In case you have not been paying close attention, the French Open is under way at Stade Roland Garros in Paris. This event, like most tennis majors, is best seen live—which only goes to prove that you must have money to follow tennis as a dedicated and deserving fan.
The predictable patter emanating from broadcast booths follows a familiar pattern, filling the airwaves with online personalities making their typical forecasts and touting the usual analysis replete with the most probable winners. We watch on our tiny screens as the same top-seeded players go through their paces, generally walloping their lower-seeded opponents in the early rounds.
If you followed the early action on television, then you were privileged to see what the advertisers/promoters thought would please the majority—not necessarily the most compelling matches.
There was unrequited interest in Venus Williams’ attire—her somewhat brazen attempt at “risque,” teasing the viewing audience into waiting breathlessly for a Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction.
Pardonnez-moi! It is hard to say whether her misguided attempt was good because people tuned in to the French Open to get a peek, literally, or bad because once again it negated the great athleticism of the women in the sport and promoted the unending titillation factor.
The commentary, for the most part, continues as an unending parade of platitudes and recycled cliches concerning what will happen and who will win. After listening to the so-called experts, you wonder why we bother to play the games—why not head right to the championship ceremony and give Roger Federer the runner-up plate and Rafael Nadal the winner’s trophy?
Because, according to the pundits, no one can defeat Nadal on the red dirt. He is the greatest ever to play on clay and he will take this trophy again, et cetera.
If Nadal loses a la Robin Soderling (heaven forbid), then there is always an asterisk assigned to the winner because Nadal was injured, hurt, tired, upset, or generally not his normal dominating self.
Welcome to the world of athletic competition, Rafa. Everyone suffers with these same problems—it is part of the complexity of competing week after week.
That is not to say the young Majorcan is not the greatest ever on clay. He may very well be, but let us come down to earth and accord him his status as an ordinary human being with extraordinary, but not superhuman, talent. Frankly, it gets a little tiresome listening to the superlatives assigned to Federer and Nadal, day after day, hour by hour, on air and in print.
In 20 years, let the records speak for themselves after their careers are behind them and other superstars have risen to take their place. Today it is like trying to assign a grade to an essay before the author has finished writing it based on his or her previous work in the classroom.
In the meantime, both Nadal and Federer are alive and well, hopefully heading into the quarterfinals and the second week of the French Open along with No. 3 seed Novak Djokovic and No. 4 seed Andy Murray. As expected during heavy and wet conditions, Andy Roddick, the No. 6 seed, lost and is off sizing up the grass, waiting for another chance on Centre Court at Wimbledon, where he left his heart last year.
David Ferrer, the No. 9 seed, finally ran out of gas. He was taken out in the third round by Jurgen Melzer in an aberrant meltdown after weeks and weeks of competing and winning at the highest levels.
Otherwise the top 10 seeds have advanced into the fourth round, hoping to make their way into the quarterfinals.
The truth is that the women’s matches have provided most of the real drama so far. The rise of the Frenchwoman Aravane Rezai and her power game invigorated the crowds as she fought tooth and nail over two days against Nadia Petrova, only to lose 10-8 in the third set. They came back on court Saturday to finish the match after it was suspended at 7-7 because of darkness on Friday night. In the end, Rezai couldn’t get her feet moving fast enough to out slug Petrova.
Saturday's Justine Henin-Maria Sharapova match was also suspended for darkness, with each former No. 1 player holding a set. The conclusion on Sunday saw Henin moving on while Sharapova joined Roddick, eagerly waiting to show off her return to form on the grass where she does not move “like a cow.”
Henin, in the meantime, looks increasingly dangerous on the clay—despite her hideous draw, where her next opponents are Samantha Stosur followed by Serena Williams in the quarterfinals should the younger Williams survive. If Henin wins this tournament, she should get two trophies!
Sharapova’s play, however, must revive her hope to regain her spot among the top women because the Russian beauty looked in control of everything on clay but her movement. It was obvious that she often lacked confidence in her footing. She will love being back on the grass again with her serve safely tucked back into her arsenal.
The Williams sisters, seeded one and two in singles, are also the No. 1-seeded women’s doubles team. One suspects they are preparing to dominate tennis at the end of their careers as they did at the beginning.
The sisters have made up their minds to pool all their energies into tennis for as long as it lasts—then they will start new careers designing costumes and doings nails for the stars.
Both had their eye on the French trophy, which Venus has never won and which Serena has not won since 2002. But Venus' dream ended on Sunday, when Petrova, the dirge drama queen, rose up to her potential and smacked the No. 2 seed, filled with confidence after her defeat of Rezai in the previous round.
The defending champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, has lost already—not really playing good clay court tennis in 2010. Proverbial bridesmaid Elena Dementieva is still alive; for once she received a real break in the draw.
Already into the quarters, Dementieva will face her countrywoman Petrova, which should be billed as the battle of the meltdown queens. Who will hold onto her nerves long enough to win this match? Both women have superlative skills, but only one will be able to steel her resolve long enough to win quarterfinal contest.
No. 3 seed Caroline Wozniacki is playing solid unflappable tennis as she inches along the draw. She made her way into the quarterfinals, beating back a huge challenge from Italian Flavia Pennetta in three sets over three hours on court. Their match could have been defined as “serving is optional,” since neither player seemed able to hold onto hers.
Next up for Wozniacki is the other Italian Francesca Schiavone. Much will depend on the court conditions as these two face off.
Jelena Jankovic’s draw also looks like an excellent opportunity for the Serb to make it into the quarterfinals. She faces Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia in Monday’s fourth-round contest.
Serena Williams will find herself in the quarterfinals only if she can overcome Shahar Pe’er in tomorrow’s match. Pe’er has been playing extremely well of late and should prove to be a real challenge for the No. 1 seed.
As we prepare for Week Two at the French Open, perhaps a new script will be written and we may see some new faces standing on the final day—or maybe we will be treated to the same old faces doing their same old thing at Stade Roland Garros where the clay ends and grass begins...