The Sixth Set

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the 2013 French Open

With the clay season in the books, we brush the dirt off a Roland Garros edition of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

THE GOOD

Rafa, Serena and the Bryans sweep through the dirt…When Rafael Nadal raked a cross-court forehand winner to clinch the 2013 French Open, history was made on multiple fronts. Not only did Nadal become the eight-time champion at Roland Garros, the first to accomplish the feat at one Grand Slam tournament, he also embedded himself in the triumvirate atop the tennis world, joining Serena Williams and the Bryan Brothers with clean sweeps of Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros. Nadal, Williams and the Bryans combined to go 69-3 during the clay season. That is so astonishingly ridiculous, it makes the words astonishingly ridiculous seem rather benign. Moreover, Williams and the Bryans claimed their second career titles on the terre battue having been at least a decade removed from their firsts.

Ferru forges from the shadows…A validation of a rather underappreciated career, David Ferrer reached his first Grand Slam final, obliterating the competition along the way. Ferrer registered the most service breaks of the tournament (45) and did not relinquish a single set prior to being defeated in straights by Rafael Nadal, in the final. A four-time year-end top-ten with 20 ATP titles, Ferrer is enjoying the best season of his career at the ripe age of 31. The consummate warrior, his passion and commitment to the game have no bounds and he is finally being rewarded for his hard work. Well done, David.

Five-set thrillers…The five-set drama at this year’s French Open could not have been scripted any better. The seven matches that went past 6-6 in the fifth were the most at Roland Garros since 2004. Three of them (Nadal/Djokovic, Wawrinka/Gasquet and Haas/Isner) provided perhaps the most memorable and riveting finishes you will ever see on a Grand Slam stage. Wawrinka battled back down two sets to none, Haas survived 10-8 in the final set despite being denied 12 match points, and Nadal toppled archrival Novak Djokovic, 9-7. My favorite match of the tournament, however, came on Day Two, when a spirited Gael Monfils battled past fifth-seed Tomas Berdych 7-6, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 7-5.

Teenagers crash the party…Five teenagers won their first Grand Slam matches at Roland Garros. They include wildcards Nick Kyrgios and Lucas Pouille on the men’s side, as well as Eugenie Bouchard, Monica Puig and Ashleigh Barty for the women. Along with 19-year-old qualifier Jiri Vesely, who fell in four sets to Philipp Kohlschreiber in the first round, these players really impressed and it won’t be long until they become fixtures on the Slam stage. For more on Kyrgios, Pouille and Vesely, check out my collaborative piece on the unheralded stars of the French Open, over at The Grandstand.

Streak snappers…There is nothing worse than a long and strenuous losing streak, which is why Robin Haase and Sara Errani can breathe easier now after they finally put an end to their respective runs of futility. Haase snapped his tiebreak losing streak at an absurd 17 straight, when he won the second set of his first round match against Kenny de Schepper. Also, Sara Errani finally broke through against top-five competition, winning her first match in 29 attempts. The Italian defeated Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 7-6 in the semifinals.

Parity is good too…In reaching the Roland Garros final, David Ferrer became the first player outside the Big Four to reach a Grand Slam final since 2010. Despite the fact that Ferrer was routed by Rafael Nadal, it was refreshing to see a break from the norm, with a different face on one of tennis’s biggest stages. Big Four domination sells tickets and keeps casual viewers interested, but parity can be a good thing too.

The Tommys turn back the clock…One of the biggest storylines of the 2013 French Open was the resurgent play of elder statesmen Tommy Haas (35) and Tommy Robredo (32). Both Haas and Robredo enjoyed successful clay campaigns leading up to Roland Garros, with each winning a title (Haas in Munich, Robredo in Casablanca), and they continued their run of form with runs to the quarterfinals in Paris. Having each been four years removed from their previous major quarterfinal and plagued by injuries since, it was an emotional and inspiring pair of performances. I wrote more about the far-reaching significance of the Tommys’ run here.

Four American women reach the Round of 16…While the American men were busy packing their bags, the women enjoyed their first foursome in a fourth round of a Slam since the 2004 U.S. Open. Eventual champion Serena Williams defeated Roberta Vinci, while Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Jamie Hampton and Sloane Stephens all lost in straight sets. Regardless, it was a pretty impressive showing from a traditionally clay-inept nation.

