Fifty thoughts from the French Open, where Nadal rules again
Rafael Nadal joined Bjorn Borg as the only men to win four straight French Open titles.
Jon Wertheim's Mailbag
PARIS -- Cleaning out the notebook after a rollicking French Open. Herewith, 50 thoughts and observations from Paris.
• All hail Rafael Nadal
, King of Clay. Just a comprehensively dominating French Open, culminating with his paste job of Roger Federer in the final. Yes, the surface changes. But if Nadal can sustain this level of play and confidence, Wimbledon could be very interesting.
• Ana Ivanovic
is your 2008 ladies champ. That sound you heard was the endorsement truck backing up. Many people -- self included -- questioned her toughness and "too-niceness" after her loss in Australia. No more.
• It would be interesting to get into Federer's head after this event. He reached the final, retaining his points from last year. He's still the world No. 1. Wimbledon awaits. But will that demolition job -- the faulty execution, the unforced errors, the loss on the last nine
games -- stick in his head when play turns to the grass?
• Three cheers for Dinara Safina
. Over the past four week's she's beaten four top players, won 12 matches and taken nearly $1 million in prize money. Given her improved movement and aggressive hitting, one senses this could be a real breakthrough and not a patented Safin(a) Family Hot Streak.
• After the winners, the star of the tournament was Gael Monfils
, who reached the semis and then battled Federer in one of the more entertaining matches. One only hopes this is the start of his tapping into all that unfilled potential.
• The good news for Novak Djokovic
: he's reached the semifinals of five straight Slams. The bad news: like Roger Federer
-- and, for that matter, everyone else on the planet -- he's still a ways from taking Nadal on clay.
• In a sizable upset, Pablo Cuevas
and Luis Horna
(who once beat Federer at Roland Garros) won the doubles.
• Virginia Ruano Pascual
and Anabel Medina Garigues
won the doubles. And for the most endearing interview of the tournament, check out their transcript.
• Who said Americans can't play on clay? Bob Bryan
and Viktoria Azarenka
took the mixed doubles title. Pretty good result for a team that signed up two minutes before the deadline.
• In the juniors draw, Tsung-Hua Yang
of Taipei took the title, beating Jerzy Janowicz
of Poland in the final. In an All-Romanian final girls final Simona Halep
beat Elena Bogdan
• I was surprised by how outwardly cavalier that WTA seems to be about the retirement of Justine Henin
. Asked whether Henin's absence created even greater pressure to win, Maria Sharapova
sniffed that the question was "pointless." Likewise, WTA execs claim they "aren't losing any sleep" over the sudden loss of a seven-time Grand Slam champ. Everyone's protesting too much.
• Henin made no friends when she bailed on the black tie ITF dinner last week. Federer was playing a Grand Slam quarterfinal the next day and still managed to make an appearance. (Irony: turns out she was at a Yannick Noah
concert that night.) On the other hand, she did return to present Ivanovic with the trophy on Saturday.
• More for plus side of the ledger, I hear that Henin was asked whether she wanted her name removed from the WTA rankings. It was explained that she might still be eligible for bonuses as long as she remained in the top ten. No, she said. She'd rather retire at No.1 and lose the money than watch her ranking inexorably slip.
• Whatever Jelena Jankovic
's shortcomings on the court, you can't accuse her of lacking personality. From her mocking Ivanovic's fist pumps to inscribing messages on her bandages, she sure doesn't let much go unexpressed. And we applaud her for this.
• Let's set the record straight now. The Serbs (Ivanovic and Jankovic) make the Belgians (Henin and Kim Clijsters
) look like kindred spirits.
• Memorable moment: Monfils trying to explain his Soulja Boy dance to the press French. ("How is zees possible? A soldier is not a boy?")
• The players in France commented about how fast some of the courts played. In a few weeks, some of the players in England will surely gripe about how slow the grass has become. Are we edging ever closer to a single court speed?
