen Khachanov def. John Isner (21)
Caroline Wozniacki (11) def. Svetlana Kuznetsova (8)
Timea Bacsinszky (30) def. Venus Williams (10)
Kristina Mladenovic (13) def. Garbiñe Muguruza (4)
Jelena Ostapenko def. Sam Stosur (23)
Petra Martic def. Anastasija Sevastova (14)
So, going into the second week of Roland Garros should prove interesting then. Quarter-final matches start Monday and everything should be wrapped up by next Sunday….barring any more rain delays.
Fernando Verdasco v. Kei Nishikori (8)
Andy Murray (1) v. Karen Khachanov
Kevin Anderson v. Marin Cilic (7)
Stan Wawrinka (3) v. Gael Monfils (15)
Carla Suarez Navarro (21) v. Simona Halep (3)
Elina Svitolina (5) v. Petra Martic
Caroline Garcia (28) v. Alize Cornet
Veronica Cepede Royg v. Karolina Pliskova (2)
Jelena Ostapenko v. Caroline Wozniacki (11)
Kristina Mladenovic (13) v. Timea Bacsinszky (30)
Dominic Thiem (6) v. Novak Djokovic (2)
Rafael Nadal (4) v. Pablo Carreña Busta (21)* (don’t quote me on this date)
But what have we learned? Essentially, nothing that we didn’t know before. The women’s title will definitely not be won by a Williams sister; in fact, the race is so wide open you could park an 18-wheeler in the gap. That being said, both the second and third seeds remain in the tournament. On the men’s side, however, it looks like Nadal and Djokovic are on a collision course for the semis on their side of the draw while a Murray-Wawrinka clash seems imminent on the other. But with Nadal playing the way he is bearing in mind he hasn’t dropped a set- it looks like he’s well on the way to that 10th title. But that’s not a prediction!
Catch me in a few weeks with a roundup from Roland Garros and a preview for Wimbledon! Á bientôt!