PARIS – A day two baguette from the 2015 French Open:
Age is just a number. But in tennis, the range of numbers has never been broader. With each tournament we set a new record for “most ATP players over 30 in the draw.” This tournament, we hit a high of 39. But there is also a new surge of youth. For the first time in nearly a decade, there are seven teenagers in the men’s draw, four of them already docked in the top 100.
This ultimately speaks well of the sport. Just as it can accommodate a range of physiques and nationalities and origin stories, the tennis stage has room for players born in the 1970s and players born in late 1990s.
The full spectrum was on display today. Day Two of the French Open started with Frances Tiafoe taking on Martin Klizan. The latest great American Hope, Tiafoe came here on the reciprocal wild he earned with his play this spring in the USTA Pro Circuit. Tiafoe is prodigiously talented and doesn’t turn 18 until January.
Unfortunately, the youngest figure in the draw played like it today. In a classic boy-against-man match, he was outhit and outwit against Martin Klizan, a veteran who’s been ranked as high as No. 25. Tiafoe’s power and athleticism were on full display. But so were nerves, inexperience and some technical hitches that will need addressing and redressing.
Early in the third set, Tiafoe held up his arms triumphantly. He was trailing 6–2, 6–1 at the time and simply held serve. He kept his spirit after the match as well. What did he learn? “I need to get a lot better.” But seriously, folks. “There are some things I need to work on, and obviously I need to get better to be playing at his level or higher.”
If Tiafoe’s will and competitive resolve need to catch up to his game, Borna Coric represents the opposite. Coric is only 18 and can still grow as a ballstriker. But his professionalism and ambition belies his years. In four sets, he took down Sam Querrey—almost a full decade Coric’s senior—with poised tennis, playing better when it mattered more.
In the final slate of matches, the oldest woman in the draw took the court. Venus Williams played Sloane Stephens, a rough first rounder for both American women. In gusty conditions, younger beat older, Stephens pocketing a first set tiebreaker and then running out the match 7–6, 6–1. We often correlate age with poise. But in this case, it was Venus who played flustered tennis, her forehand breaking down. By the end, she looked nothing like a seven-time Grand Slam champ. She looked like a player eager to begin the grass court season. She left the court around 8:30 p.m. in diminishing light and it required some straining to ignore the symbolism.
Five thoughts from Monday at the French Open
1. Dominic Thiem had match point against Aljaz Bedene (who now plays under the British flag) in a third-set tiebreaker. Thiem hit a shaky double fault and needed four sets to win. Thiem is a future top ten player. But it will be accelerated when he gets through those early matches more quickly.
2. The savvy fans who check the practice schedule are rewarded again. Andy Murray hitting with Gael Monfils this afternoon was more entertaining than any match going on simultaneously.
3. The two brightest French prospects didn’t survive round one. Oceane Dodin lost yesterday and Lucas Pouille lost today to Giles Simon.
4. His movement equisite on the clay,
Arthur Andy Murray breezed in his match against Facundo Arguello,
5. Good week for John McEnroe. Two members of his academy, Jamie Loeb (UNC) and Noah Rubin (Wake Forest), reached the NCAA singles final.
A quick Q/A
Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet him @jon_wertheim.
Thoughts on Nadal having Carlos Bernardes taken off the chair in his matches at the French Open after threatening to do just that when Carlos enforced the time rules on him recently? I'm not liking that it sends the message to the other chair umpires that there will be consequences if they enforce the rules.
• Credit Simon Briggs with the reporting here, which I have yet to see challenged. In short, the optics are lousy here. There is a beef between a player and an official, it makes sense to keep them apart as much as possible. But when an official challenges a top player and thereafter sees assignments dry up, there is a problem.
I caught some of Martin Klizan’s win today over Tiafoe today and was very impressed. What’s this guy’s story?
—Brad G., London
• I hate to douse your enthusiasm but I wouldn't read too much into one match against a 17-year-old making his Grand Slam debut. That said, I watched that match for an hour or so and shared your enthusiasm for Klizan. Tons of game, good athlete and a lefty to boot. Klizan is almost 26 and has recorded some nice wins including a fall takedown of Nadal. It’s a question of getting it done on a consistent basis. His hiring of Martin Damm, a doubles player who maxed out his skills, will help. That a player of this skill has never been inside the top 25 is testament to a) how thick both tours are in that 20-60 range and b) how the margins are so small and mental strength is so important.
Bonjour Jon. I have a counter-prediction for Roland Garros. Djokovic has to psych himself up for a tough quarterfinal with Nadal and fights through a tough five-setter with an on-form Berdych, then—mentally and physically flat—loses the championship to a fresher Murray who beats a surprise, overmatched opponent in a routine semifinal after an earlier upset of Federer. Mauresmo is lionized in the British tabloids, has a baby boy this summer, names him Scot to commemorate the win. 98% plausible, 2% embellished.
—Paul Treacy, Chapel Hill, N.C.
• Sounds about right. Except that Mauresmo will have a girl.
I've waited to comment on this in hopes that it would go away...but why would Stan [Wawrinka] wear those shorts?
• But it looks good on him:
• Andrew Sisk has Long Lost Siblings: Wake Forest's Noah Rubin and this year's Eurovision winner from Sweden Mans Zemerlow: