Category Archives: French Open

The Frozen Four at the French Open and Puerta’s Return

Novak Djokovic joins Federer and Nadal at the top of the rankings and Mariano Puerta rejoins the tour after a drug suspension.

The Frozen Four

If any of you college hockey fanatics wandered over here by accident, no, the NCAA hockey championships have not been relocated to Paris (the NCAA hockey final four is called the frozen four). While you’re here though, how about those Anaheim Ducks!!! The NHL Stanley Cup comes to my part of the world – Southern California – for the first time ever. Wooohooo!!!

This is a tennis column and I’m referring to the frozen state, past and future, at the top of the ATP rankings. Roger Federer has been ranked number one since February 2004. Rafael Nadal has been ranked number two since July 2005. Nikolay Davydenko has been bouncing back and forth between number three and four since November of last year.

The frozen three is about to become the frozen four. Novak Djokovic is now the number four. It won’t be long, though, before he’s number three and then we’ll have a frozen three. Davydenko is likely to fall as Wimbledon and the U.S. Open come along because other players such as Andy Roddick will overtake him on fast courts.

Djokovic played Igor Andreev for a spot in the semifinals today. In the first game we saw why Djokovic should stay at number three for a while. Djokovic hit a sharp angled shot and Andreev ran wide to get to it. The ball wasn’t that deep but Djokovic was perceptive enough and aggressive enough and quick enough to get to the net and cutoff Andreev’s response for a winner.

I’ve not been all that thrilled to see Djokovic rise through the ranks. I was looking forward to seeing more of Andy Murray and Marcos Baghdatis. I like Murray’s intelligence and toolbox game – whatever shot he needs, he reaches into his repertoire and pulls it out. And I like Baghdatis because he’s magnetic, bigger than life, joyful, and plays to the occasion and we could have used that here because the tennis was boring. It was a day of straight set matches. Nadal wore down his best pal Carlos Moya, 6-4, 6-3, 6-0, and Djokovic beat Andreev with an even more boring score: 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.

As hard as Andreev hit his forehand, Djokovic stayed with him shot for shot until he got Andreev on the run and came to the net. It’s exactly what we’ve been asking for, another true all-court player. Djokovic is a smart guy, he has Mark Woodforde in his players’ box. Woodforde has 12 grand slam doubles titles to his name. Djokovic probably watched Roger Federer import Tony Roche to improve his volleying and decided to do the same thing himself. Hard hitter, all-court player, smart guy: he’s the whole package.

Okay, how long do you think this frozen three will last? Two years, three years, four years? Any guesses?

Another Argentinean Returns to/from the Court

I just noticed that Mariano Puerta has a wild card entry into a clay court challenger in Sassuolo, Italy. This is interesting for a few reasons.

It’s Puerta’s first tournament back after a two year suspension for using the banned stimulant etilefrine. He was initially hit with a career ending eight year suspension because it was his second positive test for a banned substance. He appealed the suspension and got it reduced because he inadvertently used a glass that contained a liquid form of etilefrine that his wife used to treat pre-menstrual symptoms.

That was his explanation anyway. He and his wife just happened to remember exactly what table they were sitting at and who was sitting where and how the contaminated glass came into contact with Puerta’s mouth. Is that the truth or was it a good story? How could you prove it either way?

Not easy to prove and here is where the process of handing down a drug suspension for an athlete is different than determining guilt in a court of law. To be found guilty in a court of law, the court has to prove criminal intent. If a person possessed illegal drugs but didn’t know they were illegal, they would not be guilty.

For an athlete, though, they are responsible for any drug they take, inadvertent or not. Fellow Argentinean Guilermo Canas completed a 15 month suspension for a banned substance last year. In Canas’ case he didn’t read the label on the prescription he allegedly got from a tournament doctor, and he didn’t enter it onto the drug control sheet, so he gets a suspension.

Athletes complain that this makes the anti-drug agencies quasi-legal but I think it’s the correct approach. The players are held responsible for whatever goes into their body. They’re given a wallet size card with a list of all banned substances and there’s a drug control officer at every tournament to help them.

