Tag Archives: Roland Garros 2014

Roland Garros and Wimbledon Reprise: The Fans (Part B)

Last Saturday in ‘Part A’, the focus was on how the French approach Roland Garros. Interviews with the fans in Paris mainly underlined their sentimental attachment to the nostalgia surrounding Roland Garros and the importance they place on their own countrymen and women competing in the tournament. This second installment will put into perspective how the English approach Wimbledon. In contrast to Roland Garros fans, Wimbledon fans are less emotional and more serious, and their attachments to tradition and to the sport outweigh all others. Watching great tennis supersedes the outcome of the matches. For example, Mark and Claire, a tennis-loving couple traveling from Yorkshire to London every summer for three decades to watch some Wimbledon, have a rather rational disposition when it comes to their expectations of Wimbledon. I found these two lovely characters at the Champagne Bar at Wimbledon, celebrating their arrival to the grounds with a rather large champagne bottle and anticipating a full day of tennis (pictured below).Resim2 - Mark and Claire

When I asked the same question to them that I asked the Roland Garros fans – if they had the power to change one thing with regards to their Slam tournament with the snap of a finger, what would it be? –, Mark quickly brought up the presence of a number of fans, who come to Wimbledon not because they understand tennis or love the game, but simply to make an appearance and “be trendy.” Mark did remain a gentleman about it – “not really a major complaint,” he added – nevertheless suggesting a rather abrupt solution: “The LTA should probably prioritize members of tennis clubs and players who really support the sport and not just make it a complete free for all for those that just want to be seen!!!! A bit harsh maybe… but sadly true.” Both Mark and Claire mentioned the high prices on the grounds but seemed to accept it as a fact of Wimbledon: “Be prepared to be parted from your dearly beloved cash, very swiftly” Mark added while Claire pointed to the bottle on their table and said tongue-in-cheek: “I’m not sure there is anything I would change other than maybe the price of the champagne.”

When it came to tradition, Mark started out mild-mannered at first, and then finished fairly firm: “I personally think that if the changes are better for the sport and improve the general game then we should be open-minded. Having said this and from the stand point of what is a traditional British competition, we should not be in a hurry to lose its heritage and appeal. I love the etiquette that remains staunch and changing (for example) the ‘all white’ would be a travesty. Embrace the modern game but don’t forget the tradition!” Claire’s disposition could not be any clearer either: “I think we should stick with tradition as much as possible. The British are so good at it. I would hate the all-white rule to be lifted. The smartest person I have ever seen on court was when Roger Federer walked out in traditional whites a few years ago. How lovely!”

Perhaps the most striking contrast with the French fans at Roland Garros appeared when I asked Mark and Claire how they approached their countrymen and women and if it mattered to their routine of watching tennis at Wimbledon. Unlike their neighbors from France (see Part A), if forced to decide between a potentially high-quality tennis match vs. a match involving their compatriot, they would choose to watch the match that promises the best tennis, even if it did not involve a British player – and not simply go to the court to cheer their compatriot: “I think it important to remember that this competition is not a national championship” Mark added, “these players are there for themselves first and foremost and so it’s not like supporting a team at the Olympic Games. Everyone has their own favorite and it nice to have your own opinion rather than just following your own nation’s players.” Claire’s reply was less analytical but just as clear: “Always for the love of tennis!”

Danielle, a nurse in a London hospital and fresh out of university, had the same type of reactions to my questions as Mark and Claire did above. One notable difference in her responses was the emphasis on weather. Her Wimbledon program essentially gravitated around the weather conditions. She insisted that she never bought tickets in advance, and thanked Wimbledon for keeping the tradition of selling tickets as late as the day of competition, understanding that there was no guarantee that she could get them. Danielle said that she has been coming to the grounds since she was 12 years old and praised Wimbledon for thinking of its “faithful fans.” As far as she is concerned, the weather was too “upsy-downy” to make plans in advance. She preferred waiting until the morning of the day in question, watch closely the weather forecast, and then make the decision to purchase tickets or not. She accepted that she may get left out in the race to buy the tickets online once they go on sale, but added quickly that she has “become an expert on the particular art.” Apparently, she has succeeded to buy tickets on the same day for the last 6 years in a row, and even got to see the 2012 men’s semi-finals through that procedure.

