Roland Garros Recap
by Steve Flink
|Justine Henin cruised to another title at Roland Garros.|
We were all hoping for some classic matches at Roland Garros this year, and that did not happen. We wanted closer final round confrontations. We wished there could have been more surprises and less predictability. Be that as it may, this French Open was extraordinary for other reasons, giving us much to celebrate, reminding us that at the biggest events the cream usually rises to the top.
Both Justine Henin and Rafael Nadal reaffirmed their clay court excellence, with both champions claiming the crown for the third year in a row. Henin went through the tournament methodically without losing a set, played perhaps the best tennis of her clay court career, and displayed more flair and flexibility in her game than ever before. In turn, after going through a divorce and missing the Australian Open at the start of the 2007 campaign, she seemed to extend her appeal to a larger segment of the public who now seem to find her more human and likeable. Nadal dropped only one set in seven matches, casting aside Lleyton Hewitt, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer in the last three rounds with his inimitable style and personality. Here he is at 21 with three titles already in his collection, and yet Nadal competes and comports himself like a much older and seasoned champion. What a pair of role models they are.
But this tournament was not only a showcase for Nadal and Henin to perform once more with panache and unswerving intensity. It was a time for one aspiring champion to emerge on the Parisian stage, and for another established figure to reemerge. The immensely gifted Serbian Novak Djokovic reached the penultimate round for the first time at a Grand Slam event, and gave Nadal what was in many ways the Spaniard's toughest test. And two time Grand Slam tournament winner Maria Sharapova- back from a shoulder injury which required cortisone injections- got to her first semifinal at Roland Garros with grit and gumption.
Djokovic is clearly the third best player in the world. He has taken his game to another level this season, rounding out the rough edges and adding layers to an already strong foundation. His serve is formidable, his volley has improved immeasurably, and he has wonderful variety off the ground. His semifinal battle with Nadal was a beauty. Nadal seemed to have found the right formula when he reached 5-2, 30-0 in the first set. Rolling his topspin forehand up high to the Serbian's two hander, Nadal was giving Djokovic fits. Nadal seemed on his way to a relatively easy triumph.
It was not at all routine thereafter. Djokovic made a stirring stand. He broke Nadal for 3-5, saved three set points on his serve in the ninth game, then broke a briefly unsettled Nadal again for 5-5. The vociferous French fans cheered Djokovic on fervently, appreciating his shot making versatility, admiring his steadfastness. Nadal needed to muster all of his steely resolve to take the last two games and win the first set. At 5-4 in the second set, Nadal surged to 40-0, triple set point. Here again, Djokovic showed us his spunk, winning four points in a row to reach break point. Nadal unleashed a clutch ace and soon closed out that game for the set.
The Spaniard won deservedly 7-5, 6-4, 6-2, but Djokovic, who toppled Nadal a few months ago on his way to winning Miami, was noble in defeat. He has an outside chance to win either Wimbledon or the U.S. Open this year but he will surely win a major by the end of 2008. He took a major step in the right direction with his prideful performance at Roland Garros. Djokovic has all the necessary tools to succeed in the upper levels of the game, and the right mindset. He is only 20, and he will surely be a major force in the years to come.
Sharapova has had her share of woes this year. She was obliterated by Serena Williams in the Australian Open final and again in Miami. She was playing in obvious pain. Her serve- once the best in women's tennis- was seriously marred by her shoulder problem. So it was nice to see her reclaim some of her old authority at Roland Garros. Sharapova won the women's match of the tournament over the guileful Patty Schnyder, saving two match points to beat the Swiss left-hander in the round of 16, then ousting the swiftly rising Anna Chakvetadze in the quarterfinals. Although she was swept aside in straight sets by the Serbian Anna Ivanovic, Sharapova had every reason to be delighted with her showing, knowing it could lead to a big Wimbledon for her.
Last but not least, Ivanovic was one of the bright lights of the tournament. She was overwhelmed by playing Henin in her first major final, but that could not diminish what she did to get there. Ivanovic toppled Svetlana Kuznetsova and Sharapova, firing her crackling ground strokes with great depth and accuracy. This was her first Grand Slam championship match, but I am convinced it won't be her last. Steve Flink is a weekly contributor to TennisChannel.com. Steve Flink Archive
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