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Roland Garros 2020 – “Beaucoup à retenir” (A Lot To Remember)

By Cheryl Jones and Mark Winters

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Usually, Roland Garros takes place the last week of May and ends the first week in June. This year, in truth “The Year of COVID-19”, usual doesn’t apply to very much of anything. Because of the pandemic, the key has been being adaptable and flexible.

This was the impetus that forced the bold move made in mid-March by the Fédération Française de Tennis that postponed (not canceled) this year’s event. September 20th to October 4th were the dates first selected for the competition.

Then showing a touch of French flair, it was decided to nudge the championships a bit further along in the calendar to September 27th until October 11th.

The result was a unique and fascinating tournament. The fortnight in Paris offered “Beaucoup à Retenir” (A Lot To Remember).

Firsts…

Each of the majors owns a standalone position for being distinct. Stade Roland Garros showcased an impressive array of “Firsts…”

Topping the list was Iga Świątek turning the Women’s singles into her tournament. The 19-year-old from Poland dominated Australian titlist, Sofia Kenin of the US, 6-4, 6-1 in the final to win her inaugural title.

Iga Świątek
Iga Świątek raises her arms in victory after winning the tournament. Image: SBS

But, her record setting didn’t stop there. She was the youngest to win in Paris since Monica Seles, then from Yugoslavia, in 1992, and at No. 54, the lowest ranked performer to claim the championship since computer rankings were initially used in 1975. In seven matches, the most games she relinquished were five. (They were in the second and third rounds, to Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan, 6-1, 6-4 and Eugenie Bouchard of Canada, 6-3, 6-2, along with Kenin in the final).

After the match with Hsieh, Świątek delightfully shared the fact that ten years earlier at the Warsaw Open, she had been a ball person and had had a chance to hit with Hsieh. This, of course, is not just a fact, but an important reflection on the game as a whole. The same can be said of Świątek becoming the first Polish player to win a Grand Slam tournament singles trophy.

Eighty-one years ago, countrywoman Jadwiga Jędrzejowska, known as “Jed” or “Ja Ja” was a Roland Garros finalist in 1939, losing to Simonne Mathieu, the legendary French player for whom the show court at the facility is named, 6-3, 8-6. (Though that year, “Jed…Ja Ja”, won the doubles with Mathieu defeating Alice Florian and Hella Kovac from Yugoslavia, 7-5, 7-5.)

Jedrzejowska is known to a few stalwart fans, but Agnieszka Radwanska has been acknowledged often. The Kraków native, who won 20 titles before retiring in 2018, was a quarterfinalist in 2013 in her favorite city – Paris.

The original stadium at Stade Roland Garros was built in 1928 so that France would have a suitable venue to host its first Davis Cup defense. Led by the fabled “Four Musketeers” (les Quatre Mousquetaires) – Jean Borotra, Jacques ‘Toto’ Brugnon Henri Cochet, René Lacoste – France retained the Cup and continued its dominance until 1933.

Known as Court Central, the stadium was christened Court Philippe Chatrier in 2001 to honor the memory of the respected French tennis administrator.

The facility has been refurbished numerous times over the years, but nothing can compare to the breathtaking changes that took place for 2020.

For the first time in tournament history, a closeable roof covered the magnificent structure which has seating now for 15,000 spectators.

Jannick Sinner playing
Jannick Sinner playing in the first round under the new roof at Court Philippe Chatrier. Photo: Roger Parker

Originally, there was a plan to add lighting to just the four show courts, but the pandemic brought about the tournament schedule changes and allowed for more construction. The result was twelve lighted courts. (In the past, lighting was dependent on the sun and a lengthy twilight. Obviously, there is much less light and twilight in autumn.)

Another of the “Firsts” was that Stefanos Tsitsipas became the first Greek player to reach the semifinals at Roland Garros. That was before he was edged out by the top seeded Serbian Novak Djokovic, 6-3, 6-2, 5-7, 4-6, 6-1.

The women’s qualifying had two “Firsts”. Renata Zarazúa played through the “Quallies” and put her name in the Mexican tennis history book. She became the first female from her country since Angélica Gavaldón in 1994 to reach the second round of singles where she pushed Elina Svitolina before the No. 3 seeded Ukrainian was finally able to gain a 6-3, 0-6, 6-2 victory.

