Roland Garros…Rafa, Iga et autres triandises (Rafa, Iga And Other Treats)

By Mark Winters

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The 126th Internationaux de France de Tennis (or as the tournament prefers – Roland Garros – rather than the French Open) filled the May 22nd–June 5th calendar. The play at Stade Roland Garros updated the celebrated saying “There was something old, something new and a good mix in between.” As this review will reveal…

Looking Beyond The Obvious…How Did They Get There?

Rafael Nadal, the No. 5 seed, obliterated Caspar Ruud from Norway, the No. 8 seed, 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 in the Roland Garros Men’s Singles final, earning his 20th La Coupe des Mousquetaires or so it seemed…actually it was his 14th Paris win.

Top seed, Iga Świątek ruined No. 18 seed, Coco Gauff’s Grand Slam Women’s Singles trophy round debut taking the Suzanne Lenglen Cup, 6-1, 6-3.

That Ruud and Gauff reached a Slam final was the story…Not their subsequent performances. For that reason – How they got there – is the key to understanding what took place.

Goran Ivanišević spoke with CBS in the player’s area just before the Nadal–Novak Djokovic quarterfinal. The Croatian, who is the No. 1 seeded Serbian’s coach, said, “Unfortunately, every year they play one round earlier here. Two years ago it was the final. Last year it was the semis and now the quarters, but it’s probably the best quarterfinal ever in the history of the French Open.”

Darren Cahill, the esteemed former coach of players such as Lleyton Hewitt, Andre Agassi and Simona Halep, and since 2007 an ESPN tennis commentator, told New York Times journalist Christopher Clarey, “Their third set last year was probably the best set of tennis I’ve seen…” referring to their mesmerizing 2021 Roland Garros semifinal that Djokovic survived 3-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-2.

Of this year’s quarterfinal, the inimitable Ivanišević added, “Novak is ready for best-of-ten…It was not easy. Australia threw him back a little bit, but people like him, these genius people, have a different brain, and he needed a little bit of time.

“So far he’s playing well, hitting the ball well, and he’s ready. Rafa is ready, so we see.”

Novak Djokovic runs for a Rafael Nadal drop shot in their quarterfinal at Roland Garros this year. Photo: Victor Joly

The No. 5 seeded Spaniard proved he was prepared, winning 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 in a bit more than four hours. Prior to the match’s late 9pm start Djokovic stated the obvious – “TV decides…That’s the world we are living in.”

Following the encounter, Nadal kept it simple – “One of those magic nights for me…”

The round before, Felix Auger-Aliassime, the No. 9 seeded Canadian, made Nadal work almost four and a half hours to earn a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 decision. Nadal was pleased to win because, “Being honest, every match that I play here, I don’t know if it’s going to be my last match here in Roland Garros…That’s my situation now…That’s why I am just trying to enjoy as much as possible.”

But, he added, “I suffered…”

(It was almost as if Nadal heard Ivanišević’s “best-of-ten” comment and decided to go “best of nine…” to endure his way to the semifinals.)

In the Men’s lower half of the draw, Danish number 1 Holger Rune played his “Ronin” best dismissing No. 4 seed and last year’s finalist, Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, before facing Casper Ruud in the quarterfinals.

Ruud stopped Holger Rune 6-1, 4-6, 7-6, 6-3…having told him during the match to basically “Belt Up…” The 19-year-old Dane is emotive when he plays. Showing little reticence, he moaned and groaned about his shot making, yelled at the chair umpire and screamed at his mother Aneke, who was sitting in his box, “Forlade, forlade, forlade!” (“Leave, leave, leave!”). She dutifully got up and left while the rest of his entourage looked embarrassed. Following the tense encounter, the personable Ruud said his opponent needed “to grow up…”.

Holger Rune in his quarterfinal against Casper Ruud. Photo: Roger Parker

Iga Świątek who had been invincible this spring…actually lost a set in her fourth round against Qinwen Zheng of China. Somehow after being in control early in the match, up 5-2 in the first set then 5-2 in the tiebreak, she appeared to have missed her Metro station stop and finished on the short end of the 7-6 score. But she still had nine of her un carnet tickets left and used one to finish off the 19-year-old, who trains in Barcelona, 6-7(5), 6-0, 6-2.

Following the match, Świątek told the media that she changed tactics and became more aggressive. She wanted to stop focussing too much on “technical stuff” so “I’m always singing something. But I changed the song [to one by British singer] Dua Lipa, so it was kind of a guilty pleasure…”

Two years ago, Martina Trevisan was the “Roland Garros Women’s Feel Good Story.” The Italian ranked No. 159 at the time, qualified. Then the tiny (she is five foot three inches tall) but tenacious left-hander scrapped her way to the quarterfinals where Świątek, who went on to win the 2020 title, defeated her, 6-3, 6-1. Her performance in Paris was, initially, newsworthy but it became noteworthy when she candidly discussed her four year sabbatical from the tour beginning in 2010, because of an eating disorder.

A combination of factors – her father’s illness, the pressure of being an elite junior, as well as tension with her mother who is a tennis coach, and unhappiness with the muscular look of her body – led her to eat next to nothing, daily. She finally sought professional help and made steady progress dealing with anorexia and the mental issues surrounding the affliction. Her return to competition had been steady matching her message to those dealing with a similar problem – “Never give up…”

In Paris this year, she was spirited, in a measured fashion, defeating Leylah Fernandez of Canada, the No. 17 seed, who is also a strong-willed and slightly taller left-hander. Trevisan eked out a 6-2, 6-7, 6-3 victory. After the match, it was determined that Fernandez, the 2021 US Open finalist, had played with an injured right foot.

Martina Trevisan playing her semifinal against Coco Gauff.
Photo: Jean Catuffe

Trevisan’s success led to a semifinal meeting with Gauff. They had played in the second round of 2020 Roland Garros and Trevisan was 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 better. This year the 18-year-old Gauff played “Lights Out…” scoring a 6-3, 6-1 win over her 28-year-old opponent to reach the final. (Nice symmetry with the scoreline of the Italian’s second best Roland Garros showing, 3 and 1 in her quarterfinal loss to Świątek two years ago.)

