First Ball In, 5/30: New Heights
Umbrellas were unfurled for a time on Friday, but in the end this was the first we had seen of the sunny version of the French Open. It was true in the sky, as well as in the stands on Court Suzanne Lenglen. That’s where Jo-Wilfried Tsonga threw a party for the home crowd in his straight-set win over Jerzy Janowicz. Here’s a look at some other highlights from Friday, and a look ahead to Saturday. As of now, it appears that the sun might stay awhile.
There have been plenty of ups and downs on court this week. The last two days have also been a little topsy-turvy when it comes to male players’ attitudes toward women in the sport.
Yesterday Andy Murray, who is currently looking for a coach, was asked if he thought there was a stigma attached to working with a woman. At the time, Murray's answer sounded, as the British journalist Richard Evans put it, like “unfussed good sense”:
“For me, I don’t care,” Murray said. “I don’t really care whether some of the other players like it or not. That’s not something that really bothers me. I was coached by my mum for a long time. I have had her around at tournaments for a long time. There has been ex-players and stuff said, ‘Oh, you’re mom shouldn’t be around or she shouldn’t come and support you or come to watch.’”
You know, it’s silly. Everyone is entitled to have the team around them that they want. Everyone works very differently. Some men might not work well with a female. Some men might work well with a female coach. It’s just whatever your preference is and whatever your needs are.”
Twenty-four hours later, after today's presser by Ernests Gulbis, Murray looks like a paragon of enlightenment—or at least like someone living in 2014. Here’s what Ernie had to say when he was asked if he would advise his younger sisters to play pro tennis:
“Hopefully," Gulbis said, "they will not pursue professional tennis career. Hopefully, because for a woman, it’s tough. I wouldn’t want my sisters to become professional tennis players. It’s tough choice of life. A woman needs to enjoy life a little bit more. Needs to think about family, needs to think about kids. What kids can you think about until age of 27 if you’re playing professional tennis, you know. That’s tough for the women, I think.”
This is a little ironic coming from Gulbis, a tennis player who has never been accused of putting his professional life ahead of his personal life. According to him, he's spent his share of time enjoying himself along the way.
A New New Face
Should we chalk up Agnieszka Radwanska’s 6-4, 6-4 loss to Ajla Tomljanovic today to another Grand Slam panic attack? It was the third time in four majors that the door had opened up with a Serena Williams loss and Radwanska had failed to walk through it. This would seem to be the most inexplicable clunker of all from Aga—it came in the first week, against a 21-year-old opponent who had never even played anyone on the Top 7. Radwanska’s rhythm was off and her shot selection questionable from start to finish. In the final game, rather than make Tomljanovic earn the biggest win of her career, Radwanska tried and missed two drop shots from behind the baseline.
But the third round seems too early to panic—there was a lot more pressure still to build for Radwanska. There was no doubt she was off, but equally important was how good Tomljanovic was. In previous matches, she had looked to me to be something of a hit-and-miss basher, but she showed a lot more today. For much of the match, Ajla out-Aga’d Aga. The Croat sliced her forehand, used the drop shot well, and won the long rallies.
In a week when a series of young women’s games have blossomed, Tomljanovic’s has as well.
“After seeing the two first seeds go out,” Ajla said afterward, “you kind of feel like, ‘I can do this, too.’ I grew up with these girls that are beating them."
Big American in Paris
There was a moment, somewhere in the middle of the fourth set between John Isner and Tommy Robredo, that I had a creeping feeling that we were about to get a Frenchified version of Isner-Mahut. Neither man could break the other, though Robredo certainly had his chances—he finished 0 for 13 on break points. Then, somehow, two games from a near-certain fourth-set tiebreaker, Isner ripped off four points to break, and then closed it out.
At the net afterward, Isner seemed to try to commiserate with Robredo, but the Spaniard didn’t want the sympathy—he gave the big man a drive-by handshake, and it’s hard to blame him for it; Robredo won more points than his opponent, but didn't even take the match to a fifth set. Isner finally got his apology in during the press conference later.
“He was probably the better player than me,” he said.
Isner takes a lot of knocks from fans, who say he’s boring, he’s mopey, he’s overrated, he’s a one-shot pony, he doesn’t really play tennis, he’s a typical unworldly American who’s lost away from home. At various times I've probably agreed with all of those things, but Isner is also now in the fourth round of the French Open, on the continent where he supposedly can’t win.
I liked the way Isner reacted afterward. I liked that he wanted to talk to Robredo, and that he was willing to admit that, despite what the scoreboard said, he’d been outplayed.
Short Term Memory Loss
That's what chair umpire Louise Engzell and Angelique Kerber appeared to suffer at exactly the same moment in Kerber's match with Daniela Hanutchova, in which they combined to rob Dani of a point. Normally I would say this is all the umpire's fault—Engzell has made her share of mistakes here before—and that Kerber's job is just to play tennis. But in this case, Kerber had to remember what happened in the rally, and should have offered to play a let.
Next question: Should tournament supervisors have access to video replay on the sidelines?
(Video H/T @RD_Tennistalk)
See Saturday’s Order of Play here.
I think Neil Harman of the Times of London summed up people’s reactions to the OOP today, when he said that the French may gotten the Chatrier and Lenglen schedules mixed up. The second court is where the action is on Saturday, including the tournament’s most-anticipated train wreck...I mean, men’s third-rounder.
Petra Kvitova vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova
Two big hitters, two great talents, two of the major head-scratchers of our time. Even better, each of them has a chance to reach a Slam final. Kvitova is 3-0 in their head to head. Winner: Kvitova
Sloane Stephens vs. Ekaterina Makarova
If Sloane can win this, I’ll admit again that she knows how to play the majors. And I’ll wonder again why she doesn’t play that way anywhere else. Stephens beat Makarova in two tight sets here in 2012. Winner: Makarova
Gael Monfils vs. Fabio Fognini
Is this the most hyped match between a 14th seed and a 23rd seed in history? The Fog and La Monf staged a late-night fiasco/epic here four years ago—maybe that’s why they’re not scheduled last on Saturday. Their recent match in Indian Wells, on the other hand, was a self-indulgent dud. Winner: Fognini
Richard Gasquet vs. Fernando Verdasco
This is the one that could be the late-night fiasco/epic on Chatrier. Winner: Verdasco
For Further Reading
Carl Bialik of FiveThirtyEight is back again with a look at “courtsiding,” the glamorous practice of sitting next to a tennis court and texting the result of every point back to a gambling website. As Bialik says, the faster this is done, the greater the edge that a site has in the tennis-betting market.
The tours have essentially banned courtsiding, while still accepting sponsorship money from Bet-at-Home.com. The reason for the ban is as much about protecting the value of their online live-score programs as it is about protecting the game’s integrity.