• Semifinal loser Svetlana Kuznetsova
was the fourth seed and had a chance at the top ranking had she won the title. In what is either testament to the WTA's ranking system or testament to how depleted and injury-addled the rest of the field is, Kuznetsova has won only one title over the last 18 months. And that came in New Haven when her opponent, Agnes Szavay
, was leading before retiring with a back injury.
• During Wimbledon, the fiercest battles won't be played out on the courts, but rather in the ATP meetings. Stay tuned.
• The Sharapova haters were out in full force, both in the Roland Garros crowds and in the Mailbag. Whatever Maria's flaws, I still say it's hard to drum up much dislike for any athlete who competes so honestly.
• Not saying he would have contended for the title, but it would have been interesting to see Andy Roddick
on the increasingly fast clay, especially given his tantalizing results in Rome. Speaking of which, Roddick may not be playing the Olympics in August but he will be playing plenty this summer. The Countrywide Classic in LA -- random aside: how does Countrywide have the funds to sponsor a tennis event these days? -- is Roddick's latest commitment.
• Mary Pierce
was on-hand, doing some interviews and replaying that under-the-legs shot she pulled off in 2000. (Someone throw this on YouTube. Just an amazing piece of shotmaking.) Dismissing any retirement rumors, Pierce claims that her goal is to play for France in the Beijing Olympics. Gotta love the protected ranking.
• Though who knows if we'll hear from her again, Carla Suarez Navarro
was the tournament's pleasant surprise. A few weeks back she was losing in the first round of the Monzon Challenger. Suddenly she qualifies in Paris, wins a few rounds and is a Grand Slam quarterfinalist. Always interesting to see if a player like her can parlay success. She's now a top 50 player, enabling her to enter most main draws. Will she continue this roll? Or will she be another Marta Marrero
• Nice event for quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi
. But there was a misperception that she was a newcomer. She's 23 and once beat Kuznetsova to win the girls title. Between Kanepi and Ernests Gulbis
, it was a banner tournament for the Baltics.
• Lots of you complaining that Ivanovic's 6-0, 6-0 demolition of Petra Cetkovska
was an indictment of women's tennis. Question: were you equally offended watching Nadal thrash Nicolas Almagro
--the fifth seed! -- 6-1, 6-1, 6-1?
• When you watch the French Open next year, take note of this. The best seat in the house -- back corner, first row, directly behind the baseline -- is occupied by Ion Tiriac
. "Je suis le Roi" as they say.
• As usual, many of you joined me in noticing how often the elites in the prime sections failed to show up for matches, leaving vast patches of unfilled seats, giving the perception that matches were irrelevant. When, for instance the "dream semi" between Nadal and Djokovic began, the front tiers were less than half filled.
No tournament seems willing to offend the brie eating and do something meaningful about this problem. But reader Kent Jordan of Plano, Texas
, smartly noted: "A few years ago, the technology of virtual advertising was introduced to baseball, allowing TV networks to digitally insert ads onto green screens behind home plate. I wondered if we could use this same technology to digitally insert people into the high euro green seats at Roland Garros?"
• Sharon Stone
, arbiter of karma that she is, surely approved of Eduardo Schwank
's showing. After losing most of his possessions in a hotel fire during a tune-up event, Senor Schwanky qualified and then reached the third round, enriching himself to the tune of 39,400 Euros. (Which, if my expense account auditor is reading, is equal to roughly $12 million.)
• Donald Young
's loss to Rob Ginepri
came with an additional sting: It likely deprived him a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. Young is filling out his frame and he's made immense strides over the past nine months. But, man, is that kid combustible.
• One of you forward me a Charlie Bricker
column that made this excellent point: Liezel Huber
is now an American citizen. Having reached the semifinals in doubles, she
was among the last Americans in the draw.
• Know how players are eliminated from an event and inevitably say they have no interest in watching the rest of the tournament? I don't think I've ever attended a women's final here and not seen Mauresmo in the VIP box.
• The Lawn Tennis Association had once made noise about declining to award wild cards to British players ranked outside the 250. After Andy Murray
, the next highest ranked Brit is #240, Jamie Baker
• Guaranteed Wimbledon run-up story: the struggling Murray has a new book out titled, "Hitting Back
." Word is, Brad Gilbert
will not be at the release party.
