Early Happenings in Paris and Can a Showtime Serve and Volleyer Win in Paris?

Let’s look at what’s happening in Paris and ask whether a second coming of Yannick Noah could win the French Open.

The French Open is getting up to speed kind of like a train groaning and creaking as it builds up enough steam to leave the station. If you were looking for an upset I guess you’d have to go with Maria Sharapova taking out Nadia Petrova in the second round.

I was wondering if Sharapova would ever recover from her shoulder problem, but that worry has now been replaced by the worry that her shoulder will never be the same. Her abbreviated service motion is not uncommon in the tennis world but will her serve ever be as ferocious as it was and, if it isn’t, is her legendary fighting spirit enough to win a few slams even without the ferocious serve?

The answer is: YES. And it’s a yes because women’s tennis now has parity meaning that there’s no Justin Henin anymore and Serena Williams is accumulating injuries and Dinara Safina can probably be outnerved by Maria. Unless Ana Ivanovic can gather her nerves and, like her fellow Serb Novak Djokovic, regain some dominance, then Maria is the fiercest competitor going who can still run, jump, and walk – kind of.

Ivanovic and Djokovic, by the way, are an interesting comparison in regards to the reasons for their post slam swoons. Whereas Djokovic showed bear-sized hubris by changing his racket during the season break and apparently foregoing off-court aerobic training judging by his exhaustion meltdown at the Australian Open, Ivanovic should steal a bit of Djokovic’ hubris because she is showing signs of needing to develop a few jagged edges to her sunny disposition.

When Ivanovic hired Martina Navratilova’s former coach Craig Kardon earlier this year, two things immediately came to my mind: 1. He’ll encourage Ivanovic to attack. 2. He was hired because he has experience with a physically talented player who needs to develop some fortitude – namely Martina. I hope it works so we can see some more of Ana taking on Maria.

Along with an upset we also have some drama and it’s unfortunate that it involves Jelena Dokic. Why is it that misfortune seems to follow people who were dealt a bad hand to begin with? Dokic’s crazy father was arrested in Serbia this month after he threatened to blow up the Australian embassy because his daughter told an Australian magazine that he’d physically abused her. And this is a guy who admits that he beat his daughter.

This afternoon, Dokic had a 6-2, 3-4, lead over Elena Dementieva when she had to retire after injuring her back. She dropped into her seat and it was a heartbreak to watch her sobbing into her towel because she’s been through so much already and now she’d lost a good chance at upsetting the number four player in the draw.

We also had some drama with a slightly happier ending. At least for Roger Federer. It’s hard to know if his win over Rafael Nadal in Madrid was an anomaly or not because the surface there is fast, but Federer absolutely looked like his vintage self after fighting off a Jose Acasuso set point at 2-5 in the third set then winning 12 of the last 15 games to advance to the third round, 7-6, 5-7, 7-6, 6-2.

This grainy video shows Yannick Noah playing the clown in a second round match against Magnus Larsson in the 1991 Hamburg Masters Series event. It’s hard to believe that this was a regular ATP event let alone Masters Series and even harder to believe that he won the match. Embarrassing is the word that comes to mind.

To be fair, Noah was at the end of his career and the guy is an entertainer with a successful singing career so what do you expect. I was looking at Noah videos because I wanted to remind myself that Noah had something in common with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga so I could ask the question: Can a showtime net guy win the French Open in 2009?

The showtime part is important because both Tsonga and Marcos Baghdatis powered their way to Australian Open finals on the strength of play and emotion and can you imagine the scene if Tsonga could make it to a quarterfinal or a semifinal in Paris? Complete bedlam. I pity his opponent.

The question, though, is whether anyone can beat Nadal by attacking the net relentlessly. Federer has refused to do it in Paris because he’s afraid of getting passed and it’s not really serve and volley, it’s more like slam the ball hard and flat and wide enough to get yourself to the net. Tsonga took out Juan Monaco today in a fabulous display of power and athleticism from both of them and it gave me hope that such a strategy could work.

And remember, the court was a lot slower when Noah won his slam. And Tsonga is not afraid – relentless is the only way he knows how to play. The problem is that Tsonga is the best candidate but he’s always either recovering from an injury or just about to be re-injured and it’s no longer a matter of luck. It’s either his structure or his mechanics and neither of those is going to change drastically.

Tsonga is the kind of player who can catch lightening in a bottle and he did play one of the most perfect matches I’ve even seen against Nadal in his Australian Open run, so he can win a slam and he could win the French Open, but not this year, certainly, because he missed most of April with an injury and he’s not tournament fit for a two week schedule of best of five matches.

But I wish I could crank up a video game with a totally healthy, top of his game Tsonga against a top of his game Nadal in Paris and see what happens. How do you think it would go?