Since her first appearance at a major in 2015, the Delray Beach, Florida, resident has evidenced tennis ability and social awareness belying her age. Following the semifinal, as has become de rigueur, Gauff signed the camera lens – Peace, End Gun Violence and drew a heart next to her name.

It was her reaction to the May 24th shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas where 19 students and two teachers were killed. Later she explained it was a message to those who were watching at home and around the world “Hopefully it gets into the heads of people in office to change things” (which deserves a très bien…)

Daria Kasatkina, who was born in Tolyatti, Russia, but resides in Dubai, was another of the tournament’s neutral competitors. She eased her way through the draw to a last-four match with Świątek. The Warsaw resident, who turned 21 the day before Roland Garros began, easily ended her opponent’s best career Grand Slam, 6-2, 6-1.

On June 3rd, his 36th birthday, Nadal received a present that he didn’t want. After three hours and 12 minutes, in sweltering conditions because rain forced the roof on Court Philippe Chatrier to be closed, he was in a dramatic semifinal tussle with No. 3 seed Alexander Zverev. Winning the first set tiebreak, he served to send the second set into another tiebreak. On the deciding point to reach 6-6, the German scrambling to hit a forehand, skidded on the Terre Battue and his right ankle gave way.

Alexander Zverev rolls on the court after his ankle injury.
Photo: Jean Catuffe

Seeing it was gruesome but made worse by his screaming and writhing in the clay clutching the ankle, trying to make the pain go away. He was helped into a wheelchair that was brought on court and taken off to have the injury was examined. Soon after, Nadal also left the court.

Eventually, Zverev reappeared on court using crutches and with Nadal following him. Zverev formally retired from the match and embraced his opponent.

In this post-match interview, Nadal told the crowd “I have been in the small room with Sascha before we came back on the court…and to see him crying there is a very tough moment so all the best to him…it is very sad for him. He was playing unbelievable tournament. I know how much he’s fighting to win a Grand Slam but for the moment he was very unlucky. The only thing is, I’m sure he’s going to win not one, but much more…”

The players return to the court after the assessment of Alexander Zverev’s ankle injury. Photo: Roger Parker

After winning the Miami Open and Mutua Madrid Open, both Masters 1000 tournaments, Carlos Alcaraz (who thinks Carlos is too serious sounding and prefers to be called Carlitos or Charlie), was “The Talk…” pre-Paris. Pundits touted his “Roland Garros win-ability…”

Had Albert Ramos-Vinolas, his countryman, not been 34-years-old, he would have been able to stay the course in his second round match with the No. 6 seed Alcaraz. But being 15 years younger at 19, “Charlie” escaped with a 6-1, 6-7, 5-7, 7-6, 6-4 decision over his weary opponent.

Zverev’s tournament was, as Nadal said, “unbelievable”, and in his quarterfinal against Alcaraz, that was, if anything, an understatement. Zverev was imposing, scoring a 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(7) decision to set up his semifinal confrontation with the perpetual champion.

Ending the teenager’s 14-match winning streak, at the net Zverev told his opponent, “‘You’re going to win this tournament a lot of times, not just once.”

Later he added, “I hope I can win it before he starts…beating us all.” Almost prophetically after the match Zverev admitted, “It’s not getting easier from here…”

The most memorable part of the watchable Ruud-Cilic match took place at 3-6, 6-4, 4-1. Ruud was leading when an environmental activist made her way onto Court Philippe Chatrier (and yes, she had a ticket…) and attached herself to the net with glue and wire. The players were moved to the locker room during the 13-minute pause while the woman was apprehended.

It turned out she was a 22-year-old French citizen named Alizee. She wore a T-shirt with the message “we have 1028 days left”, a reference to the UN report on Climate Change. A member of Derniere Renovation, the group released a statement saying, “We are in 2022 and it is time to face reality. The world to which politicians are sending us is a world which Roland Garros will no longer be able to exist. Later Alizee offered, “Today, I entered the field because I can no longer take the risk of doing nothing in the face of the climate emergency.”

It wasn’t the first Roland Garros interruption in recent times. During the 2009 Men’s Singles final between Roger Federer and Robin Söderling of Sweden, a spectator named “Jimmy Jump”, dressed as a Spanish bullfighter, left the stands and approached Federer during a side-change and attempted to put a Barretina on his head. Federer ignored the disruption, winning the title 6-1, 7-6(1), 6-4.

More fan entertainment happened in 2013 during the singles trophy contest between countrymen David Ferrer and Nadal. With Nadal ahead 5-1 in the second set (in a match that he won 6-3, 6-2, 6-3), a masked invader protesting a new French law permitting gay marriage ran around the court waving a flare.

The finals were…pedestrian…Raf was Raf and Iga was Iga. This statement is not meant to be dismissive. It reflects their superiority.

Rafael Nadal lets his victory sink in. Photo: Jean Catuffe

It is hard to find words to expand upon the totality of Nadal. Most know – He has constant pain in his left foot because of a chronic condition, which kept him from competing in the latter part of 2021.

Yet he resurrected at the Australian Open, winning his 21st major. He had a 20 matches win streak stopped in the BNP Paribas Men’s Singles final, losing to Taylor Fritz of the US while playing with a stress fracture in the left third costal arch of his ribs.

His Spring return to competition was marred by defeats in the Madrid quarterfinals to Alcaraz and in Rome, in the round of 16, to Canadian Denis Shapovalov. So…battered and bruised he wins in Paris.

In a 2006 August story, legendary journalist Bud Collins said, “If I had to choose someone to play for my life, it would be Richard “Pancho” Gonzalez.” Today, I think Collins would add Rafael Nadal to his “Ultimate Competitor” list.

With the victory, Nadal became the oldest player to win in the history of the men’s event’s history overtaking fellow Spaniard Andrés Gimeno who was the titlist in 1972 at 34. (Going back in “Oldest” Men’s Singles Slam winners, they all occurred at the Australian Open. Ken Rosewall was 37, one month and 24 days in 1972; Roger Federer was 36, five months and seven days in 2018; Rosewall was 36 years, four months and five days in 1971.)

