Tag Archives: French Open

FRENCH OPEN: Old Lady Sharapova, Erases Generation, Becomes Queen of Clay

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In the end, this French Open will be remembered for the Old Lady, I guess. If that’s what we can call Maria Sharapova. She’s just 27, but she single-handedly wiped out a moment that was all about the emergence of Generation Next.

When Serena Williams and Li Na lost early, the tournament was suddenly defined by Simona Halep, Eugenie Bouchard, Garbine Muguruza and Sloane Stephens. It wasn’t the best moment for marketers and TV networks, but women’s tennis needs a refresh. And all four of those young women are compelling and thrilling.

They feel like the right ones. It turned out, Stephens wasn’t ready, isn’t at that level. And then, the marketing dream, Sharapova, wrecked the whole thing, beating Serena-killer Muguruza in the quarters, then Bouchard in the semis, and then Halep 6-4, 6-7 (7-5), 6-4 in the final.

There were just too many backward things going on. Sharapova cannot exactly wreck a moment in a sport with so few faces the general sports public wants to see. She cannot possibly be seen as fearless at the same time that she’s afraid to hit her serve. And more importantly: Sharapova, who once described herself on clay as a cow on ice, is now. . .

The best claycourt player on tour. That’s two French Open titles in the past three years for her, and three finals in a row.

We can celebrate Sharapova’s incredible stick-to-itiveness, as always. But she won this match, this tournament because of her years of experience. That was her advantage.

You can see it as veteran street knowledge, so to speak, or possibly just as gamesmanship. Either way, the woman who has been here a million times knew how to get through this match, and the one here for the first time – first of many – did not.

Sharapova was in an all-out stall. Halep likes to rush, and Sharapova knew how to throw her off. Setting and re-setting before her first serve, and then doing it all again before the second. And all those tosses on her serve that she caught and said, “Sorry’’ as if they were just bad tosses?

I’m not buying. It’s true she has struggled with her toss over the years, but so many of those seemed intentional. Toss and catch. . .and. . .toss. . .again. That was more stalling to get Halep out of her rhythm and give her a whole lot of time to think about what it was she was trying to do. If that was enough time for nervousness to creep into a newcomer’s brain, which has never had to deal with these thoughts before?

Well, so be it.

Halep will be back. We’ve seen some pretend stars emerge, or place-setters the past year or two while Williams starts to lose a little more often. Not sure what happened to Sabine Lisicki. Marion Bartoli was never going to be the real deal, even after she won Wimbledon.

Halep is the next longterm star for tennis. Bouchard is right behind her. Muguruza is not as sure of a thing, but odds are with her. Stephens is going to have to learn to fight, and determine whether there is the needed killer inside of her.

The amazing thing about Sharapova is that she’s doing it on clay. We figured when she emerged as a teenager at Wimbledon, crushing the ball, that the fast courts would be best for her. Now, Roland Garros is her place.

A learning curve? That would be a nice thing to point to. Really, she just seems to be moving better and holding her nerve.

Except on her serve. It’s amazing how she can just blank out flaws, just partition them out of her brain while she keeps fighting. Can’t serve? OK, I’ll be ruthless at all non-serving moments.

She was nervous against Bouchard. You could see it. Bouchard is tall, ruthless, powerful and blonde, and it was almost as if she was a replacement.

Yet despite nerves, despite seeing your replacement, despite a bad serve and iffy moves, Sharapova somehow found a way to be mentally relentless.

The only mental block she hasn’t overcome is Williams. So Sharapova, with five majors, will not go down as the best player ever. I don’t think she’s going to figure that one out.

But if a cow on ice can figure out how to become the Queen of Clay, I wouldn’t bet against her, either.


FRENCH OPEN: Federer Modernizes Racquet, Not Game. Needs New Math to Become Roger WhyNot

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Roger Federer Loses to Ernests Gulbis

 

It took years to talk Roger Federer into switching to a modern racquet, even though the need for it was so obvious. Now, it’s apparently going to take a while to talk him into modernizing his game.

Even though the need is so obvious.

Federer lost to Ernests Gulbis 6-7 (7-5), 7-6 (7-3), 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 Saturday in the fourth round of the French Open, ending a run of nine straight years advancing at least to the quarters. Let’s start with this up front: I predicted that Federer would win this match, go on to beat Novak Djokovic and then lose to Rafael Nadal in the final.

In other words. . .way off.

But that pick was based on Federer finally – finally! – dropping the stubbornness and using the new, powerful racquet. He also had been using it to play more aggressively, attacking more. You do less of that on the red clay at Roland Garros, with the ball moving slower. But that doesn’t mean Federer needed to try to drop back five years.

