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French Open Midterm Grades: The Legends Still Shine, But So Do the Injuries

Two best friends played each other—and then held a disquisition about the match before leaving the court. Teenagers have stolen scenes; but so have players on the cusp of turning 40. A cancer survivor makes a triumphant return. Last year’s finalist, recently split from her father, is proving to herself that she can win alone. All of which is to say that tennis is not a brutalist hellscape.

You might think otherwise reading, hearing and watching the tennis this week. “The whole thing with Naomi Osaka,” as one American TV booker characterized it, overrode (too) much of the actual tennis. The entire sport went through the social media spanking machine last week, some of it justified. We’ll give the topic a rest, only to say one hopes Osaka returns, healthy and soon (in that order) and one hopes that the remaining matches at Roland Garros help tennis undo some of the reputational damage.

Herewith, after six days, your Week One grades from Roland Garros….

serena-williams-french-open

A

The legends: For all the surrounding tumult and storm clouds, Serena, Federer (although he withdrew after his third-round win), Nadal and Djokovic still shine.

Iga Swiatek: Picking up where she left off, she is not winning matches; she is dominating them.

Coco Gauff: Continues to age gracefully. All that grinding this spring—winning lots of matches across the ocean from home in front of few fans—is paying off.

Italy: The Boot has been kicking butt. Led by Mussetti and Sinner, Italy will have 10 men in the top 100 by the end of the tournament.

The weather: You know the rules—spend nine figures building a roof and it stops raining.

Spain: And it’s not just Rafa. In an underrated upset 21-year-old Alejandro Davidovich Fokina outlasted Casper Ruud.

Sloane Stephens and Sofia Kenin: Two players in need of wins getting them.

Carla Suarez Navarro: What a way to close out a career. And if “affection from your colleagues” were titles, she would be a Hall of Famer.

B+

The U.S.: Even with some misfortune (see: Taylor Fritz) and heartbreakers (Mackie McDonald) a dozen Americans hit round three—this makes for the finest U.S. showing in two decades. No men are left, but the women—again—carry the flag.

Czech balance: Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova go out (the former on account of a fluke injury; the latter with another desultory performance) but plenty left, not least sleeper (and semifinalist at the previous Major) Karolina Muchova.

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Alexander Zverev: He’s still alive—with a real shot at the final. But, man, does the guy make his fans work for it.

Night matches: You can’t begrudge Roland Garros the additional sessions (especially not after the financial hits absorbed during COVID-19). But there’s something unfortunate about the most prominent players coming out for a primetime session…in front of zero fans.

Aslan Karasev: Won a match and then fell to ageless Philipp Kohlschreiber. It says something, though, when you were a qualifier at one Major; and your defeat at the subsequent Major is considered a “significant upset.”

Gael Monfils: Won an emotional match in front of the home fans. And then fell to Mikael Ymer by the singularly Monfils-ian score of 0–6, 6–2, 4–6, 3–6.

C

The self goal: L’affaire Naomi launched a thousand hot takes, some comically off-base. Players are entitled! Boo the media! The country club sport is out of touch! The real pity: with more common sense and communication, this was all so avoidable.

Injury mania: We’ve heard all the arguments. Injuries are inherent to sports. Staying conditioned is a skill. There’s more medical care now than ever before. We still say there are way too many injured players. Ash Barty’s retirement from her second round match (hip), Garbine Muguruza (a back injury that led to her first round loss), and Grigor Dimitrov (whose back forced him to retire after holding match points) are three examples among (too) many.

Woe, Canada: Been a rough year for what is otherwise an ascendant tennis nation. Denis Shapovalov and Milos Raonic don’t post. Felix Auger-Aliassime and Bianca Andreescu lost in round one. Leylah Fernandez wins a round and then loses to Madison assessing her performance as a “zero” on a scale from 1–10.

Dominic Thiem: Out in round one and this has turned into a Faust legend.

Devil: The good news, Dominic, you'll win that last elusive first Major at last!

Dominic: What's the bad news?

Devil: You'll find out soon enough.

The hosts: No homegrown player remains. On the men’s side, the 18 players won three matches among them.

Aryna Sabalenka: A top five player who still hasn’t been to Week Two of a Major. In her 6–0 third-set against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Sabalenka—the highest remaining seed in the women’s draw at the time—made 17 (!) unforced errors.

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