Sharapova, men's top seeds lead 2014 French Open midterm grades
PARIS -- We're through the first seven days at the French Open and, well, what a strange event it's been, so far. We've had abundant upsets, upstarts and upheavals. We've had an absence of rain, controversy and, unfortunately, Williams sisters. We also have a tale of two draws.
Ladies first. Serena Williams, Li Na and Agnieszka Radwanska -- the top three seeds, respectively -- all made unfashionably early exits. This marked the first time the top three WTA seeds have ever lost before the fourth round at a Grand Slam.
It's starting to feel like Maria Sharapova's event to lose. Simona Halep, the highest remaining seed, has looked sharp; so has Jelena Jankovic, a former No. 1 player. And Sloane Stephens, the lone American woman left, is a player akin to the student who bombs the quizzes and nails the finals and midterms. But the way the women's draw has broken thus far, well, predictions have made fools of many this past week. When Ajla Tomljanovic plays Kiki Bertens for the title next Saturday, who will be surprised?
As chaotic as the women's side has been, the men's draw has been more orderly. Stan Wawrinka, the Aussie Open champ, is the one exception, as he was bounced in his first match. Early exits like this give still more context and appreciation of the achievements of the Big Four -- tennis' great quadriga -- which tends to make the latter stages of Grand Slams with reliability.
That's certainly been the case so far here at Roland Garros. The conventional pre-tournament wisdom was that Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic were headed toward an inexorable clash in the finals; through Week One, there's nothing to dispel that. Roger Federer has looked liked, well, Roger Federer and now faces Ernests Gulbis (Estonian for "Archie Bunker")
All of which is to say, abundant intrigue remains for Week Two... Herewith our midterm grades, dispensed on the Julius Nyang'oro curve.
The Big Four: Amid the chaos in the women's draw, tennis' four horsemen -- Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray -- are each in form.
Maria Sharapova: She's now the favorite to win after the top three WTA seeds fell out. And she is playing like it. Note the double-bagel pain aux raisin she dropped in round three.
Taylor Townsend: American teenager who doesn't look or play like anyone else. And good for her. We say it again: you cannot not like her.
Andy Murray: Especially at a time when too many ATP players sniff at the women's game, it sends a nice message when the defending Wimbledon champion fires off tweets like this:
Caroline Wozniacki: She lost in the first round, but still managed to distinguish herself.
The WTA young guns: Enough with the "30 is the new 20" trope. Garbine Muguruza, Alja (Never Underestimated the Heart of a Champion) Tomljanovich, Anna Schmiedlova, and Kristina Mladenovic announce themselves. There's life after Williams and Li Na.
Canadians: Both Eugenie Bouchard and Milos Raonic play into round two. Take that, Rangers.
Ernests Gulbis: An A for his tennis and, charitably, a C for his social views. We're awfully conflicted condemning athletes when they speak candidly and depart from the talking points. But, "A woman needs to enjoy life a little bit more. Needs to think about family, needs to think about kids" is a little too candid. As Martina Navratilova puts it, "Makes Don Draper look like a feminist."
Dominic Thiem: Austrian comer doesn't mount much of a challenge against an in-form Nadal. But he made it clear: the hype about his future comes with full justification. (Plus, he hits a one-handed backhand.)
Laurent Lokali: Corsican wild card -- which is a great band name, come to think of it -- won the crowd, with btoh his dance moves and his tennis. Alas, he failed to convert match points and lost his first rounder to Steve Johnson.
The Americans: Thanks to some unlikely winners, look hard enough and you can still spot some Yanks in the draw. For the sixth straight time, Sloane Stephens into Week Two.
Marinko Matosevic: He earned his first singles victory at a Grand Slam, and celebrated in a most memorable way. (The videographer should have kept rolling tape; Matosevic proceeded to throw the entire contents of his bag -- including half-eaten bananas -- into the crowd.) He then lost, decisively, to Andy Murray next.
Angelique Kerber: She advances to week two, but this lapse in sportsmanship -- unforced error by omission -- against Hantuchova will stick with her. This was not a judgment call; this was a blatant error by the chair. And the opponent shouldn't accepted improper benefits.
The Williams sisters: Both lost within hours of each other in the second round. The good news: grass awaits.
Australian Open winners: Both Stan Wawrinka and Li Na crash in round one. Especially in Wawrinka's case, his mind appeared to be far, far from away from the tennis at hand.
The ATP young guns: The reasons were manifold (injury, an off-day and Ivo Karlovic) but Kei Nishikori, Alex Dolgopolov and Grigor Dimitrov all go out early.
Injury mania: Victoria Azarenka and Juan Martin del Potro were non-starters. Sabine Lisicki, Nicolas Almagro and Tommy Haas were among the players who retired midway through matches.