By Melissa Boyd
Four years ago many wondered if she would ever play again and when she did, next to no one believed she could taste the sweetest victory of her career, the one that she earned on the famed red clay courts at Roland-Garros. In the space of three days, Maria Sharapova became World No. 1, captured her first French Open title, completed the career Grand Slam and wrote another page in the tennis history books.
People may have doubted Sharapova’s ability to win a Grand Slam after suffering a potentially career threatening shoulder injury in 2008, but Sharapova herself never stopped believing through all of the trials and tribulations of her comeback. It all came together for her on the clay in 2012, a surface on which she once famously described herself as being a “cow on ice”. Remarkably, Sharapova went undefeated on red clay this year, a streak which culminated with her fourth Grand Slam title in Paris following a 6-3, 6-2 over first time Major finalist Sara Errani of Italy.
“I had so many outs in my career. I could have said, I don’t need this. I have money; I have fame; I have victories; I have Grand Slams,” Sharapova said. “But, when your love for something is bigger than all those things, you continue to keep getting up in the morning when it’s freezing outside, when you know that it can be the most difficult day, when nothing is working, when you feel like the belief sometimes isn’t there from the outside world, and you seem so small.”
The 25-year-old Russian is the tenth woman to complete the career Grand Slam joining the esteemed ranks of Maureen Connolly, Margaret Court, Chris Evert, Shirley Fry, Steffi Graf, Doris Hart, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, and Serena Williams. She is the first player to accomplish the feat having won only one title at each of the four events. Sharapova’s performance at Roland-Garros will propel her to a whole new category of greatness, the one that is reserved for the best players of all-time.
Beyond the numbers and the significance of such a monumental triumph, it’s how Sharapova found her way back to the pinnacle of her sport that is perhaps most impressive. She overcame bad losses, poor form and a less than reliable serve. She has since improved her movement, rediscovered her lethal groundstrokes and most importantly, found her confidence. The Sharapova that won her first French Open title is a better player than the Sharapova who won her first three Grand Slam crowns.
Beneath Sharapova’s fame, fortune and steely exterior, lies the heart of a true champion and the exuberance of a young woman who is realizing her dreams. She is a fierce competitor who takes her tennis very seriously and when she fell to her knees and cried tears of joys into the French ‘terre battue’ after Errani’s shot went into the net on match point, she showed the world just how much the greatest moment of her tennis life meant to her.
“It’s the most incredible feeling. I don’t know what to say. I’m so happy. I’ve worked so hard for this,” Sharapova said. “It took a lot to get to this stage and even more to win it. There are so many tough days where you feel like giving up, but you don’t. It’s been such a journey to get to this stage again.”
By Melissa Boyd
While play on the women’s side during week one of Roland-Garros has not been of the highest quality, the drama that the ladies have produced over the first eight days in Paris has more than made up for it. For those just tuning in, it would appear as though a tornado has run through the draw, sparing just a handful of seeds along its destructive path.
When pre-tournament favourite Serena Williams was reduced to tears en route to a stunning first round defeat at the hands on an inspired Virginie Razzano, the upset flood gates were opened and several title favourites were shown the door earlier than anticipated. Most notably, a cranky World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka was knocked out on Sunday by Dominika Cibulkova to ensure that there will be a second different Grand Slam champion in 2012. The Slovakian exorcised some demons with the victory after failing to close her last two matches against Azarenka despite holding sizable leads on both occasions. Meanwhile, third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska mustered just three games in bowing out to 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
While the top eight seeds are all still in title contention on the men’s side, only four of the top eight ladies remain. The top half of the draw has been particularly decimated. Case and point, one of Cibulkova, Sara Errani, Angelqiue Kerber or Samantha Stosur will be a Roland-Garros finalist this year. Stosur played for the title in 2010 and won her first Grand Slam at the U.S. Open last summer. The other three are relatively inexperienced when it comes to the business end of Majors, but have quietly built impressive career resumes. With her ball striking, Cibulkova can contend with anyone, Errani has won three clay court titles this season alone and Kerber, the newest member of the WTA’s Top 10, reached the semifinals at the U.S. Open in 2011.
