Afterthoughts

Wednesday, June 12, 2013 /by
AP Photo
AP Photo

John McEnroe and I were on the same flight back from Paris to New York, and we chatted at the baggage claim area while waiting for our stuff. Like everyone else, McEnroe was first and foremost amazed by the powers of Rafael Nadal. But the thing that got him really animated was the men’s semifinal scheduling. “It was terrible, inexcusable,” he said, and I wholeheartedly agreed with him.

Once again, the operative word was “buzzkill,” even if Nadal and his co-star that day, Novak Djokovic, escaped most of the damage. Yet even they couldn’t have been thrilled to start their match at 1 p.m. local time (7 a.m. EST in the U.S.) because of the corporate village crowd’s love of the long, leisurely lunch. As a result, almost the entire lower half of Court Philippe Chatrier was empty at the start of the semis, and while a good crowd had formed by about the mid-point of the second set, worse was yet to come.

Owing to the quality and length of the match, which Nadal won in four-and-a-half hours, 9-7 in the fifth, the crowd had absolutely nothing left for Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s clash with David Ferrer. No need to delve into the details; let’s just say Ferrer crushed Tsonga before a sparse crowd in barely two hours, while laboring under a blanket of anti-climax as heavy as wool felt. It was a terrible injustice to Tsonga, and the French public in general.

It was also about the only off-key note in an otherwise outstanding French Open for the men, a tournament short on resounding upsets but long on high-quality, close matches—including the only two headline-generating upsets, Gael Monfilswin over No. 5 Tomas Berdych, and Tsonga’s win over Roger Federer. That those two wins were created by French players in their home major only made them appear sweeter, but let’s be honest—Monfils had no business being unseeded; he’s a Top 10 player who’s had to deal with injuries and who may be mired on one of those “to be or not to be?” slumps.

Apart from Nadal, the biggest newsmakers probably were the two 30-plus year old Tommys—Haas and Robredo. That both of them made it to the quarterfinals was astonishing, and who would have guessed that at age 31, Robredo could rebound from two sets down to win, three consecutive times? He became the first man to do that in 86 years.

Well, 35-year-old Haas might have predicted that; he knows better than anyone that age is just a number. His own high-water mark at the tournament was a 10-8 in-the-fifth win over marathon man John Isner. Haas wasted 12 match points against Isner, although the towering American’s serve helps account for that cringe-worthy stat. But in the end, Haas did win it. The percentage conversion rate doesn’t mean much; I’m sure most players would happily blow 20 match points as long as they knew they would convert just one.

At any rate, I sure hope some exhibition promoter is busy trying to put together a Haas-Robredo exhibition series; they could bill it as the “Jurassic Tour,” and maybe even convince The Who to open each match with a mini-concert.

Haas and Robredo weren’t just beneficiaries of the draw gods, either, although it certainly helped the Spaniard that Monfils had knocked off Berdych in the first round. Ultimately, Ferrer ended Robredo’s run, and Djokovic stopped Haas in his tracks just as decisively.

Speaking of Monfils, the French men acquitted themselves well on the whole. No. 7 Richard Gasquet failed to make his seed, but only by a whisker. In one of the most exciting matches of the tournament, “Ree-shard” of the out-of-control backhand lost, 8-6 in the fifth, to No. 9 Stan Wawrinka in the fourth round. Gilles Simon pushed Federer to five sets, while Monfils, Jeremy Chardy, Julien Benneteau, and Benoit Paire all reached the third round.

And speaking of Paire, he was one of three members of the headcase brigade—along with Grigor Dimitrov and Fabio Fognini—who made the third round, while fellow member Ernests “I’m better than all these guys!” Gulbis fell one stage earlier. It’s some kind of moral victory for the group that not one of them suffered a bad loss. Paire was put out by No. 13 Kei Nishikori, who’s always a tough out. Dimitrov, likewise, faced—and failed—the Djokovic test at that same stage. Fognini thrilled the crowd with his shotmaking and dramatic flair while flaming out in straights against Nadal, and Gulbis was ousted in the second round by Monfils.

Once again, the American men did little, although Isner was one swing of the stick away from making the fourth round. His pal Sam Querrey, the only other American man to get as far as he did, acquitted himself pretty well in a five-set loss to Simon. As far as U.S. players went, this tournament belonged to the women, who put four in the fourth round, led by the eventual champ, Serena Williams (the other three were Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Jamie Hampton, and Sloane Stephens).

Let’s amend that: The American men did little in singles. In doubles, the top-seeded team of Mike and Bob Bryan won the tournament, becoming the first team in history to win each Grand Slam title at least twice (they now have 14 majors). Like their countrywoman Williams, they had a long drought between French Open titles—11 years for Williams, a solid decade for the Bryans. “This is the first one we won back in the day and kind of launched our career,” Mike Bryan said. “This is the toughest Slam to win, I think. Clay is an equaliser and makes a lot of teams better.”

The doubles final against the surprise French team of Michael Llodra and Nicolas Mahut was terrific. When the Americans finally won, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (4) —after being down 2-4 in the match-ending tiebreaker—Mahut broke down in tears on the sideline, and cried most of the way through the trophy presentation. For the second time in his life, this journeyman had experienced something grand and special, and for the second time he came up short (you’ll remember he was across the net from Isner in the record-breaking 70-68 match at Wimbledon a few years back).

The Bryans are on fire this year—they’ve won seven titles, including both Grand Slam events. They’ve now targeted the “Golden Bryans Slam,” because they won gold at the Olympic Games and U.S. Open last year, so a win at Wimbledon would make them the title holders at all four majors, plus the Olympics.

Doubles may not get all the attention it deserves, but these two guys are special. Don’t miss catching them at least once before the 35-year-olds begin to lose their touch.

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