Billie Jean King, the Women’s Singles and Doubles champion in 1972, was on court during the trophy presentation celebrating the 50th Anniversary of her Roland Garros triumphs. When Ruud came to the podium to accept his finalist award, King took the time to chat with him before he addressed the crowd.

In summary, he was eloquent saying, “…It is the first time for me (appearing in a Grand Slam final) but the first thing I want to do is congratulate Rafa…I am not his first victim…I got to see first-hand what it is like to play him in a Grand Slam final…He took me into his academy with open arms…He has been very nice to me…When we practiced and played matches, he was always kind…and the score wasn’t like this…maybe when I come back and I will be able to speak some French which is difficult for me… thank you, merci…”

Casper Ruud in the final. Photo: Christian Liewig

Nadal is now 14-0 in Roland Garros finals and his tournament match record is a miraculous, 112-3. Some players are fortunate to win 100 career tour matches yet he has over 100 victories at one event. After being given the La Coupe, he grinned and patted it as if to say, “We are good friends…”

Going into the final, Gauff established an array of Paris “The Youngest…” including:

– Youngest Player to reach the Roland Garros Women’s Singles final since Kim Clijsters in 2001(who lost to Jennifer Capriati of the US 1-6, 6-4, 12-10 the day after her 18th birthday.)

– Youngest American to reach the Roland Garros final since Andrea Jaeger in 1982 (who lost to fellow American Martina Navratilova, 7-6, 6-1 the day after her 17th birthday) On her six match trek to the final she had not lost a set…

On her six match trek to the final she had not lost a set…

In a word – Remarkable…But Świątek, since the beginning of the year, had been “Eerie…” She had collected five tournament titles before Paris and had won 34 matches in a row (tying Serena Williams and one short of matching Venus Williams 2000 standard of 35)… And she had defeated Gauff in their two previous encounters in 2022.

When it was her turn to speak at the trophy presentation ceremony it was quite obvious that Gauff was distraught but her “class” prevailed. “…this is the first time for me and I want to congratulate Iga…maybe I will get a win one of these days…”

She started to cry but continued thanking her team and the crowd, “…thank you guys…for supporting me even when I was down a match point…” With that she was done, but being “Coco” she turned and said, “…I don’t know where to go…”

Coco Gauff at the Women’s Singles trophy presentation.
Photo: Frank Molter

Świątek took over the “class demonstration…” charmingly offering, “I just told Coco not to cry…now look at what I am doing…I told her the first year I was on tour, I was her age and you are progressing every month…you will find it and be there…look what you have done…

“Two years ago winning this title was something amazing…it wasn’t expected…this time I did everything to get here…it was pretty tough…the pressure was big.”

She paused then moved on thanking the tournament and Polish fans (“I see so many Polish flags…). She paused again offering “It seems like I still need some experience…at the end I want to say some to Ukraine…stay strong because the war is still there…” And the crowd erupted.

She continued, “Since my first speech in Doha basically I was hoping when I do the next one the situation [in Ukraine] is going to get better…but I am still going to have hope…and support…see you next year”.

In the end, it is best to simply say…Rafa and Iga…Très bien

Iga Świątek appreciates her championship trophy. Photo: Laurent Zabulon

Adieu…Au Revoir Jo-Wilfried

When the Roland Garros Men’s Singles draw was published and the match schedule was released, everyone in France, even those who didn’t really follow tennis, wanted a ticket for the first match played on Court Philippe Chatrier on May 24th.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was set to face Casper Ruud in what would probably be the Frenchman’s final singles match.

The packed crowd was treated to a three-hour 49 minute emotional ride that brought an end to the 37-year-old’s 18-year tour career. Ruud won 6-7(6), 7-6(4), 6-2, 7-6(0) but in this setting the score was incidental.

There was some tantalizing shot making by both players but in the end, as has been the case in recent years, Tsonga’s body failed him. This time, it was his right shoulder bicep. It restricted his swing. Clearly, he was in a great deal of pain and eventually asked for a medical timeout. He was going to retire…not from this match. There was no way he was going to stop playing…

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in what would be the final match of his career.
Photo: Pierre Stevenin

Given a wild card because his ranking had dropped to No. 297, he was making his 13th appearance at Roland Garros. His best Paris showings came in 2013 and ’15 when he was a semifinalist. Overall, and it is tellingly coincidental that in his 18 years on tour, he won 18 tournaments. What’s more 10 of them were played in France. In 2017, he was a member of the French Davis Cup team that defeated Belgium 3-2 in the final at Stade Pierre Mauroy, Lille, France.

Tsonga’s most memorable showing was in 2008 when he was an Australian Open four-set finalist to Novak Djokovic, the only set the champion lost during his title run. Ranked No. 38, at the time, it was the Frenchman’s first final and it was also the Serbian’s first triumph in a major. The same year, Tsonga won the BNP Paribas Masters (as the Rolex Paris Masters was titled then). He finished the ’08 season at No. 6 in the rankings and was named the Most Improved Player by the ATP.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeats Mikhail Youzhny in their quarterfinal of the 2008 Australian Open. Photo by Corinne Dubreuil

In February 2012, he reached No. 5, his highest career ranking and was No. 8 at the end of the year. Bursting with athleticism, he played with effervescence that was both wondrous and captivating.

A Muhammad Ali look alike, his personality was as contagious as the former heavyweight boxing champion’s. (In fact, after defeating Kevin Anderson of South Africa, in the third round, at the 2016 US Open, he shadow-boxed, mimicking Ali, before leaving the court.) His bold, at times unrestrained shot making attempts, were appreciated by the international tennis community.

Against Ruud, in the fourth set, Tsonga broke to go up 6-5 but injured his right bicep. He valiantly attempted to serve for the set but, fighting the pain and “the end is near…” emotion, he was able to earn a single point in the game. He then asked the chair umpire for the trainer, who spent six minutes working on the injured shoulder area, to no avail.

