2010 French Open Coverage
Day Thirteen Thoughts
- MEN'S SINGLES
- WOMEN'S SINGLES
- MEN'S DOUBLES
- WOMEN'S DOUBLES
- MIXED DOUBLES
- BOYS' SINGLES
- GIRLS' SINGLES
- BOYS' DOUBLES
- GIRLS' DOUBLES
- WHEELCHAIR BRACKETS
People like Esther Vergeer and Shingo Kunieda have long captivated me with their grace and fluidity and power -- all while rolling through the clay in wheelchairs designed for sport. While most people were focused more on Serena and Venus Williams overpowering Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik to take the women's doubles title 6-2 6-3 to prevent walking away from Roland Garros emptyhanded, I was more interested in how the wheelchair finals played out.
Out on Court 7, the day was dedicated to these athetic achievements off the beaten path of the ATP and WTA Tours. Kunieda, up first against Sweden's Stefan Olsson, wasted little time in capturing his fourth consecutive French Open wheelchair singles title. Before Olsson had time to get comfortable on court, the Japanese world number-one had finished off the match 6-4 6-0 in less than an hour. The two men would meet again later in the day on opposite sides of the men's doubles final.
Next up, though, was Vergeer. Up against compatriot Sharon Walraven, Vergeer was hoping to replicate Kunieda's feat and win her fourth straight French Open singles title as well. Walraven, who would play later alongside Vergeer as the two women played for the doubles championship, enjoyed no sense of camaraderie from her teammate and countrywoman in this match. With cold-blooded ruthlessness and efficiency, Vergeer conquered her fourth Roland Garros singles title in just 49 minutes. The first set took just seventeen of those as Walraven was demoralized. By the end of the 6-0 6-0 drubbing, the vanquished underdog would wind up winning just 18 points throughout the match. Victory was Vergeer's... though now the competitive juices would have to be tempered as the two women prepared for their doubles final together.
Kunieda, partnered with Stephane Houdet, had already this year taken the Australian Open title. In Melbourne, they had played against Maikel Scheffers and Robin Ammerlaan, former partners of Kunieda's with whom he had won two Australian Opens (2007 and 2009 with Ammerlaan) and the 2008 French Open (with Scheffers). There Kunieda and Houdet prevailed, a straight-sets 6-2 6-2 victory handing them Kunieda's eighth and Houdet's third Grand Slam doubles titles. They had a chance to expand the fruits of their partnership this time against Olsson and Ammerlaan, those two partnered this time in what is sadly still a sport with just a few truly elite talents at this level. Houdet and Kunieda got the early jump, racing to -- what else? -- a 6-2 first-set lead. Ammerlaan and Olsson, though, are no strangers to pressure, and they battled back for a 7-5 second set. In doubles at all but the top level, if two sets yield no winner the third is played out with just a race to ten points, service alternating like in a tiebreak. Both teams battled gamely around the clay, until finally Kunieda and Houdet prevailed for number nine and number four respectively with a 10-8 survival in the third.
And then it was Vergeer's chance to come out and replicate what she had just done in singles -- win a fourth consecutive French Open doubles crown. No longer adversaries on the singles court, she paired up with 2008 Olympic doubles gold medalist Sharon Walraven (who won with Katie Homan in Beijing) to take on the top team in the tournament. Daniela Di Toro, the only woman to deal Vergeer a singles defeat over the past decade, was partnered with Aniek Van Koot... and both were playing in their first French Open this year. But the surroundings didn't phase either woman. Vergeer and Walraven jumped out to a 6-3 first set victory, but it wouldn't last. Di Toro and Van Koot returned the favor in the next set, forcing another race to ten for the second straight wheelchair doubles final. It wasn't even close -- but the defending champion would be on the losing side of the equation. Di Toro would be mentioned once again as Vergeer's vanquisher as she and Van Koot soundly won the third set 10-4 and claimed the title at Roland Garros in their first attempt...
Not all the action involved championship tennis, though... the men still had to settle out the semifinals and see who would play one another on Sunday for the spoils. It was a half-likely quartet -- everyone expected Rafael Nadal to be here, and the way Robin Soderling played last year it wasn't that shocking to see him at this point (though the fact he took Roger Federer out to reach the semis was shocking in a big way). But few expected that it would be Jurgen Melzer and Tomas Berdych opposite those two, playing further into a Grand Slam draw than either had done before and just a step away from competing for a most unlikely title.