The bottom half of the women’s draw features the new tournament favourite as well as the reigning French Open and Wimbledon champions. A gaping hole was left in the Maria Sharapova’s section of the draw following Williams’ unexpected exit and Caroline Wozniacki’s third round loss to Kaia Kanepi. The Russian, who could take over as the new World No. 1 if she reaches the final in Paris, has been a woman on a mission through three rounds, dropping a mere five games as she attempts to complete her career Grand Slam. It remains to be seen whether the added pressure of being the favourite will get to Sharapova as she moves closer to the business end of the tournament, but so far she has been lights out. Na Li and Petra Kvitova are slated to meet in the quarter-finals and could provide some serious for opposition for Sharapova in the semifinals, especially considering her record against both players.
There are still many stories to be told as Roland-Garros approaches its climax and if week one of is any indication, prepare to brace for the unexpected.
By Melissa Boyd
The WTA Season is off to a flying start and rarely has there been this much anticipation for the women’s event at a Grand Slam heading into Roland-Garros. The draw if filled with storylines that will keep fans enthralled for the entire two-week fortnight.
Serena Williams, who is undefeated on clay this year with two titles, comes to Paris as the favourite, but the American will have to conquer a few French Open demons if she wants to win her first Roland-Garros title since 2002 and first Grand Slam crown since 2010. Williams will have to prove she can win seven matches in the ever-changing conditions on the clay courts in Paris, but she certainly has put herself in prime position to accomplish the feat.
Then there is Maria Sharapova, the former self-described “cow on ice”, has been the second best clay court player this season on the strength of her two titles in Stuttgart and Rome. Many felt like this was the Russian’s best chance to complete her coveted career Grand Slam, unless Williams, whom she has not beat in eight years, fell in her section of the draw and that’s exactly what happened. The much hoped for Sharapova-Williams final will instead potentially happen in the quarter-finals. Sharapova winning Roland-Garros would be some story, but she’ll have to navigate a tough draw to do it.
It’s hard to believe that World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka has been labeled the tournament’s third favourite, but an underwhelming clay court season that featured uncharacteristic losses and an injury withdrawal have people wondering whether Azarenka can repeat her stellar run in Australia. Not to mention that 2010 finalist Samantha Stosur, Brussels champion Agnieszka Radwanska, Venus Williams as well as a pair of former French Open champions, Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova are in her section of the draw.
Other names to watch out for include last year’s finalists. Defending champion Na Li could be stiff competition for Sharapova or Williams in the semifinals and while everyone was writing off Francesca Schiavone, she went and won her final tune up event in Strasbourg. Mona Barthel and Angelique Kerber are prime candidates to cause havoc in the women’s draw at Roland-Garros.
While many are already dusting off the French Open trophy to give it to Serena Williams, tournament tradition on the women’s side in recent years would lean more towards someone making a Cinderella run to the title with the odds stacked against them. The Parisian fortnight will dictate which of these two familiar story lines will characterize the second Grand Slam of the tennis season.
And speaking of McQueen, Sarah Burton, who’s succeeded Mr. McQueen (RIP) as creative director, presented the Spring 2011 men’s collection this past June in Milan. The women’s collection will show in Paris this week. One thing we’ll know not to expect from Burton are the fashion house’s infamous, over-the-top presentations. “That was very much [his] territory — the spectacular show,” Burton told Elle.
(photo from Wilson‘s FB)
Rafael Nadal is unquestionably the king of clay.
The “rey” of clay, so to speak.
Back on May 29, 2006, as documented in the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com), Rafa put himself in the “clay” record books with a win over Robin Soderling, as document below. Soderling, ironically, would play another historic match with Nadal three years later at Roland Garros, handing the Spanish lefty his first career French Open loss in the fourth round.
