Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Deep Tennis: First Time I Saw Paris
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Deep Tennis: First Time I Saw Paris 05/23/2007 - 6:38 PM

SafinThe pros are gathering in Paris as we speak. For a U.S. tennis fan, the city represents a mirror universe—kind of like that Star Trek where Kirk and Scotty travel through the looking glass and meet a version of Spock who has a goatee. My first experience in this alternate world came in 1998, during a fourth-round classic match between a clean-cut rookie named Marat Safin and the local favorite, Cedric Pioline.

It was my first trip to Paris, as well as Roland Garros. I thought of the city as the flip side of the same scuzzy coin as New York. The cabbies were from different parts of the Third World and they listened to Thelonious Monk rather than talk radio, but they still drove like maniacs. Instead of buses and SUVs barreling down four-lane avenues, Paris was clogged with itty-bitty green things on wheels that snaked through narrow streets. Manhattan’s sound was—and is—a roar; Paris’ center city seemed to grind.

The differences were more obvious—more concentrated—in a tennis stadium. There was the clay, of course. Not only was it a color you almost never saw in the U.S., it seemed to extend the game well beyond the lines. Court Centrale (now called Chatrier) is an ocean of orange. The players not only have more time to track balls down, they have much more room to do it than you or me. In that stadium, the game expands. Even now when I play on courts at my home club, I can’t believe they’re the same size as the one in Chatrier. If Centre Court at Wimbledon is tennis’ most historic site, and Ashe Stadium at night its glitziest, Chatrier is its grandest arena.

When a French player steps on this court, it also becomes the sport’s tensest setting as well. Doom seems to hang in the air. As Pioline warmed up with Safin, the seats behind the Frenchman filled with dark suits and gray-haired eminences. As far as I can tell, no other Slam features its own federation members as prominently as Roland Garros. The French Tennis Federation has until very recently controlled the development of virtually all of the country’s best juniors; seeing them arrayed behind a French player at Chatrier, you don’t get the feeling they’re rooting for the young person in front of them. You get the feeling they’re judging him. No wonder there’s been just one homegrown champion at Roland Garros in the Open era.

On the other side of the net—and the federation bigwigs—was an 18-year-old I quickly came to think of as the Future of Tennis. Marat Safin had already upset the defending champion, Gustavo Kuerten, and tuned Andre Agassi 3, 3, and 3 to get here. I had yet to see the Russian play, but he even in the warm-up he looked like something new—a huge guy who also had sparkling-clean strokes. I didn’t think there had ever been a taller pure baseliner. Safin looked like the game’s next logical progression.

That still didn’t prepare me for the way he hit the ball. I was sitting fairly close to the court and felt knocked back by his strokes—I was almost frightened for Pioline. I know this sounds hard to believe now; it’s a measure of how the game has continued to evolve that Safin’s strokes are not out of the ordinary anymore. It also helps that he doesn’t hit them with anywhere near the same abandon and desire.

Pioline, first-class athlete that he was, adjusted more quickly than I thought possible. He was reacting rather than dictating; in many rallies he seemed to be hanging on by a thread. But Pioline had a talent and athleticism equal to Safin’s. He was bigger than most French players, but he had their creativity. My friend Kamakshi Tandon says that Roger Federer has always reminded her of Pioline, and he’s at the top of most people’s lists among greatest players never to win a major. Buoyed by the crowd on this day, he weathered the opening Safin storm and won the first set 7-5.

The Russian wasn’t going anywhere, though. While Safin’s deep negative streak and penchant for drama were already well-developed—I can remember him pleading, futilely, with the clouds and the sky even then—he was not yet the lumbering zombie of squandered potential and self-loathing you see before you today. The most obvious new element of his game was his backhand. There had been two-handed weapons before, but Safin’s went beyond most of those. It was every bit the equal of his forehand, something almost never seen on the men’s side up to that point.

One of the more important and somewhat unheralded ways in which the game has changed in the last 20 years has been on the backhand side. Ivan Lendl and Jim Courier were able to dominate for a time with their inside-out forehands, but the days of winning with that shot alone ended when other players learned to knock off the backhand down the line. You can see the effects in the decline of Courier and the way that Agassi stopped relying on his slashing forehand and learned to grind from both sides with relentless ball movement.

Today most pros use their backhands as weapons. Gasquet, Ljubicic, Djokovic, Davydenko, Nalbandian, the list goes on. The ones who don’t—Moya and Roddick, say—suffer mightily from that weakness. Even at 18, Safin could rifle the down-the-line backhand well enough to neutralize an inside-out forehand. Against Pioline, he did it well enough to win the second set and take the third to a tiebreaker. By this point, the match had become a spectacular display of shotmaking, as well as a seesaw battle.

It was also my first live exposure to the phenomenon of the French tennis audience. I had heard about how fickle they were, but as far as I could tell they were different from U.S. fans in two major ways: (1) The French were united in everything they did, and (2) They did not tolerate what they considered unsporting behavior. At all.

A decade later, I can still hear the chants of “Ced-REEK! (clap-clap-clap), Ced-REEK! (clap-clap-clap), Ced-REEK! (clap-clap-clap).” There was a marching cadence to these words that made them infinitely more powerful and catchy than the half-hearted “Let’s go Pete” chant you might have heard at Flushing Meadows around the same time. Chatrier was rocking.

AnnaIn the fourth set, as the sun came out and the sense of doom in the air temporarily lifted, someone very famous snuck into the French Federation seats. So famous that most of the crowd began to stand and applaud. Pioline and Safin even acknowledged him with smiles. Finally, this person stood up and waved. It was an athlete, but that’s all I knew. Later I learned that it was none other than Ronaldo, in Paris for no less than the World Cup (which his Brazilian team would eventually lose to the French). A couple minutes later, another famous person snuck in to join him. I recognized her: Anna Kournikova. Rather than applause, a giant whisper swept across the arena.

