No one in the American tennis media gave Sara Errani of Italy a chance. She stands a whisper above five feet tall so what chance did she have at this the most physical of all the Slams? Slim to none? Was she the player one American comm said she'd never heard of before? I'm not sure. And this column is not my review of the French Open. That will come a bit later next week.
If unlike the former American players who get paid beaucoup bucks to commentate matches and never seem to watch one between gigs you were watching tennis during the spring European clay court season you were very aware of Sara Errani. She played very very well and most European commentators stopped talking about her size and focused on her tennis. And she was playing tennis very well.
It wasn't a big surprise that she made it to the semi final match to me. Her enemy would be nerves. Instead it was Samantha Stosur who succumbed to nerves, the very Samantha Stosur whose name had already been penciled into one of the final slots by many American and Australian observers. When the final point was won it was Sara who was dropping her racquet to the ground and sobbing in joy along with her father. If some of the hired hands had bothered to pay attention earlier in the season they would've heard about the work Sara had been putting in, how she'd worked on her game and herself relentlessly so that she'd make a good showing on the terre battue of Paris. And make a good showing she did. She deserves to be in this final. And I know she will expect nothing but the best from herself.
It's a completely different scenario for Russian Maria Sharapova. The commentary I was subjected to sang her praises from day one, especially after the women who could've presented the biggest obstacle to her lost early. "Could anyone stop her relentless march to Goddess status" was the constant refrain. "She's no longer a cow on ice" they said over and over and over.
Don't get me wrong. Sharapova has worked her ass off for the last two years to get herself ready for the European clay court season. And her results have been stunning. No one who has watched Sharapova over the years can deny her strength of will and pursuit of the Maria Slam. She didn't throw tantrums after a loss. She was upset, mostly with herself, but kept her eyes on the prize.
Americans forget that Maria is a Russian national because she has had so much training here in the United States.
Her victories are claimed as theirs. So no one will be cheering harder for the tall Russian than the American tennis establishment even if her new found maturity on clay had almost nothing to do with them.
A Brief Commentary
Bizarre is not a word usually associated with a tennis match. Tough. Draining. Exciting. Challenging. All of these words can be used to describe a match. But the mens semi final between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic can only be described as bizarre. I didn't understand what was going on while watching and now several hours later I still don't understand.
Thanks to the work of the ITWA Roland Garros opts not to publish print versions of all player interviews, something they were doing up until a couple of years ago. I've commented on this travesty of justice several times in the past and won't go into a lot of depth now. I will say that in this Internet age trying to restrict access to information only results in it popping up somewhere else. That's what happened with Roger Federer's post match interview. Thanks to the people at Freedom Tennis you can read Federer's interview not only in English but they've translated the French part of the interview as well. I'm posting it in it's entirety below. Thanks guys.
ROGER FEDERER June 08 2012
Q. What went wrong during the match?
ROGER FEDERER: I don’t know. I mean, I thought he played well, you know, under tough conditions. Yeah, and I wasn’t able to sustain maybe a solid enough game today, I guess.
That’s about it.
Q. Do you think maybe the weather conditions had anything to do with today’s game turning out the way it did?
ROGER FEDERER: Maybe a little bit now, you know, after the match is over. I mean, the match itself obviously try to use the conditions to your advantage.
But I was struggling, you know, to sort of keep the ball in play, you know, probably long enough, even though I wasn’t hitting the ball poorly. It’s been a tough week for me last couple. Maybe in these conditions today didn’t help me, help the cause, let’s put it that way.
I did have enough chances, so it’s no excuse there. I tried, and it just didn’t work out today.
Q. You had many chances in the second set, 3‑Love, 4‑2, 5‑4, and the crowd was with you, also. Do you think that if you had won that set it would have been a totally different match or not?
ROGER FEDERER: Yes, I think it would have been, but it’s not. (Smiling.)
Q. You talked about struggling to find your rhythm after a few matches this week. Did you feel any better today? Did you feel you were hitting the ball any better?
ROGER FEDERER: You know, maybe it was more straightforward because obviously Novak forces the issue as well, so there’s a bit more reacting going on than actually deciding where you want to hit the ball and how many different ‑‑ you know, with how many different possibilities can you hit it in a certain corner.
That was I think a bit of my issue. Earlier on in the week, obviously against top players it’s more straightforward, you know. You’re doing a bit more reacting, as well. That was the case out here today, as well.
I thought, you know, I was playing very aggressive early on, had the break, things were going well, but obviously it was always going to be hard to keep on serving well in the wind.
Obviously when Novak picks up some good returns, you know, my first serve obviously was going to be difficult.
I was actually feeling particularly well in the second set, so that one obviously hurts the most to lose, yeah. And the first set, too.
But in the third, I mean, I wasn’t able to put a good game together anymore. And the return in particular, obviously with a two sets to love lead against Novak it’s not the same match anymore. He goes are goes for broke and there is no more fear. That’s about it.
