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The Significant Seven: Memorable Women’s Matches From the First Half of 2013

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Readers who enjoyed the article counting down the seven most memorable men’s matches of the first half may enjoy this sequel on the women.  As with the men, these matches do not necessarily feature the best tennis from an aesthetic perspective.  (In fact, some of them produced quite atrocious tennis for long stretches.)  What they did produce was meaningful results linked to broader trends that stretched across the first half.

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7) Laura Robson d. Petra Kvitova, Australian Open 2R, 2-6 6-3 11-9

The most accomplished lefty in women’s tennis met the most promising lefty in women’s tennis earlier in a draw than either would have wished.  Whereas Kvitova needed to turn a new leaf after a disastrous 2012, Robson sought to build upon a second-week appearance at the US Open.  Nerves defined much of their contest, not on this list for the quality of its tennis.  By the middle of the third set, however, it became clear that Robson could master her nerves better than the former Wimbledon champion could.  Unable to serve out the match the first time, she slammed the door at love on her second opportunity.  The encouraging resilience from Robson signaled her progress this season, which has included a victory over Agnieszka Radwanska and a second-week appearance at Wimbledon.  For Kvitova, the painful loss hinted that 2013 would look more than 2012 than 2011, as it has so far.

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6) Sabine Lisicki d. Serena Williams, Wimbledon 4R, 6-2 1-6 6-4

On the surface friendliest to the serve stood the two most formidable servers currently in the women’s game.  But grass specialist Lisicki trailed Serena 16-0 in major titles and 142-0 in weeks at No. 1.  By the logic of this Wimbledon, one should have guessed from the start that the underdog would prevail.  When Serena rallied from losing seven of the first nine games to win nine of the next ten, though, the writing seemed etched on the wall.  Nobody finds a way back against her from 0-3 in a final set at Wimbledon, or from 2-4, or from triple break point at 3-4.  Lisicki did all of those things and even survived the nerve-jangling finish as she served for the match, saving a break point with an ace and converting match point with a clean winner.  The victory ended Serena’s career-best winning streak, which had begun in March, and propelled Lisicki toward her first major final.  It marked her sixth victory over a major champion and third over a world No. 1 in just five Wimbledon appearances.  Even when the top three dominate, others still can spring surprises.

Honorable mention:  Lisicki’s semifinal epic against world No. 4 Radwanska bore several striking similarities to her victory over Serena.

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5) Serena Williams d. Anabel Medina Garrigues, Madrid QF, 6-3 0-6 7-5

Raise your hand if you would have expected Medina Garrigues to appear on this type of list when the 2013 campaign began.  No, I thought not.  And yet she posed Serena’s most formidable challenge of a clay season during which the world No. 1 went undefeated from wire to wire.  To be fair, Medina Garrigues received considerable assistance from across the net in becoming the first woman to bagel Serena since 2008.  The American spent much of the match showing us why she had not won a title on red clay in a decade, struggling to stay focused, patient, and disciplined against a grinder fond of the surface.  Then the last few games showed us why this year would be different.  Serena bent but did not break, rallying from within two points of defeat rather than letting her frustrations overcome her.  She would lose just one more set in the rest of the clay season, strewing 14 bagels and breadsticks across Madrid, Rome, and Paris.  Medina Garrigues, who lost 6-1 6-1 to Dinah Pfizenmaier this week, gave Serena the wake-up call that she needed to reconquer her least favorite surface.

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4) Victoria Azarenka d. Serena Williams, Doha F, 7-6(6) 2-6 6-3

When 2012 ended, only one woman looked like a realistic threat to Serena’s stranglehold over the WTA.  But that woman, Victoria Azarenka, had just absorbed her ninth consecutive loss in their rivalry.  As competitive as some of those losses were, such as last year’s US Open final, Azarenka needed to stop the skid to bolster her confidence.  The Australian Open champion had started slowly in most of her matches against Serena, finding her rhythm only in the second set.  Always at her best early in the season, Azarenka started with more determination in Doha and won that crucial first set in a tight tiebreak.  She weathered the inevitable response from Serena in the second set and did what she could not do in New York, serving out the match comfortably in the third.  Azarenka still has not defeated the world No. 1 at a major, or when fully healthy, so much remains for her to prove.  (And Serena won a Premier Five final rematch convincingly in Rome.)  All the same, the victory in Doha confirmed suspicions that something like a rivalry might develop here, sometime.

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3) Serena Williams d. Maria Sharapova, Miami F, 4-6 6-3 6-0

Six weeks after the previous match on this list, Serena’s dominance over her other key rivalry threatened to falter as well.  Not since 2004 had she lost to Maria Sharapova, thoroughly stifling the Russian in most of their recent meetings. Disappointment at the Australian Open and the Doha loss to Azarenka blunted Serena’s momentum heading to Miami, her home tournament, but most still ranked her a heavy favorite against Sharapova based on history.  For the first half of their final, history took it on the chin as the underdog methodically built a set-and-break lead.  But Serena vindicated history in the end, using a handful of long games late in the second set to reverse the momentum.  Once she regrouped, neither Sharapova nor anyone else could have done much to stem the torrent of blistering serves and forehands that flowed from her racket.  Miami marked the first of Serena’s five consecutive titles this spring and laid a cornerstone of confidence without which her winning streak might not have taken flight.  She extended her reacquired dominance over Sharapova in two straight-sets finals on clay.