He just can’t keep painting by numbers. Federer still cannot talk himself into taking a low-percentage shot. What is the smart play here? What is the most efficient move?

Look, guys such as Gulbis, younger, strong and talented, are going to take big-time chances. Think of it this way: Without the power that comes from the technology of the past four or five years, Gulbis would lose easily to Federer. So with the power? Why not go for big shots and see what happens?

Gulbis, always known as a super-talented flake, was great for most of the match. Sometimes, you just can’t do anything about it. But at least you can try. And all Federer did was drop back to 2009 and hope Gulbis would fall apart.

Heaven forbid, Federer is going to have to take high-risk, big-time chances, too sometimes.

The truth is, in the modern game, more modern than Federer, the math has changed. It might not even exist. But if it does, Federer’s math is wrong.

He finally has the racquet in his hand to do it, rather than the smaller, more-flexible, weaker stick he’d been carrying around for years. He was so talented that he was still good enough to use it to beat almost everyone, other than Nadal and the big, powerful flat-hitters who used the technology against him.

Watching the match on Tennis Channel Saturday, you got a great look into Federer’s stubbornness.

Jim Courier, an excellent analyst, was doing the match with Federer’s former coach, Paul Annacone.

“How difficult is it to get Roger to play something. . .away from his standard game?’’ Courier asked.

“One of the thing he told me at the beginning when we started working together,’’ Annacone said, “he goes, `When I was a kid, they used to call me Roger Why?’ Because every time you’d tell him to do something, (he’d) always want to know why. So if you tell him why and he’s pretty objective, generally he is, then he’ll do it. But you better be able to prove your point.’’

Next game, late in the fifth set with Federer in trouble, Tennis Channel had a graphic that showed Federer standing in the same place for 85% of his returns of serve. Courier said Federer needed to change things up, move to a different spot, give Gulbis a different target and get him out of his rhythm.

Annacone said he agreed, but, “Roger really likes to be stable on return of serve.’’

During the tournament in Rome two weeks ago, Annacone said, “One of the bigger challenges I feel – not singling Roger out, but just every great player — is they are comfortable doing certain things, and one certain way so often that its very difficult to make major adjustments or significant adjustments.’’

After the fourth set, Federer got way too conservative, relying far too much on the percentages of five years ago. He hit nearly every ball to Gulbis’ backhand and didn’t go for winners. It allowed Gulbis to know what was coming and get even more aggressive than he had been.

It allowed Gulbis to take control.

Federer’s new racquet can do so much more. His body can, too. His mind just won’t have it.

I don’t think Federer, at 32, is too old. He’s not as fast as he was, but he still moves better than nearly everyone on tour. He has plenty of power if he’s willing to use it. And he’s still more talented than almost everyone, too. He can still win majors.

But he’s just going to have to take dumb chances at times, even if the laws of probability say not to. He has to become Roger WhyNot?

 


FRENCH OPEN Ten Years of Donald Young. Time for Another Look?

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Donald Young celebrates during French Open win over Feliciano Lopez

 

If we have learned anything from Donald Young over the years, it’s that the time to talk about his emergence is now. Today. As in, before his next match at the French Open, when everything could be ruined.

This month marked 10 years since Young’s first professional tennis match. He was 14. Of course, in his case, we knew about him even before that, when John McEnroe, playing a senior event in Chicago, walked past a court and saw Young, a ballboy, hitting groundstrokes. McEnroe was so taken by what he saw that he started hitting with Young, then ran and called his agent to tell him about this amazing kid.

That whole story was a fake, by the way. It was a publicity stunt set up by agents, and it worked to build a myth. The myth worked against Young, told a lie that everyone bought into, including Young and his parents, because U.S. tennis is so desperate for the next big thing.

But since then, Young’s career has had far too much reality, anyway. The losses. The highs followed by crushing lows. The moping. The giving up. And the contentious relationship with the USTA, which once led Young to tweet “FU—USTA!’’

The thing is, when he beat Feliciano Lopez in the second round of the French Open, Young, finally became a feelgood story again, guaranteed to last until his next match, anyway.

It’s time to take another look at Donald Young.

And maybe the USTA, too. Young has told stories of how he was childhood friends with fellow Chicagoan Taylor Townsend, who had her breakthrough at this French Open. The USTA threatened to cut funding on Townsend two years ago, saying she wasn’t fit. It was a dangerous threat, using a code word to call a teenage girl fat.

That story isn’t going to go away. CNN asked Townsend about it on Thursday, and she said that when she got the news from the USTA, she went home and cried.

