French Open: American history

Today we’re already on the fourth round and, so far, I’ve totally ignored the Americans. Why bother? I don’t expect them to come close to winning in Paris.

Andre Agassi was the last to win here in 1999 and that was pretty improbable. He spent the week before the Open in the U.S. getting treatment for an injured shoulder. In the second round his opponent cramped up needing only one more game to win. Pouring rain arrived just in time to give him a physical and mental break in the final so could come back from two sets down to beat Andrei Medvedev.

I thought Andy Roddick would get to the third round, maybe. It took inspired tennis by Jose Acasuso to beat Roddick though Roddick didn’t help himself. What was he doing hitting moonballs on match point, especially when he’d been attacking effectively?

Chris Evert won here seven times. Even Martina Navritilova, queen of serve and volley, has two titles. By the way, add this to her mountain of accomplishments. She is only one of three players to win a “boxed set” of grand slams: singles, same-gender doubles and mixed doubles in all four grand slams. Wow! That is impressive.

Jennifer Capriati and Serena Williams are recent winners but they’re not here. Lindsay Davenport has barely hung on through the first three rounds, even she’s surprised. She’s had an up and down year even though she is still ranked number one. She lost to Kim Clijsters at Indian Wells and the Nasdaq 100. She suffered a third set meltdown against Serena Williams in the Australian Open final. See that, Australian Open final, two Americans. French Open final, not likely.

I had planned to concentrate on the French players but they’re not cooperating. The French fans are making more noise than the French players. Fans held up play for over nine minutes with Rafael Nadal up 1-0 in the second set against Sebastien Grosjean because the chair umpire, Damien Steiner, would not honor Grosjean’s request to look at a ball mark. Fair enough, Grosjean has to stop play immediately if he disagrees with a call. But he didn’t, he kept playing.

Nadal walked up to the baseline a few times to serve during the melee but Grosjean turned his back. Not quite quickly enough to hide the smile on his face, though. If he wants to use such tactics to his advantage, he needs to be a bit more transparent. At least John McEnroe made you think he was losing his temper when he stopped play at critical junctures in a tight match and threw down a monumental fit. Many times he was only trying to undo his opponent and take back the momentum his unfortunate opponent had recently grabbed away.

Clijsters has beaten Davenport that last six times they’ve met. Let’s see if Davenport can surprise herself even more and beat Clijsters this time around.

Clijsters wins the first set 6-1 and it looks like business as usual. A few games into the second set, Clijsters starts to hit more forehand errors. There may be a few players who’ve had more experience on the WTA tour than Davenport but not many. She picks up on this right away and starts to attack Clijsters forehand. Clijster’s knee is heavily wrapped and though she says it’s 90% healed, it may be affecting her.

If this had been a Tier I or II tournament and not a slam, Clijsters may well have chosen to rest her knee until it was 100%. Luckily for Davenport, Clijsters decided to play.

Davenport hits the ball a ton but she’s big and doesn’t move all that well so Clijsters is trying to run her around. Davenport wants to end points as soon as possible to avoid getting the runaround. The result is a strange match. Few of the points go longer than four or five strokes. That might be entertaining if we were at Wimbledon but we’re not.

Clijsters gets to 5-5 in the second set but now she’s piling up double faults. Davenport wins the last two games to even the match.

This is kind of amusing to watch. Mix in Clijsters errors and Davenport’s discomfort on clay and you can see why they might be on serve in the third set with Davenport up 4-3 after each getting two breaks. This is not your classic twenty stroke per point topspin claycourt marathon.

Clijsters finally breaks down altogether with her tenth and eleventh double fault and throws in three forehand errors in the next game to lose the third set, 3-6. Davenport wins 1-6, 7-5, 6-3.

Sometimes those nagging injuries are just bad enough to throw off your strokes. And sometimes there is a domino effect. If one stroke goes, another follows. In this case Clijster’s forehand errors quickly led to a bunch of double faults. Clijsters injured her knee in Berlin three weeks ago and dropped out of the previous tournament in Rome. If this had been a Tier I or II tournament and not a slam, Clijsters may well have chosen to rest her knee until it was 100%. Luckily for Davenport, Clijsters decided to play.

French fans were also disrespectful to Patty Schnyder though in a more subtle way. Schnyder managed to win the second set 6-1 after losing the first set to Mary Pierce by the same score. The fans reacted by doing…nothing. They ignored Schnyder’s great comeback and stomped and yelled Pierce’s name during Pierce’s serve. Pierce’s father is American, her mother French. She may play for France but as far as I’m concerned she’s just like me, a citizen of two countries. If she makes it to the final, it will be kind of like having an American there. That might have to do. Davenport and Pierce play next.