Renata Zarazúa
Renata Zarazúa in her second round match at Roland Garros. Photo: Rob Prange

Mayar Sherif, who played intercollegiate tennis at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, became the first Egyptian woman to qualify for a major. A 2020 Grand Slam Development Fund grant recipient, the No. 171 ranked player at the start of the tournament, proved to be formidable as she forced Karolína Plíšková, the No. 2 seeded Czech, to work overtime, in the first round, to secure a 6-7, 6-2, 6-4 win.

Ons Jabeur of Tunisia earned applause by becoming the first Arab woman to reach the Roland Garros last 16 when she defeated No. 9 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, 7-6, 2-6, 6-3 in the third round. She was eliminated by Danielle Collins of the US, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, in her next encounter.

Talk About Strange

It is a shame Kristie Ahn graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Science, Technology & Society and not Math. If she had, Ahn would have been able to figure the odds on the likelihood of playing the same individual in the first round of back-to-back Grand Slam tournaments. After facing Serena Williams at the US Open and losing 7-5, 6-3 she played Williams again in Paris and fell 7-6, 6-0.

Tom Couch is a trainer. He is also Danielle Collins’ boyfriend. So, it was rather “bizarre” when, after not converting two break points in the second set of her quarterfinal match with Kenin she screamed at him, “Sit in a different spot. I am distracted!” He did and she won the second set but then lost the match, 6-4 4-6 6-0.

After the contest, Collins, who is an “idiosyncratic” competitor, mentioned that she loses focus during matches when her team is not following the “designated seating plan”.

Against Kenin, something in front of where Couch was sitting was throwing her off. She admitted that “it is a mental thing…I guess”. (Could this be the new method of “really focusing”. Will coaches, in the future, advocate watching “who is sitting where” rather than concentrating on the shot the opponent has hit?)

Alexander Kenin, Sofia’s father and coach didn’t have to be asked to move. He did it on his own after she lost the first set in her fourth round match with Fiona Ferro of France. As it turned out, his seat choice was right next to Ferro’s coach, Emmanuel Planque.

Emmanuel Planque urges on Fiona Ferro
Emmanuel Planque urges on his player Fiona Ferro as her opponent’s father/coach sits next to him. Image: ESPN

After winning the match 2-6, 6-2, 6-1, Kenin acted like she was in charge of the stewards on Court Philippe Chatrier saying that she didn’t understand why Planque was sitting where he was because the section was for members of the team of the higher seed and he should not have been there. She added, that her father was there trying to “help me…” which ultimately resulted in a fine for coaching. (Kenin and Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is coached by his father, were both fined $8,500 for coaching violations in the first and fourth rounds along with unsportsmanlike conduct.)

Every player follows his/her own rituals when it comes to staying hydrated and properly nourished during a match. Television regularly features energy drink and nutrition bar commercials for every gourmets taste. There is also the “old school” approach where cold water and a banana suffice.

During her 7-5, 6-2 victory over Paula Badosa of Spain that earned her a spot in the Roland Garros quarterfinals, Laura Siegemund of Germany decided to have a mid-match meal. While Badosa took a medical timeout during the first set, lying on the court to receive treatment for a back problem, Siegemund received a “snack bowl”.

As she explained, “I was trying to get some carbs in. I tried the bar. Couldn’t get it down. So, I asked my physio to bring me something else. I just wanted to get some carbs – some potato or rice – whatever. You have to listen to the body. The body kind of tells you what you need.”

Qualifying The Qualifiers

To play through the qualifying events into the Roland Garros main draw required more than the usual grittiness to gain spots in the draws at the Terre Battue Cathedral. Sixteen men and twelve women successfully made the journey. For some the trip was a captivating adventure.

Nadia Podoroska had never won a main draw singles match at a Grand Slam. Ranked No. 131 going into the tournament, the 23-year-old Argentine passed two three set tests, one in the second round, 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 against Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan and another in the fourth round when she stopped Barbora Krejčíková of the Czech Republic, 2-6, 6-2, 6-3.

She became the third women’s qualifier in the Open Era to reach the semifinals, scoring a 6-2, 6-4 quarterfinal decision over Svitolina. She had hoped to better the result of fellow Argentine, Paola Suárez who lost to Elena Dementieva of Russia, 6-0, 7-5 at Roland Garros in 2004. Świątek ended Podoroska’s “tournament to remember” 6-2, 6-1 in the semifinals.

