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French Open Blog 2009


Check back daily throughout the French Open as our resident blogger, James LaRosa, offers up his humorous and poignant take on the day's action.

Catch up on James' past grand slam blogs as well as his weekly column, LaRosa's Sweet Spot (new columns every Wednesday) |
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Samantha Stosur

DUNLOP AWARDS - June 7, 2009 - 11:25 AM PST

What's the French word for rollercoaster?  These last two weeks have had more twists and turns than four Six Flags put together (More flags! More fun!).  Which makes these DUNLOP AWARDS especially hard earned.  Will there be any upsets?

Most Satisfying Moment:  Roger Federer bags #14!  Sure, we would've liked to have seen him have to clear the Nadal hurdle to truly earn it (and sorry Roger, Madrid doesn't count), but taking out the guy who took his rival out is at least symbolically second best.  The match itself lacked any drama at all until the final two games, when tears were already starting to well.  Finally, after playing bridesmaid three years running, Roger walks away with wins at all four Slams.  And the immediate go-to guy in the debate over the Greatest of All Time.

Best Match (ATP):  Federer/Del Potro.  Fed may have been denied a competitive final (not that he's shedding any tears over that), but he made up for it in his semi, a come from behind five-set scorcher against a hard-hitting Argentine playing the match of his life.  DelPo stepped up to the plate and came thisclose to denying Roger his magic moment.  But it was magic for the rest of us.

Best Match (WTA):  Cirstea/Jankovic.  Though not playing at her best, Jankovic was forced to produce her best defense against a stunning offense.  Still, Cirstea wouldn't be denied, aided in the end by some of the biggest forehands in the business.  Honorable Mention to Rezai/Larcher de Brito, who pulled off the single best set of tennis on the women's side.

Worst Match (ATP):  Monfils/Roddick.  No sour grapes as I'm hardly a fan of either, but never has a shot at a quarterfinal seemed so obligatory and rushed.  As the sun quickly faded, so did a feet-stamping Andy Roddick who wanted it postponed to when he could, you know, see.  The theatrics by Gael Monfils certainly didn't endear it, or him, any more.

Worst Match (WTA):  Venus Williams is breathing a huge sigh of relief as, once again, the women's French Open final produced the foulest tennis of the year.  Why?  How about the...

...Biggest Choke:  I hate hate hate the "c" word, but what else can you call what Dinara Safina pulled against Svetlana Kuznetsova?  There was just too much at stake for the #1, leading to a final double fault and the most heartbreaking end to a tournament since Hingis imploded on the very same court a decade ago.  The worst moment of which was the...

...Most Memorable Quote:  "Why am I such a chicken?!" As Safina screamed it at her coach with tears in her eyes, we were almost tearing up ourselves as everything she's worked so hard for, and seemed like such a lock for, so painfully slipped away.

Miss Cleo Award (awarded to the player with the most impressive psychic powers):  Elena Dementieva who, when asked about Nadal in her post-loss press conference, defied conventional wisdom to offer: "He actually looks a little bit tired to me.  "Even [though] he's winning pretty easily, it doesn't look like he's fresh enough. I think it's going to be a tough challenge for him to win this time, actually."  Within 24 hours, we had the...

...Biggest Upset:  Rafa, noooooooo!

Breakthrough Performance (Male): Robin, yessssssss!  Robin Soderling could've just been satisfied with taking out David Ferrer the round before.  But by handing the King of Clay his first ever defeat at Roland Garros, and in such a decisive brutal way, he reached the stratosphere.  And he still found enough air to breathe to knock out Nikolay Davydenko and Fernando Gonzalez.  All of which led to the final and the most baffling appearance since John Stamos popped up in that Beach Boys "Kokomo" video.  And would it have been possible without the...

...Biggest Bummer:  Nadal's bum knee.  It didn't help him against Soderling, it's keeping him from defending Queen's Club and is jeopardizing his chances of playing Wimbledon, the site of his greatest achievement.  Is his style of play finally catching up to him?  I so sincerely hope not.

Biggest Bummer (Runner up):  The Paris crowd, who could not only muster up no support for the four-time defending champ, they also jeered Serena Williams for (rightfully) questioning the sportsmanship of Mary Jose Martinez Sanchez and was just generally lame to anyone who so much as lingered on a line call.  Hiss indeed.

Breakthrough Performance (Female):  Samantha Stosur and Sorana Cirstea should've been bounced rounds ago, but there they were in the semis.  Fancy that!

Jelena Jankovic Cockroach Award:  Maria Sharapova, who should have this award renamed after her for rallying though back to back to back to back three-set matches to make it to the Quarterfinals.  This after doing nothing much else but gracing magazine covers the last year.  I actually think she still has a clump of Nadia Petrova's hair in her tennis bag.

Breakdown Performance (Male):  James Blake who, while not known for his stunning clay court prowess, still looked amateur in his first round upset to Leonardo Mayer (who?).  And he looked downright deluded in his press conference by suggesting clay prep only takes away from his grass and hard court success.  Of which he currently has none.

Breakdown Performance (Female): Venus Williams.  You couldn't run for very long.

Biggest Variable:  Scheduling, as clay court stand-outs Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Caroline Wozniacki all played too much and peaked too soon.

Oddest Sighting:  Fernando Gonzalez, rubbing out a mark with his badunkadunk.  Sadly that was the only way he could mark his territory that day.

Lamest Debate: Screeching in tennis.  You're never going to solve it, so get over it already.  PS, God forbid there be something about this sport that attracts attention.

Best Name:  Tennys Sandgren, an American junior who made it to the Round of 16.  I'm going to name my son Tennys.  Or Lindsay.  No, Tennys.

Biggest Jagweed:  The guy who ran out on court during the final to rub the Spanish flag in Roger's face.  Roger wouldn't let it break his concentration.  Still, there were about 30,000 other people there who would've loved to join the pile-on as he was taken down and carried away.  One hopes to a dank Swiss prison where they have that Nadal/Soderling match on a perpetual loop.

That's a wrap in Paris.  In a couple weeks, we'll be coming to you live from Wimbledon.  What?  Seriously?  Oh yeah.  This will be our first time at (sorry Mr. Garros) my favorite tournament, so my head might just pop off.   And I'll be staying in Wimbledon Village, so expect some scoop from the true hub of all the action (you know all you care about is how Mirka takes her eggs so shut up).

Of course drop back Wed. (and every Wed.) for the Sweet Spot.  For now, on behalf of Dunlop (already panicking about his passport photo) and myself, au revoir and see you on the grass!

James


Women's Final - June 6, 2009 - 11:04 AM

Hello peoples, Dunlop here!  James is so generous, he say to me, Dunlop, please, you take French Open women's final.  I beg of you, take it!  I say okay.  How bad could it be?

Uh-oh, I watch French Open women's finals of the history.  James is, how you say, the dead meat.

:00 - Gloomy gloomy.  God is not happy.  Big Russian and Little Russian walk out with dinky flowers.  I get bigger corsage at Serbian prom.  I mean I give bigger corsage.  Yes.  Give.

:12 - Little Russian to serve.  She look like deer in giant headlight.  Look out Russian Bambi!

:13 - Too late, Bambi hit.  Big Russian play with eye of tiger, break her.

:14 - Where is Steffi Graf?  Someone say she is here.  It should not be too hard to find, so many empty seats it is like Jessica Simpson concert with Chris Brown opening act.

:17 - Big Russian give gift of serve right back.  Little Russian might want to return for store credit it is so bad.  Her groundstrokes are no better.  Eye of tiger is scaredy cat.

:23 - I look all over for Steffi.  I find Little Russian coach Larisa Savchenko.  She look like genius.  I do not see Steffi.  I do not see Big Russian's Big Brother either.  He must practice in Queen's Club for another loss.

:34 - First good point! 

:35 - Big Russian coughing.

:43 - Big Russian choking.

:44 - Little Russian breaks for 5-3 lead.  She will serve for set.  There's Steffi!  No, that is man with Bon Jovi hair.

