Tuesday, June 7, 2011

2011 French Open - A Look Back

by Savannah

I am a clay court tennis junkie. I was like this before a man grounded in clay court knowledge and technique became my favorite player. I like the long rallies, the physical endurance required to survive them, the mental acuity needed to stay sharp and focused during a match that will last at least an hour and the sense in this viewer that something has been accomplished at the end of a match played on the dirt. Grass and hard court tennis have their virtues but it's clay that requires the whole player be involved.

So it was with joy I woke up at 5a on the first day of the French Open looking forward to heavy balls, flying clay, and dirty players. Five minutes into the first match I was asking myself what the hell was wrong with the balls? They were flying like a golden snitch in a game of Quidditch. It wasn't long before the commentators were talking about the change of balls this year and how it would affect the tournament. I was asking myself how could Babolat whose equipment is used by the top players in the sport sabotage said players by introducing a ball more suited to a hard court than clay?

During the early rounds the commentators reported that players were complaining about how the balls played and you could see how they affected play when shots a player normally made in his/her sleep went flying off the court. But these men and women are professionals and while the balls were still playing crazy the players got used to them and moved on.
Li and Schiavo FO 2011
In many ways this was a historic French Open. When it got underway there was the chance that there would be a ranking change at the top of the men's tour and that a self professed "cow on ice" could possibly win it all on the women's side.

The courts were playing more like hard courts than traditional clay courts in the dry warm weather and the hard courters made the best of it. In the end though all of the finalists could be classified as all court players with two having a preference for clay.

In the women's final you had a thiry year old playing a twenty nine year old. There wasn't a blonde ponytail in sight either. The one thing I felt going in was that the final would feature tennis. There would be no screeching, no nearly hundred mile an hour serves, just tennis.
blog Li Na FO Chamipion 2011
Francesca Schiavone gave it her best but Li Na, who had come so close in Melbourne had decided she was not going to lose. She was not going to let the moment overtake her and cause doubts. She'd been in the final of a Grand Slam and wasn't going to waste her second opportunity. She is 29 after all.

So will the WTA do going forward? How will it market it's best players or will it do that at all? Will they finally begin to market the sport of tennis as played by women or will it continue it's tits and ass promotion of women's tennis? You can say that they don't use tits and ass to push Kim Clijsters but she may be the exception to the rule and that "only woman in the world ever to give birth" schtick is getting old. Ana Ivanovicstill features prominently in WTA ads (I know she's not a blonde) but where is she in terms of her tennis? With Wimbledon coming up its going to be interesting to see and hear what the WTA does. Serena Williams will return at Eastbourne next week but I don't expect much from her there or at Wimbledon. The same goes for Venus Williams. You can practice all you want but lack of match play shows no matter who you are. They may both prove me wrong. If they do then the WTA is in worse shape than I thought.
What about the ATP? What about it? Can you say the level of tennis is high? Yes. Can you say every man in the top ten brings a different style and personality to the court? Yes. Does the ATP market the athleticism of it's top athletes not their hotness? Yes. Just imagine how much hype Feliciano Lopez would get at the hands of the WTA promotional people?
Do the rivalries at the top need to be hyped? Not too much. The ATP is more available not only on television but on the net. The players at the top play a much more highly developed game than the women do. There are ball bashers in the ATP - they're everywhere. But not so much in the ATP top ten any more.
Look at the state of American tennis, home of the ball bashers. There was a lot of talk about the young American Bjorn Fratangelo who won the Boys title in Paris but I haven't heard the hype around him (yet) that has hampered Melanie Oudin who may have moved into the main tour much too soon.
Unless you follow the Junior Circuit you probably have never heard of Ons Jabeur, a teenager from Tunisia. Imagine that. A young woman from the African continent won the Junior girls crown. Is that historic or what? Not much hype around her right now either. Lets hope that she's allowed to develop as a player and is not held back by outside influences. Everyone is screaming "The Chinese are coming" but what if it's "The Africans are coming" too? Axis members will have to have their dosages increased.
FO 2011
Special mention has to go to Puerto Rico's Monica Puig. She's been tearing up the junior circuit and as you can see she does not like losing. It should be noted that legally Puerto Rican's are American citizens but compete as Puerto Rican's. If you need background on this Google will be a big help. I'm not here to talk about the politics of that situation.
The United States ended up shut out in doubles as well. Daniel Nestor and Max Mirnyi won that title after the Bryan Twins were defeated.
Australia had something to cheer about as Casey Dellacqua and Scott Lipsky won the Mixed Doubles competition.
The women's doubles pairing of Czech players Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka unseeded in Paris, walked away with the women's doubles crown.
Esther Vergeer continued her winning streak in singles and teamed up with countrywoman Sharon Walraven to win doubles but there was a new men's champion.
Maikel Scheffers, another player from the Netherlands, won a Grand Slam for the first time.
Irina Khromacheva of Russia and Maryna Zanevsa of Ukraine were the girls doubles queens.
Andres Artunedo Martinavarr and Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain took the Junior boys doubles title.

So again where do the tours stand looking towards Wimbledon and the US Open? The women's tour looks the same to me. You have younger less mature players dominating the lesser tournaments (non Grand Slam events) and the more mature players competing for Grand Slam titles. Nothing will change until and unless the ranking system is changed.
Shingo Kunieda of Japan and Nicolas Peifer of France won the men's doubles wheelchair competition.

As for the ATP the competition at the top rages on. Unfortunately American men will be left out of that conversation as they fight to maintain a toehold in the top ten.

Still at the end of the day a Grand Slam is remembered for its finals. In that respect I think we have a winner. There were no blow outs. No one went ass up and everyone who made a final played to the best of their ability overcoming wind, some rain and golden snitches. There's already grumbling about the grass at Wimbledon being slower than the courts at Roland Garros. We'll see in a little less than two weeks won't we?


lilac said...

Great write up -- as usual. But Mizz Savannah I am expecting something from The Williams sisters -- Serena at least. History tell us that. I don't think they'll win the title, but they will show. They are uber professional and will come to win. And they're games have still not been eclipsed by any woman on the tour. Just excited to see both of them playing.

Zafar said...

Great roundup Savannah.

Ivan Ljubicic just said on British TV yesterday that the courts at Roland Garros this year actually play faster than the lawns of Queens...

Admittedly the comment was made in a light hearted spirit but Ivans not at all prone to any type of hyperbole or drama - thats simply how ridiculous the situations been allowed to get.

Anyway....both winners were well deserved as you say.

Was a little disappointed at having missed out on Caroline Garcia's match with Pova. It seems I'm the only one - even Andy Murray pegged her as future #1 (*snigger*)