PARIS – “The sport has never been more physical.” It’s a truism that has hardened into cliché. More than ever, tennis requires stamina and durability and full bodily maturity. But you could also argue that sport has never been more emotional.
So far at the 2017 French Open, we have gotten the full orbit of human emotion. We’ve witnessed—and heard—expressions of joy, contentment, anger (see the cache of smashed rackets) and sadness. But so far, the prevailing emotion might be compassion. From welcoming back Petra Kvitova, even if she’s there to win matches and points and prize money that might otherwise be yours….To Juan Martin del Potro’s helping a colleague in distress, even if he was trying to beat him moments earlier….to Horacio Zeballos carrying David Goffin’s bags when he was unable…it's been a banner event for sportsmanship.
How easily we forget. The athletes before us might smack the ball with superhuman power and accuracy, but they are otherwise human. All of these public displays, call to mind a great line by a man—a Frenchman, appropriately—who spent much time thinking about the human experience. It was Jean-Paul Sartre who said: “We must act out passion before we can feel it.”
Through week one—with few contenders making like a certain industrialized nation and exiting Paris in disgrace— herewith grades from Roland Garros.
The nine-time champ is looking to put the “X” in prix. He’s dropped 15 games and won 54. He is winning a higher percentage of second-serve points than first-serve points. He still has four matches left—against better competition—but so far Nadal has brandished his racket like a welder’s torch.
The women’s favorite before the tournament is playing the role like a method actress, dropping no sets and simplifying—not complicating—her first block of matches.
In perverse way Venus, perhaps more than any other player, benefits from the absence of Serena. She is a few weeks from turning 37. She is squarely in the contender category.
Five of the 16 men remaining are countrymen. And Garbine Muguruza, the defending champ, and Carla Suarez Navarro remain on the women’s side as well.
As we write this, Kevin Anderson, John Isner, Marin Cilic, Milos Raonic, and Karen Khachanov are all still in the draw. Good effort by all, none of whom are on their favorite surface.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the highest men’s seed, was defenestrated in the first round. But otherwise it’s been a banner tournament for les Bleus. And Caroline Garcia/Alize Cornet will become the first French women to meet in the second week of the French Open in almost 50 years.
Move over Djokovic, this is the best return in tennis. Her comeback from a knife attack included a first round win and a competitive 6-7, 6-7 defeat in her next match. While there’s still recovery work—both physical and emotional—she will be a threat at Wimbledon.
This was above-the-fold pre-tournament story. (Do they still do folds?) Djokovic looked utterly stellar at time and utterly vulnerable at other times. And now Agassi is off on vacation. We’ll get more data points come Wimbledon.
Some encouraging results, not least 18-year-old CiCi Bellis coming within a set of Week Two and Stevie Johnson playing through personal grief. But the losses of Jack Sock and Madison Keys were disappointing, as was the general sub-.500 record.
Looked like a future Grand Slam champion one match. Looked like a kid still losing a cage-fight with his emotions in his next one. And so it goes….
Wild cards and qualies
Rough week overall for the players who didn’t get into the main draw automatically. Saved by lucky loser, Ons Jabeur, who not only became the first Arab woman to reach the third round of a Slam, but did it with a super fantastic drop-shot based game.
Deutschland unter alles. Angelique Kerber was the top women’s seed and was bounced by lunchtime on the first day of play. And Sascha Zverev arrived with justified hype, having beaten Novak Djokovic in Rome on May 20. He lost in four sets to Fernando Verdasco, and when he described his play as “scheisse” he got little argument.
Drawing Ekatarina Makarova off the bat is some bad juju. But as the top seed in the tournament, you cannot be shown the egress by a score of 6-2, 6-2. Kerber will likely stay No. 1 but she lost her 12th match of the year and you have to think that changes might be coming.
The Aussie has become tennis’ answer to Nickelback, an act that has become acceptable—expected, even—to mock. But even by his standards, falling 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 in 75 minutes is a disappointment.
French wild card lost his first match and then had his credential revoked for his behavior on live television with a female anchor. What the tournament called “inappropriate,” others might call “assault.”