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2) Maria Sharapova d. Victoria Azarenka, Roland Garros SF, 6-1 2-6 6-4

With Serena firmly entrenched on the WTA throne, the rivalry between Azarenka and Sharapova loomed ever larger.  Azarenka had won their two most significant meetings in 2012, an Australian Open final and a US Open semifinal.  Holding a surface advantage over the younger blonde on clay, Sharapova struck back at Roland Garros to recapture the edge in their rivalry.  A barrage of pinpoint returns and forehands swept the first set into her ledger, but Azarenka exploited an erratic passage of play to level the match.  At that stage, parallels linked this match with their US Open semifinal, which Sharapova had started in torrid form before steadily fading.  There would be no déjà vu on this day when the two rivals contested their second 6-4 final set in three majors.  Sharapova built a commanding lead in the third set, only to throw Azarenka a lifeline as she squandered a handful of match points.  The ear-shattering shrieks and ball-shattering blows from both competitors escalated with the mounting drama.  When a bullet ace streaked down the center stripe, Sharapova reasserted herself as the best of the rest—for now.

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1) Victoria Azarenka d. Li Na, Australian Open F, 4-6 6-4 6-3

Never a fan favorite, Azarenka has endured a discordant relationship with media and many fans throughout her tenure at the top.  The simmering turbulence there boiled into the open after she took a dubious medical timeout near the end of her semifinal against Sloane Stephens.  When Azarenka took the court against Li with her title defense at stake, the air in Rod Laver Arena felt heavier with hostility than humidity.  The Chinese star emerged the less battered of the two from a rollercoaster first set, high on tension and low on holds of serve.  Steady returning and unsteady emotions extended into the second set, when Li added a plot twist of her own by sustaining successive injuries.  Made of tenacious stuff, she gallantly returned to the fray after striking her head on the court.  But Azarenka’s head had grown clearer while Li’s head had grown cloudier, allowing the former to claw her way to an impressive title defense.  With almost nobody in her corner for one of the biggest matches of her career, Azarenka showed how she needs nobody but herself.  She echoed fellow world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in her ability to thrive on animosity and turn it defiantly to her advantage.

 

The Magnificent Seven: Memorable Men’s Matches from the First Half of 2013

Made for this sport, and for each other.

Just past its halfway point, the year 2013 has featured twists and turns, tastes of the familiar and the unfamiliar, and plenty of memorable matches to recall.  This first of two articles counts down the seven most memorable men’s matches of the first half.  Not necessarily the longest, the closest, or those that featured the best tennis, each of them connected to narratives broader than their specific outcomes.

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7) Grigor Dimitrov d. Novak Djokovic, Madrid 2R, 7-6(6) 6-7(8) 6-3

During the first few months of 2013, Dimitrov progressed slowly but surely in his ability to challenge the ATP elite.  First, he served for the first set against Djokovic and Murray in Indian Wells and Miami, respectively.   Then, he won a set from Nadal on clay in Monte Carlo.  Dimitrov’s true breakthrough came at the next Masters 1000 tournament in Madrid, where he withstood an extremely tense encounter against the world No. 1.  When Djokovic escaped the marathon second-set tiebreak, the underdog could have crumbled.  Instead, Dimitrov rallied to claim an early third-set lead that he never relinquished.  Having won the Monte Carlo title from Nadal in his previous match, Djokovic showed unexpected emotional frailty here that undercut his contender’s credentials in Paris.  (He did, however, avenge this loss to Dimitrov when they met at Roland Garros.)

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6) Sergiy Stakhovsky d. Roger Federer, Wimbledon 2R, 6-7(5) 7-6(5) 7-5 7-6(5)

Ten years before, almost to the day, a youthful Roger Federer had burst onto the tennis scene by upsetting seven-time champion Pete Sampras at the All England Club.  An aura of invincibility had cloaked Federer at majors for much of the ensuing decade, contributing to a record-breaking streak of 36 major quarterfinals.  That streak forms a key cornerstone of his legacy, but it ended at the hands of a man outside the top 100 who never had defeated anyone in the top 10.  Federer did not play poorly for much of this match, a symbol of the astonishing upsets that rippled across Wimbledon on the first Wednesday.  Rare is the occasion when he does not play big points well, and even rarer is the occasion when an unheralded opponent of his plays them better.  Stakhovsky needed the fourth-set tiebreak almost as much as Federer did, and he struck just the right balance of boldness and patience to prevail.

