Some assorted thoughts from Day 6 of the French Open ...
Lucky, but not a loser: How about the equal amounts of luck and skill that has helped 21-year-old David Goffin from Belgium -- ranked No. 109 -- make the Round of 16 at his first Slam? Goffin lost in the last round of qualifying to Joao Sousa of Portugal, but got into the tournament as a "Lucky Loser" (a term applied to players who lose in qualifying but still make the main draw due to last-minute withdrawals).
Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, Goffin has made the most of the opportunity. He beat the No. 23 seed Radek Stepanek in the first round, downed Arnaud Clement in five sets in the second, and caused a raucous out on Court 7 as a predominantly Belgian crowd lifted their man to victory over Lukasz Kubot of Poland in the third round. Goffin's 7-6 (4), 7-5, 6-1 win made him the first "Lucky Loser" to make a the Round of 16 at a Slam since another Belgian, Dick Norman, did it at Wimbledon in 1995.
Up next for Goffin? Oh, no big deal, just his idol, Roger Federer. Goffin made no secret that Federer was his inspiration growing up (he admitted to having his walls plastered with pictures of the Swiss GOAT, which is … awkward?) and he said it's a dream come true to play him. Federer on the other hand has never met Goffin and when asked what it's like to play someone who idolizes him, Federer reportedly said, "It's happened before."
Franco-American Wars: The French love their drama, and while the first week didn't necessarily yield a bunch of high-quality, highly competitive matches, the two matches of the week saw the French score some big upsets over two seeded Americans. First of course, was Virginie Razzano's history-making upset of Serena Williams on Tuesday. Then Paul-Henri Mathieu took John Isner deep into the fifth set to finally win the second longest match played at Roland Garros in the Open Era. Chatrier has roared with the "Seven Nation Army" chant, as their emotional victors bathed in the love and adoration of their countrymen and women. These are the moments that make the careers of players like Razzano, Mathieu, even Nicolas Mahut who beat Andy Roddick before losing to Roger Federer today in a quality performance. They're under no illusions that they'll ever win a major title or reach No. 1. But to stand as 15,000 people chant your name for five minutes after you give your heart and soul to notch a single win? Those are the "beautiful" feelings the French have the tendency to mention. As an American I'm embarrassed to admit I'm envious.
As a sporting culture, do we ever really give our players these kinds of moments? Well let me back up. Of course we give them their moments of pure adulation, but how quickly do we let them soak it up before asking the oh-so American question: "What next?" Look at Brian Baker, for example. He did an amazing thing earning a main draw wild card for Paris and making the second round. But we can't stop ourselves from looking at his ranking, calculating how high he can continue to climb, ask him what his plans are, whether he'll ask for a Wimbledon wild card, and even start scheduling out his summer North American schedule. We just can't help ourselves sometimes and while that hunger and tendency to look forward and never be satisfied is a huge part of what drives American athletes, you have to admit that sometimes it would just be nice if everyone backed off and just let these athletes have their moments in the sun.
Not exactly upset: Agnieszka Radwanska becomes the highest seed on either side to make an exit, losing today to 2010 Roland Garros champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-1, 6-2. How you choose to gauge that result depends on how you weigh Radwanska's resume on clay. Despite the fact that she plays a creative, counterpunching game, Radwanska has never excelled on the dirt. Much like Martina Hingis, who never won the French Open, the surface just doesn't suit her. That might seem counter-intuitive. We are, after all, used to players who we consider grinders to rock the dirt. But Radwanska loves a quicker court (her best surface is grass) as it gives her shots more speed and bite. She was flat-out hit off the court today by Kuznetsova, who moved to 10-3 against the Pole.
Similarly, Ana Ivanovic's loss to Sara Errani could raise some eyebrows, after all she was the higher seed, a former French Open champion, and 2-0 against the Italian. But Errani's had a career year, having won three clay titles (Acapulco, Barcelona, and Budapest), and her only losses during the European clay season were to Radwanska and Samantha Stosur. It's undoubtedly a disappointing loss for Ivanovic, who looked like she had a nice long cry before heading into her press conference. Her nerves got the better of her on Friday, as they have been getting to her in tight losses to Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka and Mona Barthel on clay this year. The game is looking good. Ivanovic's nerves just won't let her unlock it when it matters the most. And I wonder if coming back to the scene of her greatest triumph doesn't add even more pressure on Ivanovic. She's just never been the same on clay since that win in 2008.
The Wobbles: Roger Federer and Victoria Azarenka haven't looked convincing at all this week, with Federer having a couple of mental lapses and Azarenka still struggling to find her form and confidence. Federer said he was "slow out of the blocks" today against Mahut and he wasn't happy about his performance. At times he's flown through sets and looked untouchable, hitting his backhand as well as I've seem him on clay. But then there are little lapses that have led him to drop two sets in three matches. He's still got some time to work out some kinks (his draw doesn't get tough until the quarters), but I can't think the Swiss peRFectionist is too pleased.
As for Azarenka, she's not the calm and collected Vika that we saw in Melbourne. After losing a 40-0 lead on her serve at 4-4 in the first today against Alexandra Wozniak, Azarenka chucked her racket to the ground in disgust. She's muttering to herself and visibly annoyed with everything on court, and it's all a sign of a player who's feeling the pressure and lacking in some confidence. The good news is that she's still coming through these matches. She survived 60 unforced errors in the first round and came back from a set and 0-4 down against Alberta Brianti, and her 6-4, 6-4 win over Wozniak today wasn't easy.
Disorder of play: Saturday's order of play wasn't released until just after 8:00 p.m. local time, which clearly got under the skin of a few players such as Andy Murray and Caroline Wozniacki. I can't blame them. Releasing the schedule a mere 15 hours before play is going to begin? You're really toying with the players sleep schedules and preparations for the next day. So why the delay? Blame Paul-Henri Mathieu and John Isner. Their five-hour and forty-minute match on Thursday kicked Maria Sharapova's second-round match to Friday. Schedulers decided to put five matches on Lenglen, clearly hoping that a few of them would move quickly so that they could finish before sundown. As a back-up plan, if the schedule moved quickly on Chatrier they could move matches over there as well. Men plan, God laughs. Gilles Simon and Stanislas Wawarinka's five setter moved at a snail's pace, and just when you thought Federer would roll over Mahut quickly, the Frenchman stole the second set and Fed was muddled in a dogfight. Tournament organizers couldn't release tomorrow's schedule until they knew whether today's matches would finish and luckily for them, they did.
Seriously, get some lights, Paris. I have been told you are a city of them. Show us your lights!Miscellany: not to renew his contract with IMG not currently representing Federer Jon Wertheim convinced me to just shut up about her