Tsonga gamely attempted to compete, as his emotions became more evident. On the fifth tie-break point, he hit a feathery dropshot that Ruud rescued into a lob, over Tsonga’s left shoulder. Being Jo-Wilfried, he responded with a left-handed overhead (he plays right-handed) but lost the point to make the score 0-5.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga struggles to contain his emotions.
Photo by Christian Liewig

The end was near… Battling tears he was barely able to “practice serve speed” his deliveries into play. 7-0… The players shared a caring hug and expressive exchange at the net.

What a captivating, enthralling match. The crowd proved why Roland Garros is such a special tennis venue. It is a shame Tsonga lost but his body has not lived up to its “muscular look” of late. His emotions, though, gave him an opportunity to show how much he cares and in doing so – Why he is loved. What a wonderful conclusion to a singles career for a very special individual.

Tsonga headed to his bench with tears streaming down his cheeks. He paused near his collection of towels, gathered himself, turned around, went back on the court and knelt near the center service line, touching his forehead to the Terra Battue. It was his way of offering a sincere Thank You.

The career celebration that followed left those in attendance, along with television viewers, with one feeling “I am glad I was there…”. Video tributes by Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal were shown on the stadium scoreboard. The one word they all used to describe Tsonga was – Charismatic. In his video, Roger Federer, speaking in French and English, praised him for the battles they had and, as Djokovic, Murray and Nadal said, “…we are going to miss you on the circuit.”

The tribute to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga after his final match.
Photo: Olive Brunskill/Getty Images

Tsonga was joined on court by his wife Noura, sons Shugar and Leelow, as well as his father Didier (from whom he has admitted gaining his strength) and mother Evelyne (who he has said is the reason he is kind). His brother, Enzo and sister, Sarah (and their respective partners) were also on court. 

Members of the Fédération Française de Tennis, coaches from his youth, former physios and a host of others took part in the fête. More importantly so did Richard Gasquet, Gaël Monfils and Gilles Simon, his close-friends and also the players who along with Tsonga were dubbed “Les nouveaux mousquetaires” or “Les néo-mousquetaires” (“The New Musketeers”) when they each became tour successes largely at the same time. Benoit Paire and Pierre-Hugues Herbert were two of the younger generation to also attend.

Readers who are better linguists than the author understand that adieu means goodbye…the end, which happened with Tsonga’s singles career against Ruud. Au revoir means goodbye with the expectation of meeting again…and that is what is going to happen.

His focus is now his “All In Academy” located in Villeneuve-Loubet, a short distance from Nice. And it is safe to assume the same joie de vivre with which he played will be a component of learning Tsonga tennis.

Bien joué Jo-Wilfred…

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga draped in a French flag in Melbourne.
Photo: Corinne Dubreuil

Men’s Doubles Saved The Day…

Depending on multiple factors, Grand Slam finals can be epic or desultory. Iga Świątek’s one hour and eight minute precise performance against Coco Gauff in the Women’s Singles final was deflating. It was not the magnetic showdown between the game’s young stars that had not been hoped for.

Fortunately, the final Roland Garros Saturday was rescued. The Men’s Doubles provided the day with a life raft…one that allowed spectators and those watching on television an opportunity to tighten the straps on their flotation devices and enjoy the rolling waves of a memorable, over three-hour encounter.

In a spellbinding performance, Marcelo Arévalo of El Salvador and Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands, the No. 12 seeds, slipped past Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Austin Krajicek of the US, who were unseeded, 6-7, 7-6(1), 6-3.

It was an electric encounter, matching the thunderous downpour taking place outside Court Philippe Chatrier, which required the roof to be closed.

Krajicek was a 2008-11 star at Texas A & M University. In his final season, he teamed with Jeff Dadamo to win the 2011 Division I Men’s Doubles Championship, which is the only national tennis title in the program’s history.

Simply put every Grand Slam victory is significant but, individually, for Arévalo and Rojer, Roland Garros was momentous. In the case of the 31-year-old Salvadorian, he became the first player from Central America to win a major…ever. Rojer’s age – 40 years and nine months – earned him a place in the tennis record book as the oldest player to win a Men’s Grand Slam Doubles championship in the Open Era.

During the trophy presentation ceremony on court, an emotional Rojer, while holding his one-year son and blinking back tears said, “I’m really proud of that (being the oldest Slam doubles winner). I know I’m getting older and it makes these moments that much more special because you don’t know how many times you have left to play on such a beautiful court at these beautiful tournaments. I’m extremely grateful.”

Jean-Julien Rojer hugs his son while his partner, Marcelo Arévalo, hugs both of them after winning the Men’s Doubles championship. Photo: Actionplus

He added, “We spend a lot of time together living and training in Miami. We decided to play together. I knew this kid had a big heart and he showed it today.”

Some historians of the game are aware that there is more to Miami than the Masters 1000 championship and extraordinary dining and entertainment opportunities. It was also the home of the legendary Gardnar Mulloy, who passed on November 14, 2016, a week before his 103rd birthday. In 1957, he was a 43-year-old “kid” and teamed with fellow American Budge Patty, who was 33, to win the Men’s Doubles at The Championships, which actually makes him the oldest Grand Slam Doubles winner.

Besides residing in Florida, Arévalo and Rojer share two additional similarities. Both played intercollegiate tennis. Arévalo attended the University of Tulsa from 2009 until ’11. Rojer went to UCLA between 1999 and 2002. There are also married. Rojer’s wife is name Eliane.

After the final, Arévalo gave “props” to his wife, Lucia Kovarcikova, admitting, “I think she believe it more than me. At some point she was telling me ‘You are going to win a Grand Slam’. I thought she was saying that because she like me and I was her husband…Thank you so much for trusting me all the way, since we knew each other. I was playing the lowest tournaments and you always believed in me – I love you so much.”

The match stats indicated how little separated the winners and losers. Dodig and Krajicek, playing their fifth tournament of 2022 and having won Lyon prior to Paris, edged the champions 117-115 in the total point category. They also had three championship points which they were unable to convert along with any of the 10 break points they earned. Arévalo and Rojer, though, were one for one.