The day’s foreign quality continued. In the fifth set, Marat (already being Marat), slammed his racquet into the clay after an error. The crowd booed mercilessly; the sound was deafening and vicious, like something you could only imagine hearing in Veteran's Stadium in Philly on a very bad day for the Eagles. (The phrase The Death of Marat came into my head.) Safin picked up his racquet and held his hands in the air, clearly apologizing. That was all it took. The crowd immediately went from a lusty boo to a rousing cheer and began clapping respectfully. All was forgiven. Safin had somehow disrespected a behavioral code, hence the booing, and then come back and showed his respect again. This, needless, to say, was not how I had seen athletes and fans interact in the U.S.

Marat, already being Marat, lost torturously that day, 6-4 in the fifth. “Ced-REEK! (clap-clap-clap)” followed me out of the stadium, but as far as I was concerned, I’d seen the future, and it’s name was not Ced-reek. It was Ma-rat. All of which makes the sight of that Lost Future harder to watch today. I saw Safin lose in Rome two weeks ago in his usual painful fashion. He lumbered again under the weight of the world. The stadium was packed and everyone was clearly there to see him, not his opponent, Nikolay Davydenko. Safin looks doubly troubled these days, and for good reason. He must live up to his extraordinary talent on the one hand—talent that I thought would change tennis—and also live with the nonstop attention his looks and personality bring. The audience always wants more, and he plays for them without joy or fire, but obligation. Watching in Rome, I wanted him to do what he had done in Paris way back in 1998—throw his arms in the air and shake off the world. But he doesn’t have that kind of will anymore.

Or maybe it’s only the French who understand him. The last time I saw Safin play in Paris—three years ago, in another long five-setter, against Felix Mantilla—he dropped his pants instead. The crowd loved it.


 
91
Comments
 

Posted by Cheshire Cat 05/23/2007 at 06:46 PM

"Gasquet, Ljubicic..."

Err...

Posted by lipitor 05/23/2007 at 07:45 PM

awesome post. pioline got to the semis that year i think? i miss the battles that rafter and pioline used to have. they were my heroes.

Posted by Marcelo 05/23/2007 at 08:14 PM

I wish Safin could control himself a bit more, he has a great backhand and I enjoy watching his match a lot. I remenber watching his match against Guga, such a great match!

Posted by skip1515 05/23/2007 at 08:15 PM

Pure, unadulterated gold.

Posted by Suresh 05/23/2007 at 08:55 PM

Steve, good point about the evolution of the game. While it may not necessarily be true that one needs all the strokes to be at the top of the game for a long time or with each successive generation the top player is better than the previous generation.

At the same time, the game as a whole can be seen to be evolving when 'more' players incorporate extra dimensions in their game - some subtle and some not so subtle.

Posted by Miguel Seabra 05/23/2007 at 09:28 PM

Hey Steve, thanks for remembering that year's Roland Garros -- Marat truly dominated the scene until that loss against Pioline (I guess Kamakshi compares Cedric to Federer because of the shanked forehands...).

But I beg to differ on a couple of things. Marat back then wasn't yet the Marat we got to know -- the Marat as a Dostoievskian character. Back then, Marat was still a naive shy guy that could hardly speak english (can you imagine?).

I followed him particularly that year because just a few months before he had played two consecutive weeks in Portugal, getting to the quarters of a 75.000 challenger in the Azores Islands (actually, he told me that he didn't know Azores was a set of islands in the Atlantic Ocean and he went to the train station to buy a ticket to get there!) and then winning a 125.000 challenger the following week in Espinho (near Porto, in the north of Portugal).

I first saw Marat when he was playing in the qualies in that Azores challenger. I was flabbergasted (I still remember the unique sound of his Head Prestige hitting those backhands) and right then I asked around who the kid was. Turns out those two weeks in Portugal were crucial for him, because the prize-money allowed him to keep his spanish coach then. Exactly 3 years later, after trashing Sampras in the final of the US Open, I reminded him in the press conference at Flushing Meadows where he was in 1997 and he called those two weeks «the most important ones of his career» ('career-defining moments', uh?).

So when I saw that he qualified and was playing Agassi in the first round of Roland Garros 1998 I was pretty sure the kid would do it and went out with a now retired brit reporter, John Roberts, to check him out on court. He did beat Agassi in five sets (five, not three), then beat Guga in five yet again in the second round -- he run out of steam by the time he met Pioline...

In April last year, during the Estoril Open, I wrote a piece on Marat for TennisWorld called 'Being El Maratski' and your post made me remember it -- but don't know where it is now, it's just gone from the archives and it was a feature I truly really enjoyed writing... now it's gone forever!

Posted by limonysal 05/23/2007 at 09:50 PM

great post! i love these first person accounts and it's always great to get a little bit of history/background going into a tournament. i realize it's not that long ago but it's still new to me! it's funny (and more than a bit sad) to imagine safin as a fresh, fiery and motivated youngster instead of the (it breaks my heart to say it) has-been and almost cautionary tale he's become.

unfortunately the only time i've visited paris (and roland garros) i was a bit too young to appreciate it. your post and details definitely make me want to return...four more days until the french open starts!!!

Posted by Gavin 05/23/2007 at 10:06 PM

Steve, one of the best you've ever written. Thanks.

Posted by Andrew 05/23/2007 at 10:27 PM

Steve wrote: "It was my first trip to Paris, as well as Roland Garros. I thought of the city as the flip side of the same scuzzy coin as New York. The cabbies were from different parts of the Third World and they listened to Thelonious Monk rather than talk radio, but they still drove like maniacs. "

Which gives me the excuse, and the pleasure:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWqOWsPANvU

Posted by Suresh 05/23/2007 at 10:37 PM

Miguel, please translate the piece on Fed-Pete when you get a chance :)

Posted by ncot 05/23/2007 at 10:40 PM

marat and venus have the same problems right now, and it is motivation. the talent has never been a problem.

