Category Archives: French Open

Justine Henin Becomes Warmer and Fuzzier

Since the separation from her husband, Justine Henin has reached out to her estranged family and reassessed her reasons for playing tennis.

It’s weird I know but a few days ago I laid in bed wondering if Martina Hingis is disappointed that her fiancée, Radek Stepanek, is tumbling down the rankings. I remember someone asking Chris Evert early in her career if she would date a low ranked player. “Let’s not get ridiculous,” she said. Chris ended up marrying John Lloyd who did tumble down the rankings and would have been happy devoting himself to supporting Chris’ career. If I remember correctly, Lloyd didn’t even drive a car. That in itself may have been too much. The couple divorced.

Being married and being on the tour is tough enough. Consider the role of Justine Henin’s ex-husband to be, Pierre-Yves Hardenne. He usually appeared sitting next to Henin’s coach and father figure, Carlos Rodriguez. Maybe it’s because the camera found him often or maybe it’s because Henin is not exactly Anna Kournikova and yet here she was flying around the world with a model-handsome young man on her arm, but Hardenne came across as a boy-toy tagging along in Henin’s small entourage.

Being a tagalong must be a difficult job, especially for a companion of the notoriously closed off Henin. The one time I sat in the players’ lounge at a tournament, I saw exactly one player come up to Henin’s table and talk to her. Meanwhile players all over the room were interacting with each other.

Rodriguez has been protective of Henin to a fault. He made public statements criticizing the behavior of the Belgian Tennis Federation when Henin couldn’t play Fed Cup last year. He also said that fellow Belgian player Kim Clijsters and her father Leo accused Henin of doping.

All of this makes life more difficult for Henin who already gets criticized for being self-absorbed and aloof. If Kim had been in that players’ restaurant, her table would have been the epicenter of action. She is the warm bunny to Henin’s cold shoulder.

That will now change for two reasons. Clijsters has retired and Henin is becoming warmer and fuzzier.

Earlier this year Henin separated from her husband and she was so upset about it that she skipped the Australian Open. The combination of going through a separation and the possibility of having to answer more questions about her ill-fated final at last year’s Australian Open was too much. She had made herself persona non grata in the tennis world by retiring due to an upset stomach in her final with Amelie Mauresmo rather than playing the match out and giving Mauresmo her moment of glory.

Emotionally stressful situations can set off large transitions in life. Henin’s first transition was living through her mother’s death at age twelve. Her response to that was to distance herself from her father Jose. Her second transition was the separation from her husband and that has led her back to her father and three siblings.

Here is her public statement:

The important thing for me in tennis now is to share the very special emotional moments with the people that work with me and care for me. I can offer these people a part in these moments that are pretty unique. It is this which now drives me to win.

There’s that self-absorption again. She’ll be able to offer her family a part in the unique experience that is her life. It sounds like an ad for a vacation condo: “We can offer you a unique experience full of memorable moments….”

Still, it’s a change and change comes in bits and pieces. Maybe she married early to find a substitute for her family. Maybe she’ll find that there were valid reasons why she distanced herself from her father. Ultimately we learn that marriage can’t give us what we didn’t get from our childhood and our family is what it is and that will have to do.

I personally cannot imagine what it would be like to figure your life out as a public figure. Henin is now the face of tennis in Belgium and the scrutiny will be even worse. She’ll probably go through more transitions and with each one she’ll gain a greater sense of herself.

Today is her 25th birthday. Happy birthday Justine, I’m looking forward to seeing the new you.

Suicide Pools and Richard Gasquet

I got kicked out of the suicide pool and Richard Gasquet gave up.

After spending my entire vacation figuring out how to display tennis draws in blog posts and learning enough XML and XSL to download tennis statistics from various websites so I could pick winners for the ATP fantasy game, I returned home only to find out that our blogging software no longer allows me to use formatting commands and, alas, there is no ATP fantasy game this year. The ATP really dropped ball on that one, by the way. Last year 14,000 tennis fans from all over the world played fantasy tennis.

