Jon Wertheim reports from Paris on Genie Bouchard, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova's return to the WTA tour.
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PARIS – Best-of-five on an overcast Thursday from Roland Garros.
• Your Serena Williams stat of the day: In this, her 63rd career major, she’s lost in the first round one time. Her second round record? 60-2. Her latest came today on Court Suzanne Lenglen as she beat Teliana Pereira 6–2, 6–1, running her Roland Garros win streak to nine. Serena, of course, still needs to win five more matches to defend her title. But if nothing else, she’s playing better than she was this time last year.
• The good news for Genie Bouchard: She has won 19 matches this year, almost double her total from 2015. More good news: she has been very up front about her struggles. (Here’s a bite from Tennis Channel the other day. “I just felt so nervous [in 2015], it was hard to eat before matches and sometimes at other meals, just hard to keep it down. I didn’t try to lose weight, but it definitely happened. It was definitely a cause of the stress. I’ve learned a lot from it, and I know I just have to force food down my throat even if I feel sick because I am burning so many calories.”)
The less good news: her game is still subject to mood swings. That was evidenced today. Bouchard took a 4-1 lead against Timea Bacsinszky. She then lost 10 games in a row. Down 4-6, 0-5, she reeled off four more games. Then she retreated and fell 6-4, 6-4.
• If you had forgotten that Rafael Nadal was—nay: is—a nine-time champ here, he’s helped jar your recollections with his play. Nadal won his first round match in 80 minutes—speed chess, given his place of play. Today he needed scarcely more time, winning 6-3, 6-0, 6-3, including 18 of the last 22 games. Statement made.
• As Nadal was rolling on Chatrier, Novak Djokovic was laboring on Court Suzanne Lenglen. The World No. 1 won in straight sets, but his 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 defeat of Belgian Steve Darcis was of the hard-earned variety. A match like this might be a bit of a disguised blessing. Djokovic was never in danger, but he had to negotiate a tricky, flashy, nothing-to-lose, not-cowed-by-the-occasion opponent.
• We were talking the other day about Sharapova and her return. The question arose: “If she served a doping suspension and had zero points on her ranking—i.e. a one-year ban—could she receive wild cards or would she have to build her ranking the old-fashioned way?”
The WTA reports: “There is no rule regarding wild cards after a player returns from suspension. Upon return, she would be under the WTA Rules, and able to receive wild cards under those rules. As a Grand Slam winner, she would be allowed to receive unlimited singles wild cards into tournaments.”
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I appreciate that some of the older guys were able to gain entry into the tournament but I'd rather see young players gain experience in a major than see grizzled vets like Youzhny, Mathieu, Tursunov and Benneteau. Good dudes I'm sure but not worth my viewing time for best of five sets in 2016.
• Best-of-five is a big ask of players and a comparably big ask of fans, no matter which players are involved. I told you a few weeks ago about my friend—a hardcore fan—who begins watching these matches at the seventh game of each set. If HE can’t handle best-of-five, what hope is there for the casual fan switching over from basketball or sitcoms or Skip Bayless?
Anyway, one of the limitless virtues of tennis: it’s a meritocracy. The aforementioned—except for Benneteau—didn’t get in on his merit. They earned their spots, either by dint of their rankings or by qualifying. If the young guys want to gain entry, the solution redounds to three letters: W-I-N. Zverev, Coric, Fritz—they’ll ascend soon enough. But make ‘em earn it, no?
Hello Jon, long time since I wrote in. Hope you are enjoying the French Open. Looks like it is shaping up to be a good one. I have a mailbag question for you:
I’ve noticed that players coaches/team often wear T-shirts/hats from companies that are different from the players main sponsors. This is true even for the big names (Jamie Delgado, for example, wears Yonex while Murray is obviously sponsored by Under Armor; Toni Nadal wears a hat with Eurostar as opposed to Nike). The players box gets a lot of TV exposure—so my question is, how come this is allowed by the players sponsor? It would seem to me that the entire team (at least when they are in the players box) should wear gear from the main clothing sponsor? Thanks for the great write-ups.
• Thanks. It’s all negotiable, I suppose. Sometimes the entourage members wear the logos of the player. (Michael Chang wearing a ballcap promoting Kei Nishikori’s Nissin ramen is favorite from this event.) Sometimes the entourage members have their own deals. (Toni Nadal is also a “brand ambassador” for Lavazza coffee.) If the brand has leverage, they can say, “Not only will you wear this brand, but so will everyone in your camp.” If the player has the leverage they can say, “I’ll wear your brand, but my coaches/parents/uncles must be able to cut their own deals.”
"When showing the stats and image of Randy Lu on-screen, why do they show him with the Chinese-Tapei Olympic Committee Flag as opposed to showing him with the national flag of Taiwan?"
—J.G, New York
• Well….I believed we discussed this with Lu beat Andy Roddick at Wimbledon in 2010. This is an IOC designation—intentionally murky—meant to either stress China’s authority or undermine Taiwan’s claims to independence. (Or both.) I’ll try to avoid speaking out of turn and will this over to Wikipedia. Another polarizing issue, if slightly less weighty…
I've noticed that Roland Garros does not seem to publish interview transcripts on its website as has been done in the past. A quick nose around some message boards suggests that others are wondering about it as well. Any insights?
—Trent Miller, Indianapolis
• This is the Citizens United hot-button issue of the tennis media. Some believe that these transcripts should be embargoed or withheld entirely, benefitting and incentivizing the journalists who took the trouble to ask the questions and cover the event in person. Others contend that this is unduly restrictive—“Information was meant to be free and fast!”—and is a disservice to the fan as well as colleagues who cannot attend. Some events are more receptive to these concerns than others.
Salut Jon. If I'm looking at the WTA ranking points correctly, there is a very real possibility that Serena can lose the No. 1 ranking at Roland Garros to Radwanska. It looks like if Aga goes a few rounds deeper than Serena, she's the new No. 1. Kind of hard to fathom, no? It just seems so wrong. Au revoir.
• Another possibility: had Angelique Kerber won the title, she, too could overtaken Serena. But realistically this is the longest of long shots. And Serena reaching the third round—never mind doing so decisively—reduces the odds ever more. From the WTA: “If Radwanska were to win the title and Williams was knocked out in the semi-finals or earlier, the 27-year-old Pole would become world No. 1 for the first time in her career. An appearance in the final may also be good enough for her if Williams lost before the third round and Kerber did not win the title.”
Your reward for reading this far, a clay court appreciation.