The winners have been crowned and tennis is moving on to it’s next season played on a natural surface. Of course there is quite a bit of red clay play after Wimbledon but the powers that be want you to ignore all of that and focus on the US hard court season. The fact that many players opt to stay in Durope and preserve their bodies angers many but it is what it is.
Before leaving Paris lets look back at some of what happened and what it says about the relative state of both tours.
Simona Halep Women’s Champion
via WTA/Roland Garros
There was no guarantee that Ms Halep would reach the final. The last time we saw her play on Chatrier she was losing to a member of the WTA Brat Pack, Aljona Ostapenko.
Her head was down and she cut a forlorn and lonely figure on the huge court. Would that all change in 2018? Would Halep, who had come so close, once again hold on to the top ranking in the WTA but be hounded as “slamless”?
There were no big announcements from her camp. Additions to her tam were done in a low key way without the position of her head coach ever being challenged. Everything was quiet when she entered Paris as far as the public was concerned. If you looked at her yes she was fitter than I’ve ever seen her. Yes there seemed an air of determination in how she carried herself but none of that erased what for me was her worst moment last year.
And yet she won it all. There are some who will argue that the French Open is “quirky”, that many win it who never lift a trophy again. I don’t think that will be the case with Halep. The way she wore her opponent down in the Final (more on that in a bit) was impressive. She couldn’t have played worse than she did in that first set and she was on her way to losing the second set when she saw an opportunity and took it. She didn’t need on court coaching. I’m not naive enough to think there was no coaching going on but head coach Darren Cahill did not have to rush down from the stands to tell her to cut the shit and play. It’s going to be interesting to see how she carries herself at Wimbledon. She doesn’t need the crutch. Maybe she’ll be the first of the new generation to put it aside and use her brain.
There was no Ostapenko across the net this year. Ostapenko had done nothing of note after her big win last year and went out quietly in the first round. Instead United States player Sloane Stephens found herself in the Roland Garros Women’s Final. To her credit she played flawless tennis for a set and two games into the second set. It was then that her lack of fitness caught up with her. Of course she denied it later but anyone who watched the match knows exactly when her legs went away. Right after that she began to suck air for all she was worth but Halep, seeing what her physical condition was, began to run her ragged. To Stephens credit she put up a good fight but she had nothing left.
During the NBC broadcast Mary Carillo went on a riff about how Sloane doesn’t practice hard in order to leave it all for her matches. I’ve seen a Stephens practice live and in person and I laughed to myself hearing her compare Stephens practices to those of Pete Sampras. I thought it was a nice way of saying that Sloane is lazy. Not once did her physical condition get mentioned by any of the US comms. I said last year that the worst thing that could’ve happened to Stephens was winning the US Open as out of shape as she was. What can be done on a hard court can’t be done on a European red clay court. You have to be physically and mentally at the top of your game. The terre battue takes it all out of you and if you haven’t worked until your legs are jelly and your arms are about to fall off, if you haven’t changed your diet so that the portions served at a five star restaurant look like a feast to you you can’t win playing modern tennis at Roland Garros. There was not an ounce of fat to be seen anywhere on Simona Halep’s body. Stephens is lugging around at least ten pounds too many. Comparing her regimen to Sampras’ is not a complement. Sampras wouldn’t stand a chance against today’s top players unless he decided to play the post US Open Asian hard court and European indoor swings when everyone is beat up and resting up for the WTF in London.
I was glad to see Simona win. To be honest I was disappointed to see Stephens in the Final. Then again maybe this will be her wake up call. Kamau Murray has his work cut out for him.
Rafel Nadal Parera Men’s Champion
via ATP/Roland Garros
Dominic Thiem must be wondering what more he could’ve done. He was extraordinarily fit. He’d played almost every week of the clay season preparing himself for the rigors of Roland Garros. He was mentally ready as well. And yet for a large portion of the match he was reduced to standing with his hands on his hips wondering how the hell he’d done everything right and his opponent still won the point. What must’ve gone through his mind when Rafa’s serving hand cramped horribly (nerves) and he barely missed a beat, accepting the time violation and working through his pain until the muscles of his hand relaxed. Instead of being able to maybe steal a set Thiem accepted the runner up trophy with grace.
Don’t let the official picture above fool you. Rafa was a bundle of nerves most of this tournament. For long time Rafa fans Toni not only being there but sitting with his coaches was acknowledgement that Rafa needed that calming influence. US tennis media has often criticized Toni Nadal for being too tough on his nephew saying that he should be allowed to relax and have some fun. The Nadal family ignored that noise and went about their business. When Rafa was coming apart at the seams it was Toni he got to come in and calm the waters.