Posted by Miguel Seabra 05/23/2007 at 11:07 PM

Oh, I found out that feature 'Being El Maratski' I wrote. Here are some parts related to Steve's entry:

...

... the other day I found out a DVD I hadn’t seen for a while – a very interesting indie film who actually made it to Oscar nominations because of its original script: ‘Being John Malkovich’, the story of a guy (played by John Cusack) who actually found a way into John Malkovich’s head whenever he wanted – thus getting the attention of the beautiful but snobbish girl he fancied at the office (played by Catherine Keener, I really like her naughty smile), while things were going wrong with his girlfriend (Cameron Diaz).

I actually thought the script didn’t play up to its potential and the movie could have been much better, even though John Malkovich is one of my favorite actors (plus he loves Lisbon and Portugal; he owns a restaurant and a nightclub here) and seeing the world through his eyes should be pretty interesting. Anyway, right then looking at the DVD in my hand I asked myself: «If you could have a way into a tennis player’s head, which one would you choose?».

The first name that came to mind was… Marat Safin. Not Fed, nor Rafa, nor A-Rod. I’m pretty comfortable being who I am and never really fantasized being in someone else’s shoes, but – just like in the movie – if there was a door somewhere that would lead into a player’s mind I guess Marat’s would be the most eventful pick…

...

I still remember the first time I saw him play. I was wandering around the courts at the Clube de Ténis de São Miguel, in the Terceira island of the Azores, where the qualifying of a 50.000 dollar challenger was going on; then I just saw this big kid hammering away big serves, smacking his backhand down the line, going wild with his forehand. We’ve had dozens of satellite circuits here in Portugal and I got to watch lots of great kids that would go on to be Grand Slam champs (Krajicek, Kafelnikov, Guga, Ferrero), but none impressed me like Marat did right away.

The quality of the ball striking, the sound of the ball coming off his Head Prestige really left me so awestruck I went after my photographer to ask him for a couple of shots of this big russian kid – he was having lunch and was not happy to be interrupted, but I told him right there «hey, this kid is going to be top 5 for sure». That convinced him to take the pictures and actually the kid managed to win and eventually go on to the main draw and then to the quarter-finals.

A couple of days before that, Marat had come to Lisbon and head to the train station where he thought he would go from there to the Azores – just imagine the face of the woman at the desk, after this big kid asked her for a train ticket to a set of portuguese islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean! That episode didn’t prevent Safin to make the trip, win some precious points and gather enough confidence to play in the next week in a much stronger challenger (125.000 dollars) on clay in Espinho, in the north of Portugal – and win the title. That was in September 1997.

The next year he won a couple of matches in Barcelona, got injured and couldn’t defend his title in the Espinho Challenger, who had moved back to early May. Then he qualified at Roland Garros and was drawn against Andre Agassi. John Roberts, from The Independent in England, had been to the Estoril Open previously and came to my spot at the press room in Paris to ask me who I thought ‘Mr X’ (the eventual winner of the tournament) was, and I told him – «Take a look at this kid, he’s going to beat Agassi».

Not only he did so in five sets, but also in the next round he saw off Guga, the title holder, in five. His English was temptative then, but you could tell he had charisma. Lots of it. He was already powerfully built at 18, his Marvel Comics superhero-like head looking like carved out of stone. Actually, he looked like some bionic specimen, some kind of Drago – the soviet superathlete in those lousy old Rocky movies sometimes you get to see once in a while on tv (just so you know I didn’t pay to see them). I mentioned that comparison to a highly respected tennis writer from the leading French sports newspaper L’Équipe, but he reacted promptly stating he never watched those Rocky films. That’s why it was funny to see him comparing Marat to Drago in his column, four months later at the US Open 1998, when Marat was about to face Pete Sampras…. and lose to him.

...

Posted by tlf 05/23/2007 at 11:15 PM

miguel, don't be shy - - plz post the entire article or send us a link. we know good stuff when we see it!

Posted by GSte 05/24/2007 at 12:53 AM

Good post Steve. It's not easy playing against a French player at the FO. Sometimes the crowd boos for no reason, other than to just boo. Also, thanks for reminding everyone what made Safin the top player he was/can still be-that backhand stands out alongside the rest of his solid, powerful game.

Miguel, I remember your post! I liked that one as well. I enjoy reading the perception of players before they became big names.

Posted by Rob York 05/24/2007 at 03:58 AM

Safin didn't beat Agassi 3, 3 and 3 in that tournament. He beat Agassi in five sets. Agassi had beated Safin 3, 3 and 3 at the Davis Cup a few weeks earlier, but Safin has never won a really routine match against AA.

Posted by chloe02 05/24/2007 at 04:27 AM

Steve, brilliant post. Really painted a fantastic picture. I've been lucky enough to go to Chatrier a couple of times and seen Marat play twice. No-one else has ever commented on the sound of him hitting the ball, and you're right, it's fantastic. I am a huge embarrassment to friends and family at tennis matches because I love to get behind my favourite. I've yelled myself hoarse on several occassions - for Marat and Monfils at the Paris Masters and for Rafa on Chatrier. Of all of them, I think Gael needs me more than ever now... My husband has decided to come with me to Paris for this weekend at RG, so I'm going to have to behave myself which is going to be tricky!

Only someone who has really seen the poential of a player can write "he was not yet the lumbering zombie of squandered potential and self-loathing you see before you today." You sound angry with him even though El Maratski hasn't totally unfulfilled his promise with 2 Grand Slams under his belt.

Miguel - can you post a link to the full article. I remember it from last year.

