PARIS – We’ve had rain; we've had (mild) upsets. We’ve had cramp-gate; we’ve had lots of zebras. But it’s the absences at the 2016 that loom larger. No Roger Federer, who is convalescing his bad back, resting up for the grass. No Maria Sharapova, who awaits the disposition in her anti-doping hearing. And most shockingly: no Rafael Nadal who—after two dazzling matches—withdrew Friday with a left wrist injury.
Storylines remain. Can Novak Djokovic win that elusive first French Open— thereby euthanizing the trite phrase “elusive first French Open”? Can Serena Williams hit on 21 (majors) and get to 22, which would tie her Steffi Graf? Can a player, male or female, score a titanic upset and prevent either of the No. 1’s from fulfilling their seeding? Tune in next week. Meanwhile at the turn, here are some midterm grades….
The No. 1s
Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams advance with little complication. Which is nothing new. This is Serena’s 63rd career major and she’s advanced to third round 60 times. Djokovic hasn’t lost before the quarterfinals at a major since 2009.
A few weeks from turning 36, Venus is playing turn-back-the-clock tennis, moving with grace, slugging with power and winning the point freighted with the most pressure.
The last player automatically into the main draw makes the most of it, winning three matches— including a 6–0, 6–7, 6–0 defeat of Petra Kvitova— to reach the middle weekend.
Playing as well as advertised, the Austrian is into week two, most notably winning a Youth-Is-Served match against Sascha Zverev.
Never mind the style points. Remember when this guy was cowed by the home crowds? Through three rounds, Gasquet has breezed, failing to drop a set and silencing Nick Kyrgios.
Virginia and Stanford
Your 2016 his and hers NCAA tennis champs.
Dropped four sets in his first two matches, looking something other than sharp and comfortable; but he survived and advanced.
Teenager missed a ripe opportunity to beat Simona Halep in the third round, but what a talent. Motto: half-Japanese, half-Haitian…100% player to watch going forward.
Lukas Rosol had a 2-0 sets lead on defending champ Stan Wawrinka. Radek Stepanek had the same on No. 2 Andy Murray. Neither Czech could cash in.
Theatrical Frechwoman advanced to third round and thrilled the home crowd (and the homme crowd) in the process. But her seeking medical assistance on five consecutive changeovers violated the spirit of the rules, if not the letter. Then she bows out to Venus Williams on Saturday.
Good for her for speaking so openly about her eating disorder. Her tennis continues to mystify. Played well in her first round and was leading 4–1 against No. 8 Timea Bacsinszky. Then Bouchard somehow lost 10 straight games.
Fashion at the 2016 French Open
Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro were among those missing from the field. The snake-bitten Victoria Azarenka was among those unable to complete her first match. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga pulled up with a groin injury. Then Friday’s bombshell: Rafael Nadal had to withdraw. Instead of bickering about whether the Olympics should result in ATP points or the nuances of the cramping protocol, how about a meaningful investigation into what can be done to make a non-contact sport less taxing on the body?
Still struggling with the elevated expectations that come from winning a major, Kerber her first Grand Slam match after her Australian triumph, falling in three sets to streaky Kiki Bertens.
The sons and daughters of Steve Harvey
The French planned a retirement ceremony for Francesca Schiavone after her first round loss to Kiki Mladenovic. Which would have been nice, if only Schiavone were retiring. As she put it at her press conference: “Roland Garros announced my retirement, but I didn't…So you can stand up, all of you, and go back to work in the office, because I didn't say that."
1991 called. Zubaz wants it clothes back.