This article would not be complete without mentioning Maurice, a wonderful man and the most authentic Wimbledon follower that I have ever seen. He was on the grounds with his lovely grand-daughter Sylvia to enjoy a full day of early-round matches (pictured below).Maurice
He was sporting a classy looking summer suit and carrying around an extremely vintage racket that, according to him, belonged to William Renshaw, the 7-time Wimbledon champion in the 1880s. I happened to sit next to Maurice and Sylvia by chance on court 12. Maurice’s outfit and the racket piqued my interest for obvious reasons but it was rather his knowledge of the game and its history through his comments while watching the men’s singles first-round match on the court that drove me to talk to him further. He has been coming to Wimbledon for 65 years! He was a true gentleman, engaging me in small dialogues here and there about the history of Wimbledon. He had excellent comments about both players on the court and their tactics (it was the Marcos Baghdatis vs. Dustin Brown match) and it was truly remarkable to listen to him compare the players and their strokes to those from years or decades back. By the time he gave me his card and informed me that he was a tennis writer and a coach for many years, I felt more than lucky to have spent a whole match sitting next to him and listened to countless past anecdotes, the kind you don’t necessarily find in historical data sheets. If Wimbledon valued tradition, Maurice represented it by his mere disposition.

In conclusion, it would be unfair to set the parameters of the comparison between the French Open and Wimbledon on reductive dichotomies such as “emotional vs. rational,” “nostalgia vs. tradition,” or “complainer vs. solution-seeker.” That being said, distinctions in the ways that fans approach both tournaments foreground certain inclinations: the fans of one Slam tournament do not resemble the fans of another, and by extension, there is hardly anything similar about two Slams other than the fact that they are two of the four Majors in the ATP calendar, thus shell out the largest money prizes in the professional tennis circuit. Just as the surfaces differ from Paris to London, the expectations of the fans also vary largely from those of Roland Garros to those of Wimbledon.
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Roland Garros and Wimbledon Reprise: The Fans (Part A)

The densest portion of the professional tennis season has come to an end last week on the grass courts of Wimbledon. The European clay and grass court season, featuring two Majors and a plethora of Masters 1000 and Premier tour events in men and women, can overwhelm even the most insatiable tennis fan. This article takes a closer look at the contrast between the fans of the two Majors, Roland Garros and Wimbledon, through a few in-person dialogues that I had with some fans in both locations. It was interesting to notice certain traits that were unique to each Major with regards to their fans. Especially, the striking attachment to nostalgia and ambience manifested by Roland Garros fans, and the remarkable appreciation of tradition and the sport itself among Wimbledon fans impressed me tremendously.

For French fans, Roland Garros is not just about watching quality tennis. They live and breathe all that comprises the makeup of the grounds and the atmosphere of the tournament. They also show no reluctance in saying that the results of the French tennis players matter, a lot! Although I talked a large number of fans here and there, I selected a few that may describe the best the approach of the fans. Catherine (pictured below), who is married and a mother of a wonderful boy named Clément, immediately noted that the pleasure of attending Roland Garros was something that she tasted for the first time as a youngster in the 1970s, one that she never get tired of experiencing again and again since then.
catherine

Christian, a mild-mannered man in his 50s, sporting a hat and a backpack, has been coming to Roland Garros every year for a decade. This year, his daugther Aurélie, a university student, decided to join him for the first time. They were accompanied by Alain who is a “Roland Garros nut” in the true sense of the expression (see picture below).
RESIM1 - Christian-Aurelie-Alain

Both Christian and Alain expressed how addictive it was to come to Roland Garros every year and watch world-class tennis. Aurélie let it be known that, despite her first time, she felt the ‘virus’ of Roland Garros invade her as well. Then, there was also Ombeline, a high-school teacher in Paris, who confessed that she could not think of life without attending Roland Garros every year!

Most French fans take their countrymen and women seriously and will support them before any other player. It was no exception with this group of fans. I still wanted to put them on the spot and hear them admit it! So I first asked straight forward if they are coming to Roland Garros to watch their compatriots play or simply to watch some good tennis. While Alain and Ombeline flat out said that they would first like to see the French win, the other four said they wanted to see good tennis without neglecting to add that they are also there to support their compatriots. As I suspected, the question did not put them enough on the spot, so I decided to push further with more specific questions: if two top 10 players took the court at the same time as a match between Gasquet, Tsonga, or Simon and a player ranked around no. 100 in the world, which would they watch? Alain and Ombeline once again preferred to watch the French player over a top-ten match-up. Catherine said if one of the top 10 players were Federer or Nadal, she would prefer to see them, but if it was Djokovic playing she would rather see the French player’s match. I did not feel the need to ask her feelings about the current number 1 player in the world from Serbia! The father-duo combo of Christian and Aurélie said the top 10 match-up without hesitation.