As for the quasi-legal argument, Canas appealed his suspension to the Swiss Federal Tribunal – Switzerland’s supreme court – to try to get his suspension voided. On more than one occasion, the Tribunal has affirmed an anti-drug agency’s jurisdiction in these matters.

The second interesting part of this story is Puerta’s wild card. The ATP players asked the tour to stop giving wild cards to players returning from drug suspensions. Some players are unhappy that Canas has pushed his way up the ranking so quickly after serving his suspension. Canas started his journey back with four wild cards into challenger events.

I’m with the “he’s already done his time” crowd on this one. Once you’ve served your suspension, you should have the same privileges as anyone else on the tour. If a tournament director wants to give a returning player a wild card, so be it. No need for more punishment.

See also:
B**tch and Singe Dept: Henin Tops Williams at the French
How Far Will Maria Sharapova Go?
B**tch And Sing Dept: At the French Open
Suicide Pools and Richard Gasquet
B**tch and Sing Dept: Springtime in Paris
Serena, Roger and Posh Spice
Familiar Final at the French Open (French Open preview)

B**tch and Sing Dept: Henin Tops Williams at the French

Big hype but no surge today

Justine Henin beat Serena Williams today in rather straight-forward fashion in two sets, 6-4, 6-3, denying fans what looked initially like a barnburner of a quarterfinal match. This match showed us exactly where the two players are this weak in their respective games.

Williams got here by the seat of her pants, working her way through lesser players by dint of her greater physical strength and her competitive zeal. Henin, by contrast, showed off her variety and her consistency, the two elements that have helped her dominate here at Roland Garros. She was dialed in from the beginning, she held her ground steadily and did not allow Serena a way back into the match.

Basically what cost Serena was that she hasn’t played that much high-quality tennis. And when she meets a quality player like Henin, the gaps in her preparation start to show. It was not a flattering match for Serena. While she can play her way into things with most of the other players, she couldn’t do that against Henin. There would be no repeat of their meeting in Miami when Henin blitzed Serena 6-0 in the first set only to see Williams come back and win the match in three.

Serena started slow, gave up the early break, then embarked on a game plan that took her away from her normal aggressive style. It’s one thing to learn how to be patient when playing on clay. It’s another thing when you try to convert your game in midstream to that of a clay court player. Serena took a detour, in other words, from her offensive style. She tried to rally with Henin too much, attempting a lot of slice off her backhand side, and the errors started creeping in. Fortunately her serving game looked pretty good. A lot of first serves landed in but Henin had all the defensive answers she needed.

We kept waiting for Serena to make a move, but the surge never came. Surely Serena would get it going in the second. They traded breaks, then Justine got her fourth of the day and it was enough. Serena needed more fitness and more match play. The top women are too competitive now for her to coast along. Hopefully we will see better from her at Wimbledon, although personally I think that could be Venus’s tournament. Today the clay was not at all to Serena’s liking.

“I didn’t do anything I was supposed to like move up and the other things I was supposed to do,” said Serena after the match. “I stood back and let her take advantage of me.” She spoke of how she felt violated, but it was more at her own hands.


A few other people played today too, and one of them, Maria Sharapova, may actually stand a chance of winning her first ever clay final. Her bruising match with Schnyder sent Sharapova a definite wake-up call, and today she upped her game big time. Serving problems, what serving problems? Her forehand pushed her countrywoman Ana Chakvetadze every which way. The final score was 6-3, 6-4.


Maria is a monster competitor, maybe the best in the women’s game. She’ll need all her stuffing to cope with the other Anna still alive here, Anna Ivanovic. She beat up on Svetlana Kuznetsova in three sets, surrendering the second set before blitzing the Russian in the third, 6-0, 3-6, 6-1. A Sharapova-Ivanovic semifinal would be an interesting pairing of similar styles. Both hit big forehands, Maria’s travels quicker through the court but Ana hits a heavier ball. Ana’s serve is a little bigger and heavier too, and more consistent. But if Sharapova can continue to improve her serving, she could out compete the Serb.


