The red clay of Roland Garros is tennis at its finest
Posted: Thursday May 26, 2005 11:14PM; Updated: Friday May 27, 2005 10:00AM
Americans can't seem to get it together in Paris, but don't make that an excuse to miss out on players like Rafael Nadal.
Quick: What are the first thoughts that come to mind when you hear the words "French Open"?
1) Ah, a good time for a nap.
2) When does Wimbledon start?
3) Finally, a tournament where players have to grind it out and display superior shot-making skills to advance beyond the second round.
If you picked door No. 3, you are either a hard-core tennis fan, or you reside somewhere other than the United States. Is it any wonder the second major of the year is little more than a distraction in the U.S., considering the last remaining American men (James Blake and Andy Roddick) both squandered two-sets-to-love leads to lose in five in the second round? And for the second straight year, no American man has advanced beyond Round 2 in Paris.
It's only slightly prettier on the women's side: Of the 13 American women in the main draw, nine lost in the first round and one, Amy Frazier, went down in the second (only after beating another American in her opener). Lindsay Davenport, Venus Williams and Marissa Irvin are the last Americans, and they are barely surviving. Top-seeded Davenport, who went three sets in the first round, was within two points of losing in the second round to Shuai Peng of China, and both Williams and Irvin had to pull out tight three-setters to advance to the third round.
But it's shortsighted to give up on the French simply because the American players can't find their footing. There are so many great players -- true clay-court specialists -- from around the world who can marvel the masses with their tennis artistry. It's time for American tennis fans and the media to look beyond the U.S. borders and discover players such as Rafael Nadal, Guillermo Coria and Guillermo Canas. The red clay of Roland Garros offers drama, excitement and (for lack of a better word) tennis ... the way it's supposed to be played.
Wimbledon and the U.S. Open are exciting for their fast-paced action -- the aces, the big forehands, the piercing volleys -- but the French is captivating in a different way. Simply watching points unfold -- and yes, they actually unfold in Paris -- is mesmerizing. Roland Garros forces players to open their bag of tricks and pull out slices, lobs and drop shots, and it requires patience, mental toughness and heart to succeed.
The French Open is also thrilling for its unpredictability. It's a tournament that has crowned a number of one-hit wonders: Yannick Noah (1983), Michael Chang ('89), Andres Gomez ('90), Iva Majoli ('97), Albert Costa ('02) and (who knows?) maybe last year's champions Anastasia Myskina and Gaston Gaudio. Watching an unlikely champion succeed is why we love sports. We cheer the athlete who defies all odds and wins seven straight matches when no one gave that player a chance to reach the second week, let alone win the championship. From no one to someone in two weeks, now what could be more American? (Think: American Idol.)
So forget all your French Open baggage -- "It's boring," "I don't know any of the players," "I can't find live television coverage" -- and give the tournament another look. This year, thanks to an impressive showing from ESPN (10 hours of live tennis coverage per day), there are plenty of opportunities to appreciate the play at Roland Garros. Sit back and enjoy. You may just rediscover the beauty of tennis on the red clay of Paris. And, if you don't, there's still time to take that nap and dream about Wimbledon, which (for those of you who picked door No. 2) starts on June 20.