Posted by patrick 05/24/2007 at 08:20 AM

Roland Garros,
Here is what a writer is predicting what Williams Sr and Jr will do,

The US is a tennis-rich nation, but when it comes to the clay of Roland Garros, American players are dirt poor.

By Jon Levey


The women’s side has a little more reason for optimism, but it’s not as though they’ve thrived on the broken brick. In the past two years only two American women have advanced to the quarterfinals in Paris – also the same number of players who have won the tournament in the last 20 years (Jennifer Capriati in 2001 and Serena Williams in 2002).
With Roland Garros set to begin in a few days, here’s a look at whether any of the country’s finest can reverse recent history, or if 2007 will just be more of the same.

Serena Williams (left) and Venus Williams (right) were fellow finalists at the French Open in 2002.
©Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

WOMEN

Serena Williams
2006 Result: DNP
Best Result: Champion (2002)
Outlook: Serena hasn’t hit a ball at Roland Garros since 2004, so it’s hard to judge her potential performance based on recent history. Her unexpected run to the Australian Open title at the beginning of the year, followed by her win in Miami in April, has put Serena back into the conversation as one of the best in the world.

She is still keeping a light schedule, but her ability to play her way into a tournament is one of her greatest assets. That’s going to be more difficult on clay where Serena’s power and aggression will be blunted by the slower surface. She won’t be able to get as many cheap points and her bouts of sloppy play with be magnified. If she can get into the second week, Serena could be the player to beat, but somebody will be up to the challenge.

Prediction: Quarterfinals

Venus Williams
2006 Result: Quarterfinals
Best Result: Finals (2002)

Outlook: Going into Istanbul, Venus had an 18-4 record this season with three of those losses coming in three sets to Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic, and Svetlana Kuznetsova. So even though her lone title has been a Tier III in Memphis, she’s playing some good ball. Venus is still one of the best movers and athletes in women’s tennis, and her confidence in her own abilities is unquestioned. Still, her game, particularly her forehand, can breakdown at any time, causing her string together numerous errors. Venus will be a tough out for anyone she plays, but with her ranking currently at No. 29, her road to the finals will be too arduous.

Prediction: 4th Round

Posted by la boheme 05/24/2007 at 08:45 AM

Wonderful, Steve. I'm relatively new to your writing, and I'm really enjoying it. The line about Marat ("he was not yet the lumbering zombie of squandered potential and self-loathing you see before you today") is so profoundly accurate that I'll never see him again without thinking of it.

I think you captured the opposite poles that exist within the French character very well. They're judgmental, critical, superior, cold and unfriendly at the same time that they are passionate, playful, full of the joy of life and forgiving.

But one question - are the Parisians mostly Fed fans or Nadal fans? Do they split along any particular fault lines?

Posted by M-Life 05/24/2007 at 09:51 AM

Patrick-

Thanks for that Jon Levey snipit. I think he's got it about right. I'm not sure if Venus will even make it to the round of 16. Mostly because of her ranking. In her case, her draw will be a big factor. Jus tone more day now.

Posted by roland garros 05/24/2007 at 10:05 AM

patrick, i agree with m-life about levey. that's almost exactly what i would predict (depending on the draw, of course).

i see we were both right about medina garrigues beating li. i'm also very happy that aravane won her match.

by the way, something's wrong in turkey. the matches are way behind schedule. elena's just gone into a third set (she lost the first). could be an upset here. did you know she was contemplating retirement a few weeks earlier? her frame of mind can't be too positive.

Posted by steve 05/24/2007 at 10:17 AM

thanks, miguel, good stuff.

levey knows what he's talking about.

i love that picture of anna and ronaldo; i can't believe it exists.

Posted by M-Life 05/24/2007 at 10:34 AM

To Roland Garros-

I really want to respond back back to the "hypocrittical" remark, as I have a very strong reason to believe otherwise. Suffice it to say that for same reson I gave to you and Eddy, I think that a timeout is the better part of discretion. I will say in the end, part of me believes that participating in conversation about the WTA hot list is itself demeaning and somewhat sexist from the onset. However, if the conversation can be taken in context, that is, jovial and lighthearted, a little fun ought not offend anybody. No different than thousands of women talking of Rafa's guns and buns. I will say that it was in this light that I participated and my intention was never to cross the line into offensive. I thought your "ballboy" remark was clever and funny and I didn't take offense to that at all. The character of "Lurch" is a fictious comic book character, and my comparing N.V's. physical likness to this fictional character, again, is in the context of frivolious and light hearted. Nonetheless, if you ( or anyone ) were put off or offended by these remarks, please allow me to excercise some dignity and class, and extend appologies for my crudeness and crassness.

Calling someone a "skank" crosses the line of taste and is about as bad a remark as anyone can say to a woman. It is worse than calling a woman a slut, or even using the B word. The word has connotations of libatious behavior, of unsavory moral character, of promiscuity. If you are going to use the word "skank" you better know that person's character and social behavior patterns, because if you don't, and just throw the word around indiscriminently, you are not making that person look bad, you are making yourself look bad. In response to Kingdavid's position, "I'm not p.c.- better get used to it bro" I would counter and say, it not abut being p.c. I really don't know what being "p.c." is, rather its about extending curtesy and respect to people. People that you know, and people that you don't know. Most people who participate on this blog have it have respect and excercise curtesy, Kingdavid is not among them. In a span of 12 hrs, he not only revealed himself to be a racist, but a sexist too. Calling a woman a "skank" is utterly unbecomming and sexist of the highest order. I certainly will not correspond with him again. He can say what he wants, I just don't care. I will also check myself so to speak and cease any futher participation in the discussion of a WTA Hotty list. To be so critical of the direction of the once playfull, light hearted, banter has gone and still participate, would be hypocritical.