So two black kids from Chicago, two prospects who were the No. 1 junior players in the world, had major fallouts with the organization charged with developing them. That said, the USTA did help Continue reading


FRENCH OPEN: 10 Predictions Come with Money Back Guarantee

Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams

FOXSports.com national columnist Greg Couch digs into 10 questions that get to the heart of the French Open, which starts Sunday at Roland Garros in France. 

Q. It’s Nadal, Djokovic and … ummm … can anyone else on the men’s side win this thing?

A. Only Federer. And even he doesn’t have much of a shot, especially with his back and knee problems. The thing is, with Nadal out so long last year and into this year with worn-out knees, his ranking has dropped. Also, he and Djokovic are on the same side of the draw and may have to play each other before the final. It is the perfect storm of a draw for Federer. That’s sort of the equivalent of the SEC Championship Game — with the two best teams — deciding who gets to play in the BCS title game. Then, the rest of the country, basically the minor leagues, gets to fill the other spot. Federer is able to beat Djokovic on the right day, and Nadal’s knees might blow up at any time.

Please read the rest of the column here at FoxSports.com


FRENCH OPEN: Greed Costs Nadal, Djokovic, Tennis Great Moment in History

 

You can’t force history to happen. But you sure can stop it with greed, stupidity, recklessness. Tennis ruined a great moment Sunday, just sold it out to broadcasters, to NBC.

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, two all-time greats, were both going for historic heights in the French Open final. It was a dream buildup in a great, new rivalry for a sport that needs as many big moments as it can find. But it rained the whole match, and officials, trying to keep broadcasters happy, kept letting the match go on and on, anyway.

What happened? Not historic greatness, that’s for sure. The showcase was ruined. Everyone lost. Fans saw a crummy match, and it never even finished. Nadal led two sets to one, and trailed 2-1 in the fourth when the match was finally stopped because, well, it’s hard to say why it was stopped, really.

Nothing had changed over the final hour of the match. It just kept drizzling. Maybe officials realized that their greed over TV money, their desperation to make broadcasters happy, had stolen Nadal’s magic and was turning their party into a disaster.

Well, the match is supposed to start up again at 7 a.m. (ET) Monday. But the forecast in Paris calls for more rain. This could drag on for a while.

It comes down to this: They never should have played that match Sunday.

Please read the rest of the column on FoxSports.com


FRENCH OPEN: Maria Sharapova Not Just for Show. Killer Barbie Back to No. 1

 

Maria Sharapova could be Danica Patrick now. She surely could have been a Go Daddy girl while dabbling in sports on the side. It would have been so easy.

Instead, with her win Thursday in the semifinals at the French Open, Sharapova will move to No. 1 in the world. She came back from career-threatening shoulder surgery. She still fights the yips on her serve at times. And a win in the final Saturday against Sara Errani will give her a career Grand Slam — at least one title in every major.

Sharapova would be just the 10th female tennis player in history to have done that. Even Venus Williams hasn’t done it.

“It’s a pretty nice feeling,’’ she told reporters as she left the court after her 6-3, 6-3 victory over Petra Kvitova. “I did not know that that (No. 1 ranking) would happen again a few years ago. So I’m just happy to be in this position.’’

When you think of Sharapova, do you think of one of the most focused, determined athletes in the world?

She is. She is Killer Barbie.

And this is just to give people a better feel for what they’re looking at. Or, as Nike is already putting it in an ad: “THOSE WHO BELONG AT THE TOP NEVER FORGET THEIR WAY BACK.’’

The balance of sex appeal and athleticism is always a factor in women’s sports. To be honest, plenty of men are watching women’s tennis for the sex-appeal side of the equation. And there’s always a debate about whether selling sex appeal cheapens the women’s sport or just celebrates athletic bodies. So when someone like Patrick, or Anna Kournikova a few years back, makes huge sponsor dollars without winning anything, it just doesn’t look good. You can’t really expect them to pass up golden opportunities, but it’s hard to say they send the right message to your daughters.

Sharapova does.

Please read the rest of this column at FoxSports.com


FRENCH OPEN: Djokovic, Federer Playing the Mind Games of Champions

This is what makes a champion in tennis, one who can last through history. It wasn’t just that Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer were both about to lose, and made great escapes at the same time Tuesday in the quarterfinals of the French Open.

It was that they both won marathons that weren’t about endurance or fitness.

Frankly, as US tennis players once again just sit and watch the world’s best fight it out for a major championship, Federer and Djokovic won because of things that American tennis coaches don’t teach.

It was doubly enforced because you could see it in stereo.

Late in a five-set match that came after another five-set marathon in his previous match, wasn’t Djokovic exhausted?

“I guess at that stage,’’ he said in an on-court interview with the Tennis Channel, “you’re not really thinking if your body is tired or not.’’

Tennis might be the most cerebral sport.

Please read the rest of this column on FoxSports.com


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