To satisfy my nerdy, statistical side, I resorted to playing the Roland Garros suicide pool at Talk About Tennis. Each day of the French Open, I’ve picked one player in the men’s and/or women’s draw to win a match. The catch is that I could only use each player once. I would have been silly to pick Rafael Nadal to win his first round match because then I couldn’t pick him to win the final.

I picked Simone Bolelli in the first round and Philipp Kohlschreiber in the second and squeaked through after Kohlschreiber won 17-15 in the third set. No third set tiebreakers in Paris! Then I picked Nicolas Almagro and that was my downfall, I was out of the pool.

Almagro lost his second round match to Michael Llodra who is 2-2 on clay this year and sometimes drops down to the challengers. Richard Gasquet also lost in the second round and Tomas Berdych was worst of all, he lost in the first round.

What’s wrong with the youngsters, can’t they take the heat?

Gasquet’s performance was the most disappointing because he gave up. In the first set tiebreaker against Kristof Vliegen, he hit two approach shots right at Vliegen. Was he being cocky or suicidal – no pun intended. After he got down two sets to none, his coach Eric Deblicker telegraphed instructions from the stands to start slicing the ball instead of using so much topspin, but Gasquet wouldn’t even do that. Gasquet kept doing the same thing even though it wasn’t working then he refused his coach’s illegal instructions to do something different. That is the ultimate in not trying.

After the match Gasquet was as disappointed in himself as we were:

I’m in a state of shock. I melted down little by little. When I lost the first set, it completely threw me off. I wanted to play well at all costs to make everyone happy, and I couldn’t even make myself happy. I’ve never felt as alone on the court as I did today. It was horrible.

If Gasquet was smashing rackets and dropping f-bombs here and there, I’d say it was just a matter of time before he learned to channel his emotions into his play. I’ve seen early footage of Roger Federer throwing his racket across the court in disgust. Andy Murray rained f-bombs onto the court when he injured his wrist earlier this month. We know those two guys care. Do we know if Gasquet cares? Is tanking a different response to the same overwhelming desire to win?

Players like Gasquet and James Blake lapse into self abuse when they’re disappointed. Instead of assaulting the racket or their coach, they assault themselves by giving up. It shows a lack of self-esteem and building self-worth in a player is a much harder job than teaching an out of control player how to channel their emotions. Add to that the need to please that is part of low self-esteem – read Gasquet’s comments above one more time – and you have a vicious circle.

Blake deals with this by having the same coach he’s had since he started playing tennis. Brian Barker is an eternally positive guy who Blake trusts so much that he stood by Barker when others suggested that he needed a coach with more professional experience.

Blake also suffered through the double crisis of losing his father to cancer and breaking his neck, literally. He came out of both crises with a stronger sense of himself. I hate to think that Gasquet has to suffer through such difficulties just to change his tennis game, but since he’s unlikely to join the Marines any time soon and get his personality torn down and rebuilt, maybe a crisis or two could help.

What would you do if you were managing Gasquet?

See also:
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: Springtime In Paris

No fun for Americans

We know it’s springtime in Paris, lots of American bodies are piling up on the red clay and it’s only Day 3. Gulp! Guess I had better be careful what I wish for next time. Around Monte Carlo, in a moment of realous gage, I seem to recall castigating the Americans for not showing up for the European clay season. A just punishment would be for all of them to lose their opening matches at Roland Garros, I wrote. Well, lo and behold, they have obliged us only too well.

This morning Andy Roddick led the way in losing to Igor Andreev in four sets, with James Blake following him in a four-set loss to big-serving Ivo Karlovic. The other Americans were not far behind: newcomer Sam Querry lost in five sets, Michael Russell lost in three, Amer Delic in four. Justin Gimelstob and Vince Spadea left the grounds also. The vote is still out on Ginepri: he is one set apiece against Diego Hartfield. Thank God for the Williams sisters, they’ll carry the banner now that the guys are nearly all dead.

