Of the City, Not the Girl

Was Roland Garros good for you too? I hope so, but then I’m just happy I survived the two weeks. Covering a Grand Slam often feels to me like covering the circus, and I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense. The critters blow into town and set up the tents, do their thing for two weeks, then move on. The day after I look back and wonder how it all began; it seems like a million years since we got under way.

Overall this year’s French Open had a certain lugubrious quality about it. Like a meal you’ve eaten that doesn’t quite get digested, it kind of sits there causing a vague feeling of heartburn. We started off with a few good surprises and lots of rising expectations, but the further we got the less exciting it became.

Marcos Baghdatis put together a modest run. Filippo Volandri picked up where he left off after Rome and had a big win early over Ivan Ljubicic. In fact Roger Federer could have faced Volandri, then Guillermo Canas and finally Rafael Nadal. This was an early prospect I was salivating over but then other people had other ideas. Fernando Gonzalez got bumped in his opening round by the crafty Radek Stepanek, an upset on paper but not in actuality. Gonzo has been erratic this year and Stepanek is now injury-free and ready to play. Carlos Moya reminded everyone he’s nearly the oldest guy now out there, but he can still kick ass. A fine run into the quarters here for Moya.

We ended up with the four best male players in the game playing in the semi-finals: Federer, Nadal, Nikolay Davydenko and Novak Djokovic. What more could we ask for? Well, sorry to say, it didn’t feel like even that was enough. Nadal completely dominated Djokovic in three sets and while Davydenko had his moments of opportunity against Federer, he could not take them. The gap between Number One and Two and Everybody Else was painfully evident so both semis felt rather lackluster. Even the quarters felt that way although they promised plenty of action. Davydenko and Canas was a disappointment, Igor Andreev and Djokovic could have been a blast but Andreev finally ran out of steam. No one expected much of Tommy Robredo v. Federer or Moya v. Nadal.

As for the women, they disappointed as well. The hot air generated around the Williams sisters could have warmed us all up during that cold first week of weather. They came and went rather swiftly. The supposedly big show between Serena and Justine was hyped out of existence. The other quarterfinal matchups were big letdowns too. The most riveting women’s match was probably Maria Sharapova and Patty Schnyder, but not so much for the quality of play as for the drama surrounding it. In fact in the cosmic sense I would say this match had everything going on that I hate right now about women’s tennis. One player was not playing that well but she was still dominating, and the other one played a really good match up until she lost her nerve and and lost the match. I hate being associated with females when I see a match like that. Grrrrr.

So, what else was not right about this tournament since we’re obviously segueing into major complaint mode now? One of the most unpleasant memories of this year’s French was seeing those large sections of empty seats in the later rounds. Much was made of the President’s box looking quite empty other than the presence of Guillermo Vilas, who seems to need very little sleep during these events. This doesn’t happen at Wimbledon with the royals’ box so are we to assume that the British aristocracy has more free time on its hands than the French and they say to each other, “So let‘s go down and watch the lads and lassies smack balls around today?” You can bet those empty seats are going to be filled next year, by hook or by crook. This was a rather large embarrassment.

The Americans weren’t right at this event either, the men all died in their opening rounds. Once they were gone no one seemed to care anyway. We’ve sunk that low into the red clay. As luck would have it, though, the advertising world marched on, oblivious to the scores. So we got to see Andy Roddick lose his shirt over and over again in the Lacoste commercials. The French were lapping at their heels. Richard Gasquet went down in a rather surprising display of ineptitude. Amelie Mauresmo went into fragility mode nearly immediately although Lucie Safarova played a good tough match against her.

We could care less though, we had the Serbian Contingent and they took up the slack just fine. For such a small country to crank out two women and one guy into the semi-finals and then Ana Ivanovic into the women’s final, is quite an achievement. Djokovic said later that he expects one of them to win a Grand Slam within the next eighteen months. That timetable is definitely doable. I just know Novak thinks it’s going to be him first but for my money I think it will be Jelena Jankovic. The Serbs have much to crow about and crow they did. The trio arrived in Belgrade to a tumultuous welcome.

One big winner out of this event was Andreev, who climbed over Roddick, Massu, Mathieu and Baghdatis to hammer his way into the quarterfinals. He got to take home Maria Kirilenko as well, so we can see he’s a greedy bastard and this will probably psyche him up like crazy and he’ll pull the rest of his year together in hopefully artful fashion. The other big winner was, of course, Nadal, who went about his business in straightforward fashion, not dropping a set until the final.

As for the state of Federer, I keep reminding myself that he’s only the second best clay court player in the world. And that’s still nothing to sneeze at. There’s no doubt the pressure may have gotten to him in the end and it is sad that we started to talk about him as the greatest ever. He may be starting to believe it himself. Is it entirely fair of us? Maybe not, and yet we’ll keep on doing that because he is the best player around. Dammit, I WANT to see him hold up that trophy, just because it seems so difficult for him to win this one. If anyone out there could appreciate what Paris really means, it’s Roger. You will have Paris someday Roger. Just not this year.


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