Jelena Jankovic, variously known as Jelly or the Alien (and both are meant affectionately, by the way), had relatively little trouble with the big blond bomber, Nicole Vaidisova. This match was won/lost on their respective styles of play too. Jankovic was far steadier, played well within herself, and retrieved nearly everything hurled at her. Vaidisova wanted to cream every ball every which way. She takes her serving very very seriously and can even kick a big serve out wide that few women on tour can match. She can open up angles and go for shots. That’s the problem though, she doesn’t know how or when to rein herself in. God help the women on tour if she ever figures out a way to harness that power.

Jankovic now faces Henin in the semis. They’ve had interesting matches before but Henin has held sway. She holds a 5-0 record. Jelena will have to serve well, especially on her surprisingly timid second serve, or Henin will be feasting on her all day. If she can play without fear and keep her mind under control too, Jankovic has got a shot.

And now, Les Girls:

Henin in three over Jankovic (I want Jelena, but she may not be quite ready yet for a first slam win)

Sharapova in two over Ivanovic (While I would love to see a first-time all-Serbian final, I think Maria is sinking her teeth into life now, and Ivanovic is going to be her next victim).

The Final:

Sorry to say, I can’t stand these two women. Pardon me while I hold my nose and grit my teeth for a Henin win. Given my druthers I want the Serbian girls. Oh well. Their day is coming.

See also:
How Far Will Maria Sharapova Go?
B**tch And Sing Dept: At the French Open
Suicide Pools and Richard Gasquet
B**tch and Sing Dept: Springtime in Paris
Serena, Roger and Posh Spice
Familiar Final at the French Open (French Open preview)

Tennis and Buddhism With a Double Helix Thrown In

Not much happening at the French Open today. Novak Djokovic, Carlos Moya, Rafael Nadal and Igor Andreev all won their matches to complete the men’s quarterfinals while the women had the day off. I have to get back to my life for one day. Pay some bills and get an MRI for my aching back.

Pat Davis will take up again tomorrow and I’m sure she’ll cover the Serena WilliamsJustine Henin match. Meanwhile, let me leave you with two interesting ideas.

From the “I Wish I’d Written That” Department

My first love was Tai Chi but I had to stop practicing it because my knees hurt. Every martial art has healing, fighting, and spiritual parts to it and I view current sports as very young versions of the ancient martial arts. However, I find myself waving my hands in the air and stuttering when I try to explain the spiritual side to tennis. Next time I’ll just say this:

It is difficult to describe the serenity one attains from striking a tennis ball with authority. Gravity, geometry, and all the forces of nature collaborate, and the fuzzy yellow orb spins as it should. Intent becomes action, and action becomes reality. That is the high. For some, tennis is a hobby; for others, it is a compulsion. For the most stricken, like me, it is a religion that, like Buddhism, allows devotees to transcend time and space and glean insight into the true nature of existence. — Andrew Clark in Walrus Magazine, as reported by Inside Tennis

From a Double Helix to a DVD in One Lifetime

This has nothing to do with the tennis but everything to do with the speed of life these days and I consider it my duty to bring this to your attention.

Last Thursday, James Watson, the scientist who helped discover the structure of DNA in 1953, received two DVDs containing his entire genome. Think about that: before 1953 we had no idea what DNA looked like. Fifty-four years later, we can clone a horse and hand someone their complete genome on two small storage devices.

In 1953 they didn’t have much in the way of computers. In 1970 a computer took up an entire room. Today the whole damn genome fits on two DVDs and our cellphones are computers. The world is moving way too fast for me. Evidently it’s moving too fast for Watson too. He doesn’t want to know if he has the gene which could give him Alzheimer’s disease so that information was left off his DVDs.

How Far Will Maria Sharapova Go?

Sharapova and Schnyder serve up the first controversy at the heretofore sleepy French Open.