:46 - Love break.  That about describes match, which breaks Dunlop's love of tennis.  Curse you James!

:47 - Steffi!  It is you!  You look so pretty!  And pretty bored.  Someone hand her tennis racquet STAT! (I watch many ER reruns on the TNT.)

:52 - Little Russian breaks to win first set, 6-4.  This remind me, when I need to go to dentist next?

1:02 - Big Russian scream at coach.  Coach scream back. 

1:05 - Big Russian gag on more easy shots, continue to give trophy as present.  Does this come with matching earrings?  Ha!

1:08 - Big Russian put away overhead.  Which is noteworthy because she does not screw it up.

1:09 - Big Russian hold serve!  6-4, 2-2 is close score.  How is Big Russian still even on court?

1:12 - Big Russian up 0-30 on Little Russian's serve.  Little Russian holds anyway.  Somehow little one is steadier player.  I imagine what is wrong with giant.  Cough could be consumption.  Or Black Plague. 

1:18 - Little one breaks.  Big one suffer from dementia?  Restless leg syndrome?  Oh, she is chicken!  She scream this to coach.  It breaks my heart more.  I would rather watch little boy die.  On ER!  People, I am no monster!  Make that twins.

1:21 - Little one play hackey sack with ball to delight of crowd.  Now she is just rubbing in.

1:22 - Big Russian is down 2-5 again at French Open.  But she is fighter, she will fight way out.  Uh-oh, she have to serve.

1:26 - Terrible dump in net to give little one match point.  The tears are about to come.  Dunlop cannot watch.  First serve goes in net.  Crowd makes noises, they know what is going to happen next.  God know what is going to happen next.  Second serve bounce off net into stands.  The rain that look like it is going to come finally pours from Big Russian's eyes.  Little Russian win, but you would never know by her face.  Her coach now look like super genius.  The giant's coach look like murder in sneakers.

1:36 - STEFFI!  STEFFI!  I mean, trophy presentation.  It seems, how you say, appropriate.  This is biggest meltdown since she beat Martina Hingis ten years ago.  Is Steffi going to curse Big Russian like she curse Hingis by holding her and telling her she will have many more chances?  She didn't. 

1:37 - Big Russian thank coach for support.  Coach hide razor behind teeth to surprise her in locker room.

1:38 - Little Russian get trophy.  Even she is more excited that Steffi is here.  Never have someone do so little for so much.  Serena Williams must be spitting quarters over this.  But she should thank Little Russian.  How is giant going to recover from this?  Big American might be #1 again sooner than she think.

That is all, people.  Off to hide razor in own teeth for James.

Poljubac!

Dunlop


Day 13 - June 5,  2009- 3:33PM PST 

Roger:  Excuse me, can I please talk to you for a minute?
Robin:  Uh huh, sure.  You know, you look kinda familiar.
Roger:  Yeah you do to.  But I just wanted to know, do you know a tournament named..?  Oh you know its name.
Robin:  Oh yeah definitely I know its name.
Roger:  Well I just want to let you that it's mine.
Robin:  No no. It's mine.

(Roger & Robin):
You need to give it up
Had about enough.
It's not hard to see
The trophy's mine.
I'm sorry that you
Seem to be confused.
It belongs to me
The trophy's mine.

Roger:
Think its time we got this straight,
Sit and talk face to face.
There is no way you could mistake
It for your Slam.  Are you insane?

Robin:
But see I know that you may be
Just a bit jealous of me,
But you're blind if you can't see
That these two weeks were all about me.

Roger:
See I tried to hesitate.
I didn't want to say what they tell me.
They say you're way less than a no name,
Never past a third round, ain't that a shame.

Robin:
But maybe you misunderstood,
Cause I backed up my Win but good.
Davydenko and Gonzalez.
You could barely get past Tommy Haas.
(The trophy's mine)

(Roger & Robin)
You need to give it up
Had about enough (Enough!)
It's not hard to see
The trophy's mine (the trophy's mine)
I'm sorry that you (Sorry that you)
Seem to be confused (Confused!)
It belongs to me
The trophy's mine.

Roger:
Must you do the things you do?
You keep on acting like a fool.
Rafa just had a Real Bad Day,
And all those other fools just went away.

Robin:
I think that you should realize
You're in for a nasty surprise.
I so beat Rafa's ample behind.
I know it's killing you inside.

Roger:
You can say what you wanna say
I'm the GOAT, I just need this clay,
Do your worst you Swedish kook
I'm with fate, you're just a fluke!

Robin:
When will you get the picture?
You're the past, I'm the future.
Get away it's my time to shine
If you didn't know the trophy's mine!

(Roger & Robin)
You need to give it up
Had about enough (Enough!)
It's not hard to see
The trophy's mine (the trophy's mine)
I'm sorry that you (Sorry that you)
Seem to be confused (Confused!)
It belongs to me
The trophy's mine.

Roger:
You've never beaten me before.
0 and 9, tack on one more.
The trophy's mine without a doubt,
You might as well throw in the towel.

Robin:
What makes you think that it wants you?
A bridesmaid through and through and through.
Don't forget to pack extra tissue,
If I can beat Rafa, I can damn well beat you.

(Roger) Give it on up
(Robin) Had about enough!
(Roger) It's not hard to see
(Robin) The trophy's mine oh ah...
(Roger) I'm sorry that you
(Robin) Seem to be confused
(Roger) It belongs to me
(Robin) No no. You need to give it up!
(Roger) Had about enough
(Robin) It's not hard to see
(Roger) The trophy's mine!
(Robin) Mine...oh mine
(Roger) You seem to be confused
(Robin) It belongs to me
(Roger) The trophy's mine! Not yours.
(Robin) But mine!
(Roger) Not yours!
(Robin) But mine!
(Roger) Not yours!
(Robin) But mine!

(Roger & Robin)
I'm sorry that you
Seem to be confused.
It belongs to me.
The trophy's mine.



Day 12 - June 4, 2009 - 12:55 PM PST

You'll have to forgive me for not getting too excited about the women's semis.  The spectacular runs by Dominika Cibulkova and Samantha Stosur are sure to come to an end today, and it's hard to get my butter churned over the prospect of finding new and novel ways to convey it.  "Safina is just too strong..."  "Stosur's overwhelmed by the occasion..."

Maybe they'll surprise me.  Maybe I'll surprise you.

Dominika CibulkovaUp first, Safina and Cibulkova.  Cibulkova makes like Azarenka and comes charging out of the gates.  But it takes less time for Dinara to stop the bleeding and she powers her way through the first set.  Dominika isn't rolling over, which is very nice to see.  Quality stuff as Dinara seems to be playing Aranxta Sanchez Vicario.  But Safina is just too strong (ugh) and she puts her foot on the Slovak's throat.  The 6-3, 6-3 score doesn't do the match justice and I'm left both confident in Safina and hopeful that Dominika can capitalize on her run here.

Stosur takes the court next against Svetlana Kuznetsova, who's got to be tired after her tough three-setter against Serena yesterday (why in a 15-day tournament with perfect weather she had to play a quarterfinal and a semifinal back-to-back is beyond me).  It's a break-fest, until Kuzzy gets ahold of Sam's kick serve and takes the first set.  The second set follows the script, but the one where Svetlana makes something easy quite difficult for herself.  At 5-all in the tiebreak, Stosur is overcome with a surge of greatness and forces a decider.  Despite Svetlana's nerves, Stosur's overwhelmed by the occasion (ugh ugh) and it'll be an all-Russian French Open final.

And here's a memo to said Russians:  The French Open women's final has historically been the worst, most lopsided, least inspiring, bottom of the barrel major women's match of the year.  Do your best to make sure that doesn't happen, 'kay?

--

No drama in the ladies semis?  No problem!  We've got your drama right here.  We're talking fashion, and is there any better place to judge it than in Paris?  Back by popular demand, the Statler to my Waldorf in this Muppet Show we call life, Erwin Ong.  Erwin takes time from his ultra-swank style site Tennis Served Fresh to weigh in on this year's collection.  Buckle up.