To this point, surprise semifinalist Tomas Berdych had played like anything but a surprise. From the first match of his run, when Chile's Jorge Aguilar took him to a tiebreak in the first set and would realize that the Czech meant business, Berdych had breezed through his first five matches. He had dropped not one set in a run of play that included staight-set defeats of #17 John Isner, #4 Andy Murray and #11 Mikhail Youzhny in succession. His first serve was deadly in the tournament, and he was blowing past rivals that should at least have presented more of a challenge. The shock was not that Berdych was winning (though the fact he was stringing them together in a Grand Slam tournament was unprecedented for him) but how he was defeating opponents.
Isner was cast aside in an hour and a half, allowed just five games in his pocket as Berdych broke the 6'9" American's normally-strong serve seven times in the rout. Against Murray, one of the top five players on the ATP Tour over the past few years, he played an uncharacteristically sloppy game -- but the Scot played equally greusome tennis, and Berdych still had his serve humming (when he got it in) to the tune of a 92% guarantee if the first one was in play. Against Youzhny, who was as hot as any player entering this tournament after his BMW Open win in Germany right before Roland Garros, Berdych won ten more points on his serve despite getting twelve fewer into play. Somehow, all the magic was in the Czech underdog's racquet as he emerged onto court against giant-slayer Robin Soderling.
If only Berdych hadn't dropped his first set of the tournament, it would be him awaiting his shot at the championship. But Soderling won the first set 6-3, and the invincible facade had cracked. Berdych would dust himself off and claw right back into the match. In fact, had he won that first set, the match would've been done in straights yet again. Berdych rolled to 6-3 and 7-5 victories in the second and third sets to deliver him to his first Grand Slam finals appearance. The Swede, though, had other ideas. Having been to the final last year, beating Nadal en route to his finals loss to Federer, Soderling has craved a return appearance and the champion's crown this time around. Playing with the desire which has seen him pull off one impressive feat after another the past two seasons, Soderling won another 6-3 set to tie things up at two sets apiece.
Berdych hadn't been in this position before. He had been playing on borrowed time, the carriage that carried him to the semifinals finally devolving back into a jack-o'lantern. Soderling powered through the final set for the 6-3 3-6 5-7 6-3 6-3 victory, an oddly balanced scoreline that belied the talents of both men. While the Czech didn't advance to contest the final, merely making it this far -- one rung higher than his previous best, a quarterfinal appearance at Wimbledon four years ago -- in a Grand Slam tournament a testament to the 24-year-old's improvement over the past fortnight...
So it was Soderling awaiting his finals opponent. Would it be Nadal, returned to the site of his greatest glories and after revenge after the Swede knocked him out last year in the fourth round? Or could Jurgen Melzer, the Austrian who had unexpectedly clawed his way through to the semifinals with an upset of #3 Novak Djokovic in the quarters, pull off another improbable result and reach his first Grand Slam final after never having before advanced past the third round at any of them?
The smart money was on the Spaniard getting his chance to right his wrongs against the only person ever to defeat him at Roland Garros. He came out strong, getting three straight breaks of serve to win out the first and second sets 6-2 6-3. But even as he was bursting ahead for a two-sets-to-love lead against the unheralded 28-year-old on the opposite side of the net, my wife was sitting here watching with me and noticing that he was being a little tentative, getting that look of concern on his face any time a shot didn't land right. She left for work, and as soon as she did I started watching Melzer inch his way back into the competition.
In just 71 minutes, Nadal had himself one set away from redemption, a triumphant return to his rightful place atop the clay-court game at its most hallowed venue awaiting his closing of this match. 59 minutes later, he could finally breathe a sigh of relief as he survived a brutal third set to win through in straight sets. Melzer didn't make things easy, just my astute wife noted right before departing for her Friday. After listlessly getting blown around the court the first two sets, the Austrian anchored himself and started making shots. Taking two breaks out of the four-time French Open champion, Melzer forced Nadal to answer with two of his own just to force the tiebreak. And at several points, it looked like the set might just go Melzer's way and extend this out further.
But Nadal is a champion, lest we forget, and a champion knows how to close out a match when its conclusion is near. He survived the early Melzer lead and bulled ahead to close things out on the fourteenth point of the tiebreak. 8-6 wouldn't be the prettiest of scorelines after his more decisive results earlier in the match, but it was good enough to earn him his rematch with Soderling.
So as we dove into championship weekend with the wheelchair finals and the doubles coronation of the Williams sisters, the picture became a little clearer. We know who our final two in the men's bracket are now; we also have seen the junior draws whittled down to their final matchups as well. (Watch out for surprise upset specialist Ons Jabeur on the girls' side, American Andrea Collarini on the boys'. The top two seeds remaining in boys' doubles were both eliminated, setting up the #7 team against an unseeded pairing of Argentinians which includes Collarini's singles final opponent Agustin Velotti.) So enjoy the weekend, even as I have to return to work following my "weekend", and may the apex of the tournament's tension and drama help you remember all that is good in sports...