PARIS – Fifty parting thoughts from the 2015 French Open, where No. 1 Serena Williams won her third title in Paris and her 20th major overall and No. 8 Stan Wawrinka took down No. 1 Novak Djokovic to win his first French Open title and second major overall.
At the halfway turn to the season, cleaning out the notebook (and MS Word file) from the 2015 French Open:
• On the day American Pharoah won the Triple Crown, Serena Williams moved closer to tennis’ Quadruple Crown, taking the winner’s title. It’s axiomatic (that is, cliché) to say that “the player most capable most capable beating Serena is Serena,” but that’s one of the takeaways from the event. Playing on her poorest surface, suffering from the flu, unable to summon anything close to her best tennis, she was still good enough to win her 20th Slam. Now to the grass…
• Novak Djokovic will not win the Grand Slam this year. Because after thrashing Rafael Nadal and outlasting Andy Murray, he ran into Stan Wawrinka. In a tremendous performance, Stan punished a tennis ball for four sets, winning 4–6, 6–4, 6–3, 6–4. His 60th winner on match point was this performance writ small. “Stanimal” is a ridiculous, reductive nickname. But it fits here. What a display of muscular, beastly tennis.
• Djokovic was gracious in defeat. But for all the build-up, the undisputed No. 1 still lacks a French Open title. But he will get it one day.
• Lucie Safarova played the finest Slam of her long career, reaching the final. And she was rewarded for her bold play in the second set. She then partnered with Bethanie Mattek-Sands to win the doubles title. That’s a solid two weeks of work.
• An awful lot of ink, pixels and airtime have been devoted to the decline of Nadal, who, of course, relinquished his grasp on Roland Garros when he lost Djokovic in the quarterfinals. Here’s a video essay we did for Tennis Channel after the loss.
Let’s look on the bright side of the net here: he’s defending a modest result at Wimbledon and then virtually nothing for the rest of the year. Barring injury, he’s still in good shape for the ATP Finals. His decline over the last year is unmistakable. But let’s hold off on the career obit.
• Andy Murray has now lost eight straight matches to Novak Djokovic. But you have the sense he’s getting closer to solving a riddle he had mastered a few years ago. For his sake—as well as for the sake of unpredictability over the next few years—you hope this goes back to being a rivalry.
• Take a bow Timea Bacsinszky, a semifinalist who’s in full bloom in her “second” career. She took a set off of Serena Williams (who didn’t?) and while she couldn't close the match and faded in the third, she is rewarded with a career-high ranking. Here’s her story in her words.
• In a modest upset, Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo won the doubles title—their first major—beating top-seeded Bob and Mike Bryan. The Bryans are still the gold standard for doubles, but have now won only one of their last seven Slams. Long as we’re here, reader Ana Mitric correctly notes that this is why doubles should attract more of our attention:
• Tommy Paul of New Jersey won the first all-American boys' final with a defeat of second-seeded California’s Taylor Harry Fritz, 7–6 (4), 2–6, 6–2. (Though if agents pursuing a player is an indication of future success, Fritz is next Rod Laver.)
• Paula Badosa Gibert, the 12th-seeded Spaniard defeated No. 16 Anna Kalinskaya of Russia 6–3, 6–3 to win the girls' title.
• Mike Bryan and Bethanie Mattek-Sands won the mixed doubles, beating Lucie Hradecka and Marcin Matkowski. Mattek-Sands now has three major titles this year.
French Open 2015 Fashion Hits and Misses
MISS: Lucas Pouille, Nick Kyrgios, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Mahesh Bhupathi
The kit is actually fine. But so many young players are wearing it that it feels like a team uniform.
HIT: Alize Cornet
HIT: Madison Keys
HIT: Kei Nishikori
HIT: Eugenie Bouchard
MISS: Rafael Nadal
The blue looks great against the red clay but did he really need *that* much blue?
HIT: Ana Ivanovic
HIT: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
HIT: Tomas Berdych
HIT: Novak Djokovic
HIT: Richard Gasquet
HIT: David Goffin
HIT: Jack Sock
MISS: Teresa Torro Flor
MISS: Stan Wawrinka
The shorts are so shocking they actually distract from the 70s-inspired polo.
HIT: Marin Cilic
MISS: Fabio Fognini
The Hawaii-themed headband doesn't quite make sense.
HIT: Gael Monfils
HIT: Roger Federer
HIT: Roger Federer
HIT: Maria Sharapova
HIT: Caroline Wozniacki
MISS: Victoria Azarenka
Love the shorts! Hate the one-note color.
