Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Roland Garros: I managed to see a bit of the Serena match yesterday, while waiting for an oil change. She managed to effectively dispatch a nobody, but given their absence from the spotlight lately, any win is good for the sisters. I see that Justine pulled a Lleyton Hewitt, getting bounced as defending champ by a who-dat (in this case by 85th ranked Tathiana Garbin). Agassi, too, fell to an unseeded player. Could be an interesting tournament.

Of course, a look at the draws reminds the viewer that this is unlike any other slam. See all the French and Spanish surnames? This is the major tour stop for specialty players, clay courters who can't compete on the rest of the tour. It's nice in that it regularly injects a new name into the tennis world -- a name that usually goes straight into the "where are they now?" files. (The last ten years of Roland Garros winners goes: Bruguera, Muster, Kafelnikov, Kuerten, Moya, Agassi, Kuerten, Kuerten, Costa, Ferrero.) The classic serve-volley game does little here. McEnroe never won it; nor did modern volley heroes Rafter, Becker, Krajicek, or Sampras -- the latter of whom rarely bothered to try).

Enough stalling. On to my run down. On the men's side, look for a specialist to win, with an outside chance for Roger Federer. I'd love to see Grosjean win at home, although that means getting past multi-slam winner Federer and previous French Open champ Juan Carlos Ferrero.

On the ladies' side, the French is a more interesting tourney. Evert famously owned it in the 70s and 80s. Seles and Graf split it in the 80s and 90s. Since then it has been up for grabs, with seven different winners the past seven years. With Henin out, the favorites will be Capriati and Serena. J.Cap seems to be nearing the end of her career, and is not going out in a blaze of glory. (She could have retired in 2002 as a legend of early promise finally fulfilled.) Serena and Venus are always question marks. I don't see either one with her heart in the game anymore. They both have the power and stamina to succeed on any given day, but Henin has heralded the return of the giant-killers. The big girls are less fearsome now that the willowy Belgian has shown that giving up seven inches (to Venus) or 20 pounds (to Serena) doesn't spell defeat. This tournament might be just the time for one of the tall, fast "Russian mafia" women to break from the pack. Look for Myskina, Sharapova, Dementieva, Petrova, or a handful of others, similarly named, to threaten at some point.

Razor, I hope you get the chance to chime in. Surely your client will understand if you fail to object at a key point because you were listening to Radio Roland Garros out of your brief bag.

More: Here's a good article on the rise of the specialists on clay. It also handicaps this edition of the annual march of the men with vowel-names, which I simply cannot do. From the BBC, of course, whose web tennis coverage is unrivaled.

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