Posted by patrick 05/24/2007 at 10:36 AM

Roland Garros,
You know Elena plays a lot of 3 set matches anyway. I did read where Elena made the decision to come back and play instead of retiring when she inured her rib cage in Feb.

Elena is up 4-1 in 3rd but will her serve hold up.

Posted by Syd 05/24/2007 at 10:39 AM

Great post Steve, elegiac, and moving and fascinating. You oughta put out a book of these Deep Tennis essays.

Posted by roland garros 05/24/2007 at 11:01 AM

patrick, schnyder has withdrawn due to a thigh injury and alona goes through to the semis. i think the injury is not serious and schnyder just wants to be sure that she'll be okay for rg. i still have no idea why the matches are behind schedule (i'm guessing it probably rained).

m-life, no offence was taken on my part. peace and love to all.

Posted by M-Life 05/24/2007 at 11:07 AM

Cool. Same here.

Posted by patrick 05/24/2007 at 11:09 AM

Roland Garros,
Elena won 6-4 in 3rd set. Now, on to Masha-Radwanska. Once done, picks will be forthcoming for SF.

Posted by randomtester [K]ProStaff 05/24/2007 at 11:21 AM

So no more hot list? And here I was gonna ask who you guys think are the 10 "hottest of all time"...

Posted by M-Life 05/24/2007 at 11:34 AM

Oh wait... now that's different...

Posted by M-Life 05/24/2007 at 11:39 AM

Sharipova is taking it to Agnieszka early, up a double break in the first.

Posted by Ryan 05/24/2007 at 11:55 AM

I loved this piece, Steve! I'd love to catch some footage of his stunning '98 FO run sometime (Marat)...

Posted by Jon Reiss 05/24/2007 at 12:01 PM

great post Steve

Posted by chloe02 05/24/2007 at 12:17 PM

La Boheme (how's your tiny hand?) - I've been in Paris and seen both Rafa and Rog play, unfortunately not at the same time if you know what I mean, and I think the crowd are definitely more 'up' for Rafa. Despite being "judgmental, critical, superior, cold and unfriendly", the French love their tennis and really appreciate passionate players and Rafa invites more people into his game than Roger does. TMF kind of invites admiration rather than blood-lust. Also Paris loves its past champions and that always gives Rafa the edge.

Posted by roland garros 05/24/2007 at 01:25 PM

patrick, masha came through convincingly against radwanska in three. i say convincingly, because she won the first set 6-2 and the third 6-0. i'm very impressed. radwanska had just crushed oprandi (who is no slouch on clay) yesterday and this should give masha a much needed boost of confidence. not thrilled with the second set, but i'm really happy she came back strongly. i'm hoping the serve problems have been sorted out.

Posted by patrick 05/24/2007 at 01:36 PM

Here is the link just in case you want to see the draw live:

http://www.rolandgarros.com/en_FR/news/articles/2007-05-24/200705241180013748812.html

Posted by patrick 05/24/2007 at 01:41 PM

Roland Garros,
How many DFs did Masha have today? I will agree with your assessment on her win. Radwanska is not a bad player at all.

Here are my picks for Istanbul tomorrow:
Sharapova in 2 over Rezai (Rezai magical ride ends)
A Bondarenko in 3 over Dementieva (Elena serve goes AWOL)

Here are my picks for Strasbourg tomorrow:
Jankovic in 2 over Medina Garrigues
Mauresmo in 2 over Bartoli/Vesnina winner (Bartoli-Vesnina is in set 3)

Posted by la boheme 05/24/2007 at 02:00 PM

Chloe02, thanks for the appraisal of the French tennis fans - I hope they will be filled with admiration rather than blood-lust at this year's final. Although I, too, love the excitement of Rafa's game, it's Fed's artistry and shots that invite me to the dance, win my heart and keep me breathless.

Btw, I hope you noticed that I balanced my harsh words for the French with an attempt to emphasize their more endearing qualities. I also love Paris (any time of year) and I envy you the experience of seeing both Roger and Rafa there. I didn't catch the reference to the tiny hands - in La Boheme, Mimi's hands are cold - che gelida mannina. What did you mean?

Posted by Kingdavid 05/24/2007 at 02:08 PM

ooooohhhh ...I am a racist AND a sexiest....AND you won't talk with me anymore..ahhhhh!!!....waaahhhh!!...waaahhhhh!!!....dude you're a joke. ( a PC joke at that !! )

Posted by roland garros 05/24/2007 at 02:19 PM

patrick, here are my picks for istanbul tomorrow:

masha - aravane: masha
alona - elena: alona

i don't know hoy mny df's masha had, but if i find out, i will let you know.

Posted by roland garros 05/24/2007 at 02:19 PM

patrick, here are my picks for istanbul tomorrow:

masha - aravane: masha
alona - elena: alona

i don't know how many df's masha had, but if i find out, i will let you know.

Posted by Beckham 05/24/2007 at 02:20 PM

Steve,

great post...but can we stop mentioning the Cap'n...it's depressing...how can a player with that much potential to be great be such a headcase...imagine if Fed was like that *shudders at the horror*...but as I am just a fan, I can't begin to phantom all the hardwork that goes into being great...

One more thing..I read somewhere that Marat said his goal was to be in the top 20...the first thing I thought was WHAT???? A player with that much talent should be in the top 5 and not 20...I for one want the AO 05 Marat back even though that Cap'n beat the Fed...it would spice the ATP tour up...enough of this Fed/Rafa nonsense :)

Posted by roland garros 05/24/2007 at 02:22 PM

patrick, here are my picks for strasbourg tomorrow:

mauresmo - bartoli: mauresmo
jelena - medina garrigues: jelena

Posted by randomtester [K]ProStaff 05/24/2007 at 02:31 PM

It's too bad Marat is a joke now. The backhand is still there, but the guy can't win tournaments anymore. My opinion is that there is no more motivation left in the guy to win a Slam. He'll still be a threat to players who have him in their draw, but if Marat doesn't change his attitude soon, he won't be anything more than a stepping stone to the up-and-comers.

