French Open 2011: 12 Biggest Lessons We Learned at Roland Garros
They came. We saw. Two conquered.
It was another thrilling two-and-a-half weeks of French Open action this year, featuring dominating performances, a few disappointments and a couple of wacky shots.
But what else stood out the most from Roland Garros? What can we take away from the tournament?
Here are the 12 biggest lessons—six from the women's side and six from the men's—that fans learned in 2011.
12. Caroline Wozniacki Can't Win a Major
I hesitate to criticize someone who is three months younger than me and already enjoying terrific success on such a high level and public stage. But Caroline Wozniacki is having trouble asserting her place at the top of the women's tennis world.
The world No. 1 failed to get past the third round at Roland Garros, dropping to 28th seed Daniela Hantuchova.
Wozniacki continues to struggle in Grand Slam tournaments. Only the fifth player to reach the No. 1 world ranking without winning a major, she has only reached one final as well, the 2009 U.S. Open.
Wozniacki still should have a long career ahead of her, and plenty of time to get off the proverbial monkey off her back, but right now she simply isn't producing the results of a No. 1 player.
11. The Women's Elite Are Not so Elite
It's not just Wozniacki at fault here. The women's top-ranked players are, overall, the weakest they have been in years.
Kim Clijsters, currently No. 2 in the world, fell in the second round at Roland Garros, while No. 3 Vera Zvonareva met her fate in the fourth round. It was the first time in the Open Era that the top three seeds bowed out of the French Open before the quarterfinals.
Of course, part of the reason the women's draw seems so depleted is because...
10. Women's Tennis Misses the Williams Sisters
Oh, yeah, those two.
Although it seems like Venus and Serena Williams have been around forever, they still are the most recognizable and dynamic players in the women's draw. When one is absent, the void is significant; when both are sitting, it is enormous.
Serena has been plagued by several medical issues recently, from a 2010 foot injury to a hematoma and pulmonary embolism this year. She was unable to compete in the French Open.
Venus has suffered from the injury bug as well; since retiring from her third round Australian Open match due to a hip problem earlier this year, she has missed several tournaments, including the French Open.
This was the first Grand Slam since the 2003 U.S. Open in which both Williams sisters did not participate. Especially given the sub-par performances of the top seeds, their absence was surely felt.
9. Kim Clijsters Is a Magician
Yes, Kim Clijsters lost in the second round to unseeded Arantxa Rus, but this third set shot was the play of the entire tournament.
(I apologize for the music that accompanies that clip, as well as for the random foot shot at the end.)
Clijsters' attempt to return Rus's serve hit the top of the net, rose sideways and then bounced off the netpost onto Rus's side for a Harry Potter-like point.
The best part may actually be Clijsters' reaction. She raises her racket and gives a little wave to the crowd, a nonchalant gesture almost suggesting she's practiced that shot before.
8. Maria Sharapova Is a Legitimate Threat Again
After two injury-plagued, inconsistent seasons, Maria Sharapova is starting to show signs of recapturing her No. 1 overall form.
Sharapova made it to the semifinals at Roland Garros, losing to eventual champion Li Na and concluding her most successful clay season to date with a 12-2 overall record.
There are several possible reasons accounting for this comeback and potential return to the top. Sharapova has presumably fully recovered from her October 2008 surgery for a torn rotator cuff. She also brought in a new coach in 2011, Thomas Hogstedt.
Or maybe it's being engaged to this guy that has made all the difference to Sharapova. (Though Lakers fans will disagree.)
7. China Has a New Heroine
Li Na won not only her first Grand Slam championship, but the first title ever for a Chinese player, male or female.
Na defeated Francesca Schiavone in the French Open final, 6-4, 7-6 (0). She will ascend to No. 4 overall as a result.
She is also the first Asian player to win a major tournament.
6. Viktor Troicki Hates Ball Boys
This play proves that ball boys, like referees and umpires, are only mentioned when they make a mistake.
