Sunday June 7th, 2009

Some random observations from the historic 2009 French Open:

Roger Federer makes history, winning the French Open, completing the Career Slam and tying Pete Sampras' record. And, just as important, suddenly it doesn't look like he's done winning anytime soon. We like our heroes to show resilience? After losing the 2008 Wimbledon final -- conceding the top ranking and showing some mortality, facing so many doubts -- Federer has won two of the last three Slams and may well regain the No. 1 spot. And, somehow, it was fitting Andre Agassi presented him with the trophy.

• Congrats to Svetlana Kuznetsova, your women's winner, who bagged the second Major of her career. All credit to her. But there's something vaguely bittersweet here: seeing her solid, well-rounded, athletic game coupled with mental strength, you wonder why she had to go nearly six years between Slam wins.

Robin Soderling's upset of Rafael Nadal was impressive. But so was his ability to keep going, taking out Nikolay Davydenko in a rout and then outlasting Fernando Gonzalez in the semis to reach his first Grand Slam final. It will be interesting to see if this was a breakthrough or a magic-in-a-bottle event.

Dinara Safina persists as -- all together now -- "The best player never to have won a Slam." A big opportunity squandered. For the third time in a year, she simply didn't show up for a Grand Slam final. Too bad, she'll get another chance in a few weeks.

• Just a thought: Should Nadal win the U.S. Open, two players will complete the "Career Slam" in the same year.

• So a month ago, Federer had yet to win a title, appeared annoyed and distracted, and his new wife was expecting. Nadal -- winner of the previous Major -- was building his points lead by racking up clay-court titles, as per usual. If I had told you one of the guys would beat the other to win Madrid, win the French Open and come to Wimbledon on a hot streak, while the other would drop two straight tournaments and pull out of a tune-up with an injury, who would have made the correct identifications? Gotta love this era in the men's game.

• Quite apart the title, Federer's absurd streak of 20 straight Major semifinal appearances was thrown into sharp relief by the losses of Nadal and Novak Djokovic. To me, this streak bolsters his GOAT candidacy as much as the Career Slam achievement.

• You know what I liked about Juan Martin del Potro? Not a lot of self-satisfaction in reaching the semis. He was upset -- as he should have been -- that he was a few games from reaching a Major final and failed to seal the deal.

• Soderling wasn't the only Swedish standout. Daniel Berta won the boys' event, beating Gianni Mina in the final. Kristina Mladenovic of France won the girls' event, beating Daria Gavrilova of Russia.

• Once again, some strange results in the doubles draw. Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic and the Bryans both lose before the finals. The eventual winners were Leander Paes and Lukas Dlouhy.

• In the women's draw there were also surprise winners. Liezel Huber and Cara Black were upset in the semis by the eventual winners Anabel Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual.

• Fernando Gonzalez's semifinal loss was an expression of his career. He loses two sets. He wins two sets. He's up 4-1 in the fifth. He fails to win another game. The problem with boom-or-bust tennis is that neither phase lasts long.

• You hope that Nadal's withdrawal from Queens Club is on account of some R and R -- "Mental regrouping," as John McEnroe put it -- and not a knee injury. Regardless, the plot sure has jerked over the past four weeks.

• Funny how timing can impact coverage. On the day that Nadal lost, defending champ Ana Ivanovic was tuned in straight sets and the Williams sisters lost in doubles, 7-6 in the third. And nary a word.

• Speaking of Ivanovic, this is not exactly shaping up to be a banner year for Serbia.

• Nice run by surprise semifinalist Sam Stosur, who, like most Aussies, just radiates pleasantness. If you're in the market for a dark horse at Wimbledon, look no further.

• Go ahead and call Serena Williams a drama queen. But let the record reflect that she was correct: the ball really hit Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez. Likewise Serena was correct in questioning the line calls that went against her during that Jennifer Capriati match at the U.S. Open. And she was correct: Justine Henin indicated a let, only to play dumb when she won the point. And her recent questioning of Dinara Safina's bona fides may not have been the height of tact, but it wasn't exactly invalidated either....

• Just so you don't accuse me of totally swigging the Serena flavored Kool-Aid -- one of you accused me of being "A total Serena Slurpee," which made me laugh -- could someone in her entourage please send her this? It's a primer in how to handle defeat with some dignity and perspective. Read it. Then reread it. Please.

• Everyone is picking on this line: "I pretty much gave it to her. It was like, 'Here, do you want to go to the semis? Because I don't.'"... But the one that had me laughing? "I mostly try to focus on me nowadays." This, of course, in contrast to those other days when she focused on ... whom else exactly?

• Again, this is particularly maddening because Serena is too good for this. You're a 10-time Grand Slam winner. Why undercut your legacy? You've done the hard part. You'd think showing some grace in defeat would be easy.

• On the other hand, I thought it was poignant how many players -- male, female, old, young, even his rival Nadal -- admitted that they were pulling for Federer. Name me another athlete who commands this kind of respect and fondness among his peers. Very telling.

• Has there ever been a more star-crossed player than Tommy Haas? His career has been one extended injury report. Even with Haas up two sets against Federer, you had a sense the Fates were going to script another tragic ending. And no player of his caliber -- and, frankly, looks -- should be playing with a Head racket, carrying a Dunlop, wearing Nike socks and a K Swiss top.

Aaron White of San Marcos, Calif., wondered if Federer ought not to name his first born "Robin." Works for either gender!

Andy Roddick did himself proud, reaching Week 2 at Roland Garros for the first time. Given recent events, he sure ought to be feeling good about his chances heading to Wimbledon. While it was disappointing to see him treating the chair umpire with such condescension -- it's like yelling at the poor waiter for the chef's errors -- can't these tournaments simply buy a light meter to determine whether the conditions are sufficient?