Iga Świątek applauds her box
Iga Świątek applauds her box. Image: SBS

That Martina Trevisan of Italy qualified is not her Roland Garros story. Neither is reaching the quarterfinals where tournament champion Świątek put her on the sidelines, 6-3, 6-1. In today’s game, she is tiny, five foot, three inches to be exact, but she plays with clever lefthanded tenacity. It showed as she defeated Coco Gauff of the US, 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 in the second round. Maria Sakkari, the formidable Greek woman, was the next to fall 1-6, 7-6, 6-3.

Then, No. 5 seed Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands was dispatched, 6-4, 6-4 in the fourth round. The victories brought the No. 159 ranked performer some attention, but her all around honesty really drew notice.

This summer, Trevisan began sharing that she had spent time dealing with a problem. That difficulty had kept her occupied for four years, beginning in 2010, from participating in tennis.

Unbeknownst to most people in the game, she was a member of a “secret society”, one that has included Madison Keys of the US, Eugenie Bouchard of Canada, as well as former players such as Marion Bartoli of France and Monica Seles of the US. She had suffered from an eating disorder.

A combination of factors – her father’s illness, pressure of being an elite junior, as well as tension with her mother who is a tennis coach and unhappiness with the look of her muscular body – led her to eat next to nothing on a daily basis.

She finally sought professional help and has made steady progress dealing with anorexia and the mental issues surrounding the affliction. Her return to competition has been as steady as her candor in dealing with the issue. Proud of what she has accomplished, Trevisan is clear about what she wants for those facing the problem – Never give up.

Maria Trevisan playing
Maria Trevisan playing her quarter final at Roland Garros. Photo: Roger Parker

Daniel Altmaier of Germany turned 22 on September 12th. He joined the professional ranks in 2014, but shoulder and back trouble had limited the German’s tour successes.

Prior to qualifying for Roland Garros, Altmaier had never played in a major. His fondness for playing on Terre battue was evident as the No. 186 ranked player dismissed Feliciano Lopez of Spain, fellow German Jen-Lennard Stuff and No. 7 seed, Italian Matteo Berrettini – all in straight sets. In keeping with the three sets theme, Pablo Carreño Busta ended Altmaier’s spectacular run in straight sets, 6-2, 7-5, 6-2.

Qualifier Marco Cecchinato of Italy is the answer to the ultimate tennis trivia question – name a current “not well known” men’s competitor who has won at least one singles and one doubles match at each of the majors?

Cecchinato owns this one-of-a-kind Grand Slam tournament double. He made his best showing in a “Big 4” at 2018 Roland Garros. That year, he upset the No. 10 and No. 8 seeds Carreño Busta of Spain and David Goffin of Belgium in the third and fourth rounds.

Alexander Zverev tumbling
Alexander Zverev tumbling during his third round match. Photo: Roger Parker

In the quarterfinals, he downed Novak Djokovic, the No. 20 seeded Serbian who had been injured and off the tour, (which resulted in his low seeding), in four sets. He lost to Dominic Thiem of Austria, 7-5, 7-6, 6-1 in the semifinals. This year in Paris, he reached the third round where Alexander Zverev of Germany 6-1, 7-5, 6-3 sent him packing.

Italian qualifier Lorenzo Giustino and Frenchman Corentin Moutet were involved in a two-day six hour and five minute, rain-delayed, first round match that was Tour de France consuming. It showcased stubbornness that rivaled drinking day-old espresso.

The No. 157 ranked Giustino finally upset his twenty-one year old opponent ranked No. 71. The score said a good deal – 0-6, 7-6, 7-6, 2-6, 18-16. For Giustino, it was a spectacular first tour victory. He hadn’t realized until his coach told him, that there was no fifth set Tie-Break in Paris.

In his next match, Diego Schwartzman, the Argentine, version of a roadrunner, swept aside his weary foe, 6-1, 7-5, 6-0. The twenty-nine year old Giustino left Stade Roland Garros receiving accolades for being the winner of the second longest match in tournament history. (The tournament’s longest match was also a first round battle. In 2004, Fabrice Santoro defeated French countryman Arnaud Clement, 6-4, 6-3, 6-7, 3-6, 16-14 in a record-setting six hour and thirty-three minutes.)