JL: Okay, Erwin, your professional opinion. Did Rafa's pink shirt cost him the tournament?

EO:  Rafa who?
 
JL:  Ouch. One minute you're in, the next you're out.  But enough about Adam Lambert, what about Venus Williams? Did she make that dress out of Sinbad's old parachute pants?

EO:  Yes. And last month she was in hypercolor - it's like an early 90's flashback! Some of my friends get migraines from that loud print, but at least she's trying to mix it up.  If I have to see Ana Ivanovic's lopsided-cleavage dress one more time...

JL:  Let's not go blue!  Or lopsided.  What about the other Serbs? Did they at least look good while they were flaming out or did they screw that up too?

EO:  Jankovic looked good in her concubine dress. All the others played it safe.
 
JL:  I'm pretty sure she was auditioning for Stars on Ice.  The men in general didn't take too many chances. No shoulder cut outs or tuxedo shorts. Who stood out for you?

Juan Martin del PotroEO:  Radek Stepanek.  You couldn't make that up if you tried.  And Del Potro's lanky frame worked well with the thick stripes on his sleeveless Nike tank. Gilles Simon was just in a simple, solid Adidas polo, and it was refreshing

JL: You're so much less catty with the men. I'm almost afraid to bring up Serena...

EO:  It's because I was blinded by Ivo Minar's gold and black checkered shorts. My eyes are still adjusting. Give me another minute.

(I make a sandwich, fill out the New York Times crossword.)

JL:  Okay time's up. Serena Williams. Beam her up?
 
EO:  Yes.  But leave the earrings behind, please.

JL:  How about Maria?  No canary yellow and hot pink for her.

EO:  Always with a matching jacket and bag, she makes early-round French Open exits look so glamorous.
 
JL:  Early exits! She made the quarters after being out for 10 months, the 4th round last year, the semis the year before that... Wait.  You thought I meant Kirilenko.  Really?  I say Maria and Kirilenko is where you go?  Even Stella McCartney squirted milk from her nose.

EO:  Oops. Yes that layered dress on SHARAPOVA is wonderful. Like a blue upside down artichoke.

JL:  Artichoke?  Who's talking about Hantuchova?  Get it?  Art o' choke?  (crickets)  Moving on.  Roger. Is he dressed for success?
 
EO:  He left the fancy pants at home this week.  He wants his racquet to do all the talking.

JL:  Might I suggest he dress up his racquet then? Bow tie maybe?  Bedazzle it?  Pass that along to his stylists.  Okay, the Bethanie Mattek-Sands Best Dressed Awards, male and female, go to..?

EO:  The BMSBDA on the women's side goes to Azarenka.  She's got it all figured out with that braided hair and the body-hugging Nike dress.  For the men, it's actually Juan Martin Del Potro.  Horizontal stripes on lanky men is always a good combination. 

JL:  Azarenka! That was a sneaky drop shot.  But I'm dropping you back, also going with the Belarussian Bomber.  For the men, I've said it before and I'll say it again: Rafa all the way.  See, Nadal walks away from this tournament a winner after all.  Take that, Roger.

Day 11 - June 3, 2009 - 12:33 PM PST

Before we begin, a philosophical question I'm not sure anyone can answer.  What are Sorana Cirstea and Samantha Stosur doing on Chatrier when Serena Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova are in the hizzouse?

Well this hizzouse is a hizzome as Serena and Sveta are best friends.  Haven't you heard?  They have slumber parties and gossip and braid each other's hair all night long.  At least that's the shred of story reporters and commentators are beating to death.  When pressed, Serena said "we text."  Well then.  Who needs a kidney!

Meanwhile, Serena's mastered playing her own sister so I'm pretty sure she can block out any bias when playing her BlackBerry BFF.  But can Svetlana master her nerves?  She's come close to beating Serena on a few occasions, including this year's Australian Open, where she was up a set and a break before the heat rule kicked in and they Closed the Roof.  I capitalize it because it was Just That Important.

Today, Serena comes out flat, enough for Svetlana to get an early lead.  But the US Open and Aussie champ calms down and climbs on top of her (not literally of course, but they are BFFs!) and earns a set point.  But Sveta forces a tiebreak, one in which that blown set point opportunity is almost a third player in.  Kuzzy takes it. 

Svetlana gets up an early break in the second and you can almost hear Serena's fans chanting "close the roof, close the roof!"  No need as Kuzzy nearly rolls her ankle and ends up eating dirt.  We're off to a third set, where Serena's large and in charge.  Until the Russian gets back on serve and at 6-5, Svetlana sends a sneaky text that distracts Serana and she breaks for the win.  (Seems kinder than saying Serena coughed up yet one more lead).

"Serena, thx for the W, c u on the grass!  xoxo SvetSvet"

Stosur makes surprisingly quick work of Cirstea, becoming the unlikeliest French Open semifinalist since, well, Dominika Cibulkova.  Needless to say I'm hoping ticket buyers for the ladies semifinals get something else with the price of admission because those two matches will be over faster than you can say Virginia Ruano Pascual (who, incidentally, got over her elder abuse to partner in taking out top seeds Black & Huber for a spot in the women's doubles final.  Bring your depends, it's going to be a humdinger!).

Men's quarterfinal action finds Tommy Robredo taking on Juan Martin Del zzz...sorry, I should've led with Federer and Monfils.  They're clearly where the action is at.  The last Frenchie in the tournament versus the guy who will flood this place if he doesn’t win this year.  It's a rematch of last year's semi, where Monfils managed to take a set off Roger.  Could he go two better?  And what role will the crowd play?

Fed seems to have no real nerves.  He also has no real flash, doing what he has to to stay ahead but not asserting himself enough on Monfils' serve to establish any real dominance.  Which drags us to a tiebreak, where that passivity allows Gael a set point.  Oh set point, you're a harsh mistress today, as Roger not only ramps it up to take the set but rides that missed opportunity like a horse well into the second. 

Okay this is embarrassing now, as Federer more or less bends the Frenchman over the net and spanks him with his racquet.  Questions of the role of the Paris crowd are moot, Roger isn't giving them one.  Whispering in the wind, the ever faint smell of…karma.  And Andy Roddick's church giggles.

Monfils reverts to the player we know and love as he wails at pretty much everything and hopes it goes in.  It doesn't, and Roger is through in straight sets.  So is Del Potro, who zzz...  Sorry.  The bottom half semi is set.  Does Juan Martin have a chance?  Can Roger actually (le gasp) pull this through and get his French kiss?  I'm going to text Sveta, see what she has to say.



Day 10 - June 2 , 2009 - 12:26PM PST

Stroll with me, will you?  We're hand in hand, taking in the sights, the sounds, the smells of Day 1 at Roland Garros, 2007.  Our senses are alive that crisp spring morning as we breathe in the true essence of what the French Open is all about.

And that's brute force.

Oh yeah.  You want to see the skin hit off a ball, swing by Chatrier one afternoon.  I was totally unprepared for just how big a crack they take at the ball in Paris, the sound of just pure brutality as player after player wail away to get that fuzzy yellow thing to penetrate through the slow clay court.  On my last day, I picked up some vibration dampeners, which I play with to this day.  Before every return of serve, I look down at the RG logo to remind myself to go for my shots.  Really take a cut at that return.

Dinara SafinaStill, the French Open isn't the Slam known for power tennis.  It's the one where patience is a virtue.  Where looping topspin rallies and amazing defense win the day.  But just like Nadal won Wimbledon on his terms, this year the players are morphing what it takes to win in Paris in much the same way.  It was pure battery that won Soderling his match against Rafa two days ago.  Pounding groundstrokes that said, no no no Jelena, defending may have gotten you to the semis the last couple years, but outright violence is going to smother you this time.

