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Rafael Nadal and Iga Swiatek Solidify Supremacy at the 2022 French Open

Wrapping up two weeks of tennis at Roland Garros, where the women’s World No. 1 won her second major and the King of Clay captured a men’s record 22nd Grand Slam title.

PARIS – Cleaning out the notebook and voice memo app after a cracking two weeks on the clay. Herewith 50 parting thoughts from the 2022 French Open.

• Rafael Nadal remains the King of Clay, winning the French Open men’s singles title for a 14th time. Same as it ever was. The stats are comical. We have exhausted the superlatives to describe his performances at this event. Speculation about his future can wait. Before the event, there were concerns about his foot. In this event, it was emotional durability—not his physical durability—that was so impressive. In the fourth round he beat a player (in five sets) coached by his uncle. In the quarters, he avenged last year’s defeat and out-dueled Novak Djokovic, in a match freighted with all kinds of history that spanned past 1:00 a.m. In the semis, he was not at his best and his opponent retired after a gruesome ankle injury. In the final, he was the overwhelming favorite. That’s a lot of emotional spadework. And yet, he persisted.


• Iga Świątek was the favorite to start the tournament. And she not only held up her end of the bargain but solidified her supremacy. Her game is like a Lazy Susan, each point offering a new delicacy. Speed, defense, angles, the backhand, serve, returning—in the final, she won five of eight return games. At a time when the WTA is on the verge of selling a stake to a private equity firm—percentage of share and valuation TBD—it’s nice to have a reliable champion.

• Coco Gauff, tearfully, came a match short of winning her (inevitable) first major singles title. But otherwise, what an event. For someone already so thoroughly present on the tennis radar, she still managed to reveal herself. Both as a dazzlingly talented tennis player, as skilled defensively as offensively. And as a delightful 18-year-old with wit, awareness, humor and the emotional intelligence of a mature adult. 

• Casper Ruud was simply dusted by Nadal in the final, 6-3, 6-3, 6-0. But all credit to this ascending player. He played deep into a major for the first time. He is ranked a career-high No. 6. And, at 23, he is a consummate pro who will be a fixture at the top of the sport for a long time.


•  For all the concern over Nadal’s foot throughout the event, there was some irony that his semifinal win came when Alexander Zverev dashed for a ball and, hideously, rolled his ankle. In the previous match, Zverev had scored his first top ten win in a major, taking out Carlos Alcaraz in one of the best matches of the event. One feels, too, for Mischa Zverev, who called the match for Eurosport from a studio.

• Daria Kasatkina—like all Russian players, competing with the knowledge that this would be her last major till August—and Italy’s Martina Trevisan both did well to reach the women’s semis. But once there, they were blasted off the court by Świątek and Gauff respectively. We all like that tennis can accommodate real diversity and biodiversity. Not every shot needs to be a power shot. Still, there are minimum thresholds. And 60 mph serves are not going to get in done against top players.

• Forgive this lapse into name-dropping, but Kim Pegula and I have a mutual friend. Before the event, I asked Kim whether she would be in Paris, where her daughter, Jessica, would be seeded No. 11. The answer was no. She would’ve loved to, but she had a business to run. It underscored that as much as players talk about “teams,” this is the individuality of individual sports. Players need support. But they also need independence and self-sufficiency. Mature and self-reliant adults like Pegula—now in the top 10; the top-ranked American—have a real advantage.

• Bit of a challenging go for Amelie Mauresmo in her first year as tournament director, not least when she referred to women’s tennis as less appealing and attractive than men’s—sounding more like a tennis twitter troll than a pathbreaking former WTA player. This is all tired and shabby and it reduces to this: the sooner tennis realizes that the assumption undergirding this argument—that, as in virtually no other sport, men and women are competing simultaneously and can be interchanged—the better off we will be.

• Gauff did not become a doubles winner in Paris either. She and Pegula lost to the Peaches and Herb reunited duo of Carolina Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic, who took the title in 2016 and then parted ways bitterly. In the men’s, Marcelo Arevalo of El Salvador—not often we “ESA” as a tennis draw sheet country code—and Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands beatg Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Austin Krajicek of the U.S. 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-3 in the final.