Sara Errani has always been a “take no prisoners” type competitor. She is a feisty scrapper who never gives up. In her eighteen-year pro career, Roland Garros has been her best slam.

A finalist in 2012, a semifinalist in 2013 and a back-to-back quarterfinalist in 2015 and ’14, Errani may be the first player in tennis history to reach the title round at a major and later in her career comeback and play the qualifying in order to gain a place in the draw. The thirty-three year old did it, then raced past Monica Puig of Puerto Rico 6-2, 6-1 in the first round.

In her next outing, which became a very contentious contest Errani lost to No. 5 seed Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, 7-6, 3-6, 9-7. At the end of that marathon, Bertens was cramping so badly that she had to use a wheelchair to leave the court.

Errani didn’t earn any sportsmanship points mocking her opponent and claiming that she was faking it, “For an hour she’s injured, then she run like never (before)…” Both players saved match points and Errani added to the spectacle serving underhand on occasion because the mechanics of her ball toss, along with her service motion became very erratic.

Tie-Breaking

Driven by a collection of “musts” such as the need for spectators to stretch their legs, perhaps even television watcher’s boredom and a need for commercial breaks, set ending Tie-Breaks differ from major to major.

At the Australian Open, the score must reach six-six before a Tie Break to ten is launched. The Championships moves to a seven point decider when the score reaches twelve-twelve. The US Open follows Australia’s six-six lead, before making the end of a set Wimbledon-like at seven points.

This year, Roland Garros one set (and as it turned out, match) conclusion came close to match a standard. In the third round Lorenzo Sonego of Italy waylaid Taylor Fritz of the US, 7-6, 6-3, 7-6 (19-17).

The thirty-six point Tie-Break is second in the Slam record book to the thirty-eight points played in the first set of the US’s Andy Roddick’s 6-7 (20-18), 7-6, (7-2), 6-3, 6-3 first round victory over France’s wild card entry Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the 2007 Australian Open.

The Bristol Stomp & Other Remembrances

In 1961 an upbeat Rock & Roll song called “The Bristol Stomp” was written about a new dance step called “The Stomp” being performed at Good Will Hose Company dances in Bristol, a borough a little over twenty miles from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The song was released by The Dovells in July 1962.

Twenty-two years later in July, Emily Webley-Smith was born in Bristol, England. A solid junior, the Great Britain native turned pro in 2003 and the next year reached the second round at The Championships.

Now thirty-six, playing Roland Garros had been one of her long-time “Bucket List” wishes. She was finally able to cross that one off after teaming with Vivian Heisne of Germany in a 6-2, 6-3 first round doubles loss to Alison Riske of the US and Ajla Tomljanović of Australia. She realized a goal, and may have exclaimed, as “The Bristol Stomp” lyrics bring out, “Really somethin’ when the joint is jumpin’…”

Though American qualifier Sebastian Korda lost and felt he actually won following Rafael Nadal’s 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 fourth round victory. The son of Petr Korda, 1992 Roland Garros finalist and 1998 Australian Open champion, and Regina Rajchrtová, a former top Czech Republic player, the twenty-year old admitted, prior to the match, that he had named his cat after Nadal who is his favorite player.

Following the contest, with the No. 2 seeded Spaniard, Korda asked the winner for an autographed tennis shirt. When he received it, the 2018 International Tennis Federation Boys’ No. 1 said, “Best moment of my life. Thank you so much…” Losing a match had a silver lining for Korda.

Sebastian Korda
Sebastian Korda. Photo: Vanessa Taylor

During the course of a Grand Slam tournament masses of numbers are collected and used to verify what has taken place. It seems that almost everything such as racquets strung, beer and champagne, along with tournament T-shirts sold, are counted.

After falling to Trevisan of Italy 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 Coco Gauff of the US was probably wishing that double-faults had not been included in the match stats. She ticked off nineteen “doubles”, (in one case double-faulting away an entire service game), in her second round match.

Weathering The Balls

This Fall in Paris was a seasonal 180 twist from the weather found in the spring when Roland Garros is usually played. The temperatures were regularly 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius), accompanied by a brisk wind and regularly, rain.

Johanna Konta drawing on her rich heritage, (her parents are Hungarian, she was born in Sydney, Australia but plays for Great Britain), explained the weather saying, “Kind of as rainy and windy and rubbish weather like it is at home.”