My next question was even more precise. I talked to these people in the middle of the first week, so there was still a chance to have a Djokovic vs. Federer semi-final on one side of the men’s draw, and a Nadal vs. Gasquet (or Monfils) semi-final in the other. Given that they could only attend one of the matches, which one would they prefer? Surprisingly, Ombeline and Alain, who have been choosing the French players so far, went with the Federer-Djokovic match, while Christian, Aurélie and Catherine all took the Nadal-Gasquet match. I could not make sense of that deviation from the norm in the answers to that specific question, but then again, when talking to fans, must we look for logic in every answer? I think not! In the case of a choice of a ticket between the women’s final involving a French player vs. Maria Sharapova and the men’s final between Djokovic and Nadal (nos 1 and 2 in the world), Aurélie proved to be the only one who said she would “naturally” watch the ladies’ final with a side-eyed look at her dad and Alain who did not hesitate a second in choosing the Djokovic vs. Nadal final. In this case, Ombeline and Catherine also chose the men’s final over Sharapova and the French player. Alain did however add a caveat: if I gave her the choice of a women’s final between Gabriela Sabatini and Anna Kournikova, his answer would have been completely different!!

Nostalgia took over when I began asking questions about what they like about Roland Garros, and what they could change if they had the power to do it with the snap of a finger. With the exception of Alain, the difficulty of circulating around the grounds and the lack of space came up in all conversations (see picture below for an idea of how stifling the crowds can get). Aurélie, a fairly tall girl, complained that the seats at Suzanne Lenglen had no leg room and that her legs were aching after watching Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeat Jerzy Janowicz in straight sets. Catherine was adamant about the negative effects of over-crowding: she said that she brought her son for the first time to Roland Garros, and that he was so disappointed by the stifling lack of space that they were going to have to leave early because he lost his enthusiasm to watch matches.
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Alain’s expression turned pensive, and he said that he is not a good person to answer a question about ‘changes’, because he always loved Roland Garros with all its pluses and minuses. He even began talking about how it was “at that spot, right there” (fixing his eyes and pointing to a location close to the player’s tunnel on the way to Suzanne Lenglen court) that his son saw Steffi Graf in the 80s and got her autograph on a picture. Apparently, they framed that autographed picture and it still sits in a prime spot in their home. He also affirmed that the demolition of Court 1 in the upcoming years as part of the renovation plans makes him sad because of the endless great moments that were staged on that court: “history will be demolished, not just a tennis court” he said. Christian added that the round stands – thus called ‘the bull ring’ by the Anglophone media – made it unique in that there were no bad seats in the stadium. The two ladies, Catherine and Ombeline, both took a serious tone about the issue of high prices at Roland Garros. Catherine kept rolling her eyes, citing the prices of some items. Ombeline took it a step further: “A shirt for 55 euros? An umbrella for 65 euros? A towel for 75? Allez! I don’t want to hear anyone complain in this country about not having any money if these items are selling left and right in Roland Garros, or else the managers of these boutiques live in a dream world!” Ombeline went on and on, stretching her comments all the way to the President François Hollande, without much regard to the type of vocabulary used, mind you!

Stay tuned for Part B of this article for a comparison of the above, with how English tennis fans react to similar questions about their beloved Wimbledon. Coming soon!

Ending Tale of Roland Garros 2014

Clay Court Sweep
Roland Garros ended with two usual characters holding the winning trophies. Ironically, it will remain as one of the most upset-filled Slams in recent memory. Through all the upsets and the unexpected twists, the men’s number one and two seeds kept coming to a collision that all tennis fans expected since the beginning of the tournament. On the women’s side, once the top 3 seeds, Williams, Li Na, and Agnieska Radwanska, lost in the early days of the tournament, Sharapova and Halep were the two names that they predicted for the finals before any other name.