HIT: Julia Goerges
HIT: Elina Svitolina
HIT: Carla Suarez Navarro
HIT: Garbine Muguruza
HIT: Angelique Kerber
HIT: Serena Williams
HIT: Petra Kvitova
HIT: Kristina Mladenovic
HIT: Simona Halep
HIT: Alize Lim
MISS: Sloane Stephens
The peach color is a little washed out. Would have loved to see it in bolder tones.
HIT: Simone Bolelli
HIT: Andy Murray
HIT: Venus Williams
MISS: Kaia Kanepi
HIT: Heather Watson
HIT: Dominic Thiem
MISS: Agnieszka Radwanska
Sadly we never got to see this disco ball on a sunny day.
MISS: Taro Daniel
HIT: Roberta Vinci
MISS: Karin Knapp
Worst women's dress of the year?
HIT: Sam Stosur
HIT: Luca Vanni
HIT: Yanina Wickmayer
HIT: Amandine Hesse
MISS: Diego Schwartzman
Did a red sock sneak its way into the laundry?
HIT: Ajla Tomljanovic
• Credit to Ana Ivanovic for reaching her first major semi since 2008. But what a hollow performance against Safarova, conforming to the old scouting report. That is, she surges to an early lead. And when the opponent gets in the match, Ivanovic retreats, failing to adjust tactically or leaven her flat shots with some spin, expanding her Epilady-thin margin for error.
• Surprisingly underreported story: the Paris city council voting against the expansion of the Roland Garros facility. This is the smallest Slam in terms of acreage. It has the least prize money. (“Thanks. Fading Euro!”) By unofficial counts, it leads the Slam in outré incidents—see: falling scorecard panels this year. The grounds were plastered with snazzy architectural renderings of the new site, replete with a hashtag cooked up by the boys in marketing department (#ilovenewrg). But, at least for now, it looks as if the event needs to figure out how to grow and evolve in its current space. (Though one positive from all this: The Bullring, the best tennis theater in the world, lasts at least another year.)
• For as much abuse as the USTA takes out there in TennisWorld, here’s some grounds for optimism, albeit the guarded variety. Four of the eight boys quarterfinalists were Americans. And CiCi Bellis, the top girls player for 2014, reached the semis. The predictive value here is minimal. The tennis mausoleum is littered with the remains of players who were successful juniors and couldn’t make the transition. But this was a very strong showing and there are some real prospects to follow. Over to you, Martin Blackman.
• My dealings with her have been thoroughly pleasant. (That she had a recent boyfriend from Indiana wins her big points, as far as I am concerned.) Still, I was struck by the gushing praise thrown Lucie Safarova’s way. (Why, it was almost Clijsters-ian.) I was told that players crowded around the TVs in the locker when Safarova was playing Sharapova and cheering like crazy. Not out of schadenfreude or happiness at seeing a lesser player beat a star. But out of genuine pleasure for Safarova, watching a popular colleague succeed in such a big match.
• We like Camila Giorgi, the young and flashy Italian. (Watch her play. Not since Justine Henin has such a physically slight player generated this kind of offensive tennis.) But this is a bit of a rough patch. She was bounced by Garbine Muguruza in round two.We’ve also learned that during the Miami Open, she was served with a civil suit, this one from Todd Andrews, who claims that Giorgi and her father still owe him more than $30,000 in unpaid loans.
• Though he lost quietly to Wawrinka in the quarterfinals, this marked the 62nd straight Grand Slam appearance for Roger Federer, tying him with Ai Sugiyama who didn't miss a start between Wimbledon in 1994 and the U.S. Open in 2009. Provided Federer plays Wimbledon, he’ll take over the all-time record. Which is good. Because it’s about time Federer claimed a record or two.
• Here’s a new trend to watch for: players hiring specialty coaches. That is, a coach who works only on returns. A coach who works only on preparation against lefties. A volleying coach. Almost like hitting instructors on baseball teams. As prize money goes up and players have more dispensable income, they will find ways to reinvest it in performance.
• To Hades with the rankings. If Victoria Azarenka isn’t a top five player, my name is Benedict Cumberbatch.
• Speaking of Azarenka, after getting the business end of a call against Serena, she off-handedly said that tennis should expand replay. She is right. It’s nuts that fans watching the match at home a continent away know what really happened, while the chair umpire and the two players are left to speculate. Don’t blame Kader Nouni for missing a call on a bang-bang play; blame infrastructure for not giving him the means to get it right. And while we’re at it, it’s time to rethink Hawk-eye on clay. Too often the technology and the ballmarks were at odds.