French Open 2014: Winners and Losers from Roland Garros
We'll always have Paris, tennis fans.
The last two weeks in Roland Garros have been filled with highs, lows and everything in between, but in the end there are two legends left kissing and/or biting their trophies.
The men's tournament saw the two best players in the world face off in the final but didn't witness the best tennis in the world played. It turns out Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are human after all, with injuries, illnesses, nerves and unforced errors all in the mix. Still, watching them battle is always a treat, and Nadal walked away as the French Open winner for the mind-boggling ninth time.
The women's side saw the top three seeds lose early, including No. 1 seed Serena Williams in the second round. But it concluded in an epic final, with Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep battling it out over three hours of scintillating tennis. Sharapova proved her grit once again and walked away with her second Roland Garros trophy in the past three years.
Nadal and Sharapova weren't the only winners, though. Here are all of the winners and losers from a fabulous fortnight on the dirt.
Losers: Maria Sharapova's Opponents in the 3rd Set
Game, set, match.
Sharapova won her fifth major title at Roland Garros this year, but she certainly didn't take the easy way. The Russian won her final four matches in three sets each, coming back from one-set deficits to defeat Samantha Stosur, Garbine Muguruza and Eugenie Bouchard before beating Halep in a three-hour thriller in the final.
Speaking about her marathon ways before the final, Sharapova told the press (via UbiTennis.com):
Well, I would love to win those matches in two sets, but I always feel like I put in the work to be ready to play whatever it takes. If it takes three hours to win the match in three sets, I will be ready for that.
If I have a match that’s easier and a more convincing win, then I will take that, as well.
But I will do whatever it takes. If I don’t start good, if I lose the first set, I’m going to be there until the end.
Sharapova's second Roland Garros title, two years after her first win at this major and 10 years after winning Wimbledon for the first time, shows that the hard-working 27-year-old has the fire to win even when her back is against the wall. Her legacy just continues to grow.
Winner: Women's Tennis
Take a bow, ladies.
In the era of the ATP's Big Four, women's tennis has often gotten the shaft, with unfair comparisons and short-term memory loss from media and fans focusing on the negatives of the sport above all positives.
It will be interesting to see what detractors have to say after this fortnight. It was a phenomenal two weeks for the girls of the WTA Tour, with rising stars such as Halep, Muguruza, Ajla Tomljanovic and Bouchard all scoring big-time wins, and a superstar in Sharapova claiming the top prize.
It helped that the final was an epic one, with Halep and Sharapova delivering the first three-set women's final since Jennifer Capriati defeated Kim Clijsters in 2001. When it comes to women's tennis, the present is bright, and the future is even brighter.
Loser: Rafole Rivalry
The 42nd edition of one of the greatest rivalries in the history of tennis was not one for the highlight reel.
Nadal and Djokovic both came out nervy and testy, and while there were a few scattered points of brilliance, for the most part it was a match more defined by the misses than the makes. In the end, Nadal won it on a Djokovic double fault, 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4.
Nadal's forehand was erratic at best during the first set-and-a-half, and it looked like a subpar Djokovic might sneak out to a two-sets-to-none lead. However, Nadal began finding the court on his forehand, and Djokovic just couldn't find anything to challenge the Spaniard.
It says a lot that the most viral moment of the match was a disgusting slow-motion replay by NBC of Djokovic spitting up. (Warning: That clip is exactly as gross as it sounds.) These two are still the best in the sport right now, but neither is playing anything close to his best tennis this season, likely due to fatigue and injury.
Regardless, Nadal has equaled Pete Sampras with 14 major titles, while Djokovic is still searching for his career Slam.
Winner: Canadian Tennis
The future of American tennis might not be so bright, but our neighbors up north just might be ruling the tennis world in a year or two.
Twenty-year-old Eugenie Bouchard, from Quebec, continued her meteoric rise, making her second straight semifinal in a major and rattling Sharapova in their match to nearly make her first Grand Slam final. The youngster will be No. 12 once the WTA rankings come out Monday, up from No. 77 this time last year.
Meanwhile, her compatriot Milos Raonic made waves in the men's draw, making the quarterfinals before losing to Djokovic in three tight sets. This was the first quarterfinal appearance in any major for the 23-year-old, and it happened on his worst surface.
Maple syrup for everyone, eh?
Loser: Ana Ivanovic
Ana Ivanovic won the French Open title and subsequently became the No. 1 player in the world back in 2008, but she has struggled since with her form, health and fitness. However, the Serb came into this major on a roll and was a popular dark-horse pick. (Guilty as charged.)
She earned those expectations too. Ivanovic had made the final of Stuttgart and the semifinals of the Italian Open, taking out Sharapova along the way. Her ranking had climbed to No. 12 in the world, and her draw was pretty open.