• Lucie Havlickova, a 17-year-old Czech beat Solana Sierra of Argentina 6-3, 6-3 to take the girls’ title. (Man, the Czech Republic churns out prospects.) On the boys side, France’s Gabriel Debru, 16, defeated Gilles Arnaud Bailly of Belgium 7-6 (5), 6-3 for the boys’ title.

• Djokovic-Nadal 59 lived up to the hype. A spellbinding—and often weirdly arrhythmic—match, Nadal won in four sets. It’s been quite a year for Djokovic. But for all the Djoko-drama over the last year—yes, much self-generated—he was untouchable in Week 1. And but to beat the rush, he is the favorite to win Wimbledon and get back on the board. More thoughts here.

• Some players worm their way into contender status. Carlos Alcaraz stormed. He lost in the quarters to Alexander Zverev, but if you strip away the hype, do you not consider this a positive tournament? He staved off a match point in Week 1. He showed off his offense/defense. He lost a pick ’em match to the World No. 3, whose celebration said plenty about how highly Alcaraz is regarded. Vamos, as it is said.

• Alcaraz was NOT the last 19-year-old remaining in the men’s draw. Holger Rune of Denmark outlasted him by a day and also reached the quarters. Rune’s tennis was first-rate. Alas, he did not distinguish himself for sportsmanship, as his handshake was downright Ostapenkoan.

• In the mixed doubles, former UCLA Bruin Ena Shibahara and Wes Koolhof, a first-time partnership, beat Ulrikke Eikeri and Joran Vliegen. They split $150,000.

• Even by tennis’s limbo-bar standards … even accounting for you-can’t-please-all-the-tennis-constituencies-all-the-time, this was a fairly disastrous event for scheduling. The Sunday start—wrapping an event around three weekends—is fine. In fact, more events ought to do it. These majors are the tentpoles. Why not max out exposure? On the other hand: Starting a night session at 9 p.m. is bonkers. A) It disadvantages the players, who won’t get to bed until the infomercial hours. B) It’s bad for the tournament employees, the crowd, the media, etc. C) It makes the sport look jayvee finishing so late.

• Serena Williams lost in the first round of the 2012 French Open. She was north of age 30. One assumed her career was winding down. She committed to working with Patrick Mouratoglou and promptly won 10 more majors. Earlier this spring, Simona Halep, north of age 30, committed to working with Mouratoglou. She abruptly fired people around her who had done right by her for years. She’s struggled to win matches. She lost in Paris and—admirably and with customary grace—spoke openly about suffering an on-court panic attack. It prompted this fall-on-the-sword response from Mouratoglou, which doubled as a window into how much credit and blame he attributes to his coaching. Who knows? Halep could win Wimbledon (again) and go on a Serena-like late-career run, and all will be good. But right now, it’s hard to look at this situation objectively and not be concerned. As many are.

• Much like fans, journalists can struggle to divorce heart from head, to make sure personal fondness doesn’t cloud objectivity. Felix Auger-Aliassime is a press room/TV favorite. Composed, accessible, polite, punctual, professional. (“The male Iga” was the term I used last week.) His Slam results have been characterized as close-but-not-quite. A lot of five-set losses to players ranked ahead of him, not least Nadal here in round 4. A few of you challenged this, wondering whether we are overhyping a player with a lot of game but the inability to close. I understand the critique, but I double down here. This is a future major winner. And the sport will be better for it.

• The Greek tragedy that is Tsitsipas-in-Paris continues. In 2019 he lost a five-set classic to Stanislas (the Manislas) Wawrinka and spent days roaming the streets of Paris. Last year, he was up 2–0 sets in the final—a set from his first major—and couldn’t close out Djokovic. This year he turned in a vacant performance and fell to Holger Rune.

• Your periodic reminder that life happens to athletes. Sometimes matches are decided by forehands and backhands. Sometimes they’re won for reasons not discussed on broadcasts or apparent to the naked eye. When we reflect on tennis, how often do we say, “Oh, but that was when Rafa’s parents were estranged,” or “That was when Andre’s marriage was breaking up.” The revelation of the tournament, Qinwen Zheng of China, reminded us that biology happens as well. She noted that her performance against Iga Swiatek—a performance that included her winning a set—was undermined by her menstrual cycle. Good for her. As with mental health, I wonder how many past matches have turned on a subject too long considered taboo.