2006 – Rafael Nadal wins his 54th consecutive match on a clay court, breaking the Open era record set by Guillermo Vilas, defeating Robin Soderling of Sweden 6-2, 7-5, 6-1 in the first round of the French Open in Paris. Nadal is honored for his achievement with an on-court ceremony featuring Christian Bimes, the President of the French Tennis Federation, and Vilas himself, who won 53 straight matches on clay in 1977. Says Nadal of the record, “Obviously, the record is something just extra. It’s something you want. You want to go for it, but the first round in a Grand Slam tournament is always difficult. The first round in any tournament is difficult, but in a Grand Slam, there’s a little more pressure.“ Vilas was not even aware that he held the record for most consecutive clay court victories until weeks before the record was broken. He was, however, well aware of his Open-era records for consecutive victories, regardless of surface (50) and for tournaments won in a year (16) – all accomplished in 1977. Says Vilas, “I’m not sad to lose the minor record, but I’ll be mad if he breaks the others.” Nadal’s streak begins in April of 2005 at the Monte Carlo Open. The streak ends at 81 on May 20, 2007, when Roger Federer beats Nadal in the final of Hamburg, Germany.
Jelena Jankovic moved away from the baby doll dresses she and clothing sponsor ANTA dreamed up for the beginning of 2009, choosing Miami as the event to debut this faux one-shoulder kit (hey, if it’s good enough for Michelle Obama, it’s good enough for Ms. Jankovic!).
Jelena crashed out of that tournament, unfortunately (losing to Gisela Dulko in the second round after a bye), but she bounced back the week after with a title win at the Andalucia Tennis Experience. Following that, she had three quarterfinal losses at Stuttgart, Roma, and Madrid.
What’s in store for Paris? We here at TSF eagerly await what she’ll wear while playing on the terre battue of Roland Garros (which begins next week). Judging from her choices so far, I don’t think she’ll disappoint…
More: A few more pictures during Janks’ Madrid Open run — including the white/blue sneakers and the blue mascara she paired with her blue warm-up.
Anyway, the clay court season thus far, one word….” NADAL”….the kid is from another planet!!! Mentally and physically, on this surface, he’s the greatest I’ve ever seen, and probably the best of all time…and he’s only just 23 (in a few days)!!!
For me, what makes him so good are a few things. Firstly, his ability to “compartmentalize” his thoughts. He NEVER gets ahead of himself. He only focuses on the present. He only ever talks about his next opponent, never who he might meet later in the draw and potential match-ups down the line, thereby giving respect to each guy he faces and taking nothing for granted. And on the match court, its more of the same. He rarely lets the previous point affect the next one and he has this ability to play each point like there was none before, or none to follow.
Secondly, he loves the battle more than anyone! It’s the “process” of winning that seems to consume all his effort and he constantly rewards himself with a “Vamos,” sometimes as early as the second or third game, if he’s had a tough hold. And coupled with the joy he takes out of each victory, again often early on in a tournament, is so refreshing and just goes to show how much he enjoys the “small” victories. Let’s face it, anyone can enjoy the big or classic wins!
From a physical point of view, his movement is “two days on horseback” ahead of his peers.(Must be said, Djokovic has been impressive with his challenge). I’m sure good genes help, given the athletic ability of his uncles, it obviously runs in the family. His footwork is the key to his shot-making, both in attacking and defending. It’s so easy to get a little slow with your feet when attacking because you generally got time on the ball, but Rafa never lets his intensity wane, and always makes sure he’s perfectly setup to pull the trigger!!!
Can anyone beat him in Paris? Not unless they cut off his left arm…and even then, he’s pretty damn good with the right one as we all know! The problem for the chasing pack is doing it over five sets. The semifinal against Djokovic in Madrid was an epic, but remember that was at altitude, quick clay courts and best-of-three sets and the Serb still couldn’t get the W!!! I can’t see him hanging with Rafa over five sets. I think Murray can hang with him over five sets, but he doesn’t move well enough on this stuff. Firstly, he’s gotta get far enough to meet Nadal, and secondly, I can’t see him handle the Spaniard, because Rafa will out-maneuver him over the distance. Hard court, different story, it just shows how important movement is at the highest level, and clay is unique in that regard!