However, with her best chance for a deep Slam run in six years, Ivanovic completely flopped in the third round, losing in straight sets to Lucie Safarova. The former champion just can't seem to muster her best on the biggest stages of tennis anymore.
Winners: Julien Benneteau and Edouard Roger-Vasselin
The hometown singles players might have struggled mightily at the French Open, but Julien Benneteau and Edouard Roger-Vasselin teamed up to give the French crowd something big to cheer about.
The veteran Frenchmen were the No. 11 seeds in the doubles draw, but thanks to their excellent play, crowd support and some early-round upsets, they were able to win their first Grand Slam in doubles, beating Spaniards Marc Lopez and Marcel Granollers 6-3, 7-6 (1). They were the first French doubles team to win the doubles title at Roland Garros since Yannick Noah and Henri Leconte in 1984.
Elsewhere in doubles, No. 1 seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai took out No. 2 seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci in the women's doubles final, 6-4, 6-1. Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Jean-Julien Rojer teamed up to win the mixed doubles title, 4-6, 6-2, 10-7, over Julia Goerges and Nenad Zimonjic.
Loser: The Media
Once again, television coverage and journalistic practices left a lot to be desired during one of the biggest events in the sport.
ESPN and Tennis Channel combined for most of the coverage in the States, with NBC mixed in. Viewers could only get streams most of the time if they paid for Tennis Channel's app, which cost around $60 for streaming of multiple courts.
Therefore, most viewers were stuck with television, where they were often subjected to endless chatter of talking heads instead of live tennis. There were many questionable programming decisions too, such as Tennis Channel deciding to air none of Caroline Wozniacki's first-round loss to Yanina Wickmayer but all of her post-loss presser, clearly hoping for tears over the Rory McIlroy breakup.
When NBC was added to the mix on the weekends, there were more problems.
Matt Zemek of Bloguin's Attacking the Net broke down the main issues with television coverage in the United States, starting with the recurring disaster of the tape-delayed second men's semifinal:
Let the simple truth be repeated: Only one time zone in the United States was able to see a major-tournament men’s singles semifinal match live on American television. This is a problem that — in the aftermath of ESPN’s takeover of Wimbledon coverage from tape-delay-happy NBC — now exists only at the French Open, on men’s semifinal Friday.
It happens every spring, as the saying goes.
Winners: American Wild Cards, Both Past and Present
Born to be wild, indeed.
The story of the first week of the tournament was Taylor Townsend, the 18-year-old American wild card playing in her first main draw of a major. She received the USTA wild card into the French Open after having good results in ITF events in the spring, and she took full advantage.
Townsend, who came into the tournament ranked No. 205 but will be in the top 150 Monday, came back from a 1-5 deficit in her first-round match to beat fellow American Vania King 7-5, 6-1. Then she really flashed her potential when she upset Frenchwoman Alize Cornet, the No. 20 seed, in front of a raucous Parisian crowd, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. Townsend lost in the third round to No. 14 seed Carla Suarez Navarro, but her Grand Slam debut was absolutely electric.
Townsend's childhood friend, Donald Young, who qualified for the main draw based on his ranking but received an overload of wild cards earlier in his career, also had a great tournament. The 24-year-old Young took out Dudi Sela and No. 26 seed Feliciano Lopez on his way to the third round, where he played brilliantly in a loss to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.
Young's father coached both of them growing up, and it looks like both of them are coming into their own at the same time.
Losers: Australian Open Champions
This year the suspense about whether there would be an Australian Open-French Open double did not last very long. For the first time in history, both the men's and women's Australian Open champions lost in the first round of the French Open.
Li Na, who won the French Open title in 2011, crashed out to Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic, 7-5, 3-6, 6-1. Afterward, she told the press that she would have lost to anyone on the court in that match; she simply wasn't feeling feeling good about anything. Via UbiTennis.com:
Nobody say if you No. 2 in the world you have to win all the matches. I mean, this is tennis. I mean, everyone come to the court, everyone has a chance to win the match.
I think doesn’t matter who plays today against me, I always lose the match today, because I don’t think she was put a lot of pressure from me.
I think today just I gave it away for the match.
Stanislas Wawrinka was also feeling down, falling meekly in four sets to Garcia-Lopez, 6-4, 5-7, 6-2, 6-0. "I need to put the puzzle back together," he said, via UbiTennis.com, "but differently than in the past, because now it's, after winning Grand Slam, Masters 1000, being No. 3 in the world, everything is different, and I still didn’t find all the pieces."
No man has won the Australian Open and French Open in the same year since Jim Courier in 1992. No woman has done it since Jennifer Capriati in 2001.
Winners: Press-Conference Superstars Andrea Petkovic and Ernests Gulbis
It's always great to see good things happen to good people, and if you ask anyone in the tennis community, they will reassure you that Andrea Petkovic is one of the nicest athletes in the sport.