Day 10 was pure violence.  Starting with the lady with the lead pipe for a racquet, Dinara Safina.  She's lost only 5 games coming into this quarterfinal match.  What is it going to take to make any kind of impression on her at all?  A bigger lead pipe.  Victoria Azarenka comes out firing, immediately putting Safina's tally at 6 by breaking her immediately.  The tornado doesn't stop as Victoria is playing flawless, serial killer tennis. 

There's still room for touch as Azarenka is dropshotting her so effectively and even hitting crosscourt slice winners.   Safina's feeling the pressure.  Azarenka's feeling glee.  Or at least that's what she's trying to project when she smiles after a rare mishit.  Seems forced to me.  She's trying to pull off "swagger."  How long can she keep this up?  Long enough to storm through the opening set, 6-1. 

Welcome to the French Open, Dinara.

They sweep the courts, but for the life of me I can't figure out why they bothered.  This set has to go differently.  Safina is the one to beat!  And right now Azarenka is beating her, holding to open the second.  Until Victoria makes a fatal mistake in her next service game.  She doesn't go for her shots, hitting back to back doubles to hand Dinara a break, and hope.  Foolish girl, never give Dinara hope!  Azarenka lays off her ground strokes too and allows Safina to remember, oh yeah, I'm a cannon too.  Load 'er up! 

Safina takes the second and continues to roll.  I (along with the rest of the world) have compared Azarenka and Sharapova incessently.  They're alike in so many ways it's ridiculous.  Except watching Victoria now, I'm reminded more of Dinara a year ago.  Someone with all the talent in the world, but a perfectionist.  The minute she made one mistake, she unraveled.  Aided by the fact that the winner of this match more or less has a walk to the final.  And off Dinara walks.

Over on Lenglen, Robin Soderling is doing his best to back up his Big Win, taking on Nicolay Davydenko.  Davydenko's one of those pesky Best Players to Have Never Won a Slam, and by the looks of it, that's going to continue as Soderling too brings his lead pipe to play.  He crushes the Russian 6-1 in the first, but unlike Victoria, he isn't kind enough to crack a window in the car for Nikolay.  Another pounding 6-1 set and far too defensive Davydenko is out.

More irresistible force meets immovable object on Chatrier as Fernando Gonzalez and Andy Murray goFernando Gonzalez at it for their spot in the semis.  Fernando has too much firepower for the Scot, who can defend but so much.  Despite a valiant effort in the second set, he's bageled in the third and, despite a final set where Andy gets the memo and tries to be a little irresistible himself, Gonzalez is through.  Now we've got two battering rams into the top half semi.  Who's your finalist, Fernando Gonzalez or Robin Soderling?  And how much did you lose on that bet?

If we follow to form, Maria Sharapova should have an easy time of it against Dominika Cibulkova.  Few players hit a bigger groundstroke.  Sadly, Maria doesn't have her Roland Garros string dampener in to remind her of that and she's barely pushing her ball in.  The ones she isn't spraying all over creation that is.  Fatigue has finally set in after 4 come-from-behind three-setters in a row and before we know it, Maria is down 0-6, 0-3.  The only double bagel in Sharapova's career has been at the hands of (wait for it) Lindsay Davenport, at Indian Wells in '05.  (Available on youtube, tell 'em James sent ya.)  Is Lindsay dancing like a sugarplum in Maria's head? 

0-6, 0-5!  Maria battles to break point.  The crowd is wild.  For Maria.  Which I've never seen before.  (See, all you have to do is be on the brink of total humiliation to get on the French crowd's good side.)  Maria converts and avoids a scarlet 0-6, 0-6 on her chest and I'm dying to see her reaction.  A smile, a laugh.  Nothing.  So bizarre!  She really thinks this is the beginning of her battling back.  How's that for a glimpse into her mind? 

Maria is suddenly hitting those big shots and holds, but it's too late as Dominika serves it out.  She's through to her first anything.  When they meet for their handshake, their size difference makes it look like Maria is going to eat her.  The Slovak would be more of an appetizer.

Tomorrow, more brute force as Svetlana Kuznetsova and Serena Williams trade punches and Roger Federer tries to withstand some serious Gael force. 

I hope they remember their dampeners.


Day 9 - June 1, 2009 - 1:58 PM PST

Serena Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova kick off the day by taking on blah blah blah who cares, they win, bigger fish to fry.  The big news today is Roger Federer.  Because the big news yesterday was Rafael Nadal. 

Rafa's loss to Robin Soderling was crushing for so many reasons.  The one game Rafa allowed him last month in Rome.  The way Robin more or less mocked the Spaniard during their 12-day long Wimbledon clash back in '07.  The manner in which Soderling dismantled him, battering him into pure defense.  And the fact that Rafa lost at all.  This is his house!

Well his house is full of squatters now, but all eyes are on the guy who's been snatching wildly at the keys for years, Roger Federer.  Federer, looking to complete is surface collection after finishing runner up three years in a row. Federer, looking to tie Sampras's Grand Slam tally.  Federer, looking to finally lasso that GOAT!  These goals got a lot more doable with the bull slain.  You know Federer wanted to be the one to slay him.  And if Roger does take the title here, there will always be the asterisk next to it because he didn't have to take out Rafa to do it.

But.

Roger doesn't care.  He wants this.  And as he takes the court against an insanely beatable opponent in Tommy Haas, all eyes are on how the Swiss handles the pressure.  The quick answer: not well.  Like, lose the first set in a tiebreak to Tommy Haas not well.  Not well like watching Tommy Haas blow a second serve return on set point and rewarding him with a wild forehand to give him another one right away not well.  Like allowing Haas to convert that break point and go up two sets to none not well.

It stays tight in the third, both in score and in play, until Haas is 5 points from a second monster upset in 24 hours.  Still, if Tommy doesn't seal the deal in three you just know he's not going to seal it at all.  Tommy is still Tommy and Roger is still Roger.  Sure enough, Fed takes the third, and skunks Haas in the fourth.  With the crowd firmly behind Roger (what's your secret to winning the crowd, Roger?  I've got a couple Williams sisters and a four-time defending champion that would love to know), he pulls out the win.

The match makes clear Federer isn't a total lock for the title.  But he's also not a total house of cards either.  Which makes this tournament that much more interesting.

Things are all kinds of interesting on Lenglen, where Sorana Cirstea is throwing everything and the kitchen sink at Jelena Jankovic is one scorcher of a match.  Either I'm suffering from serious PTSD or this is reminding me of the Nadal/Soderling match big time.  Crazy defending and just cannonball after cannonball.  And Cirstea is doing both, holding her nerve all the way to match point.  The two-time semifinalist, who 's been rocking the ice skater look this French Open, is unable to skate out of this one and Sorana books her place in the quarters.  Serbs, over and out.

And what a tasty quarter that's going to be.  While marquee players Serena and Svetlana duke it out for the other semi slot in the bottom half, Cirstea will be taking on fellow "huh?" Sam Stosur, who easily dispatched Virginie Razzano this afternoon.  Yup, either Sorana Cirstea or Samantha Stosur will be your French Open semifinalist.  Chew on that.

With Razzano (and Tsonga now) out, all of France's hopes rest on the shoulders of Gael Monfils.  He takes on Andy Roddick, who has to be drooling over the prospect of challenging Federer in the next round.  But one match at a time, and Monfils is making this a tough one for A-Rod.  As the light fades, Monfils just keeps getting stronger, taking the first two sets.  Andy's spending more energy pleading for play to be suspended than, well, really trying to play.  Which works out as well as you'd expect, and it will be the Frenchman who'll get a chance to test The Man Who Would Be King.

Tomorrow, can Soderling follow up his Big Win?  After four 3-set come from behind wins, does Sharapova have one more in her?  As they say in France, stay tuned.


Day 8 - May 31, 2009 - 11:53 AM PST

Hello people, Dunlop here.  I do the dirty work James is not big man enough to do.  Only Dunlop know proper grip for good hit off shame stick.  Today I use eastern.  I am old school.  But I give out new whacks!

