The Red Slam is now over and the eyes of the tennis world have moved to the green of the grass courts and the Grand Slam most valued by the countries of the United States, England and Australia - Wimbledon.
I'm a clay court junkie so it's with sadness that I say so long to the red dirt that requires so much physically and mentally from those who would conquer it. Rafael Nadal kissed the dirt court in Madrid and Francesca Schiavone did the same in Paris. The clay asks a lot and if you're willing to put in the time and effort you will be richly rewarded.
There were a lot of interesting stories this year, too many to count really. Some I've made mention of during the last two weeks and others I've held back on. Here are my views of what happened in Paris this spring.
The French may have seen the future and his name is Gianni Mina. No, he didn't win anything playing the senior circuit or the juniors but his opening round match showed the tennis world his potential. He is all business on court. There is no clowning, no "put your hands up" pleas to the crowd. He plays fearlessly and his nascent skills are there for all to see. It's very hard to predict who will become a star from the junior ranks. Many have difficulty making the transition from junior star to main tour star. In three more years we should have an idea of just how Monsieur Mina is going to do on the big stage.
Meanwhile the American tennis establishment has seen the future and it's bleak. I predicted that neither Venus Williams or Serena Williams would make the final at Roland Garros. Why? When all is said and done they are dyed in the wool hard court/grass court players. When the going is tough, heavy conditions, slippery clay, their style of play is not suited to the European clay. I give Venus credit for trying to improve on clay - she's won Acapulco two straight years - but when you hit that second week of the French Open you're hitting a wall both mentally and physically. You need patience and guile. American players come up short on the patience thing.
Yes they won the doubles but it was the two of them on court at the same time. This gives them the ability to play their style and neutralize the play of the opposing team.
As for American men the word pathetic comes to mind. When the top American man shows utter disdain for the clay court season - he got married during it's start last year and this year was with his wife on one of her film shoots. When he arrived in Europe he was said to be ill with a virus and therefore played not one clay court match until Roland Garros. Once again he had some success winning a couple of matches but when his wife showed up, literally red eyed from her flight, Andy Roddick seemed unable to focus on court and made a quick exit for England and friendlier climes.
Then you have John Isner and Sam Querrey. Both men get credit for coming over early and this year actually playing a final against each other on the dirt. But once again the American lack of patience was their downfall in Paris. Querrey little temper tantrum and whining that he'd been away from home too long was at the very least conduct unbecoming for a professional athlete. He left Isner in Paris and flew home. Isner, after his singles loss, also came back to the States saying he needed some kind of break from the rigors of Western Europe. You'd think they'd been in a rain forest cut off from the amenities they're accustomed to the way they carried on. Last I checked there are four and five star hotels in most major European cities where you can find people who speak English even if it's with an accent. It's said that in this day and age Ugly American syndrome lives on. Both men will play in England.
I do give Melanie Oudin who, after her early round defeat hung around taking notes on clay court play with her coach. I hope she watched the women’s final but more on that later.
With the top American stars pushing thirty and the presumptive heirs unable to slog it out in the jungles of Western Europe American tennis may end up like it’s British counterpart. I mean when the LTA has to be reminded by fans to post the qualifying draw for Queens Club for crying out loud your tennis organization is in sad shape. That is a true story by the way.
I’m sure somewhere someone is crying because Justine Henin’s return to the women’s tour has not been on the taking names level. The talking heads of American tennis broadcasting and the beknighted leaders of the tennis press hailed her return as if she was going to storm to the top ranks of the tour and ensure that the Williams didn’t take over lock stock and barrel. Well guess what? It didn’t happen and from the looks of things not only Henin but Kim Clijsters as well are not going to “save” the tour. Yes it’s been phrased just like that. Save the tour from what pray tell? I would say who but I’ve already answered that question.
I’m going to say here that Clijsters is going to try and pull the same stunt she did last year. She’ll show up in New York fresh as a daisy and try to smash her way to another US Open final. I dare say she’s get a favorable random draw. So will Henin. I’ll even go further and say that Serena will have her favorite chair umpire and linesperson doing all of her matches. My comments are tongue in cheek now but mark my words. Something smelly will be going on in the borough of Queens late in August.
The Women’s Final
This was the best WTA match this year. Period, end of story. No one gave Francesca Schiavone a chance. Too small they said. Too flaky. Never been this far in a major they said. Hand the trophy to Samantha Stosur. She hits hard. She’s got that kick serve and powerful groundstrokes. No way this little Italian woman is going to defeat her. Hah!
To their credit both women played well. Stosur stuck to what she’d done in getting to the final while Schiavo came out ready to counterpunch and turn Stosur’s strength against her. Stosur, unable to change her tactics crumbled under the pressure.
The Men’s Final
I’ve mentioned before that tennis media tends to forget, maybe conveniently, things about players. They mention in passing how injured Rafael Nadal was last year focusing on a man more to their liking, Robin Soderling. No one mentions the 2009 match between the two where Rafael destroyed Soderling in straight sets. Too inconvenient. The men’s final showed that a healthy Rafa can’t be beaten by Soderling.
I watched the final with the sound off so I have no idea what John McEnroe and Ted Robinson got up to.
There was nothing wrong with anything Soderling did on court. He was just not on the level of the man across the net.
Marat Safin and Yannick Noah were partying together. ‘Nuff said.
Nicholas Mahut of France lost a bet.
Mr and Mrs Shawn Carter were there.
One of the most beautiful women in the world, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan was also in attendance.