At the end, Arévalo brought the day’s tennis to a close saying, “I’m so proud to have every one of you staying for the final. You guys made our moment precious. Thank you, Paris and thank you Roland Garros.”

Garcia et Mladenovic étaient incroyables…(Garcia And Mladenovic Were Incredible)

For the French, the match moved from a “Nerveuse” (nervous) beginning to an “Extraordinaire” conclusion. Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic were ahead 5-2 in the third set and Mladenovic was serving for the championship. She had two match points and saved a breakpoint before Garcia buried an overhead on their third trophy winning opportunity. The final score was 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 for the wild card home-country entry over Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula, the No. 8 seed from the US.

The last time they shared the joy of a victory on Court Philippe Chatrier was in the 2016 Women’s Doubles final when they defeated Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina of Russia, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4. The same year they were US Open finalists, won four tournaments and finished the season 2016 ITF World Champions and the WTA Doubles Team of the Year.

Mladenovic and Timea Babos of Hungary were the Women’s Doubles champions in 2019 and ’20. Mladenovic’s four trophies tie her with Gail Sherriff, the former Australian who became a French citizen after marrying Jean-Baptiste Chanfreau and won four times as Gail Chanfreau.

The all-time French Roland Garros Women’s Doubles leader is crafty Françoise Dürr, the 2003 International Hall of Fame inductee, who was a five-time champion. 

It isn’t known if “four” is a significant number for Garcia and Mladenovic but since 2017 they have played four tournaments together, and they seemed to have had a “It’s never over…until it’s over…” pact because on their march to the title four of the six matches they played went three sets.

Clearly Mladenovic, who turned 29 on May 14th, was pleased with the outcome acknowledging to the WTA that she cherishes winning Grand Slam finals adding, “…you always enjoy it… going on the court, giving your absolute best because that’s such an amazing stage.

Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia celebrate winning the Women’s Doubles championship. Photo: Rob Prange

“The crowd this year today was absolutely amazing, it was even more than in 2016. It’s an amazing moment for us to share. We will keep that in our memory.”

Garcia, who will be 29 in October, added, “It’s definitely a big surprise, because in 2016, we were in a different situation. We were both I think in Top 10 in doubles. We were a big team so people were expecting us [to win]. It was not the case this year. I think neither did we.”

Gauff joined an illustrious group, including Hall of Fame players, who have lost in the Roland Garros Women’s Singles and Doubles finals in the same year. In 1989, Stefanie Graf was defeated 7-6(6), 3-6, 7-5 by Arantxa Sánchez Vicario and with Gabriela Sabatini lost to Larisa Savchenko and Natasha Zvereva, 6-4, 6-4. In 1995, Sánchez Vicario lost 7-5, 4-6, 6-0 to Graf and then with Jana Novotná lost to Gigi Fernández and Zvereva 6-7(6), 6-4, 7-5. In 1999, Martina Hingis was defeated 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 by Graf and with Anna Kournikova came up 6-3, 6-7(2), 8-6 short to Serena and Venus Williams. 

Paris Mixing…

Desirae Krawczyk lives in Palm Desert, California, quite near the home of the BNP Paribas Open which is played at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. It is around 143 miles and on the always congested freeways, about a four-hour drive, to Rancho Palos Verdes which is Ena Shibahara’s home.

Last year, Krawczyk was “All-World” when it came to Mixed Doubles collecting trophies at Roland Garros, The Championships and the US Open. This year, Shibahara kept the trophy in Southern California winning the Paris title with Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands, 7-6, 6-2 over Ulrikke Eikeri of Norway and Joran Vliegen of Belgium.

Sorting through the narratives that are part of a Grand Slam tournament triumph are enlightening. In this case the tales were, since this is France, “demi-sagas” which Koolhof and Shibahara brought out following the match.

Though seeded No. 2, they had never met as Koolhof admitted, “I saw her playing a few times at Slams and Masters tournaments so I knew what kind of game she had and it would suit me very well…

But – “It took her a while to respond back…”

Shibahara was born in Northern California (the city of Mountain View) but grew up in Southern California. She played intercollegiate tennis at UCLA and left school in 2019 deciding to turn professional and compete for Japan. The youngest of Yoshiyasu (Yoshi) and Sachiko Shibahara’s children, she has two older brothers, Shuhei and Mizui. As she explained, “When I first started playing, there are five in my family and we played mixed doubles. This is the first thing I played, so it this is very special for me to win the Mixed Doubles at a Grand Slam.

“This was just a dream come true…I am so thankful you (Wesley) asked me to play. It was so much fun.”

Koolhof added, “…thanks for saying yes…Loved playing with you and hopefully we’ll play more in the future.”

Wesley Koolhof and Ena Shibahara celebrating with the Mixed Doubles trophy. Photo: Actionplus

Not to be out done, Eikeri and Vliegen were also playing together for the first time. Whimsically, Vliegen, the former East Carolina University standout, dashed off a message to see if she would be interested in teaming up…and Eikeri agreed.

The result was inspiring. They ousted two of the top seeded six teams and won three match tiebreaks on their way to the final. Reaching the trophy round, Eikeri became the first Norwegian to compete in a Grand Slam final in the Open Era (beating countryman Casper Ruud by three days).

Shibahara’s victory was further noteworthy. Twenty-five years ago, Rika Hiraki and Mahesh Bhupathi, a Japanese-Indian combination, defeated Lisa Raymond and Patrick Galbraith of the US, 6-4, 6-1 in the 1997 Mixed Doubles final. Shibahara wasn’t born until February 1998.

Shibahara and Krawczyk accomplished a Southern California “One Off…” They basically traded the Mixed Doubles championship trophy in back to back years.

Local women, who were among the preeminent doubles players in the game when they competed, never “backed-to backed” the Mixed Doubles trophy. Darlene Hard teamed with Gordon Forbes of South Africa in 1955 and with Rod Laver of Australia in 1961 for the championship. Billie Jean King and Owen Davidson of Australia won in 1967 and she, along with Bob Hewitt of South Africa, claimed the 1970 dashed trophy.

