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2010 French Open Coverage

Day Fifteen Thoughts

 

--- see all matches played today here ---

 

DRAWS


As the fortnight closes on the red clay of Roland Garros, the French Open was restored to its natural order once again. After flaming out in shocking fashion last year, Rafael Nadal came back with a vengeance in 2010 to reclaim the title he has now held five of the past six years. Playing a sublime game at Court Philippe Chatrier, Nadal exorcised his demons of 2009 and swept the only man to ever beat him at this venue right off the clay. Robin Soderling, playing his second consecutive final in Paris, came out the lovable loser yet again -- he has pulled off the upset of the tournament each of the past two years, but he has failed to close the deal and win his first Grand Slam title on both occasions.

The Swede conquered the man who had bested him in the final last year, Roger Federer, in the quarterfinals. Just as he ended Nadal's run toward a fifth straight title last year, this year he pulled off another shocker and stopped Federer's streak of 23 straight Grand Slam semifinals appearances. But against Nadal this year, his mesmeric spell over the Spaniards was quickly quelled. Nadal meant business, closing out the match with calculated fury in a 6-4 6-2 6-4 final in which Soderling never looked close to gaining the upper hand.

I woke up groggily, having come closer to four than six hours of sleep the night before for yet another evening. It was about 6:45 am here in Eugene, mid-afternoon over in Paris. I fired up the computer and put on the match. By that point Nadal was already serving to close out the first set. His serve was on fire, holding all throughout the match. Not once did he crack 200km/h on his serve, the benchmark for men's tennis these days, but he put 77% of his first serves into play and won three-quarters of those points. He served up just one double-fault, in the first set after he had already stolen a break in the frame and not in a situation where he would lose the game. Two more breaks in the second set, pouncing on back-to-back Soderling service games to serve out for the two-sets-to-one lead. He would snag a third straight break on Soderling's opening service game of the third set. It would prove enough to hand over the title his direction just over two hours after both men started with hope in their steps.

Today was definitely all about the recoronation of the man from Mallorca. Nadal may be a Spaniard by birth, but given the way he has owned Roland Garros since first playing there in 2005, he might just be on the fast track to honorary French citizenship. Over the course of this year's seven Open matches en route to the title, Nadal never dropped a single set. He never even faced a set point from an opponent. Now 38-1 lifetime on the clay of Paris, the Iberian wunderkind continues to write his case as the best clay-court player of the sport's long history.

A couple years ago, after Nadal had won his fourth straight title at Roland Garros and equalled the feat of the man long believed to be the best ever on clay, Bjorn Borg, I was involved in a debate about each man's merits in discussion of the "greatest of all time" on the surface. Back then, I was still vociferously in Borg's camp. Now... it's getting harder and harder with each victory on clay to argue against the Spaniard. He will now turn his focus toward regaining his Wimbledon title after missing the British tournament with tendonitis last year, another clay season in the books... but thanks to his rise back to the top of the heap at the French Open, the debate rages anew...

 

Nadal and Soderling weren't the only draw on this last day, though. All four players in the other two finals played on this Sunday, the two girls and two boys finishing out the respective junior singles tournaments, had provided thrills throughout the tournament. Not one of the finalists was a seeded player when the French Open started; along their path to the final, the quartet had taken out the #3, #4, #9, #15 and #16 seeds on the girls' side and the #4, #5, #9, #11, #14 and #15 seeds on the boys' side.

The girls took to Court 2 first. (Why they relegated the juniors there and had the legends of the sport crowding out Court Suzanne Lenglen is beyond me, and why they were placed over in the shadow of Chatrier on Court 2 instead of in the bowl of Court 1, the tertiary show court of the facility eludes my understanding, but hey... they were at least in from the Siberia-like Courts 17 and 18!) Ons Jabeur, the 15-year-old Tunisian who had defeated top-16 players Caroline Garcia and Irina Khromacheva in her quest for the final, was hoping to add her first Grand Slam juniors title to her two African U-16 titles. On the other side of the net, Elina Svitolina of Ukraine had rebounded from her ouster with partner Lyudmyla Kichenok from the semifinals of the doubles draw to reach the finals in singles. Breaking quickly, Svitolina grabbed the first set 6-2 in just 25 minutes. Jabeur woke up in the second, battling and swapping breaks with the Ukranian before succumbing to her opponent with a fatal break to give Svitolina the 6-5 lead to serve out the match. Separated by just a month in age and with three more years of juniors eligibility (if they choose to use it), we'll see these two in contention next month at the Wimbledon juniors and at Grand Slam juniors tournaments for several years to come.

The boys came out right after Svitolina wrapped up her title and bathed in the accolades and awards due her status as victor. Tennis fans in the United States would have reason to take particular interest in this match, as Andrea Collarini was trying to become the first American male since Andre Agassi in 1999 to win a singles title at any level at Roland Garros. After #4 Jiri Vesely had to retire while down 5-4 in his first-round matchup, Collarini had powered through Mikhail Biryukov (not to be confused with the former USSR soccer goalie), Renzo Olivo and doubles winner Duilio Beretta to get his chance against one of the vanquished finalists in that doubles match, Agustin Velotti. Both young men gutted out a tense final, taking nearly two hours to decide a champion. In the end, it was Velotti who got the only two service breaks of the match, and the 18-year-old from New York City missed his chance to wave the Stars and Stripes in his last juniors shot before rising to the adult ranks.

 

It's been one hell of a tournament once again. We now turn our attentions to the grass-court season, culminating in Wimbledon which begins in just two more weeks. The men and the women will disperse once again on the ATP and WTA Tours, qualifiers will begin soon enough at Roehampton, and we'll be immersed in the pageantry of the All-England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club. But before we begin to smell the fresh-mowed turf underfoot, sit back and bask one last time this spring in the crushed limestone and red brick that constitute the "clay" of Stade Roland Garros. Dusty and sated, the various champions now turn their attentions toward other endeavors, but the clay will always smell a little sweeter every spring for having taken the title in Paris at the 2010 edition of the French Open...

 

 

Thanks for tuning in for the past two weeks of French Open coverage! Stay tuned here in the Non-Traditional Sports World... we will soon be starting daily coverage of the FIFA World Cup, Tour de France and Wimbledon. And to keep up with all of Bigalke's writing, follow me on Twitter or Facebook!    

 

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