The 26-year-old German has had a lifetime's worth of injuries and comebacks, and this time last year she lost in the second round of Roland Garros qualifiers and thought about retiring from the sport. Luckily for us, the thoughtful, funny and proudly feminist Petkovic stuck with tennis, and the former top-10 player propelled herself into the French Open semifinals.
After her quarterfinal win, Petkovic kissed her racket. As reported by Jim Caple of ESPNW, she told the press that she did it because, "I was just overwhelmed by emotion. I had no boy to kiss, so I kissed my racket, right?"
Ernests Gulbis was also a surprise Roland Garros semifinalist this year, taking out Roger Federer in the fourth round and Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals. The historically underachieving Latvian is much more controversial and provoking than Petkovic, but the journalists were still happy about his ascension because he is a quote machine.
Luckily, even though he lost to Djokovic in the semifinal, he's determined to stick around. "It’s not enough," he told reporters, including UbiTennis.com. "I need to reach more now. Now I’m addicted to success, really."
Losers: 17-Time Grand Slam Champions
Even legends have days they'd like to forget, and that was certainly the case for Roger Federer and Serena Williams at the 2014 French Open.
Serena didn't even make it to midway through the first week, shockingly crashing out to up-and-comer Garbine Muguruza in the second round, 6-2, 6-2. The defending champ looked clueless on the court when faced with Muguruza's power and hit-deep-and-to-the-middle tactic. It was her worst loss at a Grand Slam in her entire career.
Federer lasted a little bit longer but didn't leave Paris with any more optimism. The 2009 French Open champion made it to the fourth round but then fell apart at the end of his match against Gulbis. He ended up losing 6-7, 7-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3. Federer has now lost before the quarterfinals in three of the last four majors.
While both Serena and Federer have good days ahead of them, at 32 years old, both are starting to feel the effects of the aging process. It's inevitable but no less difficult to watch.
Winner: The Weather
It's always a bit dangerous to have an outdoor sporting event with no lights or roof, and therefore no schedule flexibility when it comes to rain.
The weather forecast was incredibly sketchy coming into the fortnight, with rain a possibility on a daily basis, but the tennis gods were working overtime to make sure there weren't any insanely bad delays of play.
It wasn't perfect, of course, but even on the second day of quarterfinals, where matches got started very late, they were all able to finish before sundown, which was a scheduling miracle. The only marquee match that had to be pushed to a second day was the Andy Murray-Philipp Kohlschreiber third-round affair, which went all the way to 12-10 in the fifth set.
The schedule itself is another issue, but at least everything was completed on time. I'm still in favor of the French Open investing in lights, though. The weather is hard to control, but there is a handy invention that takes care of darkness.
Losers: French Singles Players
C'est le blues.
There is so much tennis talent in France, yet so little to show for it. As far as singles is concerned, that didn't change any at this year's French Open.
Former Australian Open finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga barely showed any fight in a 6-1, 6-4, 6-1 loss to Djokovic in the fourth round. Richard Gasquet crashed out to Fernando Verdasco in the third round. Gael Monfils made it to the quarterfinals but played a bizarre match against Murray, phoning in the first two sets, fighting and showboating to win the next two and then getting bagelled in the fifth set.
The women didn't fare any better. With Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli in the commentary booth, there were no strong French contenders in the women's field. Alize Cornet has had a great year, but the No. 20 seed crashed out in the second round to the 18-year-old American, Townsend. Kristina Mladenovic certainly provided some sparks with her upset of Li Na, but she didn't make it to the second week either.
Pauline Parmentier, the 28-year-old ranked No. 145 in the world, was the last Frenchwoman standing, but she lost in the fourth round. With all of the French crowd support, it's disappointing that the singles players couldn't create more fireworks.
Winner: Robin Soderling
Go ahead and pop that bottle of champagne, Robin Soderling. You are still alone in the history books as the only man to ever beat Nadal at Roland Garros.
Back in 2009, Soderling shocked the world when he took out Nadal 6-2, 6-7(2), 6-4, 7-6(2) in the fourth round. The Swede made the final that year before falling to Federer. He proved that run wasn't a fluke by climbing all the way to No. 4 in the rankings, returning to the French Open final in 2010 and winning a Masters 1000 title later that year in Paris. Still, he's most known for being the only man to slay the King of Clay in his palace.
Coming into this tournament, many thought this would finally be Djokovic's year to hold the French Open trophy and take out Nadal in the process, but it wasn't to be.
Soderling has been off the tour since 2011 due to a terrible bout with mono and is sorely missed in the men's game.
In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim, Soderling said he is still hoping to come back to the tour and that he has not officially retired. He also reflected on his famous victory over Nadal:
I was satisfied with the way I played [against Nadal]. It was even better to reach the final. And then again the year after. A lot of players can play one match really well. But to reach the final two years in a row, that's what I'm most proud of.