• Daniil Medvedev, former No. 1 and future No. 1, turned in an absolutely mystifying event. The ultimate clay sandbagger, he played nine virtually flawless sets. Then he all but failed to show up for his fourth-round match. In addition to the rankings, Medvedev is atop the fun-and-candid-personality list. The better he does, the better for tennis.

• There were two French retirements at this event, 37-year-olds Gilles Simon (who will play out the season) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (who will not). Countries’ tennis fates can change quickly, but note that there were zero seeded French players, male or female in this event. For a country that hosts a Slam—and all the spoils that come with it—this is extraordinary.

• Even among former players, there exists a vast spectrum of opinion about players and mental health concerns. You millionaires are cosseted snowflakes. No, wait. Players are candid and courageous confronting an issue we never did. Regardless of which side, the issue of mental health is real and, increasingly, players are not shying from discussing. Simona Halep spoke (openly and admirably) about a panic attack. When Amelie Mauresmo, disappointingly, limited media access to players—more on this below—she cited concerns for their mental health. (As does positioning “the media” as an entity at odds with mental health.)

More than ever, players travel with psychologists—and are losing the “performance coach” neologism. (Some top players are closer to their psychologist than they are to their coach.) There’s a social media component here, too. I found this from Paula Badosa especially poignant: “I’m already mean to myself, so I don’t need these kind of extra comments, because of course it doesn’t help my confidence, either. I’m not a robot. So these kind of things, I decide not to read anymore.”

• Oysters. Remastered Earth, Wind and Fire. Kimchi. Daria Kasatkina’s tennis.

• Have we, as a tennis community, done enough to celebrate the popularity of the drop shot? Alcaraz unfurled 43 (!) in his loss to Zverev. Nadal, Djokovic, Kasatkina, Jabeur … and we can keep going. This is a shot being deployed with increasing frequency, not for style points but as a tactical weapon and a sort of territorial play. (Camp yourself at the back fence, and I will make you pay.) And apart from winning points outright, drop shots lead to tennis’s equivalent of witty exchanges.

• Big applause to the statisticians for including “drop shots” in the bill of particulars. Hopefully this is here to stay. If we proceed on the assumption that sport stats exist both to help tell a story and also as a sort of forensic evidence, this is—happily—essential.

• In the ongoing quest for the improved tennis data … we’d love to see something on the variance of score after a player wins a set 6–0. Taylor Fritz is among many players skeptical of winning a set 6–0. You almost set yourself up for disappointment and motivate the opponent in a way you wouldn’t be winning 6–1. My suspicion is that there is social science to explain/support this. But is there data?

• Plenty of airtime and pixels have been devoted to Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian players. I’m still on the side of “remain,” as it were, and think this ban sets a deeply regrettable precedent. But before Wimbledon, I had the chance to speak with Alexei Ratmansky, probably the world’s foremost choreographer, who left the Bolshoi Ballet after the Ukraine invasion because he did not want to be aligned with a Russian institution. I was struck by this line:

“It is precisely because of the most visible figures of Russian culture that Putin gained his unlimited power and now is using it against humanity in this bloody war that is destroying Ukraine.”

Which is to say the soft power of sports and art is so closely tied to Putin and this grotesque regime that you cannot divorce the two. This isn’t, “What about the U.S. during the Iraq invasion?” or even, “What about China w/r/t Taiwan?” This is a regime that explicitly uses sports and culture as part of its legitimacy and image.

• Speaking of Ukraine, I’m hearing that Krakow, Poland, will be the site of a benefit event after Wimbledon, likely July 23, featuring Swiatek, Radwanska and—no joke—Svitolina as a chair ump. I had the good fortune of spending some time in Lithuania recently. You think you are offended and appalled by Russia? Spend time in one of the countries that borders Russia to the west. Add the emotion of “fear” to disdain.

• There was a striking absence of sports gambling—ads, signage, opportunities—on the grounds at Roland Garros. This, of course, is in keeping with French law; the great honeypot for U.S. and British sports (and sports media) is forbidden here. We can debate the merits/morality, but that’s a lot of lost revenue. Long as we are here: odds reflect actual wagers. When people say: “Alcaraz is a co-favorite” that means as much money has been wagered on him as anyone else. It does not mean a grubby bookie in a smoky back room is saying, “I watched Madrid, and this kid is gonna win in Paris.”