What about Roger? I can’t see it happen. I don’t read much into the Madrid win for the obvious reasons already discussed. Wimby and the US Open are his best bets to bag another major, but even those are gonna be a lot tougher than previous years.
Djokovic is the main challenger, no question – the results don’t lie! Hopefully he and Nadal are in separate sections of the draw. That would be my preferred final.
Watchout for: Stan Wawrinka, Juan Monaco, Fernando Gonzalez, Fernando Verdasco and Marin Cilic
Hope you all looking foward to Rafa being challenged at Rolland Garros as much as I am.
Roger Federer beat Rafael Nadal 6-4 6-4 to win the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open men’s singles in Madrid, Spain
Dinara Safina beat Caroline Wozniacki 6-2 6-4 in Madrid, Spain, to win the women’s singles at the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open.
Marc Gicquel beat Mathieu Montcourt 3-6 6-1 6-4 to win the BNP Paribas Primrose Bordeaux in Bordeaux, France
“I thought I took all the right decisions today. In the end it was a perfect game for me. (You) stay positive and I did. I got the win I needed badly.” – Roger Federer, after beating Rafael Nadal.
“There are no positives, there is little to analyze. He broke and broke and I went home.” – Rafael Nadal, after losing to Roger Federer.
“I’m very disappointed I can play this well and still not win a match.” – Novak Djokovic, after losing to Rafael Nadal in the semifinals.
“Since I became No. 1 I’m playing better and better.” – Dinara Safina, after winning the Madrid Open women’s title.
“I don’t want anybody telling me all the time what to do. I want to do my own thing. I’m more relaxed, easy going. I’m not worried too much. If it goes my way, fine. If not, I’ll keep trying.” – Svetlana Kuznetsova, who hired Larisa Savchenko as her new coach.
“After a few weeks of training I got the hunger back. I felt really good and wanted the challenge to see if I can still be up there (competing on the tour).” – Kim Clijsters, a former top-ranked player who will return to the WTA Tour in August.
“It’s going to be a challenge but she seems really determined. She has the talent and the tennis. I really think she can do it.” – Steffi Graf, on Kim Clijsters rejoining the WTA Tour.
“It is truly a page that has been turned. It was 20 years of my life. Now life is something different.” – Justine Henin, saying she will not follow Kim Clijsters in returning to the WTA Tour.
“Sometimes it’s hard to fully accept change in some respects. It’s an exciting change, it’s an asset for fans and for players.” – Andre Agassi, about the roof over Wimbledon’s famed Centre Court.
“That’s saying something when this is already the best and most famous court in the world, but I’m intrigued to see what level the atmosphere might go to. Given the right scenarios with the right match and players, it could be really something.” – Tim Henman, on the new roof covering Wimbledon’s famed Centre Court.
“The small amounts gambled (and) the absence of influence of the bets on the matches in question.” – The Court of Arbitration for Sport, announcing the reason that the suspension of Mathieu Montcourt for betting on matches has been reduced from eight to five weeks.
SUCCESS AT LAST
Roger Federer ended his five-match losing streak to his top rival when he shocked Rafael Nadal in the final of the Madrid Open. That stretch included the finals at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the Australian Open. Calling his first win over Nadal since the 2007 Masters Tennis Cup “very satisfying,” Federer now trails in their head-to-head meetings 7-13. It was the 16th time the two have played for a title, with Nadal winning 11 times. Only Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe have met in more finals among the men: 20. And it was only the second time that Federer has beaten Nadal on clay. The Swiss star is the only player ranked in the top 10 to have ever beaten Nadal on the surface.
Organizers of the Dubai Tennis Championships have agreed to pay a USD $300,000 fine assessed against the tournament when Israel’s Shahar Peer was not allowed to enter the country. The WTA Tour board rejected Dubai’s appeal of the record fine, which was more than twice as much as the previous highest. The United Arab Emirates refused to grant Peer a visa just before she was due to arrive at the Dubai tournament in February. The WTA Tour also demanded that any Israeli players who qualify for the 2010 tournament must receive visas at least eight weeks before the tournament. “I just say that it’s a shame that Shahar could not compete in the tournament because she has nothing to do with the politics – she’s a tennis player,” said top-ranked Dinara Safina.