US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who normally lives in Manhattan Beach, California near the Pacific Ocean, voiced unhappiness about being so cold that she finally decided to wear a bright pink ski parka in an effort to stay warm.

For Zhang Shuai of China, Paris was dazzling. She downed No. 12 seed Madison Keys of the US, 6-3, 7-6 in the first round. Then scored a French sweep defeating Alizé Cornet and Clara Burel in the second and third rounds. Though she lost in the fourth round to Petra Kvitová of the Czech Republic 6-2, 6-4, Zhang explained that being in Paris in the autumn is a beautiful time “…and it is so rare to come here at this time”.

Playing in the less than ideal conditions required a whole new batch of couturier creativity. Layering was a must. For some, long sleeves and leggings were part of a day’s “kit”. So were pullovers.

Hitting with telling accuracy in these conditions was made more complicated by the tournament’s decision to move from Babalot balls that had been used since 2011 to balls manufactured by Wilson that were supposed to enable rallies to last longer.

Comments on the balls, made by a number of player, could be summarized simply – It was like hitting a rock. Daniel Evans of Great Britain was Konta clever when he remarked, “…you wouldn’t give it to a dog to chew”. Kei Nishikori of Japan, who defeated Evans in the first round, noted, “…there’s less bounce”.

At the beginning of the tournament, Nadal offered, “…balls that are much slower than in previous years and given the cold and humid conditions, they are very short.”

Roland Garros took a number of risks; many proved to be very successful. Changing the balls from Babalot to Wilson can’t be included in the “good move” category.

Rafa Nadal (ESP) pockets a ball
Rafa Nadal (ESP) pockets a ball as he wins his 13th French Open. Photo: Roger Parker

A Nod To Michael Chang

It is part of Roland Garros lore…In the fourth round of the 1989 championships, Michael Chang of the US was playing Ivan Lendl, the No. 1 seed who still represented the Czech Republic. In the fifth set, Chang was cramping. Serving at 4-3, 15-30, he hit an underhand serve.

Lendl was surprised but dashed forward and scooped a return into play. There was nothing on the shot and Chang cracked a winner and subsequently won the match and then the tournament.

This year, the conditions were seasonably cold and damp during Roland Garros. The heavy balls combined with players returning serve from kilometers far behind the baseline, resulted in a flood of underhand serves.

Errani, whose serve was never one of her strengths, even when she was at the top of her game, now plays “somehow get it in” with the service box. After repeatedly going through a tossing and catching routine against Bertens, she added an occasional underhand serve.

It is a regular “go to…” shot for Nick Kyrgios, the erratically talented Australian. Since he wasn’t on hand, Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan, who stressed the stroke “must be worked on”, became the pseudo leader of the “Underhand Serve Team” in Kyrgios’ absence.

It wasn’t surprising that the underhanded serve is part of Monica Niculescu’s weaponry. The Romanian has distinctive strokes highlighted by a formidable “feathery slice” forehand. Against Collins, in the first round, she used an underhanded serve but lost the point and later the match, 2-6, 6-2, 6-1.

Michael Llodra and Virginie Razanno are members of the French Underhand Serve alumni group. Even more illustrious was Martina Hingis. Ten years after Chang’s “underhand-er” became legend, the Swiss star used it in an attempt to halt her 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 disintegration in the 1999 final against Stephanie Graf of Germany…and actually saved a match point.

Drop Shot Showcased

Thanks to the weather conditions and the tennis balls used, players had to become more varied in their choice of strokes. As a result, the drop shot was featured in match after match. Both Nadal and Djokovic used it regularly on their way to the Men’s Singles Final. Kvitova, Tsitsipas and Siegemund were artful practitioners. Jabeur lived by it. And so, did Kenin, who admitted with the Paris conditions, “it is the right play here.”

Sofia Kenin
Sofia Kenin after the women’s final. Image: SBS

Hugo Gaston, a tournament wild card, deserves special mention because his play was both captivating and entertaining. The five-foot, eight-inch Frenchman plays like “a lefty” (lefthander), meaning he is a deft and creative shot maker.

His variety enabled him to play better than his No. 239 ranking. He was masterful when he defeated Stan Wawrinka, the Swiss Roland Garros Champion of 2017, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-0 in the third round.