Hall of Famers aside, Shibahara and Krawczyk uniquely stand-alone…

À la carte Champions…

Gabriel Debru of France defeated Gilles Arnaud Bailly of Belgium 7-6(5), 6-3 in the Junior Boys’ title round. A year ago, Luca van Assche, who is also from France took home the Boys’ trophy. This year was the first time the country achieved back-to-backed Junior Boys’ titles since Christophe Casa won in 1974 and Christophe Roger-Vasselin did the same in 1975.

In the Junior Girls’ final, Lucie Havlickova of the Czech Republic downed Solana Sierra of Argentina, 6-3, 6-3. In 2021, countrywoman Linda Noskova was the Junior Girls’ champion.

Edas Butvilas of Lithuania and Mili Poljičak of Croatia earned the Boys’ Doubles title with a 6-4, 6-0 victory over the pair from Peru, Gonzalo Bueno and Ignacio Buse.

In the Girls’ Doubles trophy contest, Havlickova and countrywoman Sara Bejlek defeated countrymate Nikola Bartunkova and Celine Naef of Switzerland, 6-3, 6-3.

Lucie Havlickova with her Junior Singles and Doubles dishes.
Photo: Michal Krumphanzl

With the “Roland Garros Junior Double” Havlickova joined a special group. In 1987, Natasha Zvereva was the first to win both the singles title and doubles with fellow Russian Natalia Medvedeva. (Yet, her younger brother Andrei Medvedev, the Boys’ champion in 1991 and a men’s finalist in 1999, is listed as Ukrainian, having been born in Kiev during the USSR days, as was Natalia.)

Martina Hingis of Switzerland doubled in 1994 earning the Girls’ Singles and the Doubles with Henrieta Nagyová of the Slovak Republic. Hungary’s Ágnes Szávay joined the “doublers” in 2005 winning the singles and the doubles with Victoria Azarenka of Belarus.

Roland Garros Wheelchair competition set a new standard featuring 12 players in both the Men’s and Women’s, along 8 players in the Quad divisions, for a total of 32 participants. (Following the tournament, La Poste issued six new stamps in its “Sport Couleur Passion” series, featuring six different sports, one of which was wheelchair tennis.)

Shingo Kunieda of Japan continued his Men’s Wheelchair Singles dominance outlasting Gustavo Fernandez of Argentina, 6-2, 5-7, 7-5. Perennial Women’s Wheelchair Singles Slam champion Diede De Groot of the Netherlands defeated her regular final round opponent Yui Kamji of Japan. This time the score was 6-4, 6-1.

Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid, the British tandem, are a Men’s Wheelchair Doubles “Royals” and they proved it for the 10th consecutive Slam subduing Fernandez and Kunieda, 7-6(5), 7-6(5). De Groot and Aniek Van Koot, her long-time countrywoman partner, edged Yui Kamigi of Japan and Kgothatso Montjane of South Africa, 7-6(5), 1-6, 10-8 in the Women’s Wheelchair Doubles final.

Players from the Netherlands, Niels Vink and Sam Schroeder dueled in the Men’s Quad Wheelchair Singles final and Vink proved to be just 6-4, 7-6(8) better. They teamed up and won the Men’s Quad Wheelchair Doubles, 6-2, 6-2 over Heath Davidson of Australia and Ymanitu Silva of Brazil.

In the Under 45 Legends competition Arnaud Clément and Fabrice Santoro slipped past Sébastien Grosjean and Cédric Pioline, 6-3, 4-6, 10-7 for the Men’s trophy.

In the Women’s event, Italy edged Argentina as Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone defeated Gisela Dulko and Gabriela Sabatini, 1-6, 7-6(4), 10-6.

Prix Fixe…

During the tournament, restaurants, in the 16th Arrondissement where Stade Roland Garros is located, always offer an array of sumptuous “Prix Fixe” dining opportunities. Not to be outdone, the tournament more than matched the available choices as the following bring out…

King’s Legion…

The inimitable Billie Jean King seemed to vanquish Roland Garros the only way she knows – By being “BJK…”

Billie Jean King, celebrating the 50th Anniversary of her Roland Garros Women’s Singles and Doubles victories, with Gilles Moretton, President of the Fédération Française de Tennis, Women’s champion, Iga Świątek and Tournament Director, Amélie Mauresmo. Photo: Jean Catuffe

In Paris, King was celebrating the 50th Anniversary of her 6-3, 6-3 Women’s Singles victory over Evonne Goolagong of Australia (and the 1972 Women’s Doubles championship earned with Betty Stöve of the Netherlands 6-1, 6-2 over the British pair Winnie Shaw and Nell Truman), on Friday, June 3rd, French President Emmanuel Macron acknowledged her consummate women’s sports and equality efforts presenting her with L’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur (France’s premier civilian award) at the Elysse Palace.

King was also on court during the Men’s final trophy presentation and was effusive in her chats with Ruud and Nadal. King’s recognition was timely since, in the US, June is LGBTQIA Pride Month.

Qualifying – Three Three-Setters…

Playing through the qualifying at any Grand Slam tournament takes special survival skills. At Roland Garros it is even more demanding because of having to grind through opponents on the Terre Battue surface.

Four competitors did that and even more…They all played three sets in each of their qualifying matches to earn spots in the main draw. (Though the men play the best of five sets in the actual tournament, the qualifying is only a three set contest.)

For 25-year-old Nuno Borges from Maia, Portugal, Paris was a first…His first appearance in a major and the first time, other than Estoril, (where he won two first round matches) that he was in the main draw outside of his country. Karen Khachanov, the neutral No. 21 seed, dispatched him in round one 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 

Hailey Baptiste playing the first round of qualifying. Photo: Matthieu Mirville

Hailey Baptiste, the 20-year-old from Washington, D.C. reached the tournament’s second round in 2021. This time out, perhaps undone physically by the repeated three-setters, she was forced to retire trailing 5-2 in the first set against Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine (and there was no explanation why she abandoned the match…)

Fernanda Contreras Gomez, the 24-year-old from San Luis Potosi, Mexico, didn’t follow her successful play three sets qualifying approach. At No. 225, the fourth lowest ranked player in the tournament, she surprised Panna Udvardy of Hungary, 7-6(4), 6-3, for her first Grand Slam tournament win. Daria Kasatkina, the neutral No. 20 seed, ended her Paris dream experience, 6-0, 6-3 in the second round.

