Which professional tennis troupe is doing their best work on the green lawns of Wimbledon in 2010—the French!
This begs the question—why do these Frenchmen wait to shine on grass? Shouldn’t they be honing their skills for the red clay in order to secure their own championship at Stade Roland Garros?
One would think so but no player from France has won the French Open since Yannick Noah in 1983, and no French woman has since Mary Pierce in 2000.
Of course, no Frenchman has won at Wimbledon either because Roger Federer blocked the way for most of the preceding decade just as Pete Sampras did in the 1990s. The French, however, seem to do better in London than at their native tournament in Paris for some unknown reason.
After slogging their way through the clay season as if swimming in mud, the French finally came alive once they reached the green grass of England, although some decided upon a layover in Germany first.
Look at what has happened so far at the All-England Club’s prestigious tennis tournament now that they've arrived. Fifteen Spanish men entered the main draw at Wimbledon and only four remain heading into round three, mainly because the Spaniards wore themselves out on the red clay. They were too pooped to serve and volley—no legs to hold their own on the grass courts.
Fourteen players from the United States took to the courts in round one. When the grass parted at the end of the first round, half of them were gone and by the end of round two potentially only three Americans remain because John Isner of the United States had to go the distance, 70-68 over Frenchman Nicolas Mahut in the fifth set to secure a spot in round two. Isner’s second round match is yet to be played. Overall, the Americans have not fared well on the green lawns.
The only Russian left out of seven who began the quest is Mikhail Youzhny who waits to play Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu in round two in order to secure a spot in the next round.
On the other hand, 12 Frenchman made it into the main draw. In the first round, two Frenchmen faced each other, Paul-Henri Mathieu and Marc Gicquel, with Mathieu winning in four sets. The other match worth noting was the Isner-Mahut match. It took every ounce of effort American Isner could muster to oust the wily Frenchman. Finally Philipp Petzschner of Germany went the distance, taking five sets to defeat Stephane Robert of France.
So now there were nine Frenchman who lived to fight again. In round two Michael Llodra took the opening set against Andy Roddick, but fell in four. David Ferrer of Spain also sent a Frenchman packing, Florent Serra in four sets. Mathieu’s second round match against the Russian Youzhny will not get underway until Friday.
More Frenchman remain than any other player contingent. Potentially seven or 58 percent of the French head into round three and one of them will face the No. 1 seed Roger Federer as the sun hovers over Centre Court tomorrow afternoon.
Arnaud Clement held a 3-1 winning record over Roger Federer in 2001. Since that time, however, Federer has defeated the Frenchman the last six times they have met. Plus, Federer has never lost to the Frenchman on grass. In fact, Federer has lost to very few players on grass throughout his career but especially after 2003.
He lost to Rafael Nadal during the Wimbledon finals in 2008—his only loss on the grounds at Wimbledon since 2003. This year at Halle Federer lost to Lleyton Hewitt—representing his second grass court loss since 2003 and his first lost ever at the Gerry Weber Open in Germany.
Undoubtedly, the Federer versus Clement past playing records can be thrown out the window. Federer as well as most of the top seeds have been under siege from much lower-ranked competitors so far in the tournament—except for Andy Murray who has special dispensation from the Queen.
Clement has found success in doubles, possessing tremendous foot speed and deft, quick hands. Teamed with countryman Llodra, Clement defeated the Bryan Brothers for the Wimbledon Championship in 2007. The French duo also made it to the finals of the Australian Open in 2008 but fell to the Israeli team of Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram.
Clement at age 32 is ranked No. 86 in the world and Federer knows his game well since the two have played each other 10 times. Clement has been ranked as high as 10 in the world in singles in 2001 and as high as eight in the world in doubles in 2008. Currently he is playing doubles at Wimbledon with Mahut.
If he has been paying attention, Clement will probably note that so far Federer has faced some difficulty in defeating players whose rankings may have cast doubt on their abilities. However, with nothing to lose, Federer’s previous opponents have played above expectations, especially with exceptional serving and aggressive play.
Although the No. 1 seed has played well enough, his wins have not been easy or straightforward. Now opponents on the other side of the net facing the Swiss Maestro no longer turn to jelly because the fear factor seems to have evaporated.
Besides, Clement can take comfort in the fact that being French gives him a slight statistical advantage. Federer’s only hope is that the French invincibility cloak will lose its magical powers once players enter the third round.
Perhaps then the tennis Gods will restore order, allowing the No. 1 seed to advance into the next round and hopefully into week two of the prestigious Wimbledon Championships, where he surely belongs.