Welcome to twitter Roger Federer, Tomas Berdych and Marion Bartoli…And welcome to the live-tweeting commentary booth, Andy Murray. The French Open was made even more entertaining with tweets like these:

Fun with cameras…

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Full version of Djoker’s film direction debut: http://www.francetvsport.fr/tennis-camera-156553

Men’s Point of the Tournament – Tommy Haas (GER) vs. Guillaume Rufin (FRA)

Women’s Point of the Tournament – Venus Williams (USA) vs. Urszula Radwanska (POL)

Shot of the Tournament – Rafael Nadal forehand winner vs. Novak Djokovic

Quotes of the Tournament

And finally, the emotion of a Grand Slam. This is what it’s all about. 947037_10151654344918699_687509862_n

THE BAD

Expansion/roof plans at an impasse…During the first week of the tournament, The New York Times’ Christopher Clarey reported on the continued delay in plans to renovate the grounds of Stade Roland Garros and add a roof to the main stadium court, Court Philippe Chatrier.

Fed Express fails to deliver…With a Djokovic/Nadal-less half of the draw in front of him, Federer had the golden path to the French Open final. He breezed through his first three matches, stumbled against Gilles Simon in the fourth round and fell flat on his face against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarters, losing in straight sets. Fed won just 11 games, was broken six times and failed to serve an ace for the first time in his Grand Slam career. At just 1:51, it was his fourth fastest defeat at a Slam.

Jo-Willy’s listless dismissal…With soaring momentum and confidence from having just upset Roger Federer in the quarterfinals, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was expected to give David Ferrer all he could handle in the semis. Instead, the home favorite disappointed the Chatrier faithful with a lethargic 6-1, 7-6, 6-2 performance. The rhythm and energy we saw against the mighty Fed was nowhere to be found as Tsonga failed to capitalize on a great opportunity to reach his second Grand Slam final.

Rusty drops another heartbreaking five-setter…If anyone can commiserate with Nicolas Almagro (see below), it is Lleyton Hewitt, who let a 6-3, 6-1 lead slip away against Gilles Simon in the first round. The Aussie is now 1-5 in five-setters in the past three years. The match resembled a movie that you realize is a train wreck halfway through, but since you’ve come this far you can’t turn back. It may have included the two longest rallies of the tournament, but it also featured 121 total unforced errors (72 from Hewitt) and 19 combined breaks of serve. Simon nearly even choked away a 5-0 lead in the fifth set, dropping five straight games, and was forced to win 7-5.

Tipsy crosses the line… The culmination of a disappointing and highly frustrating clay season, Janko Tipsarevic let his emotions get the best of him in the heat of the moment, during his third round match against Mikhail Youzhny.

Final flameout…There’s a fine line between what is bad and what’s ugly and this sure walked the tightrope, on the verge of escalating into a potentially catastrophic incident. Anything that compromises the safety of the players and spectators is unacceptable and should be dealt with accordingly. On-court security did a commendable job in subduing the lunatics involved, but those responsible for allowing them to enter in the first place do not deserve to keep their jobs.

THE UGLY

Nico crashes out…again…Nicolas Almagro has that special talent to instill confidence in his opponents when he’s cruising along at a Slam. We all remember David Ferrer’s epic comeback at this year’s Australian Open from down two sets, breaking Almagro three times when the man from Murcia was serving for the match. No way it happens again, though, and against another member of the 30-year club no less. You know where I’m going with this. In the Round of 16, against Tommy Robredo, Almagro squandered a two-set advantage and even had 4-2 leads in both the third and fourth sets before his forehand and brain did a synchronized nose dive. Let’s just assume Nico is always this generous towards his countrymen. Former WTA world number five and current commentator Anna Chakvetadze weighed in after the match: “[He’s a] very talented player, just needs to fix his brain a bit and he can be top-five.”

TV coverage in the States…So I’m relaxing outside on a Saturday morning, enjoying the early stages of what would go down as one of the best matches of the tournament, between Tommy Haas and John Isner, and my ESPN3 feed cuts out. Why, you say? Ask NBC. ESPN3.com is a gold mine for coverage of outer courts during Slams but only had the rights to stream those matches until their coverage window expired for the day. In turn, NBC refused to continue streaming any outer courts, so fans were left at the mercy of whichever match the producers decided to air on TV. Needless to say, it was a disaster. They also decided to show a taped Serena Williams beatdown instead of a live fourth round encounter between Ana Ivanovic and Agnieszka Radwanska. And say you wanted to find highlights and clips of a match you missed on YouTube?

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What else is ugly? This Novak Djokovic overhead…

Louise Engzell’s umpiring…This is what happens when you incorrectly overrule a line call and decide to call hindrance on the player who won the point, in order to compensate for your erroneous overrule. I know, that made no sense. Now you know how Li Na and Anabel Medina Garrigues were feeling.

And the shirt Asics gave Gael Monfils to wear in the first round…

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Previous editions of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

2013 Indian Wells    2013 Australian Open

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