No need to go into details of each match, since most tennis fans have either watched them or read about them. It is worth noting however that for the first time in many years of worth of Slams (and yes, it’s “Slams” and not “Grand Slams”, a whole write-up needed for that mistake that keeps getting repeated over and over), the final weekend of the women’s draw witnessed as much excitement as the men’s, contained more dramatic matches with extremely tight finishes. The semifinals on Thursday – Sharapova vs. Eugenie Bouchard and Halep vs. Andrea Petkovic – undoubtedly provided more thrills for the spectators than the dull Friday of the men’s semifinals in which both matches remained sub-par in quality, and above-par in disappointment in terms expectations. Ernests Gulbis and Novak Djokovic played mediocre tennis for the most part, piling up the unforced errors. Djokovic’s physical condition deteriorated as the match went on and Gulbis could not raise his level of play to take advantage of it. The second match between Nadal and Andy Murray went from start to finish at maximum warp speed as Nadal totally outclassed Murray for a one-man-show that lasted 1 hour and 38 minutes.

On Saturday, Sharapova and Halep brought their “A” games to Philippe Chatrier and provided the crowd, as well as the millions in front of their TV screens, with a spectacle to be remembered for a long time to come. It made me think back to the last three-set-final at Roland Garros, some 13 years before Saturday, when Jennifer Capriati confirmed her comeback year that started at the Australian Open with a thrilling victory, 1/6 6/4 12/10, over the young newcomer Kim Clijsters of Belgium. It was a high flying period for the WTA with the Williams sisters in the beginning of their dominance, with Capriati and Martina Hingis challenging them, the Belgian duo Clijsters and Justine Henin joining the race and Sharapova getting in the mix in the mid-2000s. That match on Chatrier between Capriati and Clijsters was the stamp on the envelope that contained the sealed confirmation that WTA was a highly popular product among tennis fans. Around late 2000s, the product got old and stale, with many of the stars who built it, retiring or losing their skills. Yet, the new crop of players never managed to take over the few remaining names that kept dominating most tournaments. Saturday’s final match was not only a thrill in terms of quality of tennis played but also the stamp that the WTA desperately needed to confirm that it is on its way back. Sharapova may have lifted the winner’s trophy but the fresh crop of players such as Halep, Bouchard, Garbine Muguruza, Ajla Tomljanovic, Sloane Stephens, Caroline Garcia, and few others are not going anywhere, and will stay around for a long time. WTA has a golden opportunity to capitalize on a new, radiant group of players, and it could not have asked for a better Slam final match to launch their product.

The men’s final lacked nothing with regards to hype. The two best players in the world met at the highest stage of clay court tennis. The first two sets matched the expectations in quality and competition. Djokovic and Nadal traded blows, with each attempting to gain control over the other’s baseline game through aggressive shots. In the first set, Djokovic managed to stay inside the court and push Nadal around. In the second set, Nadal began going for winners much more often and succeeded in taking the middle of the court away from Djokovic. With the first two sets split, everyone expected a thrill ride the rest of the way. It never happened, due to two things. First Nadal completely found his rhythm and remained on high gear for the next hour, only to come land from space down to earth for the last few games of the match. Second, Djokovic’s physical state rapidly deteriorated from about 4-3 in the second set to 2-0 in the third set, to the point where he began shaking and stretching his legs and arms between points to relax and recover, stretching for balls to avoid extra steps, and as the usual result of fatigue, increasing the number of unforced errors in abundance. It was only after the middle of the fourth set, when the clouds came and the wind picked up, that Djokovic found a way to get back into the match – and Rafa had a hand in it too, with a few unexpected unforced errors. Yet, it was too little too late, as Djokovic did not have enough reserve in the tank to match the quality of his tennis from the first set. Nadal remained the king of clay and the number one player in the world, improving on his record of French Open titles and adding a new one to his expanding resume: he is now the only player in tennis to have one at least one Slam title for ten years in a row.

That being said, the stars of the last weekend of this Slam were the women. It was the first time in many years that women’s matches outclassed the men’s matches in excitement, thrill, and in quality. Unlike in men’s matches, there were no ‘empty moments’ in the three women’s matches of the last weekend, no one-sided shows, and plenty of quality shot making. Unlike in the men’s matches, each of the three women’s matches remained hard to predict all the way to the very last few points. Roland Garros 2014 was the recipe that the WTA desperately needed, the injection that rejuvenated a stale product.