Robin SoderlingCHEATERS!  First PHILIPP KOHLSCHREIBER kick up so much dust with winners he blind my Nole!  Then VICTORIA AZARENKA scream so loud it make my Ana's head bleed all over the court!  Last but not the least, ROBIN SODERLING make deal with devil to give Rafael Nadal first loss at French Open ever!  The Swedish Meatball only win one game against Rafael in Rome but suddenly he is Mr. Fantastic in Paris?  He wears 666 on fancy European underwear!  Sorry Trivia Question, people remember pink shirt longer.  Cheater cheater eaters of the pumpkin!  - 7 Whacks with Shame Stick

ROGER FEDERER:  You have not done the choke yet but you will.  Dunlop saves time.– 5 Whacks with Shame Stick   (Oh no Dunlop did not!  Oh yes Dunlop did!)

MARIA JOSE MARTINEZ SANCHEZ:  Another pumpkin eater!  You know Serena's ball hit your arm but you take point and game anyway.  And the French crowd still on your side!  Shame on them and shame on you.   - 5 Whacks with Shame Stick

Victoria AzarenkaMADEMOISELLES:  Amelie Mauresmo, Marion Bartoli and Alize Cornet.  You could have singing group, The Three Tremors.  Ha!  Get it?  Because you shake from fear?  Serve mean French crowd right. – 3 Whacks with Shame Stick

JAMES BLAKE:  Oh Yankee Doodle have too much big success rest of year to worry about clay.  I thought Blake is Harvard man!  He should know value of extra credit, since he is getting D in rest of his year. -  4 Whacks with Shame Stick

VENUS WILLIAMS:  You let little Hungarian woman feed you bagel and big loser sandwich.  I blame hideous dress, which look like slip cover in 1970's Ford Bronco. – 3 Whacks with Shame Stick

FLAVIA PENNETTA:  What go around come around.  You make Yankee Doodle cry last year, Yankee Doodle make you cry this year.  At least Venus manage to get more than 2 games off of you.  Who is Alexa Glatch?  I do not know.  But you will never forget. – 4 Whacks with Shame Stick

ANNA CHAKVETADZE, IVAN LJUBICIC, DANIELA HANTUCHOVA, TOMAS BERDYCH, PATTY SCHNYDER, IVO KARLOVIC:  Must I beat you time after time after time?  Dunlop have feelings too.  I arrange, how you say, consolation tournament, but backwards.  Whoever lose wins!   And that person get all the whacks.  On the second thought, you would all still find way to lose losing contest.  I send blind man over with nunchucks, we take our chances.

I am exhausted.  But look at Dunlop's muscles!  See you soon pretty people.

Poljubac,

Dunlop



Day 7 - May 30, 2009 - 3:02 PM PST

Click here
to read James' Q&A with Samantha Stosur

So much to be impressed by in Week 1.  But some players were the most impressivest. so raise a glass and throw your hands up for these rock stars of the red stuff.

PHILIPP KOHLSCHREIBER:  Spoiler, thy name is Kohlschreiber!  Philipp went the distance in knocking off former champ Juan Carlos Ferrero, but he still had enough energy to bounce Novak Djokovic in straight sets.  Did the two time semifinalist (and some might say prime threat to Rafa) run out of gas after a blazing clay court season?  Yuppers.  But all credit to Kohlschreiber, who had the guts to take advantage of it.  And make this French Open, somehow, even juicier.

JOSSELIN OUANNA:  Any talk of guts has to include this young Frenchman, who showed true grit in his 5-set thriller against Marat Safin.  Ouanna didn't have the luxury of a fading Safin.  The Russian wanted this one.  But Ouanna wanted it more, and in a match where neither blinked, it was pure play that won Josselin the match.  And a dumpload of new fans.

ARAVANE REZAI:  While Frenchies Marion Bartoli and Alize Cornet wilted under the pressure, Rezai is not only thriving under the pressure of playing in front of the home crowd, she withstood the hailstorm of bullets and sonic booms from third round opponent MICHELLE LARCHER DE BRITO, a 16-year-old vet who gets an honorable mention here herself for finally making…er…noise.

MARIA SHARAPOVA:  After 10 months away, Sharapova said she has no expectations in Paris.  That may have changed now that she's found herself in the fourth round, with a draw opened up so wide she can almost see the semis.  And she did it the hard way, battling her own rust and some cagey opponents to win some dramatic three-setters.  You know that champion's mentality the tour's been so sorely lacking of late?  It's back.

ANDY RODDICK:  Lowered expectations have paid off for another former #1.  Roddick just wanted to make the second week of the French Open for the first time in his career.  Guess what?  Done.  Oh, and without losing a set.  Careful Andy, you might just become a clay courter.

AGNES SZAVAY:  Ranked as high as #13, the former Newcomer of the Year came and went, becoming the youngest Whatever Happened To..? in the game.  She's alluded to some personal issues that have since been resolved, and it's showing this French Open.  The steely-eyed Agnes of old is back, and she's taken a big scalp in Venus Williams.  Honorable mention to LUCIE SAFAROVA, who may have just been her partner in crime.

SAMANTHA STOSUR:  Elena Dementieva was living on borrowed time, let's be honest.  But Stosur's coughed up big leads before, including a heartbreaker against Serena Williams in Sydney this year where she held four match points.  But there would be no coughing today, as Stosur hammered Dementieva and served warning (mostly with that nasty kick to the backhand) that, while she may have been derailed by illness (see my Q&A), she's back baby.  And better than ever.

What goes up must come down.  And be whacked with a shame stick.  Tomorrow, Dunlop has his day


Day 6 - May 29, 2009 - 2:35PM PST


Read James day 6 blog and then watch the highlights

BAM!

No time for a flowery set up, we're wailing away from the giddy up on Chatrier in an encounter that is truly electric. And it's between Aravane Rezai and Michelle Larcher de Brito?  I wouldn't believe it if it weren't for my bleeding ears.  De Brito is screaming wildly from point one.  It's truly an event.  One Rezai doesn't want to attend, taking time out from the slugfest to complain to the chair.  In five matches, no one's complained, but Aravane is having none of it. 

To be clear, it's insane.

Michelle Larcher de Brito But to be even more clear, the tennis is insaner.  They're not only hitting big but they're placing the ball so well.  Women's tennis is berated for being too emotionally wussy, too full of breakdowns.  These two are absolutely emotional but it's positive emotion, aggressive emotion.  If this were women's tennis every day a lot more people would be watching it.  Meanwhile, Aravane is a respectable player but she hasn't shown this kind of fight.  And even at 16 (16 and she's playing like this!) de Brito has been a wunderkind in waiting seemingly forever.  It's clearly a huge occasion, a shot at the fourth round, and they're owning it.

You hear commentators say the crowd wants this to go three sets, they want more tennis, and I'm always thinking, bull, we want a winner.  But this one is so entertaining I could watch it all day.  Unfortunately, the double faults catch up to the youngin' and she loses the first set in the tiebreak.  The French crowd catches up to her in the second and Aravane runs away with it, a not so fitting end to one of the best matches (sets?) I've seen all year.  Punctuated with the lamest handshake at the net.  These two will not be making out.  In the end, the story of the screaming and theatrics may overshadow the actual tennis, and that would be a shame.

By contrast, the Venus Williams/Agnes Szavay match seems to be playing in slow motion, ending with a bagel for the #3 seed.  I can't remember the last time I saw a 0-6 next to Venus's name.  Is it because Pam Shriver is dressed in the same neon pink and canary yellow that Safarova was wearing yesterday?  Is Venus having flashbacks?  Wherever she is, it's not on court, and soon Szavay has match point.  The crowd is cheering for Agnes, which has got to suck if you're Venus Williams.  "I've been playing for you people for 10 years!"  Agnes pulls off the upset.  I wish I had more to say about this but Venus truly left this tournament not with a bang, but with a whimper.  Oh no wait, she gets to see Agnes later in doubles.  I'm not sure who I'm scared for more.