• Both of them overcoming disappointments in doubles, Liezel Huber and Bob Bryan join forces to win the mixed event, beating Vania King and the mellifluously-named Marcelo Melo in the final.

• Note to the French fans: if you really must commence The Wave -- and heaven help us when you guys get a load of the YMCA dance, the Kiss-Cam and canons that shoot t-shirts! -- could you maybe NOT do it deep in the fourth set, when the four-time defending champ is on the verge of defeat? Kind of sucks out the tension.

• Don't ask me why I know this, but at Oprah's show, the audience is seated systematically. When someone in the front needs to vacate their seat (i.e. to use the restroom), someone in the back is quickly promoted to fill the vacancy. Why? Because the producers know that empty seats are unsightly, terribly untelegenic. (Segue) Even in the semifinal rounds, there were entire rows of empty seats behind the baseline. The message to the casual viewer at home: if fans can't bother to show up in person, why watch on television? Someone really needs to address this issue.

• I know that she tends to polarize you guys, but I don't see how you can withhold props from Maria Sharapova. She's out for 10 months with a nasty injury and, on her worst surface, she grinds away four wins. Yes, she got her clock cleaned in the quarters by Dominika Cibulkova. But who thought she'd make it that far?

• Glad to see I was not alone in wondering this: if she'd pulled off the 6-0, 6-0 routing of Sharapova, would we be calling her Dominatrix Cibulkova?

• Through the quarterfinals, Ivo Karlovic was the tournament ace leader, despite losing his first match.

Michelle Larcher de Brito's successful tournament was overshadowed by her unfortunate ... well, you can't even call it grunting. Just a hideous auditory assault. She's been sent to the principal's office -- a sitdown with tournament referee Stefan Fransson -- and we hope she's quieter at Wimbledon. But I leave you with this discuss-amongst-yourselves point: if it were 16-year-old boys, not girls, making these noises one usually associates with snuff movies, would we be quite so offended?

• Was Soderling d. Nadal the biggest upset in at least recent men's tennis history? Can you think of many others? Yes, George Bastl beat Sampras at Wimbledon in 2002; but Sampras was in his 30s at the time and had lost the previous year (to Federer) and came in with little momentum. A few of you reference Boris Becker's Wimbledon defeat to Peter Doohan. But it's not like Becker was the four-time defending champ, undefeated at the venue, and the winner of three of the four previous Majors. Sanchez Vicario beat Steffi Graf in 1989, depriving Graf of back-to-back Grand Slams. OK, but ASV would eventually be a top-ranked player. Honestly, I think we may have a winner.

• I watched four different telecasts of the 2008 Wimbledon final. I thought, far and away, NBC did the best job. Solid, honest television as McEnroe and Ted Robinson were on their games. But in 2009, you simply cannot show matches on tape delay. It's the Pony Express of telecom. And the internet is the ultimate spoiler alert. Tennis fans were really robbed, especially during the Soderling-Nadal middle Sunday and the Federer-del Potro semi.

• Can't the good folks at NBC, who blessed us with Hulu, figure out a creative way to use existing technology to avoid the tape delay mess? Or sell the rights back to ESPN? Something? There are three American networks in Paris with a variety of platforms. Surely there's some contingency plan whereby fans get live tennis. Where's Jack Donaghy in all this?

• As for Tennis Channel, you guys clearly fall into two camps. Those who get it, love it. Those who don't get it, hate it. If someone wants to figure out a way to start some sort of petition or Facebook Group to present to Cablevision et al, encouraging them to carry TC, I'm happy to play messenger.

• Speaking of Tennis Channel, Martina Navratilova after a euphoric Soderling threw his racket into the crowd: "Doesn't he know how much he'd get for that on EBay?"

• Yes, in a vacuum, some of Gael Monfils' outbursts carry the whiff of bush league. When your opponent misses an overhead, for instance, you don't appeal to the crowd to applaud. Yet the guy is so irrepressible, so expressive, and so not ill-intended, it's hard to dredge up much outrage.

• The French Open website draws high marks. But why they don't post every transcript (and permit asapsports to inventory transcripts, as every other event does) is a mystery.

• One of you asked me whether Davydenko might be the best player never to have reached a Grand Slam final. Can't say I've been able to come up with a better candidate.

Doug Robson updates us on Jan Silva, the Bryce Harper of tennis.

• Speaking of hype, you're always mindful of unreasonable expectations, but Alexa Glatch has sure raised some eyebrows this spring. On clay, no less. When was the last time an American woman not named Williams beat a seeded player at a major, 6-1, 6-1.

• Big Wimbledon coming up for James Blake. The what-have-you-done-for-me-lately? meter is beeping at Michelle Larcher di Brito-like decibel levels.

• Lots of Week 1 injuries and retirements. Lots of matches spanning two days because of darkness, thus messing up the schedule. Consider this another plea for best-of-three during Week 1 and best-of-five in Week 2.

• Defense wins championships. This has nothing to do with the French Open, but here's another example, thanks to Zolbol of Durban, South Africa.

• Anyone else get a kick out of seeing Ion Tiriac sitting directly behind the baseline, the best seat in the house?

Interesting interview with longtime ATP umpire Lars Graff:

• Duke's Mallory Cecil and Oleksandr Nedovyesov of Oklahoma State have been named the 2009 Campbell/ITA National College Players of the Year, the ITA announced today. Tennessee's Davey Sandgren and John-Patrick Smith and Renata Kucerkova and Anastasia Petukhova of Fresno State are the ITA National Doubles Teams of the Year.

• Here's a must read from Slate

• Just want to be sure everyone has seen this.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.