The Eight Most Memorable Women Of the French Open
The French Open has come and gone, and tennis players have moved on to places where perhaps the grass is greener.
Before we look forward to Wimbledon though, let’s take a moment to think back on Paris. Over the past two weeks, we’ve heard about some big names and some new names, on court and off. Whether you love them or hate them (and whether they played or not), here are some women to remember.
Vera Zvonareva (For not being there, No. 6 seed)
The reason Zvonareva is here is for not being there. There being Paris.
She was seeded sixth but withdrew before the tournament began. This wasn’t surprising since she hasn’t played since April, when she got an ankle injury during a match at the Family Circle Cup. (It was so bad she left the court in a golf cart.)
It’s unfortunate, because Zvonareva had been playing great tennis. She won the huge Indian Wells tournament in March and got to the Australian Open semifinals before that.
Maria Sharapova (For being there, unseeded)
She came, she saw, and while she didn’t quite conquer, she did stick around longer than many expected.
Until last month Sharapova hadn’t played a tournament for nearly a year owing to shoulder surgery. Her game wasn’t back completely, but her grit sure was—she eked out several tough three-set wins and made it all the way to the quarterfinals.
The match in that round detracted somewhat from her impressive return: Dominika Cibulkova blew Sharapova off the court with a 6-0, 6-2 victory. (It could have been worse–Cibulkova blew a match point at 6-0, 5-0.)
Off court witty Maria was back. When asked why she had a lot of crowd support, something she didn’t always have in the past, she said, “You're ranked outside the top 100, so people like you. When you're No. 1 in the world, for some reason they don't like you anymore. It's amazing how the society works.”
Less familiar was Zen Maria: “The losses are very tough to take…but I think after going through this long process with the shoulder…I don't think I'll treat those losses that emotionally bad.”
Sorana Cirstea (For making some noise—the right way, unseeded)
She was the only unseeded player to make it to the quarterfinals if you don’t count Maria Sharapova (and how could you count Sharapova, really?).
Cirstea is part of the Adidas Player Development Program that’s getting a lot of attention with participants like Caroline Wozniacki and Fernando Verdasco (and Ana Ivanovic and Dinara Safina before them) shooting their way up the rankings.
She beat four seeds on her way to the quarterfinals, but there’s one area in which she didn’t make much progress during her time at the French Open—studying. The 19-year-old Romanian hopes to graduate from high school this year. “Honestly, I haven't been studying this week,” she said. “I was just trying to focus on Roland Garros. I can study after I finish the tournament again.”
Michelle Larcher De Brito (For making some noise–the wrong way, unseeded)
Michelle Larcher De Brito should be on this list for reaching the third round in her Grand Slam debut at the age of 16, but she isn’t. She’s on it because she made so much noise during her third-round match that her opponent complained to the umpire.
Larcher De Brito went from just loud to loud and bratty, asking the umpire, “Do you tell Sharapova to keep quiet?”
Not surprisingly this elicited boos from the French crowd, likely only too happy to finally have something legitimate to boo about. Her French opponent, who won the match, said later that perhaps Larcher De Brito was "just going through a phase."
Serena Williams (For being Serena, No. 2 seed)
She came into the tournament on a four-match losing streak, hadn’t won a single clay court match all season, and may have had a lingering knee problem.
Yet many still considered her a contender for the title. This might sound crazy if they were talking about anyone but Serena Williams—a woman with more Grand Slam titles than everyone else in the top 10 combined.
She got past some tough matches (she barely won her first-round match) and some crazy matches (her third-round opponent likely cheated by refusing to admit a ball touched her). Unlike in the Australian Open earlier this year though, Serena didn’t manage to make it past her quarterfinal match with Svetlana Kuznetsova, who proved surprisingly scrappy.
Off court Serena made plenty of interesting comments on a wide range of topics, proving she’s still unbeatable where interesting quotes are concerned. “I'm like one of those girls on a reality show that has all the drama,” she said. “It's always something and, honestly, maybe it’s me.”
Dinara Safina (For playing like No. 1 in every match but the last, No. 1 seed)
The top seed came into the tournament as the favorite. She had the best clay court record of the season, and it showed. By serving up a double bagel in the first round, she served notice that she was No. 1 and intended to play that way.
She stingily gave up only five games in her next three matches. She didn’t need to work too hard until her quarterfinal match against rising star Victoria Azarenka, whom Safina found a way to beat after dropping the first set.
Unfortunately the same Safina didn’t show up for the final. Perhaps owing to the pressure to win her first Grand Slam and prove herself worthy of the No. 1 ranking, she played tight, passive tennis. She chased after Svetlana Kuznetsova’s shots, looked imploringly at her coach, yelled at herself, and did everything but play the great tennis she played the rest of the tournament.
She ended the match with a double fault and soon after was in her seat crying. Safina managed to make it through her speech without tears and even managed to graciously thank her opponent, sponsors, and even ballboys. Still it was hard to watch.
“I was a little bit desperate on the court and didn't do the things that I had to do,” she said. “I didn’t stay tough mentally.”
Steffi Graf (For aging like fine wine, retired)
She didn’t actually play in the French Open…but so what? After many years away from professional tennis, there she was again on Court Philippe Chatrier–this time to give the trophy rather than to get it–looking radiant.
She looked as fit as before but much happier. Steffi Graf was smiling on a tennis court? It was almost shocking, really. In her acceptance speech Kuznetsova, now winner of two Grand Slams, gushed about how much she adores Graf, winner of 22 Grand Slams. She’s not the only one.
Svetlana Kuznetsova (For winning, No. 7 seed)
With one of the best clay court records this season, she was a contender from the start…but that didn’t mean much.
After all Kuznetsova's talent has never been in question. Her ability to keep it together and make the most of that talent? Now that’s a different story. For a while it seemed like Kuznetsova, who won the US Open five years ago, was best known for her poor record in finals.
At the French Open though she pulled it together and pulled through some tough three-set matches, including one against Serena Williams that surely helped boost Kuznetsova’s confidence. In the final, she handled the pressure better than Dinara Safina, playing better offense, better defense–and just better tennis.
After the match Kuznetsova, reportedly one of the best-liked tennis players, was her gracious self. “She works hard, and she's No. 1 because she deserves to be there,” she said of Safina. “I came on the court and I just played the match. It was just one more match…I just did my best.”