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5) Andy Murray d. Roger Federer, Australian Open SF, 6-4 6-7(5) 6-3 6-7(2) 6-2

Murray ended the first half of 2013 by thrusting not a monkey but a King Kong-sized gorilla off its back.  He rid himself of another onerous burden when the year began, nearly as meaningful if less publicized.  Never had Murray defeated Federer at a major before, losing all three of their major finals while winning one total set.  A comfortable win seemed within his grasp when he served for the match at 6-5 in the fourth set, only to see a vintage spurt of inspiration from the Swiss star force a fifth.  All the pressure rested on Murray in the deciding set after that opportunity slipped away, and yet he composed himself to smother Federer efficiently.  Murray’s third consecutive appearance in a major final illustrated his improving consistency, a theme of 2013.  Meanwhile, his opponent’s sagging energy in the fifth set revealed another theme of a season in which Federer has showed his age more than ever before.

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4) Rafael Nadal d. Ernests Gulbis, Indian Wells 4R, 4-6 6-4 7-5

Although South American clay had hinted at the successes ahead, neither Nadal nor his fans knew what to expect when he played his first marquee tournament since Wimbledon 2012.  Even the most ambitious among them could not have foreseen the Spaniard winning his first hard-court tournament since 2010 and first hard-court Masters 1000 tournament in four years.  Nadal would finish his title run by defeating three straight top-eight opponents, but the decisive turning point of his tournament came earlier.After falling behind the dangerous Ernests Gulbis, he dug into the trenches with his familiar appetite for competition.  To his credit, Gulbis departed from his usual insouciance and stood toe to toe with Nadal until the end, even hovering within two points of the upset.  But Nadal’s explosive athleticism allowed him to halt the Latvian’s 13-match winning streak in a series of pulsating exchanges.  He ended the match with his confidence far higher than when it began.

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3) Novak Djokovic d. Juan Martin Del Potro, Wimbledon SF, 7-5 4-6 7-6(2) 6-7(6) 6-3

Here is a match that does belong on this list simply because of its extraordinary length, tension, and quality, even if it ultimately lacks broader implications.  Neither man had lost a set en route to this semifinal, and its 283 blistering, sprawling minutes showed why.  Refusing to give an inch from the baseline, Djokovic and Del Potro blasted ferocious serves and groundstrokes while tracking down far more balls than one would have thought possible on grass. The drama raced to its climax late in the fourth set, when the Argentine saved two match points with bravery that recalled his Indian Wells victories over Murray and Djokovic.  Triumphant at last a set later, the Serb emitted a series of howls that exuded relief as much as exultation.  We will not know for the next several weeks what, if anything, will come from this match for Del Potro, but it marked by far his best effort against the Big Four at a major since he won the US Open.

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2) Novak Djokovic d. Stanislas Wawrinka, Australian Open 4R, 1-6 7-5 6-4 6-7(5) 12-10

Just halfway into the first major of 2013, everyone concurred that we already had found a strong candidate for the match of the year.  The second-ranked Swiss man lit up the Melbourne night for a set and a half as Djokovic slipped, scowled, and stared in disbelief at his unexpectedly feisty opponent.  Once Wawrinka faltered in his attempt to serve for a two-set lead, though, an irreversible comeback began.  Or so we thought.  A dazzling sequence of shot-making from Djokovic defined proceedings until midway through the fourth set, when Wawrinka reignited at an ideal moment.  Two of the ATP’s most glorious backhands then dueled through a 22-game final set, which also pitted Wawrinka’s formidable serve against Djokovic’s pinpoint return.  The underdog held serve six times to stay in the match, forcing the favorite to deploy every defensive and offensive weapon in his arsenal to convert the seventh attempt.  Fittingly, both of these worthy adversaries marched onward to impressive accomplishments.  Djokovic would secure a record three-peat in Melbourne, and Wawrinka would launch the best season of his career with victories over half of the top eight and a top-10 ranking.

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1) Rafael Nadal d. Novak Djokovic, Roland Garros SF, 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7(3) 9-7

The stakes on each side loomed a little less large than in the 2012 final, perhaps, with neither a Nole Slam nor Nadal’s record-breaking seventh Roland Garros title on the line.  One would not have known it from watching a sequel much more compelling than the original, and one of the finest matches that this rivalry has produced.  Somewhat a mirror image of their final last year at the Australian Open, it featured a comeback by one man from the brink of defeat in the fourth set and a comeback by the other from the brink of defeat in the fifth.  Nadal led by a set and a break and later served for the match before Djokovic marched within six points of victory, but one last desperate display of will edged the Spaniard across the finish line.  Few champions throughout the sport’s history can match the resilience of these two champions, so the winner of their matches can exult in a hard-earned triumph.  While Djokovic proved how far he had progressed in one year as a Roland Garros contender, Nadal validated his comeback with his most fearless effort yet against the mature version of the Serb.  Only time will tell whether it marks the start of a new chapter in their rivalry, or a glittering coda that illustrates what might have been.

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Check back in a day or two for a companion article on the seven most memorable women’s matches.

When the Red Dust Settles: Favorite Memories of Roland Garros 2013

We have reached the end of the red brick road for another year.

Matches and events fly past in the fortnight of a major too quickly to absorb everything that happens.  But, now that the red dust has settled, here are the memories that I will take from Roland Garros 2013.

Gael Monfils and the Paris crowd making each other believe that he could accomplish the impossible, and then Monfils accomplishing it.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands looking completely lost at the start of her match against Li Na and then gradually finding her baseline range, one rain delay at a time.