Meanwhile, Dinara Safina continues to hand out ass whoopings and lollypops, and she's all out of lollypops (have fun in the fourth round, Aravane!).   Ditto Rafael Nadal, who has a spirited practice session against Lleyton Hewitt (looking more like a dinosaur with every match).  Up next, Robin Soderling, who did the Spaniard a huge service taking out David Ferrer (Oh David, where hath thou gone?  Soderling?  On clay?).  The service is even huger considering the last time Nadal and Soderling met, on the clay of Rome last month, the Swede was only able to take one game off him.  One.  So good luck to you too, Robin.

Rafael NadalWith Venus out, Maria Sharapova's draw opens up even more.  Could she actually make a run to the semis?  Which appears to be exactly what she's thinking as she comes out looking like a busted broke down Raggedy Ann.  Her opponent Yaroslava Shedova (Yaroslava doesn't quite roll off the tongue like Vitalia - name change!) has played five matches having come through qualifying but Maria's come off 10 months of mucha nuthin.  Shvedova takes the first set and Maria looks to be joining Venus on the plane home (though surely not coach, something Venus punishes herself with when she's traveling sans trophy). 

The Russian takes the second set and the third is now two busted broke down Raggedy Anns.  I'm exhausted just watching them.  Maria gets the break and is just trying to hold on.  She gets a questionable call and starts to walk over to have a look.  Given her track record with the French crowd, who seem to generally want her on a spit, I wonder if that's such a good idea.  I'm in Maria's head AGAIN as she thinks the same thing and backs off.  She serves it out and escapes another tough three setter.  How much gas can she possibly have in the tank?

Tomorrow, last Americans standing Andy Roddick and Serena Williams hope to keep hope alive.  Is Uhura really, as she said this week, better than ever?  Can Andy make it to the second week at the French, something he's never done?  What are we thinking folks?



Day 5 - May 28, 2009 - 2:17PM PST

 "I walk this empty street
On the Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Where the city sleeps
and I'm the only one and I walk alone..."

There'll be a lot of walking alone tonight on the streets of Paris as Day 5 is filled with heartbreak so profound it needs a backing track. 

(cue sad Parisian cafe background music)

Action begins on Chatrier, where thirtysomething Thatiana Garbin manages to run French #1 Marion Bartoli all over the court.  I suspect you or I could do the same thing as Marion has no pop on her groundstrokes nor intent in her shot selection.  You see, she's French, and the French have so much pressure here to win their home Slam and the crowd can be tough and...oh sorry, I fell asleep.  The same way I fell asleep during James Blake's press conference where he said Americans can't focus on the French and still have their massive grass and hard court success (what's your W-L record this year, James?).  But I digress, and so does this match as Bartoli is bounced.  Sad tear from the home crowd.  Maybe French #2 Alize Cornet can wipe those tears aw...what?  No?   Okay.

(music builds)

Roger Federer, proud papa of a draw that should see him safely through to his 20th straight Grand Slam semifinal, faces off against Argentine Jose Acasuso, who I think holds a record in hot dog eating maybe?  At any rate, it's Roger on his heels from the first point, and it's surprising to see.  Surprising still when Acasuso gets set points in the first.  Federer rallies to take the first set, but once again here's Jose with set points in the second.  And he converts.  Roger is not looking sharp at all, and it gets downright shocking when Jose goes up 5-1 in the third.  I'm suddenly the older sister in Poltergeist who comes home at the end of the movie to find the house being swallowed up into hell:  "WHAT'S HAPPENING?!"  I haven't felt that way since, well, Tomas Berdych had Roger on the ropes in his last Grand Slam. 

Roger pulls me into the car Craig T. Nelson-style and drives away with the third set to safety.  The fourth is almost ceremonial as you can see all of those missed opportunities etched on Jose's heart.  Or slashed on them.  Whatever hurts more.  Federer comes away with the W, but a much bigger scare than Roger Nation was expecting.  There will be some soul searching on this one.

(music swells)

Over on Court 7, Alexa Glatch is having a dickens of a time capitalizing on a draw she opened up for herself, struggling in the first set against Lourdes Dominguez Lino.  She rallies and pushes it to a tiebreak, but she's unable to score a point. Glatch shows off what won her her upset of Pennetta and climbs on Lino 5-2 in the second, but this time it's Lino who rallies, and a French Open run that had so much promise is soon ground to dust.

(music builds)

It's clean-up on aisle 5 as Venus's day is spent wiping up messes from days past.  First up, her match against Lucie Safarova, suspended after Lucie won the first set.  The courts are playing heavy with the mist (adds to the mood!) but you'd never know it by the way these women are hitting the ball.  Venus takes the second set (predictable) but the third is a spirited one.  And Safarova has match point!  Venus saves it with a winner and goes on to win the match.  She takes a roll of Bounty to her doubles match as well, aided by a sister who had a much better day at the office.  Sadly, the same wasn't true of grandma Virginia Ruano Pascual, who could only muster two games against Serena Williams in a match that could only be described as elder abuse.

(music suddenly brightens)

What's this?  Chatrier and Lenglen host two French winners, Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.  Tsonga's match against Juan Monaco is especially spectacular, ending in a fourth set tiebreak that brings the crowd to its feet and a handshake at the net that's so sweet I've got a cavity.  Wait, are they about to make out?  Okay no.  Wait, yes?  Okay no.  Wait yes.  No.  Okay no.

And over amongst the street noise and ambulance sirens of Court 3, Andy Roddick equals his best result at the French by taking out Ivo Minar in straights...

(music grows sad again)

...and carrying the hopes of American men's tennis on his back as the lone bearer of the stars and stripes.

The most heartbreaking moment of the day happens on Court 1, where poor Jelena Dokic, pounding #4 seed Elena Dementieva senseless, hurts her back up a set and a break and is forced to retire.  There are actual tears.  As if Dokic didn't have enough to deal with.  No one is escaping today.

So, tonight on the streets of Paris, we have losers who came so close to monster upsets who'll be reliving the points that got away.  We have winners (and their fans) who won't get much sleep either, knowing they're more vulnerable than they thought they were.  We have local hopes bounced, and the last American man standing after only two rounds, all walking a lonely road.  And an Australian on the comeback trail who can barely walk at all.

I don't know about you, but I need a drink.  And Rafa's pink shirt.  See you (and it) tomorrow.



Day 4 - May 27, 2009 - 12:27PM PST

Nothing like a triple espresso early in the morning, and today my triple espresso goes by the name of Vitalia Diatchenko.  Vitalia kicks off the day by facing the firing squad that is Dinara Safina.  But she won't go down quietly.  Literally, she's got the best new shriek on tour, akin to a chuhuaha when you step on its tail.  With a high heel.  But that's not all!  Besides the Chihuahua bark and the name (Vitalia!  Total soap opera name, though I'm not sure if it's the good twin or the bad twin), the Russian comes with one of the wackiest serves you'll see, a weird twisty move that somehow lands in, and a tennis skirt so short the cameramen have to find new ways to film the return of serve.

Safina is still Safina though and fires off the first 5 games, going 17-0 this week before Vitalia finally manages to take her first game off of her.  Vitalia (any excuse to keep typing her name) fares no better in the second and I'm left yearning for my next opportunity to hear Vitalia play.  Arf!

Andy Murray's on Chatrier doing fierce battle with Potito Starace.  They split sets and, early in the third, Murray races for a drop shot and literally does a full body flip.  Lots of talk about Murray's fitness but I'm still convinced he'll snap in half.   Murray survives the flip but he's in serious trouble right now, with Starace full of confidence and running away with the set.  The Scot rallies, taking not only the set but the match.

Victoria Azarenka rallies from 1-4 down against Kristina Barrois to win in straights.  No time to dally, the popcorn match of Day 4 is underway on Lenglen.  Maria Sharapova v. Nadia Petrova.  This is the court Maria famously beat Patty Schnyder on in '07 and even more famously lost to Safina on in '08.  And against Petrova, she'll be fighting for her life.  I actually think today will get to Nadia more.  She's the higher ranked player, she's the better on clay.  And she's facing someone who should be too rusty to really work it out.  But it's Maria, and she'll pull off some good shots.  And I think that'll get to the mercurial Petrova.