We were backed up with rain delays the opening two days, with the net result being that 82 matches had to be played today, Tuesday. Yes, 82 matches. I went through the draw counting them, I could not believe there were so many.

Other upsets occurred today as well. Fernando Gonzalez had a tough opener against Radek Stepanek, but we would have expected Gonzo to find his way. He did not, and the Number 5 seed went out rather meekly in three sets. We looked forward to Del Potro maybe pushing Nadal a little, but only in the first set, which Nadal won 7-5 before closing it out in three. Hewitt continues to look good on clay, taking out Max Mirnyi in three sets. Baghdatis looked sharp in his three-set win over Grosjean, but another Frenchman, Richard Gasquet, got through another countryman in straight sets. The tall guy (Monfils) and the midget (Rochus, O.) put on a good five-set show before Monfils pulled it out.

On the women’s side, Nadia Petrova lost to the veteran doubles player Kveta Peschke. What has happened lately to Petrova? Ranked as high as Number 3 last spring, she has now dropped out of the Top Ten. Her back problem is still with her and her confidence seems shot. Jelena Jankovic and Nicole Vaidisova got through their first rounds easily, following Justine Henin and the Williams sisters yesterday. I want to feel some hope for them but it is too early to tell yet. Venus could likely run into Jankovic in the third round and in that case I would have to go with the Serb. She is exuding loads of confidence and might even be able to beat Henin if they see each other in the final, which could be likely.

But what about Roddick and Blake? When the draw came out I had a sinking feeling for Andy’s chances. Igor Andreev is not a guy Roddick would want to meet in the first round, especially on clay. The Russian Andreev can play well on this surface and he has beaten Roddick before on a hard surface at Indian Wells last year. Things looked good early for Roddick. He fought off three break points in Game 2 then another one in Game 5. With the confidence seemingly on his side, Roddick got the break himself for 5-3 then served the set out with an ace on set point. He got the early break in the second then had a chance to serve for a 5-3 lead. The wheels came off at this point: At 15-15 Igor whipped another massive forehand up the line for 15-30. Then, showing some nice touch, the Russian drew Roddick into net with a nifty dipping backhand slice then put away the forehand volley. Roddick made it 30-40 with a great second serve winner but the forehand of Andreev’s was really cranking now: the Russian unleashed another winner up the line and the score was now 4-4.

Andreev can be a cranky, volatile guy on court when things don’t go his way. He also gets really tight sometimes in the key moments. But his nerves held up today and the more he relaxed, the more he started making Roddick play his game. Andreev held serve at love for a 5-4 lead finishing with an ace of his own. Now it was Roddick’s turn to stay even. He dropped the first point then saw yet another Andreev forehand motor up yet another line and it was 0-30. Then Roddick dumped a silly backhand into the net. Just for variety he launched his own forehand way long and Andreev had the second set. That pretty much broke Roddick’s back and the Russian went on to win it in four sets.

As I watched the match, it seemed that Roddick’s serve was coming back an awful lot off Andreev’s racquet. The guy only had to block it back to get himself into the point. When Roddick served the kicker out wide he had better luck. Too many players seem able to read his serve too much of the time now. His return game still needs improvement too. Roddick could show a lot more aggression on his returns and get them deeper than he is. But the main trouble is still the attitude: Roddick perpetually gets into situations where he needs to play well on a few key points and he can’t deliver the goods. Does his concentration disappear? All it takes is a moment or two and the match is over and gone. Mentally he just can’t keep it together for the short length of time it takes to win those big points.

A disappointing day for Roddick and for Coach Connors, who was in attendance today and not looking very happy. As for James Blake, there were no answers when Ivo Karlovic starts serving well and steadily. Blake couldn’t move the big guy around enough to maneuver his own way into points. If anyone is dying to see the end of clay, it must be James. He tried to play his way into a fifth set but couldn’t do it. Hey, at least he wasn’t confronted with the prospect of trying to win another five-setter. James is 0-9 in those.

Welcome to the red clay, everyone!