The courteous handshake and smile that Li gave her conqueror despite the bitter defeat.

Shelby Rogers justifying her USTA wildcard by winning a main-draw match and a set from a seed.

Grigor Dimitrov learning how to reach the third round of a major, and learning that what happens in Madrid stays in Madrid.

Bojana Jovanovski teaching Caroline Wozniacki that what happens in Rome doesn’t stay in Rome.

Ernests Gulbis calling the Big Four boring, and former top-four man Nikolay Davydenko calling him back into line.

Petra Kvitova and Samantha Stosur settling their features into resigned masks they underachieved yet again at a major.

John Isner winning 8-6 in the fifth and then coming back the next day to save 12 match points before losing 10-8 in the fifth.

Virginie Razzano winning twice as many matches as she did here last year.

Tommy Haas dominating a man fourteen years his junior and then coming back the next day to save a match point and outlast Isner when the thirteenth time proved the charm.

Benoit Paire losing his mind after a code violation cost him a set point, and Kei Nishikori quietly going about his business afterwards.

Ana Ivanovic telling journalists that “ajde” is her favorite word, and sympathizing with Nadal for the scheduling woes.

Tommy Robredo crumpling to the terre battue in ecstasy after a third consecutive comeback from losing the first two sets carried him to a major quarterfinal.

Sloane Stephens calling herself one of the world’s most interesting 20-year-olds.

Nicolas Almagro swallowing the bitter taste of a second straight collapse when opportunity knocked to go deep in a major.

Victoria Azarenka reminding us that it is, after all, rather impressive to win a match when your serve completely fails to show up.

Fernando Verdasco clawing back from the brink of defeat against Janko Tipsarevic to the brink of an upset that would have cracked his draw open—only to lose anyway.

Alize Cornet pumping her fist manically in one game and sobbing in despair the next.

Mikhail Youzhny remembering to bang a racket against his chair instead of his head.

Francesca Schiavone catching lightning in a bottle one more time in Paris, just when everyone thought that she no longer could.

Stanislas Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet putting on a master class of the one-handed backhand.

Svetlana Kuznetsova walking onto Chatrier to face Angelique Kerber and playing like she belonged there as a contender of the present, not a champion of the past.

Roger Federer joining alter ego @PseudoFed on Twitter, and fledgling tweeter Tomas Berdych telling one of his followers that his most challenging opponent is…Tomas Berdych.

Agnieszka Radwanska proving that her newly blonde hair wasn’t a jinx, but that major quarterfinals still might be.

Jo-Wifried Tsonga showing us his best and worst in the course of two matches, illustrating why he could win a major and why he has not.

Sara Errani looking the part of last year’s finalist while tying much bigger, stronger women up in knots.

Novak Djokovic overcoming a significant personal loss midway through the tournament and standing taller than ever before at the one major that still eludes him.

Jelena Jankovic completing a dramatic come-from-behind win and a dramatic come-from-ahead loss against two top-ten women in the same tournament.

David Ferrer, the forgotten man, reaching his first major final at age 31 in a reward for all of those years toiling away from the spotlight.

Maria Sharapova staying true to her uncompromising self and ending a match in which she hit 11 double faults with—an ace.

Serena Williams consigning her last trip here to the dustbin of history.

Rafael Nadal collapsing on the Chatrier clay just as ecstatically the eighth time as he did the first.

Staying up until 5 AM to watch a certain match, and wanting to stay up longer for one more game or one more point.

Looking forward to jumping back on the rollercoaster at the All England Club.

Roland Garros Day 15: Links Roundup with Nadal, Federer, Vesnina and more

Rafael Nadal with the 2013 French Open ball kids

Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off the court.

Shot of the Day: After winning a record-breaking eighth Roland Garros title, and before making the media rounds, Rafael Nadal happily posed with the ball kids who worked the final. Perhaps there’s a future Roland Garros champ among them!

Elena Vesnina wins first grand slam title: It was seven times lucky for Elena Vesnina as she and countrywoman Ekaterina Makarova captured the French Open crown defeating the top seeded team of Sara Errani and Robert Vinci. As the WTA official website reports, “Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina upset the odds and the defending champions to win the doubles title.” The Russian pair were delighted with their victory which was their first over the Italian duo.

Vesnina told reporters “I think we’re extra happy because we beat them first time. We played a lot of times against them; they’re the best team in the world. They’re playing so good, so it’s really tough to play against them, especially on clay.”

French Open Flare: During the second set of the final between Spaniards Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer, as Tennis Grandstand reported earlier “a shirtless and masked protestor with the words ‘KIDS RIGHT’ written across his chest, ran onto Nadal’s side of the court, lighting a red flare.” Working quickly, “security tackled the man and threw him off the court as another personnel guarded Nadal.” Nadal was definitely frazzled by the incident as he proceeded to drop his next service game but was ultimately able to close out the set.

“Well I felt a little bit scared in the first moment,” said Nadal. “These kinds of things are impossible to predict. When these kind of things happen, we are very lucky that we have good security around. They managed very well to stop the situation.”