Posted by M-Life 05/24/2007 at 02:41 PM

Actually jokerdavid. I use a Mac.

Posted by Kingdavid 05/24/2007 at 03:03 PM

PC as in politically correct you moron...why don't you follow suit with all the others on the previous Blog...who took issue with the ...oooghhh.. dreaded " skank " word!! they all understood that there is a BIG world out there and everyone has there own view and take on things..and MY interpretation of that word may be COMPLETELY different than YOURS....to many you coming back and calling me " racist " is worse than any 4 ( or 5 in this case ) letter word I could ever post...only narrow minds cannot differentiate...oh well dude...we all move on. Peace

Posted by steve 05/24/2007 at 03:06 PM

KD, chill. can we drop this?

Posted by la boheme 05/24/2007 at 03:16 PM

I just looked at the draw for tomorrow - not even one American in the qualifiers. What's going on? Will Chris Evert's training camp change things?

Posted by JonAcre 05/24/2007 at 03:20 PM

Glory hallelujah! A fine entry that for once has absolutely nothing to do with Federer or Nadal.

Amazing. Congrats. And try to keep it up.

Posted by 05/24/2007 at 03:47 PM

http://www.tennis.com/backcourt/general/backcourt.aspx?id=52242

Posted by randomtester [K]ProStaff 05/24/2007 at 04:12 PM

If there's one person who can change our slump in clay it would have to be Chris Evert; although even for her, it would take some time to get results. Speaking of Chrissy, now there's one candidate for the top 10 "hottest of all time"! Chris should also be in the discussion for the GOAT title in my opinion (just check out her winning percentage), along with Big Bill Tilden (for his overall impact on our beloved sport).

Posted by patrick 05/24/2007 at 04:30 PM

La Boheme,
You're guess on why Americans don't do well on clay is just as good as mine. Hopefully, the USTA is giving Evert's training camp the necessary funds to assist in that effort.

Randomtester,
Speaking of Chris being a GOAT, imagine Martina N was not playing in Chris' era, how many slams would she have won. For her to win at least one slam for 12 or 13 years in a row is amazing in itself. 90% win percentage(only person,I think, to do that), 125 wins on clay in a row(195-1 in one stretch on clay). WOW!!!!

Posted by Ed McGrogan 05/24/2007 at 04:51 PM

Steve - great post. I hope to attend RG someday myself.

In the meantime, I'll be watching it here - and hopefully you can get enough souls together to have a gathering in NYC. I'm in.

Posted by Slice-n-dice 05/24/2007 at 05:18 PM

Beautiful post, Steve. And obviously, Kamakshi and I are soul-siblings. I, too, have a special place inmy heart for Cedric Pioline, the smoothest cat to ever come out of France. I also likened his gamne to BNastase and Federer in one breath (see Pete's blog, "TT@: The Romanian B-Boy"). And yes, Safin seemed destined to usher in the new game. Wasn't it Sampras who, after being completely overwhelmed by him in the 2001 U.S. Open final (is that the correct year?), simply stated that we had just witnessed the future of tennis?

Posted by patrick 05/24/2007 at 06:11 PM

Roland Garros & other WTA watchers,

Please read this article:

http://sports.espn.go.com/sports/tennis/french07/columns/story?columnist=desimone_bonnie&id=2880679

Posted by randomtester [K]ProStaff 05/24/2007 at 06:57 PM

I'd say watch out for Ivanovic if she gets a lucky draw, but i don't see it happening. The situation of the French Open this year for the women sounds like the title is Justine Henin's to lose, not for anybody else's to win.

Posted by patrick 05/24/2007 at 08:03 PM

Randomtester,
I have to agree with you that the FO is Henin's to lose.

Posted by Deb 05/24/2007 at 10:35 PM

Never liked the Roland Garros crowd...and still don't.

They seem to think its okay for them to boo, hiss, throw eggs (at Natalie Tauziat no less) at players. I do agree they judge French players harshly, hello Mary Pierce...yeah, she should have stuck to being a Canadian some years. Even former champs ie. Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario have been reduced to tears by that crowd (and not tears of joy), and she's not alone in that one.

Yet a large portion of the crowd think its not okay for players to question line calls, and throw their racquet, and be a bit rebellious or emotional during a match. Its questionable who is actually being less well behaved...or sporting.

Its hypocrisy at its worse. I'd like to say its a minority of the crowd that appears to be hiprocrites, but when it happens year in year out, its just the way they are.

So I would take the US crowd interaction with players, even the mobile phone ringing lot, any day, than to subject players to the moral high ground that is Roland Garros.

Having said that, it is the premier event on clay, and I hope we'll have some good matches over the fortnight.

Posted by Suresh 05/24/2007 at 11:41 PM

Slice, yes , Safin was awesome in that match against Pete. Sampras said that he saw a mirror image of himself when he won the USO at '90, only thing was Safin was bigger.

Sampras was serving at around 75% in the first set , yet he got broken and lost the set. Safin was in a zone in that match - unfortunately that probably remains the best match he has ever played to date - but Safin feels that he played better in his win against Federer in the semis at the AO.

Posted by Eddy 05/25/2007 at 03:58 AM

Good stuff. I'm glad you dedicated a post of my man Safin. I was actually cheering for him over Fed back when he beat Fed in AO 05 and Fed simply seemed like a tennis god who was too easy to cheer for. Still like the guy, Safin. I won't give up on him if he doesn't give up on himself. For some reason I'm not put off by his random bursts of anger. To Safin, from Eddy: I'm waiting patiently, but not getting my hopes up too early.
M-Life, I saw the sometimes childish ridicule you, and a few others, endured. Be assured I was sympathetic--but I don't want to insult anyone just now.