See also:
Serena, Roger and Posh Spice
Familiar Final at the French Open (French Open preview)

Serena, Roger and Posh Spice

While looking around for a few good metrosexuals, I explain why I don’t think Serena and Roger will win the French Open

Serena Mucks Around in the Clay

When Serena Williams and Tsvetana Pironkova left the court in the pouring rain today at the French Open, Pironkova was ready to serve for the first set. Serena had stumbled around the court and gone down 5-2 before fighting back to 5-5 only to lose her serve one more time.

Six and a half hours later, Pironkova served out the first set and broke Serena to start the second set. Finally, Serena calmed down and warmed up then took the next nine games losing only one more game in the 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 victory. Despite a groin injury and a wet, heavy court, she’d kept her unbeaten streak in first round matches at grand slams.

I’m now going to take my life in my hands and predict that Serena will not win the title here. It’s a foolhardy prediction because Serena could meet Justine Henin in the quarterfinals and that would be their first meeting at the French Open since Justine made Serena mighty angry.

It was the semifinals in 2003 and Serena was serving when Justine held up her hand as if to call time out. Serena continued her serve – a double fault – and Justine proceeded to deny that she had raised her hand. That should provide more than enough motivation to unleash Serena’s unparalleled fierceness on the tennis court.

Serena probably doesn’t need such motivation, this is a slam after all, but she’s still rehabbing from a groin injury and clay is her worst surface. Paris is damp and wet and that makes for a heavy ball. I could be wrong, Serena beat Justine in the Miami final this year, but this is clay and Justine is the steeliest competitor our there next to Serena and she’s injury free at the moment and that could be the difference.

A Few Good Metrosexuals

I watched Serena at an altitude of 37,000 feet on a Jet Blue airplane courtesy of ESPN2. I was lucky because ESPN sold most of its French Open coverage to The Tennis Channel since it was tired of losing money. ESPN2 reaches about 75 million households in the U.S. while The Tennis Channel reaches about ten million households. That means most of the French Open will now reach 65 million fewer households. On a similar note, CBS recently renewed its contract for the U.S. Open but reduced the contract from $30 million to $24 million per year.

These are both signs that tennis is sinking in the U.S. and I have a suggestion: hire Victoria Beckham (the former Posh Spice) to market ATP and WTA stars in the U.S. David Beckham is the epitome of the global marketing brand and credit for that goes largely to his wife Victoria.

Victoria has Beckham planted in window displays and fashion magazines everywhere. His upswerved hairdo and one day beard have become the reigning style for fashionable young males. He’s also comfortable being a gay icon – in other words, he’s one of our leading metrosexuals. This softer image also appeals to women.

Hire Victoria and put her to work creating crossover stars out of Roger Federer and Anna Chakvetadze and raising the Q ratings of upcoming U.S. players such as Sam Querrey.

One thing Victoria can do is study NASCAR’s marketing model: every week NASCAR makes its drivers available to sports radio shows. I’ve never, ever heard Federer or Maria Sharapova or Andy Roddick interviewed on the radio and I’m warped – I listen to sports radio all day long.

You got a better idea? If so, bring it on.

Federer’s 96mph Forehand

Since there was so much rain in Paris today, ESPN2 showed the third and fourth set of last year’s Federer-Nadal final. At one point Federer hit a 96mph forehand. Wow, that is scorching. Federer was all aggression.

But Nadal was all consistency. He had only two unforced errors in the second set and four unforced errors in the third. And that is the problem with a five set final. Federer has to be very aggressive to beat Nadal and that’s hard to do without making a lot of errors.

If Federer and Nadal both play the matches of their lives, it will come down to one or two points in a tiebreaker. The last time that happened, they played a five hour final in Rome and Nadal toughed out the tiebreaker to win it.

If Federer can take the first two sets he has a chance. If not, Nadal’s consistency and mental toughness will defeat Federer’s aggressiveness.