I hope you enjoyed the series of updates from Paris.
Let the grass court season begin…

Women’s Final Preview: Sharapova vs. Halep

Since the eliminations of the top 3 seeds Serena Williams, Li Na, and Agnieska Radwanska in the early days of Roland Garros, the few left who were still daring to make predictions called on two names to meet in the finals: Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep. To their relief, the two players stayed the course and reached tomorrow’s final match, although not without some difficulty in Sharapova’s case.

Logic would dictate that with all her previous Slam titles and her mental toughness, Sharapova should overcome yet another challenge by a newcomer to the elite world of “big time” in WTA in the form of Halep. She has already held off challenges by the so-called the ‘new generation’ by recording remarkable comeback wins against Garbine Muguruza and Eugenie Bouchard, and one other against a proven player in Samantha Stosur. She came back to win in three sets after losing the first against all three. Especially her win against Bouchard deserves special mention.

The 48 hours leading up to the match, a photo of Sharapova taken with an 8-year-old Bouchard circulated all over the social and main stream media, courtesy of the editor at TV Guide who initially posted it on Twitter. The effects of this picture, coupled with Bouchard’s reference to Sharapova as her idol – ‘back then’ Bouchard specified, adding that they are “not friends” now – when asked about it, transformed the match into the image of a champion who stands to cede her younger rival the status of the revered champion and let the newcomer take her place. This was reminded to her more than once in the form of direct question – how did she feel about playing someone who took her as an idol when she was young? –, and in the form of newspaper articles and TV spots, in case she followed the media. She even had to respond to the last-second question by the colorful French TV personality Nelson Monfort on screen right before she walked on the court. He asked her how she felt about being the favorite and Sharapova, probably sick of the hype, bluntly answered that there could be no favorites in a match like this, and walked out. If she lost she would drop out of top 10, and Bouchard would enter it. Thus, it was under tremendous pressure that the Russian took her first steps to the court. To exasperate things further, the Philippe Chatrier crowd overwhelmingly supported Bouchard throughout the match. In short, Sharapova played a match where all the elements worked against her and she had everything to lose, while Bouchard stepped on the court as someone who had everything to gain from a victory.

So, one can understand when Sharapova celebrated her victory as if she won the tournament after her courageous comeback from a set down again. It was not happiness or contentment that she manifested. It was relief! I am not a big Sharapova fan, but I admired her tenacity, her sheer will to find a way to win, or refusal to lose. I believe that she will enter the court much more relaxed against Halep, an recently established top 5 player. She has already passed the toughest mental tests against Muguruza and Bouchard. She will play a match in which she is not the clear-cut favorite, although she is the slightly on paper. Her main advantage is her experience and her awareness that she can accomplish what is necessary when clutch moments arrive.

In contrast, Halep has steamrolled through the tournament, just as she has steamrolled through the last 12 months. If one was to pick the best player on the WTA Tour without a Slam title in the last 12 months, it would be Halep without a doubt. Yet, she has never been to this stage in a Slam tournament. Will that be a factor? It sure did not in her first semifinal in a Slam against Andrea Petkovic. She played the best tennis of the tournament by any player in the first set of that match. Her biggest strength is her footwork. She is able to move around the ball in small steps and get in position better than anyone in the current generation and probably better than any player since Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario of Spain, the French Open winner of 1989, 1994, and 1998. Her forehand is lethal and she does not seem to have a clear weakness.

If the past was not considered and tennis history began in the last 12 months, it would be a 50-50 call. Halep has numerous titles on every surface, skyrocketed to the number 4 ranking. Sharapova recovered from an injury the latter part of 2013, and has won Stuttgart and Madrid. In Madrid and on clay, she did beat Halep in three sets. When the past and the aura are added to the equation, the balance tilts in Sharapova’s favor. She has been to this stage, and has won Slam titles. Halep will play in her first final. All indications show that it has the potential to be a final for ages. Let’s hope it turns out so.

SAM_2144a Friday evening – Trophy presentation ceremony rehearsal on Philippe Chatrier

Race to Finish the Matches!

