First Ball In, 5/29: Then There Were 64
It was a quiet end to the second round at Roland Garros. The biggest star in action on the men’s side, Rafael Nadal, made quick work of the possibly-dangerous Dominic Thiem, while the biggest star in action among the women, Ana Ivanovic, did the same with her young opponent. Even Gael Monfils failed, despite his best efforts, to create any chaos; after saving six set points in the first set, he surprised us all by going through Jan-Lennard Struff in straights. Tomorrow the third round begins and the drama should mount.
Yesterday I wrote about 26 missing minutes of live coverage on the Tennis Channel. Today the network was better. Even its one extended off-court chat wasn’t too bad; it gave us a chance to see some of the comical side of tennis’s odd-couple relationship between Sloane Stephens and Paul Annacone.
Today it’s ESPN who gets the shaking-my-head treatment. I realize that the network, by contract, must hand over its broadcast from Roland Garros to the Tennis Channel at 10:00 A.M. Eastern each day. It's just that today, this meant ESPN, the Worldwide Leader in Sports, switched from the French Open to...the National Spelling Bee, in National Harbor, MD.
Chris McKendry, sometime tennis host, kicked things off by assuring us, possibly through gritted teeth, that “It’s great to be back at the Bee”—no way did she wish she were in Paris instead of Maryland. I stuck around long enough to see a young girl use a “c” in place of an “s” when she tried to spell “rufosity.”
“That’s a tough break for a good speller,” said ESPN’s expert commentator, sounding like the Darren Cahill of orthography. “She made it harder than it needed to be.”
Joking aside—and I’m sorry to have to say this—the Bee’s ratings on ESPN from last year on this date were only slightly lower than the French Open’s.
Round Three Round Up
Now that we’ve narrowed the singles fields from 256 to 64, it’s time to take a second look at the draws. Whose paths have improved since Sunday, who has been handed an unexpected opportunity?
Rafael Nadal: Two players in his half who have beaten him this season, Stan Wawrinka and Nicolas Almagro, along with another who seriously challenged him, Grigor Dimitrov, have been eliminated. If he reaches the final, he could be on a real roll. (See my post on Rafa at Roland Garros from earlier today here.)
David Ferrer: He still gets no respect, even from the draw gods—Wawrinka goes out, yet Ferru is stuck with Rafa in his quarter. But he's playing well, and he beat Nadal on clay last month.
Andy Murray: With Wawrinka’s defeat, this seemingly forgotten man is a favorite for the semifinals.
Gael Monfils: Can he make another crowd-fueled run to the semis out of Stan’s old quarter?
Maria Sharapova: What a difference a match makes—Serena loses, and Maria goes from probable quarterfinal loser to the favorite to win it all.
Sam Stosur: The 2010 finalist has been cruising. She has two tough ones, against Cibulkova and Sharapova, coming up, but if she survives them the title could be on her racquet.
Everyone in the bottom of the women’s draw: With Li Na out, the highest seed left in this half is Simona Halep. She’s good, and she’s played well so far, but she’s also never made a Slam semi in her career. Which means that the other seeds who are left with her—Petra Kvitova, Ana Ivanovic, Sloane Stephens, Jelena Jankovic, and Sara Errani—have a real opportunity to make a French final.
Andrea Petkovic: The 28th seed suddenly finds herself in a nice position in the very bottom bracket. She plays Kristina Mladenovic next, and the winner of Silvia Soler-Espinosa and Kiki Bertens after that.
See the Friday Order of Play here.
Now things begin to get interesting, especially on the men’s side, where the infernal 32-seed system has kept the tour’s best players safely apart all week.
Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Ajla Tomljanovic
This is a good start to the day on Chatrier. I’ll be curious to see if the hard-hitting Croat, who just turned 21, can do any damage against Aga on her least-favorite surface. They’ve never played. Winner: Radwanska
Milos Raonic vs. Gilles Simon
With the crowd behind him, you would think that the Frenchman will be able to run the Canadian into the dust over three-of-five in Chatrier. But Raonic won their only meeting, on clay, in 2011. Winner: Simon
Dominika Cibulkova vs. Sam Stosur
They’ve played four times and Sam has yet to lose a set, but it’s Domi with the higher ranking now. Winner: Stosur
Novak Djokovic vs. Marin Cilic
Cilic took a quick first set from Djokovc in Indian Wells, but Nole put the clamps down after that. He’ll have an extra set to play with here. Winner: Djokovic
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Jerzy Janowicz
It would be nice to think that Janowicz is back in the mix after his disastrous spring. If he is, this could be a eager in the fairly intimate confines of Lenglen. It will be standing room only, and then some. Winner: Tsonga
Taylor Townsend vs. Carla Suarez Navarro
A must-watch for American fans, but a big ask for the 18-year-old Townsend. She’ll have her moments. Winner: Suarez Navarro
For Further Reading
Proof, if you needed it, from Time Magazine that tennis fans are some of the world’s most obsessive people. Half a dozen of the sport's players make the magazine’s list of the most Wikipedia’d humans on earth. (H/T to Michele Drohan)