Roger Federer and Tommy Haas to team up in Halle: As the ATP World Tour reports, “Good friends Roger Federer and Tommy Haas will make their team debut at the Gerry Webber Open this week.” The pair is set to square off against the 2010 Wimbledon champs, Jurgen Melzer and Philipp Petzschner. Despite a tough draw, Haas spoke of his and Federer’s excitement in teaming up.

“It’s our first time playing together. It’s great to do this at this time in our careers. I hope we can focus, as we’ll probably have too much of a good time out there. It will be nice to play in front of some very enthusiastic fans and have a good doubles match, against Melzer and Petzschner.”

Five Classic Finals: While the men’s final between David Ferrer and Rafael Nadal certainly wasn’t a classic battle by any stretch of the imagination, Roland Garros has had no shortage of thrilling championship matches. Live Tennis has come up with their 5 best French Open finals of all time including Bjorn Borg’s first French Open title in 1974 when he came back from two sets to love down to beat Manuel Orantes in five sets and Andre Agassi’s 1999 French Open crown which proved to be his only title at Roland Garros.

Lessons from Serena Williams’s stellar French Open: Lindsay Gibbs of The Changeover wrote about Serena Williams’s victory over Maria Sharapova and the significance of her French Open title.  Lindsay wrote about this being the best win of Serena’s career, her multi-dimensional game, and how impressive Serena’s win streak over Maria Sharapova is.

Rafael Nadal discusses French Open title: Rafael Nadal put forth an absolute master class in his straight sets victory over David Ferrer. The Spaniard was firing off all cylinders and pressured Ferrer into a plethora of errors. In his post-match press conference, Nadal talked about how the match was closer than what the score would seem to indicate, his extremely high level of play during certain points of the match, and how important this victory is to him. In addition, Nadal credited those who have helped him to make such a strong and successful comeback after his 7 month layoff.

Roland Garros Rewind: Thoughts on Rafael Nadal’s Victory over David Ferrer in the Men’s Final

The feeling that never grows old.

Rafael Nadal may have lost his first set at Roland Garros 2013, but he won his last set.  The King of Clay burnished his legend on the surface even further by securing an eighth Roland Garros title at the expense of fellow Spaniard David Ferrer.  Here are some key things to know about the final and Nadal’s achievement more generally.

The superior Spaniard:  Ferrer ends the tournament ranked higher than Nadal, but no human agrees with the computers on that opinion.  He looked very much David to the Goliath across the net, understandable considering that he contested his first major final today against a career-long nemesis.  A few exceptions like Francesca Schiavone aside, even weathered veterans do not excel in that situation.

Calm after the storm:  After the dramatic sweep of the Djokovic-Nadal semifinal, the final’s relatively routine narrative came as the anticlimax that most envisioned.  The match contained few turning points or real momentum shifts, not surprising for a rivalry in which one man had won 16 straight meetings on this surface.

Look out, Sampras:  Nadal moves within two major titles of tying the American for second place on the all-time list.  Surely he will bring his peak clay form to Paris at least two or three more times, which means that, with any luck at all, he ultimately should pass Sampras and perhaps even edge within range of a certain someone else.

Be jealous , Monte Carlo:  You’re not alone anymore at the top of Rafa’s list.  Nadal now has won as many titles at Roland Garros as he has at his Mediterranean fortress—or anywhere else.  In fact, his eight titles here are the most that any man has won at any major.

21-1:  That is Nadal’s record against top-ten opponents since losing to Roger Federer at Indian Wells last year.  Djokovic predictably notched the “1,” handing the Spaniard his only defeat on European clay this season in Monte Carlo.

26-1:  That is Nadal’s record in clay finals against opponents other than Federer and Djokovic.  He also improves to 4-0 in major finals against opponents other than those two, Roland Garros hosting three of those wins.  Horacio Zeballos recorded the “1” in the first tournament of Nadal’s comeback this year.

Uprooting top seeds:  Only once in the last ten years (Nadal in 2011) and twice in the last twenty (Gustavo Kuerten in 2001) has the top seed won the Roland Garros men’s singles title.  Nadal has held a seed lower than No. 1 seven times and won the tournament every time.  Six times out of seven, he defeated the top seed en route to the title.

A breath of fresh air:  Today was the first men’s major final since Wimbledon 2010 that featured someone from outside the Big Four.  But Roland Garros 2013 became the 14th consecutive major won by one of them, and 32nd of the last 33.

The minimalist major:  Only once since 2000 has the Roland Garros men’s final reached a fifth set.  All of the other three majors have featured multiple five-set men’s finals during that span.

London calling:  Is Nadal the favorite at Wimbledon?  He’s certainly not the prohibitive favorite, as he was at Roland Garros, but once again Djokovic might be the only member of the Big Four who can stop him there.  Nadal has dominated Murray on grass and crushed Federer twice this year, albeit on slower surfaces.  Even Djokovic might have trouble bouncing back from Friday to reverse that result in a month.  Nadal’s greatest challenge might come in the early rounds there, as it often has.