During the fifth set of his fourth round matchup against Andy Murray, Viktor Troicki was raising his racket for what would be an overhand winner when the ball boy, thinking the point was over, ran onto the court.
Thankfully, he stopped and turned around without interfering with Troicki, but the point was nullified as a result.
Troicki, after arguing the ruling, lost the subsequent point and later the match, leaving many to wonder if this play will in the future be dubbed "Ball Boy Bartman."
5. Andy Murray Is Resilient
He has still yet to win his first major, but Andy Murray showed us his chops at Roland Garros this year.
First, Murray suffered an ankle injury in his third round matchup against Michael Berrer. It was later revealed that he had a partially torn tendon. Nevertheless, Murray defeated Berrer and moved on to his fourth round duel with Viktor Troicki, whom we just met in his rage against a ball boy.
Despite losing the first two sets, enduring the suspension of the match (due to darkness) and witnessing the wrath of an angry Serb, Murray won and moved on to the quarterfinals.
Still ravaged by the ankle injury, Murray beat Juan Ignacio Chela in straight sets before losing to eventual champion Rafael Nadal in the semifinals.
It was the first time Murray had reached the semifinals at the French Open, and it was quite an impressive path he took.
4. Novak Djokovic Is Still in the Shadows
To be fair, they are quite large shadows—those of current No. 1 and No. 2 Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
Novak Djokovic was the hottest player coming into the tournament, having not lost a match all year. His streak continued in dominating fashion at Roland Garros, as he only dropped two sets through the quarterfinals.
But in the semifinals, Djokovic met Federer, and his run finally ended, dropping to the all-time great in four sets.
Djokovic is still a force to be reckoned with, to be sure. But whereas a French Open title and a record-making winning streak would have propelled him into a genuine comparison with Nadal and Federer, he is instead left just behind the top two, though with plenty of time still on his side.
Many believed this was Djokovic's tournament, some going as far to say he was guaranteed to win. But, hey, everybody is wrong once in a while...
3. Federer-Nadal Isn't All That Great a Rivalry
I know, I know. When you have the two greatest players in their sport competing time and time again—including in a record eight Grand Slam finals—how can it not be a remarkable rivalry?
Well, because one of those players has more or less wiped the floor with the other.
Rafael Nadal's French Open finals victory over Roger Federer increases his overall lead to 17-8, meaning the Spaniard has won over two-thirds of their meetings. Limit the discussion to Grand Slam finals, and Nadal has an even more impressive 6-2 record.
Don't get me wrong; I still get excited whenever these two are matched up against one another. But I almost always watch with the predetermined conclusion that Nadal has the upper hand.
When a historically great player is reduced to the role of underdog against his primary competitor, it's simply not a very impressive rivalry anymore.
2. But Roger Federer Isn't Done Yet
We've all heard the creeping suspicions that, maybe, Roger Federer is nearing the end of his historic career. He put those doubts to rest for at least a little while.
Sure, Federer lost to Nadal at Roland Garros—but he also did that three times before during his prime. What is more important to take away from Federer's tournament is the path he took to his battle against Nadal.
Until the semifinals, Federer never even dropped a set. Facing five ranked opponents, he took them all down except for the No. 1 Nadal.
He may not be the machine of a player he once was, but Federer still has plenty left in the tank.
1. Rafael Nadal Has Made His Case to Be Considered an All-Time Great
Yes, we already knew Rafael Nadal was supreme on clay, so in theory one might argue that another French Open title adds little to his legacy.
But that one would be wrong.
Nadal tied Björn Borg for the most French Open titles ever with six. That in itself should be enough to settle the argument; any time someone ties Bjorg in anything, he's doing pretty well.
But Nadal completed the task at hand while reportedly suffering from a total lack of confidence. While some may consider that a weakness, others may see it as an obstacle, and an extremely difficult one at that.
Nadal overcame whatever personal struggles he had to win his 10th career Grand Slam title, and his sixth against Roger Federer. The debate between Federer and Nadal as contemporary greats is a good one, but that alone shows how Nadal is enhancing his historic ranking.