Petrova's a week away from 27?  Yoinks.  And at 22 Maria is already playing her 24th Grand Slam?  Sometimes statistics are too scary.  Why not just announce "You're Old!" over the loud speaker?

Maria's serving much better than she did in the first round.  They're both serving great actually, but it's Marat SafinMaria who takes the first set.  Nadia doesn't go away, bulldozing her way through the second set, 6-1.  Nadia surprises me by keeping the momentum going and soon she's up 4-2 in the third.  She's got two points to go up 5-2 but Maria holds on.  Those clean shrieks now sound like guttural moans as Maria fights (clearly the story of the day).  She evens the score and climbs on top, forcing Nadia to have to serve to stay in it.  Petrova's got fight of her own (more that I've seen from her in a while actually) and it's really coming down to nerve.  Nadia hits what could be an ace, but when the chair confirms its out, she proceeds to double fault and hand Maria match point. Maria converts, and suddenly the danger floater's opened up the draw and looks to float all the way to the quarters.

Will Venus be joining her?  Stay tuned, as play is suspended with Lucie Safarova up a set.

Fight takes French wild card Josselin Ouanna to two sets up over Marat Safin, making his final appearance at Roland Garros.  Fight nabs the Russian the next two sets.   Fight wins Ouanna match points on multiple Safin service games.  Like Petrova, Safin is forced to battle to stay in it.  But (!) battle he does, taking a roll in the mud himself.  Move over, there's a new popcorn match in town, with the hardest hitting all tournament, and neither player is blinking.  Three aces from Safin take them to 8-all.  Ouanna holds for 9-Josselin Ouanna8 and the crowd is insane (including Gael Monfils, who looks like he's going to eat a hand rail).  I'm out of popcorn.  Another break point on Safin's serve, but this time Ouanna draws the error and takes it, 10-8!  Up two sets, he could've caved but he didn’t.  And even though he lost, Safin fought like he hasn't in so long.  Nothing but a positive in my book, and not a shabby way to exit his final French Open.

Thanks to big fight, other tasty stories starting to develop: Michelle Larcher De Brito upsets Jie Zheng to pit her against Aravane Rezai for a spot in the fourth round (!!) and Janko Tipsarevic backs up his win over Montanes by knocking out #28 Feliciano Lopez and setting up a third round clash with the Cartwheeling Scot.

Of course, even with all the fight in the world, sometimes all you need is pure unadulterated talent, and as Rafael Nadal trounces the ever-stern Teimuraz Gabashvili in straights, we're left to wonder:  Who on earth has the fight to be able to take this guy out? 

Federer and Djokovic, both up tomorrow, have their work more than a little cut out for them.


Day 3 - May 26, 2009 - 12:50 PM PST

The conditions at the French Open fluctuate more than at any other Slam.  Sure, Wimbledon's got rain and Australia's got sun.  But Paris has both, and they not only affect the schedule and the comfort level of the players, they affect the very ground beneath them.  The courts can play like a hard court one day and like mud the next.  It explains why there have been so many random trophy holders over the years (and says even more about players like Nadal, Graf and Evert, who each own a timeshare on Chatrier).

And so we begin today with dark clouds gathering.  This after it poured all night long.  How much tennis are we going to get under our belt?

First up, we have Jelena Jankovic.  And mom's in the house!  The recent #1's suggested her struggle in form, besides the extra muscle she gained in the off season slowing her down (umm), has been the health of Snezana.  So it's great to see her in the stands again.  And looking quite chic in her scarf and glasses.  Jelena's opponent Petra Cetkovska is also rocking some fashion - Novak Djokovic's Smurf blue shoes.  I'm somewhere in the middle of concocting a secret affair between her and the Serb where she accidentally grabs the wrong pair of sneaks before heading out to the court when it starts to rain. 

Rain delays suck, but they suck even more in Paris.  There's not a ton of cover, so everyone either crowds into the shops or in the covered corridors around Chatrier.  Either way, how can I describe the smell delicately.  Mmm, gamey?  Needless to say, some people choose the rain.

The delay is brief and we're back on court.  Martina Navratilova hopes Petra got some good coaching during the break.  On court coaching is not an option at the Slams, for which I am eternally grateful.  Martina is a fan, which makes me sad.  We'll have to get into a Michael Jackson "Beat It" type gang fight next time I see her.  No one gets cut, but it looks really dramatic.  Plus we get to wear red leather jackets.

Jankovic does what she has to to get through, but I don't see any real magic.  But it's the first round, so I'll reserve judgment.  Ditto Svetlana Kuznetsova, who gets past a spritely Claire Feuerstein.  Feuerstein's won maybe half a match at the tour level, which furthers my belief that Kuznetsova gets the best draws in tennis.

Novak Djokovic takes the stage.  He's got his Smurf blue sneaks on, shattering my illicit Cetkovska fantasy.  He also shatters Nicolas Lapentti's ankle, forcing the Ecuadorian to retire.  Which was pretty thoughtful of Novak considering we're behind because of the rain.

Up next, Serena Williams.  It's a psychological funhouse for Serena.  Not only has she got the black clouds and the wind now kicking in, she's got her ridiculous first round winstreak at Slams (never lost a one!), her 4-match losing streak since Miami and, on the other side of the net, the player who beat her to kick it off, Klara Zakopalova.  Oh look, both mom and dad are in the stands too.  Pressure!

Serena looks large and in charge (and sleek in that form fitting Star Trek uniform.  Your French Open champ, Uhura anyone?).  Until a 7 deuce game on Klara's serve at the end of the second set in which Serena unravels.  We head to a tiebreak that ends ugly, literally, as Klara's ball jams Serena and leaves her flailing.  The third set is a seesaw, with Serena unable to do anything with a lead.  Still, she slams the door shut on the chick who beat her, and her losing streak.  Pam Shriver needs to poke Serena in the belly Pillsbury Doughboy-style to get a smile.

As I watch all my predictions blow away with the wind - Amelie Mauresmo and Patty Schnyder yesterday, Mardy Fish and Ivan Ljubicic today - Juan Monaco saves the day by handling the conditions and Marcos Baghdatis.  Which just goes to show you, you can't predict anything at Roland Garros. 

Which just makes it a bit more interesting, don't you think?  

Up tomorrow, Venus Williams v. Lucie Safarova, Marat Safin v. Josselin Ouanna and Nadia Petrova v. Maria Sharapova.  Try predicting those.



  Day 2 - May 25, 2009 - 5:30 PM PST

Tennis Channel has become a commentator clown car just for you this French Open.  Is there any analyst not working this event?  Especially in this first week, there's so much going on and Corina Morariu can only be in so many places at once.
 
 Dunlop walks the Red Carpet for his 2009 debut.


Well, today is so packed with A-listers that I'm trying something different.  For the first time, my fuzzy yellow friend Dunlop and I will be calling the day together.  We're even going to be holding microphones, for no reason whatsoever.  Dunlop, welcome.

Dunlop:  I am big star now.  I should be doing alone. 

James:  What Dunlop's referring to--

Dunlop:  Dunlop was in big Serbian blockbuster movie. It isn't out yet but it will be great success.  It was idea I have suddenly.  My original idea.  What if camera follow me everywhere?  Crazy!  Who do this?  I am on the court and I am off the court, I am on red carpet, I roll around in bed sheets.  We are calling it "Dunlop's Story."

James:  It sounds suspiciously like "Jelena's Story," no?

Dunlop:  It rings no bells.  We talk tennis or no?

James: We talk tennis.  First up, my pick to go the distance, Dinara Safina.  She's up against British #1 Anne Keothavong.  How's she looking so far, Dunlop?

Dunlop:  Okay fine she hit the ball big, but she will not win tournament.  She have bad attitude.  She does not smile like my Ana or Jelena, the bagra.

