In keeping with our desire to leave no stone unturned in our coverage of the French Open, I'm going to parse and comment on the post-match press conferences that have become an everyday part of life for ATP and WTA players.
While post-match thoughts and remarks are often interesting and even illuminating, they can also be just plain fun. And sometimes the questions themselves are more memorable than the answers they elicit. That's especially true early in a Grand Slam tournament, when players of every imaginable level of expertise and/or accomplishment are put through the interview-room wringer, like so many Toyota Corollas at the car wash on a Saturday afternoon.
I'll be tracking the press-room badinage as the tournament goes on, cherry-picking particularly noteworthy or amusing thoughts, exchanges, rationalizations, delusions, excuses, and insights. So let's get right to it with our first installment:
Nicolas Devilder is a 32-year-old Frenchman ranked No. 286 in the world. You might say he's been going nowhere, fast, but he's been ranked as high as No. 60 (August, 2008), so he isn't a total nobody. Besides, he fought his way through qualifying and earned his place in the main draw, where he defeated a highly-touted 20-year-old qualifier from Serbia, Filip Krajinovic.
After the win, Devilder waxed sentimental about his career as a journeyman, chasing those elusive ranking points all over the world in events big and (overwhelmingly) small. He was asked what his craziest experience has been "on the other side of the world." He replied:
"That was many years ago, '98, '99 in Egypt. I was on a circuit of tournaments, and I found myself completely alone for one week. I stayed there for a month, but the last week I was there on my own. I still have some bad memories. It was really tough. Egypt is really tough. People had said to me, Oh, Egypt. It is lovely. You can take a cruise on the Nile.
Except, I didn't go there for tourism, obviously. . . I was 18 and on my own in my room. You're the only Frenchman, no friends, no Internet at the time, no mobile phones. You're watching TV and there are no French channels. You keep those memories. All tennis players have been through this and maybe even worse times than that."
It kind of makes you wonder, how did people even live before Facebook?
Irena Pavlovic, who's of the Marion Bartoli two-hands-on-both-sides school, was just one of the naturalized French citizens (she's originally from Serbia) in action today. She was a winner, knocking out Kai-Chen Chang, 6-4, 7-5. When she was asked if the close match was one she might have lost in the past, she cut right to the chase:
"Yes, of course, because I would have felt frustrated. I would have had many things going through my mind. (But) at one stage, I just realized that I had to move forward, to stop whining, and I had to focus on the fight."
Repeat after me, youngsters: move forward, stop whining (unless your name happens to be McEnroe or Murray), focus on the fight. You could do worse.
Andy Roddick is already famous for his acid tongue and sharp wit. But that doesn't deter some of our more gung-ho correspondents from, basically, begging to be the victim of Roddick's caustic humor. Roddick played a lousy match today and lost to Nicolas Mahut in four sets, but that didn't stop at least one deep thinker from making one of those self-indulgent press room speeches disguised as a "question." Here's the exchange:
Q: "You had so many reasons for expecting more or less that things could be not as great as you would have expected, so maybe you shouldn't be so bothered by it. I understand it's not easy to accept defeat. It's difficult all the time. But this time you have a lot of reasons for more or less expecting that, or not?
"Because we see that you were very, very angry with yourself, the situation, you just came out of the court. But is it such a big surprise for you to be in this situation of a loser right now? And the second question is—first time Andy Roddick comes in press room No. 2. I'm very surprised. I think you're a big champion and they should respect you more."
To which Roddick replied, addressing the crowd in general:
"Wow. Bet you guys wish you could write down what I was thinking during that, right? (that provoked laughter). This is the point where the older, better version of myself takes a second.
"You know, you deal with your emotions and I'll deal with mine. I've done it long enough to know what feels good and what doesn't. That out there did not feel good. So as much as I appreciate your best Tony Robbins impersonation, I'm going to handle this how I want to. And as far as what press room I'm in, I really, really just don't care at all what press room I'm in. That's not important to me."
Robbins, by the way, is an American self-help author and master infomercial provider.
Mathilde Johansson, a 27-year-old native of Sweden, also plays under the Tricolor now. She had a fine win today, taking down Anastasia Rodionova, 5-7, 7-6 (6), 6-3. Johansson started the year losing 10 straight matches—she didn't get her first win until the end of April, when she busted-out out big time, reaching the semis at Fes.
I suppose that, given her history, it's understandable that the clothing-and-shoe contracts are not flying Johansson's way, although she's had some support in the past from Lacoste. Apparently, Johansson decided to tough out the situation, and played in a store-bought skirt and top. An observant pressman remarked that he saws no name brand on her skirt, and wondered what had come of her Lacoste deal. Johansson replied:
"Well, Lacoste I don't want any longer. We couldn't find—well, you know, we couldn't find an agreement which would be—how can I say? Which would be satisfactory for both parties. So I thought, I'm going to play with no logo than what they had for me.
I thought, If I go through the first round in the Grand Slam I'm going to have them. So I thought, No, okay, nothing at all. I can wear what I want. It's a good thing."
But she quickly added:
"It doesn't mean I wouldn't want to wear their clothes. Of course, what I wear is not really a tennis outfit, but at least people see I'm not playing with old outfits. . . I'm not going to going to advertise this brand, otherwise it's like I've been playing for a brand. Yes, I bought it in a shop. That's all. I wanted this to be a bit shorter. It was too long for tennis, and that's all.
At least I can choose my colors. I'm really okay with this."
Perhaps a "satisfactory" agreement will be more likely now that that ghastly losing streak is over.
Melanie Oudin racked up her first-ever win at the French Open on Sunday, taking the measure of Sweden's Johanna Larsson in a neat, 6-3, 6-3 win. A wild-card entry, the 20-year-old, ranked No. 269, is trying to recapture the confidence and focus that carried her to the U.S. Open quarterfinals in 2009. To that end, she's moved to New York, to train at the USTA's facility at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Oudin has other pressing things on her mind, including finding someone to take over the room she's still renting in Boca Raton, where she'd previously lived (she now lives with a nice family in Westchester County, just north of Manhattan).
"You would think that a lot of would be interested," Oudin said of her sublet.
"I feel like I need to start putting posters up and put it on Facebook. Right now is not a great time because everyone is in Europe for the next two months. Yeah, I'm gonna have to start trying to figure it out after I get back from Wimbledon."
So if you know anyone looking for a room to rent in Boca, you know who to call—or friend.
Nicolas Mahut, who upset Roddick, was the big story for the French on the first day of the tournament. He's been a walking-talking human interest story ever since that 70-68 episode he cooked up with John Isner at Wimbledon in 2010. Naturally, Mahut was asked today where this match fit into the grand scheme of his career highs. He said:
"Well, you know, it's Roland Garros, and the Suzanne Lenglen Court, in addition to the rest, so it's almost one of my best matches. When I saw Roddick, I thought before he would always kill me. You know, six or seven or eight times I played against him. At the Queen's final with the match point, you know what happened (that was in 2007). When I see him in the locker rooms, I'll feel better. I won't feel like the image (of me) is (of) a pigeon, that he was shooting at me like a pigeon. . ."
That Mahut's fear of Roddick was deeply and sincerely felt can't be in doubt. That "seven or eight" previous meetings were really just four. Roddick won every won of them. Not today, though, which is one of the reasons they bother to actually play the game.