Au revoir, Paris:  The bad news is that this article concludes the series of Rewinds and Fast Forwards from Roland Garros next year.  The good news is that I have one last Roland Garros article appearing tomorrow on my favorite memories from the tournament overall.  The best news is that Wimbledon Fast Forward starts two weeks from today.

Question of the day:  How many Roland Garros titles will Nadal win in his career?  I’m setting the over-under at 10.5.

 

Video and Photos: Protestor with Flare Runs Onto Court During French Open Men’s Final

Protestors at French Open men's final between Nadal and Ferrer

(June 9, 2013) Fans at Philippe Chatrier Court had some unexpected and unwelcomed protectors inside the stadium during the men’s final between Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer on Sunday.

All was going according to plan for Nadal to capture his eighth Roland Garros title. Earlier in the second set, however, rambunctious protestors, in favor of children’s rights, in the last row of the stadium had to be escorted out by security.

Then at 6-3, 5-1 with Nadal ready to serve, a shirtless and masked protestor with the words “KIDS RIGHT” written across his chest, ran onto Nadal’s side of the court, lighting a red flare. Nadal’s instincts kicked in and he started to run toward the exit, but seemingly stopped when realizing the protestor had been contained.

Security tackled the man and threw him off the court as another security personnel guarded Nadal. The man was taken off the court while security worked on extinguishing the flame in the corridor.

In the video below, you can also see security escort another shirtless man just as the incident occurred.

It not only shoot up the fans, but also Nadal as he lost serve the next game, but was able to break back and take the second set 6-2.

In his interview with John McEnroe, Nadal gave his thought when asked about the on-court protestor.

“Well, I felt a little bit scared in the first moment,” said Nadal. “These kinds of things are impossible to predict. When these kinds of things happen, we are very lucky that we have good security around. They managed very well to stop the situation.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLt2-uZCQUg

On nearby Suzanne Lenglen court, the protesting continued.

Roland Garros Day 14: Links Roundup with Williams, Mahut, Nadal, Murray and more

Nicolas Mahut and Michael Llodra during the men's doubles award ceremony

Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off the court.

Shot of the Day: After losing the first set, snatching the second, and having the upper hand several times in the third including up 4-2 in the tiebreak, Nicolas Mahut and Mike Llodra lost a tough battle to Mike and Bob Bryan in the men’s doubles, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(4). Mahut was the only man on the court appearing in his first Slam final, so it’s no surprise that emotions overcame the Frenchman after their heartbreaking loss.

Toni Nadal says eighth French Open title could be “Nadal’s prized moment”: As Reem Abulleil of Sport 360 writes, “Toni Nadal believes a Rafael Nadal win in the Roland Garros final on Sunday against David Ferrer could be considered his nephew’s greatest success to date considering everything they had to overcome to return to a major final.” Toni Nadal appears to be both shocked and grateful that his nephew has been able to reach a grand slam final.

“I don’t know why we are here. In Sao Paolo, or in Vina Del Mar, we had so many problems and we thought that it would be difficult to be again here in the final. I thought it would be very difficult to be at the top again because the moment was not good, he had problems in his knee and altogether we had doubts whether he can go or not.”

Andy Murray’s French Open absence could be a game changer: Kevin Mitchell of the Guardian has been documenting Andy Murray’s recovery from the back injury that caused him to miss the French Open. Murray says he watched Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal’s semifinal match at Roland Garros and that not playing the French Open was “a hard decision but that sort of match is the reason why I wouldn’t be playing at the French Open.” Murray believes his French Open withdrawal may be “a blessing in disguise” and that he “feels really good and took maybe eight or nine days’ full rest doing nothing and has had no setbacks practicing.”

Serena Williams captures French Open title: Of course the biggest news of the day is Serena Williams claiming her 2nd French Open title (first since 2002) and her 16th grand slam overall placing her 6th on the all-time list. Greg Garber of ESPN notes that Serena “could catch Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert (18 each) as early as this year’s US Open.” Serena talked about how losing in the first round last year helped her enter this particular tournament with a relaxed state of mind.

“I think losing in the first round definitely helped me realize I had no points to defend. I have nothing to lose. I can just kind of relax and just do what I want to do here.”

While Serena may have not been telling the truth when she said she had nothing to lose she certainly looked like she was in cruise control for the vast majority of the tournament.

Bryan Brothers dash French hopes in doubles final: “Ten years ago, Bob and Mike Bryan were establishing themselves as a rising doubles pair when they shockingly ran to the title at Roland Garros, their very first major title” Nick McCarvel writes for the Roland Garros official website. The Bryans ended a not so shocking 2013 French Open campaign by taking down the French tandem of Nicolas Mahut and Michael Llodra in a third set tiebreaker. The Bryan’s were down 4-2 in the third set tiebreaker and managed to capture the final five points and escape with the victory. Afterwards, they admitted to having lady luck on their side to which Bob Bryan stated, “These guys are two of the greatest guys on tour. You played unbelievable today, we were lucky. It could have gone either way today. Today we were pretty fortunate.”

Christian Garin wins boys’ singles title: Christian Garin of Chile took down the younger brother of ATP professional Mischa Zverev, Alexander Zverev, in the boys singles final. Garin, as Guillaume Willecoq describes on the Roland Garros official site, gives “Chilean fans something to shout about once again a year after Fernando Gonzalez retired.”