James:  Safina's smiling now. 

Dunlop:  She just hit smash right at a linesman, make him jump off box!  She is terrible person.  And look, she will not let sad British girl win a single game!  This is her first time making, how you say, Main Draw debut.  One game would be sweet gesture, like corsage or box of Milk Duds.

James: Keothavong goes down, 6-0, 6-0.  Next up, Rafael Nadal.

Dunlop:  Look how pretty!  I want pink shirt!

James:  You'd look pretty snappy in that outfit.

Dunlop:  Don't even try it.  I swing one way, LaRosa. 

James:  Of course.  My fault.

Dunlop:  Rafa still look tired from four hour match with Novak in Madrid.  Oh, my Nole!  He was so close!  He play so much bigger now.  So strong and manly.  My Nole is a man now.  A great big strong manly--

James: Okay so Rafa wins, and Venus is being taken to a third set by Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

Dunlop: Big Williams' outfit so bad Mattek-Sands should be wearing it.  Ha!  I insult two people at once.  I am professional.

James:  Venus pulls through.  Maria Sharapova is not looking so lucky as she loses the first set.  Lots of talk about her serve, but it looks more like nerves to me.  The balls are coming off her racquet like bullets though.  Either she's somehow hitting even harder than before or she's just been away too long. 

Dunlop:  Away where?  She doesn't go anywhere.  She won Miami!

James: That was Azarenka.

Dunlop: These are different people?

James:  Sort of.  Maria had match point on Safina last year.  One might think Sharapova wouldn't have cracked in the FO final like Safina did.  Amazing how fate steps in, no?  Here's a little trivia for you, Dunlop: What female player did Martina Navratilova discover at a young age? 

Dunlop:  Too easy!  Maria.

James:  Trick question.  She also discovered Mrs. Federer, Mirka Vavrinek.  Talk about fate.  If not for Martina, Roger could be married to someone else right now.  Maybe he wouldn't have the Slams he has.  Makes you think, right?

Dunlop:  Janko Tipsarevic just beat Albert Montanes!  It's a Serbian sweep on Day 2!

James:  Actually, they went 1 for 2.  Ilia Bozoljac lost.

Dunlop:  He doesn't count.  And neither does Federer.  Where are my Milk Duds?
 
James:  While Dunlop scavenges in the kitchen, Maria is rallies.  And Flavia Pennetta takes a dive!  American Alexa Glatch wastes the Italian 6-1, 6-1.  The Fed Cup MVP is really one of the few, if only, true bright spots in U.S. women's tennis and she's just created a nice opening for herself in her draw.  And what's this?  Andy Roddick wins his first match at the French Open since 2005!  What did I say, great shape.  If all else fails, we still have Jill Craybas.

Dunlop:  I only find old Easter candy.  You are disgrace.

James: We're still talking tennis Dunlop.

Dunlop:  Okay, you are Anne Keothavong.

James:  Not cool.  She played a good match!

Dunlop:  You are right, I'm sorry.  You are Patty Schnyder.  No, I take that back.  You are Tomas Berdych.  No!  You are Anne Chakvetadze.

James:  You take that back!

Dunlop:  You make me!

(Please stand by for technical difficulties.)

James: Okay, Dunlop had to go take care of a few things in the freezer.  Perhaps this was a bad idea, a failed experiment if you will.  Kind of like Fabio Fognini's eyebrows. 

Can Serena Williams win her first clay court match since the French last year?  And her first match in four tournaments? Check back tomorrow for Day 3 action.

Poljubac,

James



Day 1 - 5/24/2009 - 5:17PM PST

Paris is burning!

Okay it's just hot out, but compared to my maiden voyage at the French Open back in '07, when Day 1 looked more like day 23 of Noah's jaunt on the Ark, it's positively scorching out. 

Would the tennis follow suit?

First up on Chatrier, defending champion Ana Ivanovic.  Much has been made of how allegedly wide open the women's draw is this year.  I call BS on that.  Now that the draw is out, I can safely say Dinara Safina is my pick to win it.  Yeah yeah, she's never won a major, sure Serena and Venus step it up for the Slams, but come on.  I'm all for overlooking wobbly form from the Sisters William on any other surface, but neither has done mucha nuthin at the French in years.  Will I be surprised if they make a deep run?  No.  Particularly Venus.  But I'm not planning a picnic around it.

Unfortunately for Ana, she's in Safina's quarter.  And judging by how she's opening up her title defense against Italian Sara Errani, methinks a rematch of last year's final would go a wee bit differently.  If Ana even makes it that far.  Her forehand is cracking, especially on her returns of serve, but it's Ana's own serve that's going to do her in.  If nerves were nickels, Ana could buy the trophy this year.  And they're sending that ball toss all over creation.  Still, she smiles gamely as she chases after it like an overexcited puppy in a poorly fitted dress.  Today it's enough to win the battle, but it won't be enough to win the war.

A war is going on on Court 1, between Lleyton Hewitt and Ivo Karlovic.  Who do you put your money on, the giant who still can't seem to leap the first round hurdle at a Slam or the Grandpa who never beat him before?  Karlovic is unloading ace after ace, and after back to back losing tiebreaks, it looks like Lleyton's going to go 0 for 4 against the Croat.  But what's this?  The heat finally gets to someone and it's Dr. Ivo.  Karlovic serves 55 (!) aces, a tour record.  Sadly, he also falls to 0-11 in 5-set matches, also a record.

Even with all that, the drama on the men's side is on Chatrier, where Gilles Simon and Wayne Odesnik are hacking away at each other like chicken-legged serial killers.  While Wayne silences the crowd by taking the first set from the French #1, Simon gets them riled up again by taking the second and the third.  But Wayne's not caving.  It's a seesaw straight through to the fifth, where Simon finally puts Odesnik away.  His reward, fellow American Robert Kendrick, the only American who makes it through today.  Who also apparently just went his first day without antibiotics for the flu.  So we're in great shape.

In worse shape, me, as Amelie Mauresmo takes the court against Anna-Lena Groenefeld.  There really are few players out there with more compelling backstories than these two women, but in the grand scheme I'd rather see Amelie lose less HERE, given the locale.  Alas, it's too hot in the kitchen, and my prediction that Amelie Mauresmo might make any more impression than a ball dent in the dirt of Paris winds up being a foolish one.  In the battle of the relics, Mauresmo stays buried (alongside former champ Gaston Gaudio) while Dinara's brother gets to party with Hewitt in the sunny light of day.

A quick victory dance may have to be enough for Lleyton as he's in Rafael Nadal's quarter.  Now that the men's draw is out, I can safely say the Spaniard is (shock!) my pick to make it 5 for 5.  The only chance I saw for an upset was the one two punch of a Djokovic semi and a Federer final, but unfortunately for Roger, Novak is his hot potato.

That semifinal is the match I'm most looking forward to.  And I think it'll happen given their draws leading up to it.  Nadal's semifinal opponent is a lot harder one to predict, which is why big time tennis writers are throwing around crazy names like Montanes and Monfils. 

But.

I'm seeing something on Lenglen that is making me think otherwise.  That serve.  That movement.  Those drop shots!  You've heard it here first folks.  The surprise semifinalist this year will be none other than...the #3 seed, Andy Murray. 

And if that's not going out on a limb, I don't know what is.

Tomorrow: Nadal, Federer, V. Williams, Safina, Roddick, Sharapova.  And Dunlop.





 

Comments

  1. JAMES (5/25/2009 8:08:16 PM) 

    Beer and fried pickles? How have I never experienced this? How many points is it on Weight Watchers?

  2. pkultgen (5/25/2009 3:29:15 PM) 

    oops BEER and fried pickles. No bears.

  3. pkultgen (5/25/2009 3:28:40 PM) 

    angryduck and I will be preparing the required religious paraphenalia for Dunlop's imminent appearance. :) Honestly, not sure what that is, but my tennis team usually celebrates with bear and fried pickles.



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