Emilie Loit and five other Frenchwomen have been awarded wild cards for direct entry into the main draw at this year’s Roland Garros. The French Open begins on May 24 in Paris. Claire Feuerstein, Kinnie Laisne, Kristina Mladenovic, Irena Pavlovic and Olivia Sanchez will be joined by American Lauren Embree and Australian Olivia Rogowska in receiving wild cards from the French Tennis Federation. Given wild cards into the women’s qualifying draw were Chloe Babet, Simona Halep, Florence Haring, Violette Huck, Karla Mraz, Laura Thorpe, Aurelie Vedy and Stephanie Vongsouthi.
Kim Clijsters made a splash when she helped inaugurate the new roof over Wimbledon’s Centre Court. After Clijsters and Tim Henman teamed up to win a mixed doubles challenge against Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi, Clijsters beat Graf 6-4 and earned a standing ovation from the crowd for the quality of tennis. “I had started practicing again, but I was really out of shape and I didn’t want to embarrass myself,” said Clijsters, who has married and had a child since she retired from the sport. “About four weeks into training I felt I would like to compete again on tour. Since then I have been training really hard.”
SEX AND TENNIS
Anna Kournikova wants to get away from her sexy tennis star image – at least somewhat. The Russian, who works for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the Cartoon Network, says she is driven to get kids more involved in sports and exercise. Kournikova began her professional tennis career at the age of 14. And while many think of her as the sexy tennis player, she was ranked as high as eighth in the world in singles and won two Grand Slam tournament doubles titles, partnering with Martina Hingis. While she has not played on the WTA Tour since 2003, Kournikova participates in World Team Tennis and occasionally plays exhibitions. And she hasn’t abandoned modeling. “You’ve got to have some kind of income,” Kournikova said.
SPOT FOR GAUDIO
Gaston Gaudio of Argentina will be playing at Roland Garros again. Gaudio, who won the French Open in 2004, was granted a wild card for this year’s tournament. The 30-year-old right-hander last won a tournament at Kitzbuhel, Austria, in 2005. Once ranked fifth in the world, Gaudio has dropped to 395th in the world rankings.
It was a doubleheader at the Madrid Open when both Philipp Kohlschreiber and Nikolay Davydenko pulled out of the tournament. Both players said they had injured their left leg and had to withdraw. Kohlschreiber was facing Rafael Nadal in his next match, while Davydenko was scheduled to face Andy Roddick. Both Nadal and Roddick moved into the quarterfinals with walkovers.
SEE, ME TOO
Roland Garros is playing follow the leader, with officials saying the French Open will have a new center court with a retractable roof in place by 2013 or 2014. Wimbledon will have a retractable roof on its Centre Court for the first time at this year’s tournament. The retractable roof-covered stadium in Paris was supposed to be ready for the 2012 Olympics, but it was delayed when France failed to get the Games. Jean Gachassin, president of the French Tennis Federation (FFT), said the future of Roland Garros depends on it getting the roof. “The goal is to have an outdoor stadium that can be covered, instead of an indoor stadium that can be uncovered,” said Marc Mimram, the head architect for the project. The Australian Open has two courts with roofs, while organizers of the US Open are considering building a roof over its main court, Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf say their names and trademarks are being used on Web sites without their permission. The two, who are married, have filed separate cyber squatting claims in federal court. Agassi claims that the domain names andre-agassi.com, andre-agassi.net and andre-agassi.info have been registered. Graf says steffigraf.com, steffigraf.net and steffigraf.info have been registered without her consent. Both Agassi and Graf are seeking ownership of the domain names.