• Four players who did not survive Week 1 but impressed nonetheless: Jule Niemeier, who barely dropped games in qualifying and won the first set against Sloane Stephens; Peruvian Juan Pablo Varillas, who took two sets off Felix Auger-Aliassime; Diane Parry, who slings a one-handed backhand; Zdeněk Kolář, who took a set off Stefanos Tsitsipas.

• Ons Jabeur gives a mean press conference—and holds forth in three languages, English, French and Arabic. One popular topic of conversation: her influence in Tunisia. She is “inspiring a nation.” Fans at home follow her with the passion they follow the national soccer team. There are stories like this. The Wimbledon Russia ban and the attendant issues of citizenship and nationality—Russians recruited by Kazakhstan; players living in Monte Carlo; players switching nationalities as if it’s a new kit—can lead to the conclusion: Why does nationality even matter? Jabeur is a reminder that sometimes in tennis, nationality matters a great deal.

• Mid-tournament I sent a check-in note to Alex Dolgopolov, who is part of the Ukraine military effort. I sloppily wrote, “Hope this finds you well.” His response in part: “Alive. So doing okay for now. Can’t be well here.”

• The Adidas kits with those hieroglyphic-type symbols get A an effort for effort. The Hydrogen outfit, worn by Marty Fucsovics and others? It looks like novelty Zubaz redeemed for Skee-Ball tickets in the prize room at Dave and Buster’s.

• Spare a thought for two major champs from 2020. Dominic Thiem, who twice reached the finals here and has now gone more than a year without winning a match. Meanwhile, Sofia Kenin is down to No. 147 (and that’s before Monday’s rankings). One way to spin this: that Djokovic, Federer, Nadal, Serena and now Swiatek win so reliably … don’t take it for granted.

• The ubiquitous Netflix cameras—the Box to Box Films shooting of the tennis cognate of Formula 1: Drive to Survive—continued apace. I’m hearing the filming will continue through the year, and the release is scheduled for the spring of 2023. Television editors are the unsung heroes of the industry. Let’s hope they make judicious choices and recognize that Matteo Berrettini’s post-match full-body massage in Australia in ’22 will have limited entertainment in April ’23.

• As always, the qualifying draw is salted with rich and inspirational stories of triumph and persistence and unlikely circumstances. But so, too, is it a manifestation of tennis’s more brutal qualities. Those failing to make the big show include Sara Errani (a former finalist … and drug cheat), Feliciano López, Fernando Verdasco, Sam Querrey, Laura Siegemund and CoCo Vandeweghe.

• In 2009—during Wimbledon—Michael Jackson passed away. So did Farrah Fawcett. But the latter was completely overshadowed. Bad timing, in more ways than one. Same happens in tennis, where results and matches are obscured. As Carlos Alcaraz was battling with Albert Ramos-Vinolas in Week 1, Karolína Muchová was taking out the fourth seed, Maria Sakkari. In other circumstances, this would be a result-of-the-day. Amazing how many people then said, “Wait, Sakkari lost? Who beat her?”

• Speaking of overshadowing … obscured by the Roland Garros action, college tennis crowned new champions, both—as the USTA press release notes prominently—American-born, meaning they get the U.S. Open wild card. Sophomores Ben Shelton (Florida) and Peyton Stearns (Texas), well done. Same to Colette Lewis for this recap.

• Another major, another testimonial (unsponsored content) for college tennis. Men, women … singles, doubles … Americans, foreign-born players. As careers get longer, reducing pressure on young players to make hay as teenagers, the college game becomes more appealing. No better example than Leolia Jeanjean, who played at three schools—Baylor, Arkansas and Lynn—and reached the middle weekend.

• Trend to watch: The juniors played no lets on the serve. Didn’t hear anyone complain about this. Again: If we ignore balls clipping the tape during rallies, we should do it on serves, too.

• Where is Peng Shuai? How is Peng Shuai? (And note the ATP is likely to announce soon that it is canceling the China swing again this year; though don’t be surprised if it’s justified on COVID grounds; not human-rights-abuse grounds.)