See Also:
Opportunity Missed (last year’s French Open final)
Federer-Nadal VI (last year’s Rome final)

Familiar Final at the French Open

Federer should meet Nadal in the French Open final, again, and that’s too bad. Where is the rest of the competition?

Rear View Mirror: a look at last week’s picks

In Poertschach I correctly picked Juan Monaco to beat Nikolay Davydenko. I picked Lleyton Hewitt to win it and he came close, he lost to Gael Monfils in the semifinals. Monfils was the story of the tournament. This was his first tournament since working with coach Tarik Benhabiles and he got all the way to the final before losing to Juan Monaco. Monfils is signed with IMG management through next February but it’ll be interesting to see if he signs with Renaissance Tennis Management in the future. Renaissance is building a team of profession players based in South Florida with Benhabiles as the head coach.

Federer’s Half of the Draw

There really isn’t anyone who can scare Federer in his quarter of the draw. He should meet Robredo in the quarterfinals and he has a 7-0 record over him.

The bottom quarter looks like the quarter from hell. Look at the probable third round matchups: Nikolay Davydenko versus Nicolas Almagro, Richard Gasquet versus Guillermo Canas, and Juan Monaco versus Fernando Gonzalez. You try and pick those matches! David Nalbandian is the player I’ve left out because he’s 3-4 on clay this year and hasn’t played since Barcelona though I couldn’t find any report of injuries. Has he lost interest?

Canas is the hardest guy in this draw to pick. He beat Gasquet in Miami and got to the Barcelona final but hasn’t gone beyond the second round since and this week he got some bad news. Canas served a 15 month suspension for using a performance enhancing drug. He considers the suspension unfair because he maintains that an ATP-approved doctor prescribed the drug. He took the case all the way to Switzerland’s supreme court which sent it back to the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS). This week the CAS reaffirmed its original decision. Canas must be discouraged because he expected the CAS to overturn his suspension. It’s too bad, I would have loved to see him meet Federer in the semifinals but I think he’ll be upset and go out to Gasquet.

Gonzalez hasn’t beaten anyone important on clay this year but neither has Gasquet and this is Paris, the downfall of many a French player, so I have Gonzalez beating Gasquet and meeting Almagro in the quarterfinals. I think Almagro is ready to break out so I have him over Davydenko and Gonzalez. He got an important win over Tommy Robredo in Hamburg – you could see him getting mentally stronger as the match wore on – and he won both his matches in Dusseldorf.

Nadal’s Half of the Draw

This half of the draw is nowhere near as interesting. Paul-Henri Mathieu will be the player to break Parisian hearts this year – I have him into the quarterfinals – but he’s no match for Novak Djokovic and neither is Juan-Carlos Ferrero.

Rafael Nadal should meet Robin Soderling in the third round but it shouldn’t matter and he should meet Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals. Berdych beats Nadal on hard court but Nadal beats Berdych on clay.

That brings us to Djokovic and Nadal in the semifinal. Nadal played one too many tournaments this spring: Hamburg. He protested long and loudly about ATP CEO Etienne de Villiers’ plan to downgrade Hamburg from Masters status and eliminate one of the clay court Masters events so he couldn’t very well skip Hamburg. It cost him the match against Federer because he ran out of gas and it could cost him this title but he won’t lose to Djokovic. Djokovic doesn’t have the game to push him on clay yet.

Tennis looks increasingly like the U.S. political system: a two party system of Democrats and Republicans with little chance of a third party getting any votes whatsoever. I’m so over it that I’d I’d prefer to see two different players in the final rather than see Federer win the French Open and go on to win all four slams this year. I don’t think Federer will win here. Nadal is having a dream clay court season and he should get plenty of rest between matches.

If there were a third party who could make it to the final, who do you think it would be?

French Open Draw

Quarterfinalists: Federer, Robredo, Almagro, Gonzalez, Djokovic, Mathieu, Berdych, Nadal
Semifinalists: Federer, Almagro, Djokovic, Nadal
Finalists: Federer, Nadal
Winner: Nadal