Wheelchair winners: This Roland Garros featured video highlights the wheelchair tennis competition, one of the most impressive and inspiring competitions that takes place during the French Open but is unfortunately one of the most overlooked.

Roland Garros Rewind: Thoughts on the Women’s Final

The best, and the best of the rest.

The latest meeting between the top two women in the world reached the usual conclusion.  Read about the last women’s match of 2013 on red clay.

That was…expected:  After two victories over Maria Sharapova in finals earlier this spring, including a comprehensive triumph on clay, Serena Williams came into the Roland Garros as an overwhelming favorite.  She extended her winning streak against Sharapova to twelve and her combined record against leading rivals Sharapova and Azarenka to 26-4.  Rivals?  She has none at the moment.

But also unexpected:  Sharapova gave Serena something to ponder in both sets rather than just folding meekly from the outset, as it seemed that she had in Madrid.  A first-serve percentage under 50% undermined her cause, but this final did not become the truncated rout that many expected.

Virginie who?  Not many players lose in the first round of a major one year and win it the next year, but the turnaround shows what an extraordinary competitor holds the No. 1 ranking.  Serena used that three-set collapse against Virginie Razzano in 2012 for motivation in 2013, when she lost just one set in the tournament.

Meet the new boss:  Same as an old boss.  In the last seven years, seven different women have won Roland Garros.  Serena became the first former champion to win there since Justine Henin’s last title in 2007.  But she had not won here—or even reached the final—since her first title here ignited the Serena Slam of 2002-03.  If not for the injury that hampered her so severely in Australia, Serena probably would have had another of those wrap-around achievements.

Sweet sixteen:  Serena’s sixteenth major marked her third since a prolonged, career-threatening injury absence.  She becomes the only active player on either Tour to win multiple titles at every major and closes within one of tying Roger Federer for the most major titles overall among active players.

Best of the rest:  If not for Serena, Sharapova probably would have defended her Roland Garros title, finished a second straight clay season undefeated, and swept all three of the WTA Premier Mandatory tournaments this spring.  Her season so far recalls Nadal’s campaign in 2011:  relentlessly dominant against everyone but a single opponent whom she simply cannot solve.  Sharapova has not lost before the final since February, has lost before the semifinals only once since Wimbledon last year, and has lost only one match to someone other than Serena since last October.

Vika the Vulture:  Although Sharapova defeated her in a ferocious semifinal, Azarenka passes her for the No. 2 ranking on Monday when the Russian failed to defend the title.  That jump could prove crucial at Wimbledon, where the No. 2 seed cannot face heavy favorite Serena until the final.  (Of course, the No. 3 seed might not either.)  Wimbledon does reserve the right to depart from rankings in its seedings, but they have little reason to adjust this time.  While Azarenka has reached consecutive semifinals at the All England Club, 2004 champion Sharapova survived the fourth round only once in 2007-12.

Pick your poison:  Even on clay, no woman can stay with Serena when she settles into her shot-making zone.  Matches crumble into routs or at best foregone conclusions.  That’s not ideal from a viewer’s perspective, but the experience of watching the best player in the world play her best tennis offers a special sort of entertainment. It’s not unlike watching Nadal on clay, at least against anyone but Djokovic.  Perfection without competition, or competition without perfection:  a difficult choice.

What are the odds?  Sharapova is 0-3 in major finals during odd-numbered years, 4-1 in major finals during even-numbered years.

Question(s) of the day:  How many majors will Serena win before she retires?  Can she pass Evert and Navratilova (18 each) for second place?  Should all-time leader Steffi Graf (22) start worrying?

 

As predictable as a Vin Diesel movie and the Importance of that Gulbis Debate

Nadal

By James A. Crabtree

 “Modern tennis is sorely lacking in character.”

Snot nosed rich kid Ernest Gulbis raised a debate recently at Roland Garros.

“I respect Roger, Rafa, Novak and Murray, but, for me, all four players are boring. Their interviews are boring. Honestly, they are boring.” Gulbis said after his second round loss to Gael Monfils that Federer was the biggest perpetrator.

“I often go on YouTube to watch interviews. I quickly stopped watching tennis interviews. It’s a joke,” said the Latvian.

“It was Federer who started this trend. He has a superb image as a perfect Swiss gentleman. I repeat that, I respect Federer, but I don’t like the way that young players try to imitate him.”

In truth, Ernie does have a point, but only sort of. This debate has a few underlying factors that need to be addressed.

Now, the question of boring is really only being brought up because the same players are being asked the same questions time and time again. And why, Ernie, are they being asked the same questions? Because Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray have been winning all the time! How many differing responses can they come up with from the same journalists asking the same questions at tournament after tournament?

The same four players winning consistently is all becoming as predictable as a Vin Diesel movie, and as we know he has been using the same script on different titles for roughly a decade. Now we can’t fault the stars of the game for their monopoly across different tournaments. Perhaps the bigger crime is that of the underachievers, and that is a huge number of players below the top four.

