As fans, we love postseason tournaments and competitions because they are the ultimate tests of our favorite athlete’s skills, determination and competitive spirit. We sit glued to the TV not only because these are the win or go home moments but because the stakes bring out the best of the most skilled champions.
Good players can become great and the greats, legends.
While the World Cup, Super Bowl, March Madness, World Series and NBA Playoffs may be more celebrated, winning the French Open is the most impressive feat in sports. Like football (both kinds), basketball and hockey, tennis is a grueling sport. It might not be as physical as football (the American kind) or hockey, but it’s as equally athletically demanding and taxing giving the 11-month season.
What sets tennis apart however, is the individual aspect of the game. Except for golf, which is not on par from a physical standpoint, in no other major sporting event (not including the Olympics) is the pressure, particularly mentally, as intense.
Different from team sports, where a star player can have an off night, one small lapse in focus and one’s hopes and dreams are dashed. A player must come focused for all seven matches (the most of any tournament format) unable to rely on a teammate (unless doubles) or even a coach.
In tennis, there are no Game 2's or no bouncing back from a two-over 74. If one doesn't have what it takes to out-duel his or her competitor on that given day, then too bad.
On top of that, what separates the French Open from other Grand Slam tennis tournaments is the famous clay of Roland Garros.
Dirt ball, as it's affectionately called by those with thrive on the red stuff, is a whole different style of tennis. Unlike on the grass courts of Wimbledon and even the hard courts that most Americans are accustomed to, playing on clay is a completely distinct approach to the game, one that reveals the flaws of even the greatest of champions.
There is a reason that sport legends such as Pistol Pete Sampras, John McEnroe and Venus Williams never won in Paris. A booming serve and penetrating forehand will only carry a player so far on clay.
At the French, one needs to have a complete repertoire of shots and skills because the red dust is the great equalizer. The surface is unique in that it slows down the pace of the ball neutralizing the strength and power that has come to define the modern game.
Instead, clay forces players to rely on patience, persistence and guile. Artistry and consistency are rewarded over brawn and ability to hit winners. More importantly, it is the the sports’ ultimate test of fitness and endurance.
With balls catching in the grit of the clay thus bouncing higher and slower, points last longer than on hard courts. Serves have less pop and ground strokes less power which translates into greater rallies and more physically demanding points.
Players often spend double the amount of time on the court as they would for the same amount of points played at Wimbledon or the US Open. While Americans are at an inherent disadvantage because they are not accustomed to the slippery courts typical of Europe and South America, Rolland Garros is the truest test in tennis.
Hoisting the Coupe des Mousquetaires (Muskateer's Cup) after two weeks in Paris is the most impressive accomplishment in sports.