By the end of her match between with Patty Schynder on Sunday, the crowd was raining boos down on Maria Sharapova. They were unhappy about an incident that was the exact opposite of Justine Henin’s hand-raising adventure with Serena Williams in 2003.

In that situation, Henin raised her hand to call time out as Serena was serving. Serena served a double fault and Henin refused to admit that had she raised her hand. Here, the score was 7-7 in the third set – no third set tiebreakers here, remember – and someone in the crowd yelled as Sharapova served. Schnyder raised her hand to call time out, the serve dropped in for an ace, and the chair umpire let the ace stand. Why? Schnyder didn’t raise her hand until the ball had crossed the net and that’s a bit late to be calling time out.

I don’t remember the incident in 2003 but I’m guessing the crowd supported Henin. She’s not only Belgian but her opponent was an American. Here, the crowd supported the Swiss Schnyder, and not U.S. resident Sharapova.

That’s not Sharapova’s fault and you can’t blame Sharapova for the chair umpire’s call but you could complain about her next act. Schnyder was serving to stay in the match at 7-8 and was up 40-15 when Sharapova walked over to her seat to get a new racket even though she didn’t have a broken string. It was an act of pure gamesmanship. She got a warning from the chair umpire for delaying the game but it was worth it. Schnyder didn’t win another point and Sharapova broke to win the match, 3-6, 6-4, 9-7.

There is no gutsier player on the WTA tour than Maria Sharapova. She’d fought off two match points in the third set. She’d beaten a clay court player despite an ailing shoulder for which she’s taken a cortisone shot. She’d made it to the quarterfinals despite missing all of the clay court season except for a Tier III event in Istanbul last week.

Yet the same naked ambition that got Sharapova through the turmoil turns people off. We used to tune in for John McEnroe yelling at chair umpires and Jimmy Connors rubbing out opposing players’ ball marks. Today, though, we like our champions to be polite and civil. They can have ambition but it can’t be naked. Today, if you raise your hand to call a timeout then later deny it, we’ll hold it against you. If you’re opponent has suffered from a controversial decision and needs only one more point to stay in the match, you don’t mess with their serve.

Last week, baseball player Alex Rodriguez yelled “Mine!” at an opposing infielder who was trying to field a pop fly. The poor guy backed away from the ball and it dropped in for a hit. Rodriguez was lambasted by the media and even his own manager for going too far.

Sharapova is the commercial star of the WTA but she won’t get the respect she deserves for her game until we like her a bit more.

Pollster: here’s the new poll (go to the sidebar to cast your vote)

Sharapova is into the quarterfinals and will play Ana Chakvetadze next and either Svetlana Kuznetsova or Ana Ivanovic if she makes it to the semifinals. Sharapova beat Chakvetadze here two years ago and has never played Kuznetsova or Ivanovic on clay. So here’s the question:

Sharapova got to the quarterfinals with a bum shoulder and a lot of guts, what are her chances of getting to the final? 25%? 50%? 75%? 100%?

Did you know, by the way, that Ivanovic outweighs Sharapova by 60lbs. No wonder Ivanovic reminds me of Jennifer Capriati. Kuznetsova outweighs Sharapova by 61lbs. Wow, that is two solidly built women.

See also:
B**tch And Sing Dept: At the French Open
Suicide Pools and Richard Gasquet
B**tch and Sing Dept: Springtime in Paris
Serena, Roger and Posh Spice
Familiar Final at the French Open (French Open preview)

B**itch and Sing Dept: At The French Open

A flood of TV coverage, but is it really great tennis?

We’re turning the corner on Saturday at the French Open, and all the ducks are being lined up in readiness for the Round of 16 on Monday. The networks are working overtime to bring this massive event to us, and today NBC got into the mix. Snoresville. I think I know the reason why tennis may be faltering in America.

