Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Rear View Mirror: Roland Garros 2014

by Savannah

The end of a Grand Slam can be compared to the end of a relationship. Regardless of how it ended or why it still leaves a void in your life that for awhile is hard to fill.

First to the women. I commented a bit on the Women's Tournament but now that it's over I'd like to look at it in a little more depth.

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Photograph: Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images

Playing Maria Sharapova is a bit like playing Agniezska Radwanska. Aga has not been as successful against established players lately because they've figured out her gimmick(s). What makes Sharapova different is the hype machine that surrounds her. Most of the younger players come on the court with the attitude that they are facing a legend. Instead of raising their games like they do when they play Serena Williams they wilt under the barrage of sound and the arms and legs that seem to be everywhere.

Let's look at Garbiñe Muguruza who is playing for Spain at the moment. She played the match of her life against a lifeless and distracted Serena Williams and then played her way past Anna Schmiedlova and Pauline Parmentier with flair and determination. Before we dismiss those two women as "walking byes" lets give them their due. They played well enough to make the Main Draw of a Grand Slam. There are literally thousands of players who never make it that far. Those of us who had been watching Muguruza thought she had a chance to take out Sharapova. A decent chance. But she ended up kicked to the curb thanks to a complete mental collapse. There is no other way to describe it. In the first set of their match Muguruza had Sharapova looking like the cow on ice she once said she was on clay. So what happened? She got intimidated and lost the next two sets 7-5 and 6-1. The last set wasn't even that close.

Next up for Sharapova was her replacement in the world of the WTA, Eugenie Bouchard of Canada. Everyone seemed to be excited about this match and the hype machines for both players went into overdrive. But as anyone who had been watching Bouchard up to this point knew that despite wins over Johanna Larsson, Angelique Kerber (in straight sets), and Carla Suarez Navarro, another player who had a good spring and who made it interesting pushing Bouchard to three sets, when the big pressure is on Bouchard still doesn't have the ability to make the kill when she's supposed to. Like Muguruza Bouchard won the first set and by the third had been screamed and bullied into submission. There are one, maybe two, players who get past the bluster of the resident bully and play to her weaknesses. The youngsters aren't there yet.

For the Final we had Maria Sharapova vs Simona Halep. Halep is already a force to be reckoned with and seems to be learning very quickly as she moves from tournament to tournament on the main tour. I can only assume all of the noise had her disoriented. How else to explain that almost every return she hit was to where Sharapova was standing. Since Sharapova isn't a great mover or one who anticipates really well all she had to do was move to where she figured the return would land and voila, usually it was right in her wheelhouse. You can count on one hand, okay two, the number of times Halep hit to the open court. When she did she won the point. She did manage to win a set and that will have to console her. I'm sure her coach will review the tape of that match over and over with her. Right now Simona is powned by Ms Sharapova with an 0-4 record against her. Is it because Sharapova is so tall that she dominates Halep? Halep is said to be 5'6". Serena is 5'9" tall. Is Halep shorter that five six? I haven't seen her in person but I hope to during the US Open. I'll let you know.

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Photo via Reuters

The Men's Final was supposed to be a foregone conclusion. The eight time champion was supposed to be done. He'd had a rough spring and was in danger of losing his number one ranking. Even though he blasted Andy Murray off the court in their semi final all of the hype was focused on Serbia's Novak Djokovic who was thought ready to not only win his first French Open but take over the Number 1 ranking. When the dust settled though the eight time champion had won his 9th Roland Garros and was still ranked #1. Surprisingly there are calls for Boris Becker's head by some. Why surprisingly? Because anyone who knows the modern game should've known that there wasn't much Becker could bring to Djokovic's game. He played in a different era with different technology and different strategies of play. Players don't throw themselves around the court the way young Boris did anymore. They're in better shape mentally and physically and because of modern technology play a different game. I don't pretend to know anything about Djokovic (as most of you know I'm not a fan) but one man has been there through thick and thin. When all is said and done I think he'll still be there.

I didn't see any of the Doubles play and of course I saw none of the Junior tournament. I do want to mention that young Francis Tiafoe of the United States, who was ranked #1, didn't last long in the tournament. It was a lot of pressure for the 16 year old. If he's staying in Europe maybe he'll play the Junior tournament at Wimbledon.

As a whole the United States did poorly in Paris as expected. I'm not sure when this will change. Tiafoe has potential but he's going to have to do what the big boys do - train, watch tape, be as fit as possible and develop a distinct game, a hybrid kind of American tennis. What they're playing in the States is only getting potentially good players so far. Our young men and women are still basically cannon fodder on the tour. Like Madison Keys they reach a certain level and never go beyond it. Instead of spending money giving each other awards for reasons best described as vague when it comes to tennis, money should be spent finding kids who want to play, who want to be the best, and who are willing to do what the top players do including hiring coaches that will hone their game not the reputations of men who are long past their primes.

Amelie Mauresmo

A couple of weeks ago Tennis Australia said that "rumors were swirling" that Andy Murray's new coach would be Amélie Mauresmo. There was very little follow up to that report by journalists other than to say that she was probably under consideration along with many others. American's seemed to think Murray would pick John McEnroe and were confidently predicting he would be chosen by Murray. The two men have very prickly personalities and since Ivan Lendl is said to have a similar hard to get along with demeanor the reasoning seemed to be who else would Murray pick?

As we all know now TA was correct and Ms Mauresmo is now Andy Murray's coach. I think this speaks to the influence of Judy Murray on her son. I'll go as far as to say she had a lot to say about who was chosen. Murray is not afraid or wary of being coached by a woman especially since his mother has been his unofficial coach in the past.

My concern is that Amélie, who has never handled pressure well, may not be able to deal with the pressure cooker she's stepping into. Fans are going to want results right away and there will be sniping about her ability to coach the men's game. Critics tend to forget that Jimmy Connors was coached by his mother. No one would call him a wimp on the court.

But those were different times. England wants Murray to compete on the level being part of the Top Four implies. That he went outside of normal bounds in not only selecting a woman but a French woman is going to add additional pressure. Let's be clear. John McEnroe isn't fit to coach the men's game at this point. Most of the top players are an insular lot surrounded by family and a few trusted friends let into their circle after careful screening. I hope Amélie has developed a thick skin. She's going to need it.

2014 Roland Garros Champions List

Men's Singles
Spain Rafael Nadal
Women's Singles
Russia Maria Sharapova
Men's Doubles
France Julien Benneteau / France Édouard Roger-Vasselin
Women's Doubles
Chinese Taipei Hsieh Su-wei / China Peng Shuai
Mixed Doubles
Germany Anna-Lena Grönefeld / Netherlands Jean-Julien Rojer
Boys' Singles
Russia Andrey Rublev
Girls' Singles
Russia Darya Kasatkina
Boys' Doubles
France Benjamin Bonzi / France Quentin Halys
Girls' Doubles
Romania Ioana Ducu / Romania Ioana Loredana Roșca
Legends Under 45 Doubles
France Mansour Bahrami / France Fabrice Santoro
Women's Legends Doubles
Belgium Kim Clijsters / United States Martina Navratilova
Legends Over 45 Doubles
United States John McEnroe / United States Patrick McEnroe
Wheelchair Men's Singles
Japan Shingo Kunieda
Wheelchair Women's Singles
Japan Yui Kamiji
Wheelchair Men's Doubles
Belgium Joachim Gérard / France Stéphane Houdet
Wheelchair Women's Doubles
Japan Yui Kamiji / United Kingdom Jordanne Whiley

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