Dominic Thiem of Austria, the No. 3 seed, closed down Gaston’s engaging show, 6-4, 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 6-3 in the next round. Gaston, who turned twenty on September 26th, “sliced and diced” his opponents and regularly used teasing lobs and drop shots to add to the confusion he was creating. Against Thiem, who said the shot was “from another planet”, he attempted fifty-eight “drops”.

COVID-19 Count & Bubbling

Daily, on a worldwide basis, it is becoming more and more obvious that COVID-19 doesn’t play by any rules. Just when it seemed that all the contingencies have been covered another concern arises. (At the US Open, eight players, from two countries, became public figures because of testing results or because they were around those who had tested positive.

The French team topped the list of impacted players, with Grégoire Barrère, Richard Gasquet, Adrian Mannarino, Kristina Mladenovic, Benoît Paire and Édouard Roger-Vasselin. Ysaline Bonaventure and Kirsten Flipkens were the Belgians caught up in the social distancing sweeps. As readers remember Paire wasn’t allowed to play and Mladenovic and her partner Timea Babos of Hungary were pulled from the draw after winning their first match.)

Ash Barty watches her team
Last year’s winner Ash Barty watches her team Richmond play in the Australian Rules Football semi-final in Brisbane, having decided to skip the French Open due to Covid-19 concerns. Image: Channel 7

At Roland Garros, Fernando Verdasco of Spain was forced to withdraw and so was Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia. Verdasco claimed his test result was a false positive. Dzumhur had to pull out because his Serbian coach Petar Popovic tested positive.

Both players discussed suing the FFT because the “play, not play” rules were changed allowing a competitor who could prove, he/she had previously been infected would then be allowed to participate.

Those who watched Alexander Zverev’s 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 fourth round loss to Jannik Sinner of Italy could probably tell he wasn’t in top form. After the contest the reason became obvious when the German admitted to having a fever and not being able to breathe then concluding, “I shouldn’t have played”…but later tested negative.

The FFT conducted around 3,000 coronavirus tests and the players stayed in two Paris hotels. Spending time at Stade Roland Garros for other than a match or practice was not possible so it became “hotel…hotel…hotel”.

Sam Querrey of the US opined that making a true bubble would require “10,000 rooms” for players, teams and coaches, along with the entire hotel staff. As Fédération Française de Tennis Director General, Jean-Francois Vilotte, “We do not think in terms of a sealed bubble”.

Roland Garros had to be a very skilled juggler for over two weeks in order to deal with the complexities of the pandemic. Paris had an alarming rise in cases and public health officials declared a Maximum Alert during the tournament’s second week.

Bernard Giudicelli and Mary Pierce
Bernard Giudicelli, President of the Fédération Française de Tennis joins Mary Pierce in hand sanitising prior to the presentation of trophies to the women’s finalists. Image: SBS

Déjà Vu All Over Again…Almost

Kristina Mladenovic has played the US Open ten times. Her most recent experience is not one of her fond recollections.

At the Open, she was caught up in the Benoît Paire Social – Distancing Affair. Harried by the restrictions imposed after she played cards with Paire, she was up 6-1, 5-1 against Varvara Gracheva of Russia then collapsed mentally and lost 1-6, 7-6, 6-0.

But, the worst was yet to come. After winning her first round doubles match with partner Timea Babos of Hungary, the team was removed from the tournament by COVID-19 protocols.

The late Yogi Berra, a beloved Major League Baseball Hall of Fame member, used words and phrases in a way that in time became known as “Berraese”. In the first round at Roland Garros, playing Siegemund, Mladenovic had a “déjà vu all over again” experience.

On set point leading 5-1, she hit a backhand drop shot that her opponent barely reached but was able to flick a shot for a winner. Mladenovic immediately appealed to chair umpire, Eva Asderaki-Moore of Greece saying that Siegemund’s shot was “not up” (meaning it had bounced twice). Asderaki-Moore disagreed leaving Mladenovic to shake her head in disbelief. (Television replays showed that the ball had indeed bounced twice.)

The shot energized Siegemund. She rolled through games as Mladenovic succumbed to her New York pattern of play. After the German won 7-5, 6-3, Mladenovic admitted she had the first set in hand, but added this point caused her to lose focus.