ITF World Champions Dinner

The second Tuesday (May 31st this year) the International Tennis Federation hosted the World Champions Dinner at Pavillon Gabriel in Paris. Those honored included;

Novak Djokovic of Serbia and Ashleigh Barty of Australia – Singles Champions
Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic of Croatia, and Barbora Krejčíková and Kateřina Siniaková of the Czech Republic – Doubles Champions
Juncheng (Jerry) Shang of China and Petra Marčinko of Croatia – Junior Champions
Dylan Alcott of Australia, Diede de Groot of the Netherlands and Shingo Kunieda of Japan – Wheelchair Champions Stan Smith of the US – Philippe Chatrier Award

Streaks…One Ends, One Continues

Gian Marco Moroni of Italy defeated Feliciano Lopez in the first round of the Men’s Qualifying Singles, 6-1, 7-6(4), ending the 40-year-old Spaniard’s astonishing streak of appearing in 79 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments.

His journey began at 2002 Roland Garros when he made the Men’s Singles draw as a Lucky Loser. Currently, countryman Fernando Verdasco is second on the “Slams Showing” list at 68.

France’s Alizé Cornet played her first major in Paris as a 15-year-old wild card in 2005. Counting this year’s tournament, the 32-year-old’s total is 61, one short of the women’s record of 62 held by Ai Sugiyama of Japan.

Infirmary Report…

Players and their teams are more willing to provide their bank PINs than they are information concerning injuries/illness.

Alexander Zverev was completely different…and for good reason. Anyone who was watching his semifinal with Nadal will try not to mentally playback the German’s destructive slip/slide.

His right ankle gave way and on Instagram he explained the outcome… “Based on the first medical checks, it looks like I have torn several lateral ligaments in my right foot…I will be flying to Germany on Monday to make further examinations and to determine the best and quickest way for me to recover.”

He added, “I want to thank everyone all over the world for the kind messages that I have received since yesterday. Your support means a lot to me right now! I will try to keep you updated as much as possible on further developments.”

The ever-classy Nadal expressed his care for and concern for “Sascha…”

On June 8th Zverev posted on Instagram from his hospital bed in Berlin – “Next week, I’ll reach a career-high ranking of No. 2 in the world, but this morning I had to undergo surgery…After further examination in Germany, we received confirmation that all three of the lateral ligaments in my right ankle were torn. To return to competition as quickly as possible, to ensure all the ligaments heal properly, and to reclaim full stability in my ankle, surgery was the best choice. My rehab starts now and I’ll do everything to come back stronger than ever!”

Following the final, Nadal admitted, “being unable to feel his left foot…” because he had numbing injections throughout the tournament. (He has had to deal with Müller-Weiss syndrome throughout his career.) Reuters asked Nadal how he had been in Paris with his own doctor (Angel Ruiz-Cotorro).

In regard to the injections, Nadal said, “…I do not want to put myself in that position again…” Talking about upcoming treatment, he admitted, “…It’s going to be a radio frequency injection on the nerve and trying to burn a little bit the nerve…That’s what we are going to try. If that works, I’m going to keep going…” This was said after stating, “… I am going to be in Wimbledon if my body is ready to be in Wimbledon…”

He reported on June 17th that he had been training for five days on the grass courts at the Mallorca Country Club and planned to travel to London three days later to participate in an exhibition at Hurlingham.

Leylah Fernandez playing her quarterfinal against Martina Trevisan.
Photo: Actionplus

Leylah Fernandez’s foot will not be ready. The No. 17 seeded Canadian suffered a Grade 3 stress fracture on the top of her right foot losing to Martina Trevisan of Italy, 6-2, 6-7, 6-3 in a quarterfinal.

Prior to the tournament, last year’s Women’s Singles finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who is neutral, withdrew from the event and the rest of the year because of reoccurring pain in one of her knees (she didn’t specify which one) and the mental anguish that has resulted from dealing with the problem.

Ukrainian Elina Svitolina withdrew prior to Roland Garros due to the stress she is contending with because of the war in her homeland and her pregnancy. As most tennis aficionados are aware Gaël Monfils is her husband.

Right hand and left wrist surgeries kept Matteo Berrettini of Italy and 2019 Singles finalist Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic from competing.

After her Paris experience last year, Barbora Krejčíková should have taken up residence in the “City of Lights”. Instead the lights were turned off…

The defending Women’s Singles champion had spent the three months before Roland Garros not playing while attempting to relieve the right elbow discomfort that had plagued her since the beginning of 2022.

Seeded No. 2 but with scant match play, she was defeated by an inspired Diane Parry who was playing at home (she is French), 1-6, 6-2, 6-3 in the first round. With the loss, the Czech Republic heroine joined Russian Anastasia Myskina in 2005, and Latvian Jelena Ostapenko in 2018 to lose in the first round the years after their triumphs.

The night of the Parry loss, Krejčíková didn’t feel well…The next morning she woke up with a fever…and tested positive for COVID.

The outcome forced her and Kateřina Siniaková, the defending Women’s Doubles champions, to withdraw without hitting a competitive shot at 2022 Roland Garros.

Their countrywoman Marie Bouzkova was also forced to “double withdraw” when she tested positive for the virus. This, after defeating Anastasia Gasanova, another Lucky Loser, 6-2, 6-1 on Sunday the first day of play. Elise Mertens of Belgium, the No. 31 seed, earned a second round walkover.

Looking Beyond Blue And Yellow…

Prior to the tournament both the ATP and WTA objected to The Championships banning Russia and Belarus players from participating. Because of the “exclusion”, the organizations then decided to eliminate ranking points for everyone taking part in SW19. In effect, the decision turned the event into a “Big Money” exhibition. (Total prize money – $50.5 million dollars – for those doing the bookkeeping.)