"It's too bad Marat is a joke now. The backhand is still there, but the guy can't win tournaments anymore. My opinion is that there is no more motivation left in the guy to win a Slam. He'll still be a threat to players who have him in their draw, but if Marat doesn't change his attitude soon, he won't be anything more than a stepping stone to the up-and-comers."
Good job randomtester. You just summarized what Steve said.
I was busy doing quite a bit of reading here and there to catch up to this post (being in college and all), and I have read the arguments (yes, including Kingdavid as a racist). I'm glad they are over.

From last post:
Good stuff mici and Andelon from Shangai (please keep posting!)! Andelon that analysis was crazy good. mici, welcome back. It's about time we get some more women on this blog. I doubt you will discuss who's the hottest woman of all time though, lol.
Cheers

Posted by chloe02 05/25/2007 at 03:58 AM

Patrick, thanks for the link to the live draw.

La B, sorry, no more less-than-witty tiny frozen hand references! Talking of the different emotional responses evoked by Raf and Rog, it's clear that Nike have got their marketing plans for the two guys set with Rafa's latest ad campaign featuring him in a sporting play off/underground Fight Club scenario while Rog smoozes with Tiger Wood, the Crown Prince of Japan and the Country Club set.

http://www.marca.com/edicion/marca/futbol/1a_division/barcelona/es/desarrollo/997042.html

Thanks to Mariej, chez Pete, for the link to the Rafa ad.

Nike must be laughing all the way to the bank at the emotions aroused by their two heroes.

Posted by IanF 05/25/2007 at 05:32 AM

Interesting piece. We have travelled to Paris for the last couple of years to experience the Roland Garros atmosphere and as you say it is different. On our first trip we watched Gasquet play a 5 set match against Stepanek in front of a packed house. A great game with a bit of spite between the players and hence when eventually Gasquet prevailed poor old Stepanek was booed off the court having provided 3 hours plus of great entertainment!

Posted by roland garros 05/25/2007 at 05:54 AM

patrick, great draw for masha! justine and williams jr. in the same quarter (in other half of draw)! williams sr. also in other half (same quarter as jelena)!

by the way, myskina is playing but i think vaidisova has pulled out.

Posted by roland garros 05/25/2007 at 05:57 AM

dave brown, take this filth elsewhere. this kind of juvenile crap is not what this blog is all about. and please don't advertise.

Posted by roland garros 05/25/2007 at 05:58 AM

dave brown, take this filth elsewhere. this kind of juvenile crap is not what this blog is about. and please don't advertise.

Posted by bingo 05/25/2007 at 06:15 AM

It's amazing how so many journalists and fans
will, want, to see Safin win. Perhaps
they want the best player, personality to win.

I think he should retire now ... instantly ...

If he can't lift that burden that you speak of ...
and revel in it, then it's better for him (not fans)
if he just left.

Posted by papo 05/25/2007 at 06:21 AM

The men's draw is out :)

Talking about Safin, he is in the same quarter of the draw as TMF.

Posted by papo 05/25/2007 at 06:26 AM

Looks like we could see another Hewitt/Nadal match. But I don't see Hewitt beating Nadal in a best of five match.

Looks like some interesting match-ups.

Baghdatis has to play against Grosjean in his first match. He may be making another early exit.

Posted by papo 05/25/2007 at 06:28 AM

Roddick is up against Andreev. That looks like a tough match for him on paper. Good luck to him.

Posted by papo 05/25/2007 at 06:34 AM

Both Moya and Hewitt ended up in Nadal's quarter of the draw. The way they've been playing Nadal might face them both. But again I don't think they can beat him in best of five.

Posted by papo 05/25/2007 at 06:41 AM

Surprised!! Justin Gimelstob actually made it into the FO draw. I've read his columns over at SI.com. Just his luck to be facing Almagro in the opening match.

Posted by papo 05/25/2007 at 06:44 AM

This is going to be interesting and fun :)

VAMOS RAFA!!!

Posted by roland garros 05/25/2007 at 07:01 AM

patrick, correction, nicole is playing. by the way, masha's draw is not as easy as i initially thought. she's scheduled to play mauresmo in the quarters. still, mauresmo always chokes at rg. i'll have my picks and selected match-ups later.

Posted by The Original French(ie) 05/25/2007 at 07:58 AM

(...) "to subject players to the moral high ground that is Roland Garros."

oh come on please!!!!

It's just about CHARACTER (having some, showing some, even learning to have some) not about "morals". The French are not "judging" they just expect players to be themselves without limits (have some bravado)and show to them the public what they are made of "at the core". Actually I think that the French are quite forgiving.

For the players it's about respecting the "contract" of playing at RG: having a good "fight" and show to the public what you can do with class (you can lose with class and a good attitude which also includes "winning back the crowd" at RG.)

If you come at RG and behave like a frightened (arrogance is fright btw) second-rate-player-look-alike why would the crowd even bother?

Posted by marieg 05/25/2007 at 08:43 AM

the draw does not bode well for the americans, andy vs andreev and blake facing big-serving karlovic...

Posted by papo 05/25/2007 at 08:50 AM

You think Andy has it tough, look at Michael Russell and Gimelstob. Unmerciful draw for the Americans.

Posted by patrick 05/25/2007 at 10:10 AM

Roland Garros,
I will give you my thoughts on the draw later and have a revised contenders & floaters list. I see where Elena has moved on to the final awaiting Masha-Rezai.

Posted by 05/25/2007 at 10:35 AM

http://www.rolandgarros.com/en_FR/news/articles/2007-05-25/200705251180097320015.html

Posted by patrick 05/25/2007 at 10:43 AM

Roland Garros,
Can Rezai pull off another upset? 6-2 set 1

Posted by 05/25/2007 at 11:31 AM

Steve,

Please put on your "Moderator" cap to banish "Dave Brown" from your blog. The primate posted his obscene 05/25/2007 @ 4:58 AM comment on your "The Man Again" entry, too.