It was around 4:45 PM in Paris when Andrea Petkovic and Sara Errani began warming up for their match on Philippe Chatrier and Svetlana Kuznetsova and Simona Halep began theirs on Suzanne Lenglen. Nobody at that time believed that all four quarterfinals scheduled on both courts would end by the end of the day. Yet, approximately five hours later, the semifinals on both draws were set. How did it happen?

This was the worst possible day for the rain to make a comeback. In every Slam tournament, this topic comes up. One side of the draw plays one day and the other side plays the next day. At some point in the second week, in order to bring all the rounds together to the same level, the players on one side of the draw get an extra day of break because the side that has been coming from behind needs a day to catch up and a day of rest. At Roland Garros this transition is executed between the quarterfinals and the semifinals. Today happened to be the day where the matches on the side of the draw that has been a day were to be completed in order to play the semifinals on the same day. If rain delays the matches, you sweat bullets as tournament organizers because you are left with players who will not get a day of rest playing against others who have been resting a day, or even two on the men’s side. Thus, you can imagine how worried they must have been around mid-afternoon when it was raining cats and dogs at Roland Garros.

However, they received help. Twice!

First help arrived when the rain that stopped around 4:30 PM, still allowing – thanks to Paris where it truly gets dark after 10 PM – over 5 hours of tennis-wise-safe daylight to get one women’s and one men’s match in on each court. Next help, though unintentional of course, came from the players. Petkovic and Halep defeated their opponents with identical scores, 6/2 6/2, in less than 1 hour and 20 minutes. The turnover from the end of the two women’s matches to the beginning of the two men’s matches was probably realized in record time. The usual end-of-the-match, on-court interviews with French TV were canceled (Halep looked like she had absolutely no problem with that), and even though they were not told directly, the movements of the ball boys and the referees made it very clear to the women players that they needed to get off the court quickly to allow for the men’s matches to commence. Just like that, in an hour and a half after the women took court, the men’s matches began. Although one went 4 sets and the other 5, none of the sets went to 5-5 and both matches featured last two sets that ended with either 6/0 or 6/1 scores. At the end, all quarterfinals were miraculously completed and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

I will finish with a few interesting observations.

- The Lenglen crowd was almost 100% pro-Halep. Strange that the 2009 winner Kuznetsova virtually received no love, although she has a larger arsenal of shots versus Halep’s solid baseline game with no variation. While it’s true that there were plenty of Romanian supporters (there were several Romanian flags), the French crowd overwhelmingly took Halep’s side. Considering the popularities of Bouchard, Petkovic and Halep, it confirms what I have felt for the last couple of years: women’s tennis fans are ready for a new crop of players to take over from Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka, and others that have been at the top of women’s game for many years.

- Gaël Monfils will probably close his career out as one of the most underachieving athletes to ever play the game. The guy is probably the most athletic guy on the ATP Tour, he can hit a big forehand as well as a big serve, and he has decent skills at the net. Yet, he remains 4-5 meters behind the baseline and reduces himself to an ordinary baseliner, only using a fraction of the arsenal of weapons that he possesses. Again today, he had Murray on the run and stretched him more times that I can remember, yet, he was content with waiting behind the baseline and letting the ball drop low to his ankles before hitting a regular baseline shot to put the ball back into play and let Murray recover. He is the kind of player that would be a nightmare to coach. He is the quintessential “almost” player that frustrates every coach. I imagine this is why he spends long periods of time without a coach throughout his career. They probably age quickly and go elsewhere. In fact, he played this French Open without a coach.

- As one media member said, Simona Halep gets into the “A-B-C’ of court tactics in her after-match press conferences more than any other women’s player. It’s refreshing to listen to her. She acts like she is talking to a large number of tennis coaches who understand the game well, rather than to a group of media members, many of whom have probably never played tennis.

Until next time!

Say What?

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It’s a terrific Roland Garros so far, with shocking upsets and outrageous score lines. Two of the numerous oddities of the first week: how do you complete a 4/6 1/6 3/6 match and only win your serve three times? or how do you complete a match only winning 7 points on your serve? Ask Lucas Pouille and Paula Ormaechea.

I don’t have their comments, but in this article, the commenting does indeed come from the players and other experts. Enjoy!

- When reminded this was the first time in 24 slams that he made the second week, Gulbis replied: “First time in like seven years I have been in this room as a participant, not a spectator.”

- Gulbis again, on having better control over his outbursts: “You know, if I play like this, what kind of outburst can be there?”