• Have you ever seen the classic SNL sketch about the translator? The press conference linguists do a great job here, but sometimes you feel like expressions and phrases might get, well, lost in translation. Did a player really gush about receiving “warm sensations” from the crowd? Did a reporter really ask, “Do you have the impression that you have looped the loop today?” Or this to Gilles Simon: “Have you had such an osmosis with an audience at Roland Garros?”

• Somewhere Edward R. Murrow topspins in his grave. A journalist—or, anyway, a man with a credential around his neck, permitted into the media room—posed this gem to Zverev:

“Tom Cruise, who is a big tennis fan, is currently starring in Top Gun: Maverick. I want to know how much Maverick you are, whether tennis needs more big characters and Mavericks to appeal to fans, and what do you need to do to be top gun here at Roland Garros?”

Just so the cringing could continue, Zverev responded: “I think I’m a character, that’s for sure. But I don’t think I’m a Maverick. I think there’s other guys that are.”

On Saturday, this was an actual question, asked by an actual accredited journalist, to an actual champion, after winning the title:

“Outside of the court, when you go to a party, do you use makeup? Do you like to go elegant and smart and so on? Because many players we have seen in the past, they were staying hours in front of the mirror before going on court and using the makeup. And you seem very natural like this.”

Iga Swiatek responded with grace. Of course she did. But there’s a larger issue here. A year ago, the press conference format came under fire. When the hacks and clowns and sexists reveal themselves, it contaminates the process for all. 

• We tend to think of “precedent-setting” as a positive. Pathbreakers and trailblazers. But when the ATP punted, invertebrate-ly, on penalizing Zverev for using an umpire’s chair as his personal drum kit, it set a precedent. Nick Kyrgios (remember him?) chucking his racket and nearly hitting a ball kid? This tournament it was Andrey Rublev nearly decapitating a court attendant? And Irina-Camelia Begu nearly pelting a girl in the stands with her racket? There were fines. But none led to default. Under the Zverev precedent, how could it? Problem: Inevitably, “nearly” will be missing and someone will get hurt because of players’ unwillingness to control their anger. Maybe then we’ll get a new precedent. 

• The Ruud-Cilic semifinal was interrupted when a climate change activist ran onto the court and zip-tied herself to the net. We see variations of this at soccer events. This happens at NBA games. Short of 1:1 security/fan ratio, you’re not going to stop every determined fan. But especially in a sport with a tragic history here, it’s always chilling to see fans breach security and enter the field of play.

• Coco Gauff is 18 and, apart from being a celestially talented player, is so wise beyond her years. She could quit tennis tomorrow and become a commentator. One point she brought up that doesn’t get discussed enough: familiarity with courts. I spoke with her after she won on Court Simonne-Mathieu. She reckoned—correctly—that she benefited from having played the court before. After various go-rounds in past years, she came prepared for the sight lines and dimensions behind the baseline and general vibe. Corollary: In a sport already stacked in favor of the stars, it really benefits Serena/Nadal/Djokovic, etc. that they tend to play only on one court—and have for years.

• Two words in scant rotation this tournament: Ash Barty. She won the previous major. She’s a former champion at this major. She started the year ranked No. 1. More indication that life moves on quickly in sport. Ultimately this is a good thing, as we prepare to lose four players each with 20 or more majors. We think athletes are irreplaceable and indispensable. There are always new stars and story lines.

• Here’s a re-up from last week, because I think it’s important. One of the countless charms of Paris: Journalists are allowed free entry into most museums. Never mind the cost savings. It’s a statement. We value a free press. The mission creep of tennis limiting media access has gone too far and gone on too long. It was glossed here as a “player-friendly” touch—like a sushi bar and courtesy cars— that benefits the competitors. It does not. It does not benefit the fans. It does not benefit the sport. It does a disservice to all.

• The TV cut-and-paste. Commentators have nothing to do with programming decisions and the challenges fans can face finding coverage. I empathize with the viewer’s frustration. Your various notes are received and passed on. As for Tennis Channel, Caroline Wozniacki—as cool and earthbound as you suspect she is—turned in a sensational rookie performance in her first major.

• Always fun geeking out on tennis with you guys. Thanks to Chris Almeida and Joy Russo for the production sorcery. We’ll run it back in three weeks at Wimbledon.

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