Over the years we have been waiting on the likes of Ferrer, Berdych, Tsonga, Gasquet, Tipsarevic, Raonic, Isner, Baghdatis, Janowicz and dare I say Gulbis to not only provide us with a surprise win, but a surprise championship. Someone to come in and really stir things up.

Surprisingly the monopoly of the slams is very even across the men and women’s tour. Since 2003 the men can boast ten different slam winners. The women meanwhile can only boast fourteen.

However since 2008 and across twenty-one slams the men can claim only five winners while the women can boast eleven.

If we compare this with the past usually a no name or unlikely could sneak a slam. Gustavo Kuerten won the French in 1997 ranked 66th. Mark Edmondson won the 1976 Australian ranked 212th, Goran Ivanišević won the 1999 Wimbledon title ranked 125th. Richard Krajicek sneaked a Wimbledon win between the Sampras dominance as the 17th seed. Thomas Johansson managed to take the 2002 Australian title as the 16th seed. These days a shock grand slam triumph would be Juan Martin del Potro at the 2009 U.S. Open seeded sixth.

Gulbis may claim that the game lacks characters. What he has failed to notice is that the games most prominent representatives happen to come off as gentleman, whether they sincerely are or not. Not many sports can claim that. In truth when we think of the most major sports a plethora of reprobates line the tabloid pages for all the wrongs reasons.

Something, for now, tennis gladly doesn’t have.

 

Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.

Ernest Hemingway

 

 

Roland Garros Day 13: Links Roundup with Sharapova, Djokovic, Bryan Brothers and more

Novak Djokovic flies through the air

Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off the court.

Shot of the Day: Despite losing to Rafael Nadal in the semifinals, Novak Djokovic played some inspired and acrobatic tennis as the match went on.

Bryan Brothers ready to capture French Open crown: David Cox of the New York Times writes that the “French Open has been a tough tournament for the otherwise all-conquering Bryan brothers as they last won the title in 2003.” The Bryans will surely not have the home crowd behind them as they face off against Frenchman Michael Llodra and Nicolas Mahut. Despite not being able to capture the title for over a decade, the Bryans remain confident in their chances to take down Roland Garros.

“It feels great to be back in the final. Obviously, this has been a sticky one over the last 10 years. We’ve come very close and haven’t got over the hump, but we’re coming in with a lot of confidence.”

Plane Cam: Those of you who watched Ryan Harrison take on John Isner last week may remember Harrison becoming irritated by the model airplane that makes constant trips between “a towering crane outside the Roland Garros grounds and a tower at Suzanne Lenglen” as Peter Bodo of Tennis.com reports. He goes on and describes the plane as being a “sky cam that has become a standard feature at most sporting events.” Bodo goes on to describe origination of the plane came but admits that “your kid would like it a lot more than Harrison did.”

Novak Djokovic frustrated over officiating: Following his five set semifinal defeat at the hands of Rafael Nadal in the Roland Garros semifinals, as Sport 360 tells us, Novak Djokovic was less than happy with what he thought was confusing and disorganized officiating. Djokovic was extremely displeased that the court was becoming too dry.

“Off the court I was told that it’s the groundstaff who make the final decision on watering the court. The supervisor said it was him who decides. It takes 30 seconds to one minute to water the court. It was too difficult to change direction. I think it was wrong what they did.”

Djokovic was also mad about being stripped a point at 4-3 40-40 in the fifth set where he touched the net after seemingly putting away an overhead for a winner.

“My argument was that the ball was already out of the court when I touched the net.”

Road to Roland Garros with David Ferrer: David Ferrer produced a thorough and comprehensive beat down of Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in their semifinal clash Friday. Ferrer’s reward for his victory is a date with Rafael Nadal Sunday in what is his inaugural grand slam final. The Spaniard took a ride to the French Open grounds in this edition of Road to Roland Garros and talked about his on court mentality, who he would be if he was an actor, his adoration of Novak Djokovic’s humor, and who his friends are on the tour.

Maria Sharapova on upcoming final: Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams are just hours away from squaring off in the French Open final. Sports Illustrated has an extensive preview of the match including insight from Sharapova as she attempts to overcome Serena for the first time since 2005.

“I have never really thought about going out on the court and just trying to be consistent, not playing my game and just getting the ball back. That hasn’t ever been my philosophy, because the way that I win matches is by being aggressive, by moving my power, by looking to move forward and playing that aggressive game.”

“Despite all those statistics, despite my unsuccessful record against her, it doesn’t matter because you’re at the French Open final. No matter how good she’s playing, you also have to give yourself a bit of credit for getting to that point and doing a few things right to be at that stage and giving yourself an opportunity.”

Venus Williams says Serena Williams is greatest she’s ever faced: In a question and answer session with Yes Network, Venus Williams talks about her most influential fashion designer, her favorite New York meal, her favorite city, her most memorable grand slam victory, her favorite career moment and more. Venus also talks about how Serena is undoubtedly the greatest player she has ever faced.

“Clearly Serena. No doubt. I’ve played most of the greats and she is definitely the best” Venus said in response to being asked who the best player she as ever seen or played against.

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