I’m a jinx so I rarely watch or talk about Rafa’s matches but I’m making an exception in this case because the man I saw playing today is a far cry from the teenager I started watching so many years ago. As he matured so did his game. He is a top player because he’s not wedded to one style of play. Injury led to better care of body, and mind. If he was still playing today the way he played in 2005 something would be wrong. It’s a lesson a lot of players have to learn and why I’m so against young players having success early in their careers. Children become adults and that maturation process should be reflected in how they conduct their lives whether they are pro athletes or not. The maturity, the subtlety, the ability to take the best of your opponent and turn it to your advantage that I saw yesterday was awe inspiring. I felt Thiem’s frustration. Against anyone else he’d have won that match.
The US tennis establishment is still stuck on Sampras and Andre Agassi. We know what secrets were hidden about Agassi so they focus on Sampras because he isn’t perceived to have been “dirty”. If, as Carillo hinted, Sampras was lazy he wouldn’t be doing much in the ATP of today. The fact that he hated the clay created a mind set in US tennis that has still not been overcome.
But that’s a discussion for another day. Rafa wanted to win that match in three sets and despite his opponent’s excellent play he imposed his will on the match and won. He’s been imposing his will for a long time now. It’s how he did it not that he did it that has changed. It is wonderful to see how this boy has become a man.
There is a lot of excitement around fourteen year old Cori Gauff and there should be. She is playing with a maturity not usually seen in a player her age and if she stays healthy and grows her game she could turn out to be the young star the WTA needs. She’s working with the folks at Mouratoglou Academy and it shows. She was comfortable on the clay, can already slide, and most importantly has rudimentary knowledge of how to construct points. She’s also not finished growing yet – she still has her baby face – and it looks as if she will be at least as tall as Venus Williams. She also wants it badly and that’s not a problem. My issue is that she’s fourteen. I want to see what she’s doing when she’s in her adult body at eighteen and again at about twenty two. I sincerely hope that they don’t rush her no matter what she wants.
Speaking of height there is a sub rosa debate going on in men’s tennis about big men. It seems as if there are big men and small men with few in between, especially in the United States. When I saw Denis Shapovalov in person both on and off court at last years US Open I was surprised that he is not that big. According to Wiki he is six feet tall (1.83 meters) but he looks to be at least an inch or two shorter. Chung Hyeon is listed at six feet two inches (1.88 meters) and I think that’s about right having seen him play up close on an outer court at the US Open. Lucas Pouille is listed at six feet one inch (1.85 meters). Alexander Zverev is tall at six feet six inches (1.98 meters). All of these men can move well. They’re not gazelles but they move well enough. There are other big men like Zverev whose movement can best be described as glacial.
I don’t know what the end results will be. The US is looking to push players like Taylor Fritz and Riley Opelka betting that the cycle will turn and serve dominated tennis will come back. Their competition is going to be smaller and faster. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.
As for the WTA up and coming it’s sad but most of them have no on court personality. Add to that the fact that they all play alike and you’ve got a bit of a recipe for disaster marketing wise. When you say the names Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka, Aga Radwanska, a personality type leaps to mind. They play different styles and present themselves differently on and off court. Mention some of the up and comers and I dare you to have an impression other than “blonde” come to mind. Even Simona doesn’t have a riveting on court personality. Sadly those that do are mostly brats. Yes there’s Madison Keys, Garbiñe Muguruza, Caroline Garcia and Sloane Stephens but are they poised to be the superstar mega earners their predecessors are? Time will tell. Arrogance is a personality trait but you can be arrogant as all get out and not be able to sell your sport.
The Complete Winners List
Pierre-Hugues Herbert / Nicolas Mahut
Barbora Krejčíková / Kateřina Siniaková
Latisha Chan / Ivan Dodig
Ondřej Štyler / Naoki Tajima
Caty McNally / Poland Iga Świątek
Legends Under 45 Doubles
Spain Àlex Corretja / Spain Juan Carlos Ferrero
Women’s Legends Doubles
France Nathalie Dechy / France Amélie Mauresmo
Legends Over 45 Doubles
France Mansour Bahrami / France Fabrice Santoro
Wheelchair Men’s Singles
Japan Shingo Kunieda
Wheelchair Women’s Singles
Japan Yui Kamiji
Wheelchair Men’s Doubles
France Stéphane Houdet / France Nicolas Peifer
Wheelchair Women’s Doubles
Netherlands Diede de Groot / Netherlands Aniek van Koot
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