Here’s how it works. NBC got what they probably thought were the two marquee matches of the day, Sharapova and Nadal. But they were playing nobodies, so the matches got extremely boring very quickly. Assume you are a would-be fan looking at the game afresh. You’ve heard tons about both these players but after a few games you’ve seen all there is to see about Sharapova. She is not the most attractive woman by any means in this field, you discover, her ankles are a bit thick, her body seems unformed still, she’s still getting pimples like a schoolgirl. And those shrieks. Oi! Enough already. Besides, she is just blitzing her opponent. Somebody from somewhere.

It was so bad even NBC couldn’t stand the torture: they picked the match up at the start of the second after Sharapova blitzed the poor girl 6-1 in the first. And this Nadal guy. He’s pretty big on the vocals too, and that hand to the backside is a regular enough shot, just like the guy’s forehand. A little bit goes a long way, our new fan may be thinking. We may have the personalities, but where in blazes is the tennis?

Personality only takes you so far. You need the beef. That’s the missing part. And that is why I kept turning away from NBC and going back to my earlier taping from The Television Chanel (TTC) portion of the morning schedule. TTC was showing a few interesting matches. With REAL tennis going on. But of course the personalities are unknown.

Would anyone bet that NBC might cut away from this chronic boredom to the lesser names who are playing REAL tennis? Not a chance in hell. And that’s a shame because their picture comes out best on my TV but I still don’t care about watching it. What was unfortunate in the top of the hour changeover from TTC to NBC was that we were left near the end of a fabulous-looking match, Djokovic and Patience.

They had just concluded the fourth set tiebreaker, and now we were headed into the fifth. Would NBC like to finish it for us? Ha, what land are you from, pray tell? Djoko got lost in the sauce somewhere. Surely TTC might show us the conclusion later in the day but you never know. Tennis should involve personalities but it still has to show some good tennis. The early rounds seldom produce both at the same time. We need the semis or the final for that. How do we communicate this effectively to the networks involved? If anyone has ideas, please step up to the plate(!)

We don’t know the outcome of Djokovic and Patience, but we do know that Amelie Mauresmo bit the dust again before the home crowd. Lucie Safarova brought her big game today and Mauresmo faltered again in the nerve department, after getting up 3-0 in both sets. 6-3, 7-6(3) was the final score.

We’ve been singing Lucie’s praises since her breakthrough in Paris at the Gaz Open. She went on to dust Mauresmo at the Australian Open so I picked her to get by Mauresmo again. Lucie has a great game, in some ways it’s like watching Tomas Berdych play but without the angst and indecision-making that he goes through.

The two are dating and they bear an uncanny resemblance in their style of play. Lucie hit long, smooth, deep shots that move fast through the court pinning Amelie well behind the baseline. She served big today and made lots and lots of trips into the net. She plays with no fear and plenty of aggression. We could have hoped some of this would rub off on Mauresmo, this is exactly the style she needed to play. But her serving let her down in the third set, her forehand went astray and the nerves pretty much took over.

“I have been struggling for weeks now,” said Mauresmo. “And coming here I didn’t really know what to expect. I didn’t really have a goal in mind – I was taking it match by match. It showed today that when you’re not prepared the way you should be, it makes it very difficult.”

The crowd seemed nearly prepared for the loss this time, they must be resigned. Amelie may be living in Switzerland now (like a number of the French players actually) but she clearly still feels the heat in her native land.

The other night I speculated on the draw and noticed how a storybook tale could be shaping up for Roger Federer: what if he goes out and dusts off Filippo (“The Laundry”) Volandri in the quarters, then Canas in the semifinals, and Nadal in the final? It’s possible, and after Volandri beat up Ljubicic in five sets, Volandri could meet up with Federer.

If ever a man had a clear shot at becoming the Luke Skywalker in this moment, it’s the Number One player. It would be great for tennis and it would be great for Roger. He should have to wade through the deadliest pack of guys out there, the ones who have caused him angst before. Are you salivating at the prospect, Roger? Does it keep you up nights? After all, if he is going to win the French for the first time, he should really really win it in style and crush all his enemies.

See Also:
Lucie Leaps in: The Gaz Open