Naturally, the “Click Story…” journalists were all over the topic. They asked the Russian, Belarusian and almost any player whose home country was near either for comments about not allowing those eligible to take part and/or the ranking improvement lost opportunity.

All the while, the ravaging of Ukraine continued unabated. It was almost as if the struggle, the massive number of deaths and city after city being turned to rubble had become little more than a Blue and Yellow, (the colors of the country’s flag) pennant that was raised from time to time…

Iga Świątek wearing her cap adorned with a blue and yellow ribbon for Ukraine. Photo: Matthieu Mirville

In her first round match, Świątek defeated Lesia Tsurenko, 6-2, 6-0, while wearing a Ukrainian ribbon on her cap which she had done since March.

After the contest, Tsurenko, a Kyiv resident who turned 33 two days before Roland Garros began, candidly discussed with AP (and other journalists), what she had been experiencing trying to play with her mind thousands of miles away.

She offered, “For me, personally, it’s tough to be here…just because I don’t get much words said about the support of my country. And it’s just tough to be with people who look like they don’t understand. It’s just tough…I’m Ukrainian, and there’s a war in my country…I think five players spoke to me…Maybe a few more coaches…But what can I do? “I want people to understand that war is terrible and there is nothing worse in this world than a war…I think when it’s not in your country, you don’t really understand how terrible it is.”

L’Affaire Amélie…Pas vraiment (Not Really)

Last year’s L’Affaire Naomi laid the groundwork for changes in the 2022 Roland Garros tournament operation with regard to the players…

In October 2021, the Fédération Française de Tennis named Kildine Chevalier,  Manager of Player Services & Relations. Two months later, Amélie Mauresmo was chosen to replace Guy Forget as Tournament Director. Mauresmo’s background as a player and a coach (of Britain’s Andy Murray among others) are well known. Chevalier, essentially a journeywomen on the pro tour, has not been recognized for her playing skill but for her ability to “listen and communicate…”

In interviews, the 41-year-old from Lyon, discussed the need this year to be aware of issues like Osaka’s and the importance of not repeating what took place, but “…prevent instead of acting when it is already here…”

To accomplish the task, a “Player Home” was built within the confines of Court Phillippe Chatrier. It had beds and noise reduction headphones, and a room for yoga. Opportunities to discuss breathing and meditation techniques were available and more important, there was access to psychologists or psychiatrists. It was a place to escape and find serenity…

Mauresmo admitted that mistakes had been made in 2021 and the tournament was “treating mental health issues very differently this year…” Part of “The New…” was the “Mental Health Moat”, that was built, without drawbridges, which kept accredited media from the Players’ Lounge/Restaurant, etc. where, in the past, story broadening comments could be collected from competitors, coaches and former participants. The Clubhouse, perhaps in an effort to create a “Monument Historique” was built in an effort to establish a “new” Players’ Lounge/Restaurant atmosphere…but it was a catastrophe because no one, but a few journalists, knew about the gargantuan, basically unused, location.

After its reprehensible L’Affaire Naomi performance in 2021, (which was righteously defended at the closing press conference), the tournament pendulum swung in the other direction. By denying media access, Roland Garros resumed blundering along, “passer d’un extrême à l’autre” (going from one extreme to another).

Amelie Mauresmo at a press conference during the tournament.
Photo: Stephane Allaman

As “The Face…” of the tournament because of her position, it wasn’t the only faux pas Mauresmo made in her debut… As a player, she was candid in her media dealings. Though retired from the tour in 2009, she still practices directness…which cost her when she attempted to explain the complexity of night match scheduling on Court Philippe Chatrier. (Of the 10 sessions, only one featured a women’s match.)

Mauresmo offered, “In this era that we are in right now, I don’t feel –and as a woman, former women’s player, I don’t feel bad or unfair saying that – right now you have more…appeal. That’s the general [reason] for the men’s matches.”

While her candor didn’t match “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” (the “Let them eat cake…” phrase that wasn’t uttered by Marie Antoinette and the word cake wasn’t used…brioche was), she was ravaged for her honesty…and forced to apologize. (Actually, she better explained the situation.) What those who were upset, and there was a battalion of them, overlooked was what she offered, in an attempt to backtrack, “…the night-session broadcast contracts from 2021 through 2023 stipulate that there be just one match. It is impossible to change that…But we still will talk with our partners to think of other possibilities that could satisfy ticket holders.”

She added, “…the comments were taken out of the wider picture…I want to say I am sorry…people who know me…know I’m a big fighter for equal rights…women in general.

“…because we have one match only…we have to take into consideration the length of the match…it’s the fair kind of thing to do for the ticket holders.”

Amazon Prime Video, the internet broadcaster owns the rights to the night sessions, and according to L’Équipe because of the agreement, it shows a feature match even though tournament organizers have the final say.

As Bob Dylan offered in the lyrics of Bringing It All Back Home – “Money doesn’t talk, it swears…” and the resulting revenue enables Roland Garros, to among other things, improve the facility and to increase the prize money awarded.

Returning to Osaka, prior to playing her first round match against Amanda Anisimova of the US, she had an injection to deal with the problem with her left Achilles tendon and she also had the ankle taped. She lost 7-5, 6-4 but was in a much better “mental space…” in Paris this time. She tweeted, “These past few weeks in Europe have been a real character test but I’m glad I came…I’m leaving with a completely different emotion than the previous one.”

Being a Slam Tournament Director requires the patience of Job and the resistance to pain of a Firewalker. Beyond this, it is critical to remember just because an individual was an extraordinary player doesn’t mean she, in this case, (or he, with Guy Forget, who held the position for five years before Mauresmo) has the goods to standing the test of carrying the title. More often than not individuals with a “former star” pedigree learn on the job and succeed if the guidance received keeps them from straying into the mine fields that surround every Slam.

A final thought – After the “Year One…” faux pas assortment, it can only be hoped that Mauresmo and Roland Garros itself, are able to make the adjustments necessary for the tennis in Paris, during the spring, to once again realize its true potential…

Heureusement en 2022…Il y avait Rafa and Iga (Fortunately in 2022…There was Rafa and Iga.)

Title photo by Frank Molter

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