• Speaking of books, Pete Sampras
' autobiography, co-written with Pete Bodo
, is now available
• Having nothing to do with tennis.... write to your mayor, write to your congressman. Every city should have this bicycle rental program
• For years we've been extolling the candor of the French Open in-house media operations. A Q&A for the official program once asked Mauresmo, "If you could change one piece of legislation, what would it be?" She responded that she would increase the time period during which a woman could get an abortion. (Don't look for that one in your U.S. Open program.) In keeping with that, Ken Schneck of Brattleboro, VT
called this Q&A with Alize Cornet
to our attention. Note, for instance her answer to "Least favourite opponent"?
(Devil's advocacy: shouldn't Chakvetadze
have been given the chance to rebut the allegations?
• Speaking of Chakvetadze, there are conflicting reports, but it appears she will work with Carlos Rodriguez
at least on a casual basis.
• Lots of questions early in the tournament about Ashley Harkleroad
's announcement that she posed for Playboy. Honestly, I'm of two minds. My libertarian instincts say, "She's an adult; if she wants to do it, all power to her." But is anyone else sick of this trope that posing nude for money makes you an ace feminist? You want to make some extra cash and bolster your profile? Go nuts. But that doesn't make you the second coming of Gladys Heldman
• Nicole Vaidisova
, Jim Loehr
. Jim Loehr, Nicole Vaidisova.
• Thought Nicole Vaidisova was in a funk? Michaella Krajicek was a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon last year. After a first-round loss in Paris, her record for 2008 stands at 0-10.
• In Melbourne I shared a courtesy car with a gentleman who was heavily involved in Israeli tennis. He kept pressing me about "the great American player Wayne Odesnik
." He believed that Odesnik was Jewish and was curious whether Odesnik might be interested in playing Davis Cup for Israel. Maybe the guy was onto something after all.
• We've said it before; we'll say in again. Martina Navratilova
does exceptional work in the broadcast booth. Same for Mats Wilander
• We could do 50 thoughts -- culled from you guys -- just about the quality of the television coverage. It basically breaks down on two lines: those who get Tennis Channel and those who don't. There were a few low points -- the Nadal/Djokovic match airing on tape delay. There were far more high points -- the cooperation between ESPN and Tennis Channel. And when streaming real time video improves, a lot of the issues will be resolved.
• That said, a few quibbles. A) Can we retire the redundant phrase, "fellow compatriot," B) Several of you raise a valid point that so long as Fernando Gonzalez
is in the draw, it's incorrect to lament the absence of "Americans." There's a whole continent down there! C) Somebody please assure me that my hearing is starting to go, and the phrase "Bootylicious on the move" really didn't escape from Dick Enberg
• Remember Pablo Cuevas
, the dude who jumped over the net, earning the ire of the Bryans and then went on to win the title? Could that really be the same guy who lost -- on clay! -- to 15-year-old Ryan Harrison
two months ago? What an odd result. Harrison, by the way, lost in the third round of the juniors draw. Also, American Melanie Oudin
lost to Bogdan in the quarters.
• For the full disclosure portion of today's show, we got slammed in the Suicide Pool this tournament. I think at Wimbledon I'll just squander my first pick on Federer and Sharapova so I can be assured of winning a round.
• Anyone else miss the Players' Karaoke Booth this year?
• Can anyone help out our friend Al, here? He writes: "I am an Adapted PE teacher and saw a special on Sat. on wheelchair tennis. I am trying to find the name and email address of the player with arthrogryposis to get some information on a 6-year-old with the same condition. If you would have an information I would appreciate your time and effort. God Bless, Al."
• On a sad note, longtime tennis writer Barry Lorge
passed away last week at age 60.
• The auctions of player memorabilia to benefit the victim of the China earthquake are still being held. Check out www.wtatour.co
, and www.atptour.com
. And give 'til it hurts.
HAVE A GREAT WEEK EVERYONE!