Q. What’s your balance about your level in this tournament? In which conditions you arrive to the Wimbledon and Olympic Games?
ROGER FEDERER: Well, I mean, Olympics are still two months away; Wimbledon is still, you know, two weeks away. So we have a lot of time.
But, again, I mean, semifinals is, at the end of the day, very good result for any tennis player. For me, too. I wish I could have done a bit better today, especially with the wasted opportunities.
But that’s how it goes sometimes. I’ve got to go, you know, change things around now for grass anyway. I’m looking forward to that. It’s been a difficult clay court season. I wasn’t in the best shape physically, to be quite honest.
Maybe I also that I did feel down the stretch a little bit. Overall I did feel my very best coming into the semis today. I was where I wanted to be, but ran into an opponent who was just better today.
Still, it gives me a little bit of a lift, you know, coming ‑‑ I guess coming into the grass court season now.
Q. Just your thoughts about Sunday’s duel of Titans, Nadal/Djokovic.
ROGER FEDERER: I’m sure it’s going to be a good match. I have no idea what the conditions are going to be, if it’s going to be rainy or slow or fast. I mean, it’s never going to be fast here because this year the balls are very slow.
Yeah, my pick is not a surprising one. I obviously pick Rafa. I think he’s the overwhelming favorite. We’ll see how it goes.
THE MODERATOR: French, please.
Q. You made it to the semis. That’s a good tournament for you. I felt that you were not really at ease. You were not physically present. Is that what you said?
ROGER FEDERER: I don’t know. I wondered about many things. You know, there comes a time when you have to stop asking yourself questions and play, which is what I tried to do.
What’s certain is that given the conditions, you know, I tried to be aggressive. It’s more complicated. Even more the case on clay. That’s about it.
I had opportunities; I missed them, even though I didn’t play badly on the break points. But then it’s on my serve. When I was serving, I didn’t manage ‑‑ not to play better. I can’t say this. But it was tough.
It was difficult to attack, and being defensive, or rather, you know, I could have waited a little. But if I were to do this, I was playing for him. I was not here to play a good match but to win the match, so I had to hit the balls. It was a bit disappointing today.
Q. Would you say you were irritated given the conditions since the beginning of the tournament? Today it was quite windy.
ROGER FEDERER: I usually like when it’s windy, but maybe it was not the right moment for me when there was wind, because I was looking for my pace and rhythm since the beginning of the tournament.
Then wind or no wind, I don’t know if I’d have won otherwise today. You know, I had to play a good match, and this was a match that was correct but not good enough to beat Novak.
Q. I have the impression when I’m listening to you that you have a little cold; is that true?
ROGER FEDERER: No, no. My throat was a little sore. My nose was running a little in the past days, but it didn’t really bother me today. No, not at all. Didn’t bother me at all.
Q. I’ll ask the question that was asked in English before: What about your position concerning Novak and Rafael Nadal on Sunday? What would you say about this? Would you say that Rafael is stronger?
ROGER FEDERER: I’d say that Novak is the favorite, I should say in French, when I said the contrary in English. No, no. I said that Rafa is my favorite to win this tournament here, but it’s going to be an interesting and pleasant final.
I don’t know anything about the conditions. I think this is what I said in English.
Q. You said that your season on clay had its ups and downs due to physical injuries. Would you say that this is what you paid here at Roland Garros, all these physical difficulties?
ROGER FEDERER: No, physically I feel good. What I said before is that today was my best day physically speaking if I look at the past months.
When I practiced the week after Madrid I was okay, then I hurt myself a little, and then for three or four weeks I knew I’d feel this physically. But then the pain vanished after Rome. I was happy on this side.
I played this side as well, so mentally afterwards you don’t want to hit too strongly. Who knows? You know, I tried to find other solutions in my game, but it was a good season on clay.
I would have liked to do better here at Roland Garros. I’m supported so much, and I won in 2009, also. So I wanted to reexperience this. Unfortunately, it was not possible at all during these two weeks.
Q. On Sunday who is going to have more pressure, Djokovic aiming for the Grand Slam or Rafael Nadal who wants to beat Borg’s record or will you say that both will be totally transformed?
ROGER FEDERER: They’re going to play well, I can tell you, pressure or no pressure. They’re used to it.
Novak has more pressure because he’s never won here, I think.
I was in the same situation twice, I think, for the Grand Slam, you know, the four in a row, four Grand Slam tournaments. I can’t really remember, anyway.
But Rafa has won six times here. Of course it would be great to win for a seventh time. But, you know, for Novak, he’s never won the tournament, so who knows?
Maybe luck will be on his side again. Well, Novak therefore will have more pressure, I think, which is quite normal, even though everybody thinks that Rafa is going to win.
I think Novak has more pressure on him, you know. To be in this situation you have to win three Grand Slams in a row again, which is more difficult.
Q. Have you lost a set after breaking three times? Has it happened to you already?
ROGER FEDERER: I hope so. I hope it’s not the first time. But I don’t know. I have played so many matches.