- Gulbis yet again on whether France’s air is good for him since he won two tournaments there and is now in the second week of Roland Garros: “I used to only in tournaments in the USA and they asked me about the US air.”

- Carla Suarez-Navarro following her win over Taylor Townsend: “I have the impression that I was playing against a player whose style was a bit anarchical.”

- Ex-pro French player Henri Leconte on Maria Sharapova’s 51-minute 6/0 6/0 win: “Maria wanted to go shopping.”

- Journalist saying to Roger Federer: “You are a social ninja. Twitter…” Federer interrupts: “I think there are more active guys than me, but go ahead…”

- Third-seed Agnieska Radwanska, following her loss: “It doesn’t mean if first and second seed lost, doesn’t mean the third one is going to win. It’s stupid to say that.”

- Diego Schwartzman on playing Federer: “It’s like playing against a poster.”

- Ajla Tomljanovic, when asked if the room where her press conference was held following her win over Radwanska is the biggest that she has ever been in: “I believe so, yeah. [looking at the lights pointed at her] I have never had lights in front of me.”

- French journalist on Pauline Parmentier’s 4th round appearance for the first time in her career: “She will enter the top 100 and will play main draw at the US Open. Gone are the days of traveling small tournaments in exotic places.”

Until next update!

Tears Galore at Roland Garros

It has been a weird, incomprehensible tournament so far to say the least. First rounds brought one upset after another with shocking score lines. Stanislas Wawrinka and Li Na both faded away in the final sets of their matches, Wawrinka getting ‘bageled’ by Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the fourth set and Na winning only one game in the final set of her encounter with Kristina Mladenovic. It’s the first time in history that both Australian Open title holders have gone out in the first round of the French Open.

The strange exits of Grigor Dimitrov and Kei Nishikori have equally raised eyebrows. Dimitrov has arrived to Paris in good form on clay, with a title in Bucharest and a strong semi-final showing in Rome. Yet, he lost to Ivo Karlovic who has not had a win at Roland Garros since 2007. Nishikori also lost in straight sets – in fact, he got crushed in the last two sets 6-1 and 6-2 – to Martin Klizan who is quietly having the best season of his career. In Nishikori’s defense, he did not get much practice prior to Roland Garros due to the injury that he suffered in the finals of Madrid three weeks ago.

Then, there have been tears… Plenty of them! Prior to today, Shuai Zhang and Stefanie Voegele shed tears of pain for different reasons during their press conferences. Zhang cried when reminded of her inability to win a first-round match in a Slam (her ninth first-round loss in a row in Slams), and Voegele could not hold back her tears due to personal reasons whose details the media members respectfully opted not to ask. It makes one admire Voegele (pictured below) that much more, considering that she stayed extremely calm and stable during her comeback win from 7-6 5-3 down against Anna-Lena Friedsam.

Voegele

There are also tears of joy. Mladenovic cried after her win against Na, and again when she was being interviewed by Fabrice Santoro on the court. The second time, it seemed everyone in her player’s box joined her in shedding tears. One could see in the stadium several French spectators who were themselves visibly overcome with emotions.

Finally, there are also bitters-sweet tears. Michael Llodra cried during an emotional tribute prepared for him by the organizers due to his final year on the tour and his last appearance at Roland Garros. It was after his first round loss on the historic ‘bull ring’ court (Court #1). His little boy came down to the court to be with him, while Fabrice Santoro, the French Tennis Federation President Jean Gachassin, and the Davis Cup Captain Arnaud Clément honored him with classy speeches. When given the microphone to say a few words, he often had to stop speaking to gather himself as his tears flowed in abundance.

Tennis is a beautiful game!

Roland Garros in Pictures

As the saying goes, a picture says thousand words, so this entry is filled with pictures and short comments from the first few days of competition at Roland Garros. Here we go…

SAM_1988Maintenance crew and ball boys & girls always working hard. You can see them even warming up next to their court prior to the match.

SAM_1992Some fans really get into supporting their compatriots.

SAM_2003Rain always a factor at Roland Garros.

SAM_2047Stringers also hard at work. There are always 15 to 20 of them stringing away. Rackets come and go all the time. Many have bands around their hands or fingers to avoid blisters. Some players require that the same person always string their rackets.