Posted by marieg 05/25/2007 at 12:13 PM

clay is not really their friend....

Posted by patrick 05/25/2007 at 12:39 PM

Roland Garros,
Here are my picks for the finals tomorrow:

Strasbourg - Mauresmo in 3 over Medina Garrigues
Istanbul - Rezai in 3 over Dementieva.
Only question for Rezai is will she continues this form at RG. She faces Bartoli in round 1.

Posted by 05/25/2007 at 12:44 PM

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/writers/justin_gimelstob/05/24/paris.intro/index.html

Posted by roland garros 05/25/2007 at 12:54 PM

patrick, good win for aravane and another disappointment for masha. the article doesn't say much but my guess is she imploded again with df's and ufe's. i don't buy that, on a good day, she would have lost in straight, one day after bageling radwanska in the third.

here are my picks for strasbourg and istanbul, respectively:

mauresmo - medina garrigues: mauresmo
elena - aravane: elena

i'll be back with a blog about rg.

Posted by roland garros 05/25/2007 at 02:46 PM

patrick, for rg, i will be doing round-by-round analysis and daily picks as opposed to grand predictions for the entire tournament.

here are some interesting matches and my predictions for the first round:

radwanska - santangelo: radwanska. upset here.
fedak - safina: fedak. big upset.
krajicek - bremond: krajicek. upset over a local favourite.
aravane - bartoli: aravane. another upset.
morigami - garbin: morigami.
kirilenko - camerin: kirilenko. great match-up in the first round.
brianti - mirza: brianti.
daniela - kostanic tosic: daniela. another good match-up.
myskina - shaughnessy: myskina.
waozniacki - dechy: wozniacki.
pennetta - pratt: pennetta.

love to get your thoughts.

Posted by patrick 05/25/2007 at 03:16 PM

Roland Garros,
I am working on my bracket predictions and there WILL be some first round upsets:

Radwanska - Santangelo: Radwanska
Safina - Fedak: Safina
Krajicek - Bremond: Krajicek (Only reason Bremond is seeded is due to her run at Wimby last year)
Bartoli - Rezai: Rezai (May be Istanbul champion)
Morigami - Garbin: Morigami
Kirilenko - Camerin: Camerin(Kirilenko slump continues)
Brianti - Mirza: Brianti
Hantuchova - Kostanic Tosic: Hantuchova
Myskina - Shaughnessy: Myskina
Wozniacki - Dechy: Dechy
Pennetta - Pratt: Pratt (Pennetta slump continues for rest of 2007 season, Pennetta favorite part of season is the February clay swing)
Bardina - Gallovits: Bardina
K Bondarenko - Ondraskova: K Bondarenko

These are some of my 1st round picks. Once the qualies names are on the draw sheet, I will have my revised contenders & floaters along with my predictions from QF to the end of tournament.

Posted by remain anonynous 05/25/2007 at 03:17 PM

Another good post all around except 4 one area.... ur thoughts on the insight out forehand. Though I do agree that one could say the backhand may have become more effective 2day. I'd have 2 disagree as I think it's still a lethal shot, maybe players are being victimized by it, cuz they do not hit it well.

Lendl and Courier "were able 2 dominate for a time". C'mon??? Lendl dominated the 80's and didn't fade 'til about age 30. Courier faded after 96, due to injuries and working himself into the ground. Plus JC played alongside two hall of famers(one being the greatest ever) Sampras and Agassi. And both Pete and Dre were very effective w/ their respective inside out forehands.

Even 2day look how effectively Nadal uses that shot....even on clay!!!
And who's the best player 2day???? Thy name is Federer.
His best shot????

... his inside out forehand.

Posted by roland garros 05/25/2007 at 03:39 PM

patrick, i will bend my own rules and give you my fantasy predictions for quarter-finals onwards. bear in mind that this is a wish-list, more than what i think will actually happen. i think it can happen but certain things have to go right.

first assumption: i've already told you of my belief that fedak will upset safina.

second and third assumptions: here is where i'm really reaching for the stars. i'm guessing myskina will beat both kuznetsova and peer.

fourth assumption: i'm taking lucie over mauresmo (repeat of ao '07)

fifth assumption: nicole will beat nadia.

with the above in mind, i predict the following:

quarters: justine - williams jr.; nicole - jelena; ana - anastasia; masha - lucie.

semis: justine - nicole; masha - ana.

final: masha - justine.

champion: well, you know who i want it to be!

i'd love to get your predictions. maybe you can post one before the qualies are revealed as qualies don't really matter that much in a grand slam since the field is so deep.

Posted by patrick 05/25/2007 at 03:49 PM

Roland Garros,
I will reveal my predictions in Steve new thread:

Paris: The Breakdown

Posted by 05/25/2007 at 06:09 PM

the french crowd is pure class

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x20wrf_french-crowd-boos-nadal-and-grosjea

Posted by The Original Frenchie 05/26/2007 at 06:45 AM

The French crowd is very QUICK and responded to the translation....

Posted by kbomb 05/30/2007 at 07:52 PM

Wonderful post, Steve, and love Miguel's fond remembrances of the amazing future that Safin once held. I, too, have always seen quite a bit of Pioline in Federer, as I once watched Pioline practice in Scottsdale before the hard-court tune-up to Indian Wells, and he was an absolutely amazing athlete for a tennis player. Perfect size and build, could hit every shot in the book yet... never won a major. Didn't help that he ran into some studs in his two Grand Slam finals (Pete and Andre if memory serves me) but, still, with that talent, like so many recent Frenchmen, he should've won more. That said, it was always a joy to watch him strike the ball and move about the court with such effortlessness.


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