When he finally serves his suspension for betting on matches, Mathieu Montcourt will only miss five weeks on the ATP tour instead of eight weeks. And he will be able to compete at both Wimbledon and the US Open this summer. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) noted the 24-year-old Montcourt bet a total of USD $192 on 36 different tennis events, but none on his own matches or at tournaments where he was playing. Citing “the small amounts gambled (and) the absence of influence of the bets on the matches in question,” the CAS reduced Montcourt ban to five weeks, starting July 6. The Frenchman was a finalist this past week at the BNP Paribas Primrose Bordeaux where he lost to Marc Gicquel 3-6 6-1 6-4 in Bordeaux, France.
Just because she has picked up a racquet and hit with longtime coach Carlos Rodriguez, Justine Henin says she has no plans to un-retire like fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters. “I hasten to add, just to improve my condition and stay healthy,” Henin said of the practice. A year after she surprised the world by retiring while ranked number one in the world, Henin says she still feels the pain of competitive tennis every day. “If it is not the knee, it is the shoulder,” she said. The seven-time Grand Slam tournament champion is now a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, earlier this year visiting eastern Congo, and is appearing on Belgian television in a show titled “12 works of Justine Henin.”
SCRAPPING TENNIS PROGRAMS
In cost-cutting moves, two American colleges have dropped their tennis programs. Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana, suspended indefinitely its tennis programs affected 12 student-athletes, seven men and five women, as well as coach Malik Tabet and assistant coach Martha Montoya. Athletic director Ron Prettyman said he had to cut USD $350,000 from his budget. The university says it will honor all scholarships for the 2009-2010 school year for tennis players who want to stay at ISU, while those who want to transfer will be able to play at other schools.
At Southeastern Louisiana in Hammond, Louisiana, the men’s tennis team was cut because of the budget. Officials said the move to drop the 10-player squad was because next year’s proposed state budget calls for chopping millions of dollars from public universities. Southeastern plans to retain men’s tennis coach Jason Hayes, who also oversees the women’s team, which for now will be spared.
The University of La Verne in Southern California won’t drop its women’s tennis team after all. Two weeks after announcing it was dropping the sport temporarily, the women’s program has been reinstated. The biggest problem at the La Verne, California, school – located 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles – was the lack of a facility since the school turned the courts into a parking lot in 2007. But the school worked out a deal to use the facilities at The Claremont Club during the spring, making it possible for the school to keep its program. The men’s tennis program, however, remains on hiatus with no definitive timetable for its return.
Madrid (men): Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic beat Simon Aspelin and Wesley Moodie 6-4 6-4
Madrid (women): Cara Black and Liezel Huber beat Kveta Peschke and Lisa Raymond 4-6 6-3 10-6 (match tiebreak)
Bordeaux: Pablo Cuevas and Horacio Zeballos beat Xavier Pujo and Stephane Robert 4-6 6-4 10-4 (match tiebreak)
SITES TO SURF
TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK
(All money in USD)
$490,000 Interwetten Austrian Open, Kitzbuhel, Austria, clay
$1,800,000 ARAG ATP World Team Championships, Dusseldorf, Germany, clay
$600,000 Warsaw Open, Warsaw, Poland, clay
$220,000 Internationaux de Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France, clay
Grand Champions Brazil, Sao Paulo, Brazil, hard
TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK
ATP and WTA
Roland Garros, Paris, France, clay (first week)
It doesn’t hurt to have the fans behind you (that way, you don’t get booed) when you’re trying to win your first grand slam — and Jelena Jankovic knows this.
She’s already planting the seed by writing “I <3 Paris” on her bandaged right arm for her quarterfinal match against Canary Islander Carla Suarez Navarro. Jelena won that match 6-3, 6-2 and will meet compatriot Ana Ivanovic in a semifinal on Tuesday.
Ivanovic made quick work of the Patty Schnyder, whose lefty ways usually make hell for players on clay. But against the World No. 2, Patty had no chance. “She’s so tall and has more power than me. In those conditions, it’s really tough for me to win,” said the Swiss.
Before her quarterfinal match, Jankovic flew back to Serbia via private jet to get treatment on that sore right arm.
(photo by Getty Images)