SAM_2061Milos Raonic and his coach Ivan Ljubicic getting ready for a practice session.

SAM_2065Roger Rasheed watching his pupil Grigor Dimitrov practice serves.

SAM_2077Roland Garros’ biggest problem with no real solution in sight: overcrowded grounds. I have beaten this topic to death so I will spare the readers my rant this time.

SAM_2056But then, there is also this as entertainment…

SAM_2088… and this!

SAM_2066Some of the computers available for the media.

SAM_2104Some of the official transportation cars for tournament players and other ‘important’ people. They are equipped with Wifi! The word is players are highly pleased about that.

SAM_2083Coach and legendary ex-pro Goran Ivanisevic looking extremely relaxed while watching his player Marin Cilic practice.

SAM_2097For those who enjoy one handed backhands.. Filippo Volandri has a beautiful one-hander, but that is all he has!

SAM_2105Just in case, you are planning your next trip to a Slam tournament!

That’s all for now!

Roland Garros Qualifying – A Thrilling Ride

I adore watching qualifying rounds at the Slams. Present are players who truly cherish the value of a win, who live in the shadows of the big stars of tennis, and who dream of winning a round just for the chance to advance closer to the main draw, possibly enter the top 100 rankings, and make a decent living. The ranking points and the increase in money prize for each match won mean a lot more to these players then to those who regularly succeed and aim for titles. These men and women watch where they stay, they balance their expenses, and they often share rooms with other players, or even share coaches. Thus, when they win a match and approach one more round to the main draw, you can see the display of sheer exhilaration, and when they lose, the dreadful disappointment. The French Open qualifying rounds offer just that this week at Roland Garros.

It offers several matches around the 3-hour mark. It offers Miloslav Mecir Jr. – the son of Miloslav Mecir Sr. who reached the finals of two Slams in the late 80s – who collapses to his knees and kisses the red clay on Court 10 after defeating the American Tim Smyczek to make it to the main draw of a Slam for the first time in his career. He happily emphasizes later to another coach that it is only his third Slam. He deserves to boast, especially after winning his previous round in a 3-hour-and-5-minutes battle, less than 24 hours prior to defeating the American. He is tired but he is content. Then, there is the victory t-shirt strip of Laurent Lokoli, the 19-year-old Frenchman, when he wins three thrilling matches in a row to unexpectedly make it to the main draw in the tournament where he watched his heroes perform since his childhood. Yes, he deserves to hear the roar of the French crowd when he wins the match point, strips his shirt off and celebrates in pure joy. There is also Cagla Buyukakcay who has yet to make it to the main draw of a Slam and never entered the top 100 in the WTA rankings. Yet she spent a grueling total of 5 hours and 42 minutes in her first two rounds combined, just to reach the final round of qualifying. She screams loud when her opponent misses a backhand in the net, because it signaled the end of a match that lasted over 3 hours, and in which she needed 9 match points to overcome the experienced Italian Alberta Brianti. She needed some recovery massages and a check-in with the physio, but she is ready for her match tomorrow. You admire Brianti just as much, who, in her loss, fought cramps and murmured to herself at one point that she would either “die on the court or win the match.”

The casual tennis fans may have never heard of these names, yet the game of tennis knows no distinction between stars and lower-ranked laborers. It demands the same commitment from any competitor who seeks to improve. “Making it” certainly means more to these players then the top stars – albeit the latter did have to go through these steps themselves at some point.

That is what the qualifying rounds offer. There is no place better than the Slams to appreciate the hard work of tennis players. The French crowd fills the outside courts despite the considerable entry fee (for example, the US Open qualifying rounds are free to the public) and gets involved in the matches. It is one dramatic duel after another, and one thrilling outcome following another. Yes, I am looking forward to the main draw and the fantastic skill level of the higher-ranked players. Yes, I am ready to watch the magical play and the superior athleticism of top champions like Rafael Nadal, Li Na, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Serena Williams. Yet, I realize once again that the qualifying rounds offer just as much entertainment, if not more emotions, to the tennis-lover in me.

SAM_2017For good measure, you can also catch the superstars in action, such as Roger Federer & Stanislas Wawrinka pictured above during this morning’s practice session on Philippe Chatrier Court.

Stay tuned for Mertov’s Tennis Desk Roland Garros updates, and look for more updates on Twitter