When asked about Siegemund not conceding the point, she said that if her opponent had “she would have all my respect…” But, in the end, the chair umpire “was the one responsible…”

Fortunately, all was not lost. Mladenovic teamed with Babos and they defended their 2019 Roland Garros doubles title defeating Alexa Guarachi and Desirae Krawczk, 6-4, 7-5. (The finalists, who represented Chile and the US, interestingly played intercollegiate tennis at University of Alabama and Arizona State University respectively.)

Mladenovic and Babos were undefeated in 2020 Grand Slam doubles play. They were the first duo to score a Melbourne-Paris double since Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the US and Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic were the winners of both tournaments in 2015 and 2017.

Including her Paris victory with countrywoman Caroline Garcia in 2016, Mladenovic tied Gail Benedetti with the second most Roland Garros doubles titles in the Open Era.

During the trophy presentation, she said, “To lift the trophy here, like Timi said, it’s always special, but this time you cannot imagine like what relief and what pride it is to actually, even for me personally, to leave this tournament with such a reward. I still have to wake up and believe it’s actually true.”

Abandon Tradition…

Clay court
In or Out? Photo: Logan Webster

One of the revered traditions at Roland Garros is a chair umpire repelling down the tower steps and wandering onto the court to check the mark left by a shot.

Everyone who was played, attended or watched matches on television has a story or two to tell about an official selecting a shot spot that is near but not the one that is actually being disputed.

Often these shows become theatrical delays. Officials strut and gesture. Players point and exclaim. From time to time these sequences are so entertaining they are video presentation worthy.

Nonetheless, after the success enjoyed by Hawk-Eye Live at the US Open, Roland Garros should consider making a change. The players want it. So do the fans.

Next year, after the extensive renovation made to Court Philippe Chatrier and adding lights to the courts, light should be added to line calling and Hawk-Eye Live would do exactly that…

La Coupe Nadal

From 1878 until 1921, the Gentlemen’s Singles’ at The Championships was a tournament within a tournament. The All Comers’ Singles was played and the winner then faced the previous year’s champion, who had simply waited for a challenger to appear. In 1922, that format was abolished.

Serious thought should be given to reestablishing the challenge round but doing it at Roland Garros. With Rafael Nadal dominating the weather, scheduling, opponents and the balls, he secured his thirteenth La Coupe des Mousquetaires.

On Terre battue, he stands alone. Words aren’t sufficient to describe his almost god-like tennis presence in Paris. He exudes supremacy on the surface. So, looking to the future, the Men’s Singles could become a 128 All Comers’ Draw.

Nadal could do personal appearances during the two-weeks leading to the final, and on the Wednesday of week three in Paris, which should provide sufficient recovery time, after the All Comer’s Men’s final, the Spaniard and his opponent could go at it.

Rafa stats

Was It Worth It?

Staging any activity during the time of COVID-19 is risky. Holding a two-week event is almost tempting fate, but the Fédération Française de Tennis pulled it off. Were there “Bravos”. Absolutely. Were there “Needed Do Overs?” No question.

Originally, it was hoped that 11,500 spectators per day would be dispersed among Court Philippe Chatrier, Court Suzanne Lenglen and Court Simonne Mathieu.

Because of the rise in virus cases, the Minister of Health reduced the number to 5,000 attendees each day. Later, the number in “Alert Zones” was restricted to 1,000.

Last year Roland Garros realized around €260 million. In 2020, while still having sponsors and broadcasting support, along with sundry souvenir sales, there were massive expenditures. A roof was added to Court Philippe Chatrier and lights were added around the grounds.

The lights were originally intended to be installed on the four show courts, but in the end, they were placed on twelve Stade Roland Garros courts. There were additional costs of player hotels, virus testing and other assorted expenses brought about by COVID-19 life.

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal takes in his thirteenth victory. Image: ESPN

It is estimated that more than €130 million was lost this year. The deficit has made some officials unhappy the decision was made to play the tournament, given the health restrictions and other limitations that were in place.

In view of the staggering financial losses, there is talk about taking legal action. Only time will tell if this is becomes a reality.

In the end, Roland Garros was filled with feel-good emotion brought about be seeing the game played so well in such challenging circumstance, the unknowns constantly grabbing headlines and the remarkable Rafael Nadal, still, the questions must be asked – Was It Worth It?

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