To win the French, you've apparently got to veg out
Posted: Monday May 29, 2006 2:54PM; Updated: Tuesday May 30, 2006 12:36PM
Jose Acasuso's (above) victory over Frenchman Fabrice Santoro was a match of interest in the players' lounge.
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PARIS -- The first person I saw in the locker room the day after my first report from the French Open was none other then American star Andy Roddick. He teased me about my idealistic depiction of the tournament and all things French.
Well, with a few more days away from American comforts and in deference to Memorial Day back home, rest assured Andy: Today's entry will be more balanced.
I will get my tennis out of the way before I get to the good stuff. Unfortunately, I lost first-round match on Monday, 6-4, 6-4 6-2, to Colombian Alex Falla. Losing is always disappointing, especially at Grand Slams, since those are the tournaments you dream about playing. But clay-court tennis is very challenging, and all things considered, I did the best I could.
I was hoping for a sunny, warm day, as the weather completely dictates the playing conditions here. The warmer the weather, the faster the conditions are. The court dries out and less clay on the court translates to a faster bounce. Additionally, the warmer weather results in the ball moving through the air quicker, which favors an attacking player like me.
Bummer for me that I fell asleep and awoke to persistent rain. The sky finally cleared about 90 minutes before my 11 a.m. match. The beautifully manicured clay courts that I rave about more closely resembled red mud.
In any case, this column isn't about me. Well, not really.
The best place to watch tennis at the French Open is in the player's locker room. We have 18 TVs (not an exaggeration) stacked on top of each other and side by side in an adjoining lounge that is our professional equivalent to loitering around a water cooler. I -- and evidently every other player, judging by my inability to get a seat on the couch -- enjoy hanging around analyzing, commentating and occasionally mocking or sympathizing with my fellow pros.
Monday's entertainment centered on two marathon five-set battles, with cheers and moans accompanying every point down the stretch. A large percentage of the men's draw had its eyes fixed on Nicolas Massu edging Xavier Malisse and Jose Acasuso finally defeating hometown favorite Fabrice Santoro.
With almost every TV showing a different match, there is a feeling of sensory overload. But you would be amazed at how long players sit there staring like zombies. A who's who of French Open champions and contenders can put even the finest couch potatoes to shame. My top four seeds in logging couch time on Monday would have to be Rafael Nadal, Carlos Moya, Juan Ferrero and Gaston Gaudio -- ironically, the last four French Open champions.
I think I just figured out what has been holding me back here in Paris all of these years. It isn't my inferior sliding or my lack of patience on the clay -- it's not enough time chilling in front of the tubes.
Now that I have a plan for next year's event, I'm going make a mental note to bring my own masseuse. I know I probably sound like a spoiled, pampered professional athlete right now, because I am about to complain about the complimentary massages, but here I go.
The masseuses that I have had this year in the training room either must think I suffer from some ultra-sensitivity muscle disorder, or they just plain stink. I would have sworn that with the leverage alone generated from standing above me, they would have been able to muster up more pressure then they did.
I realize the equivalent to a wet-noodle handshake might not regularly evoke much sympathy, but consider that clay-court tennis is exceptionally demanding and those massages are often one of the most important tools aiding in recovery. I'll give both of the masseuses I've had the benefit of the doubt and assume they thought my under-developed legs were unable to store much lactic acid or something.
While I'm on the subject of disappointment, I had a revelation the other day when pulling up to the tournament site in a courtesy car. This experience happens often, and I thought it might be cathartic to discuss it.
One of the truly comical and humbling experiences I regularly encounter is that moment when tennis fans make eye contact with me or someone of my popularity level. I can actually pinpoint the moment when someone's genuine excitement shrinks to curiosity, then segues into disappointment because I'm not the famous player they were hoping to see. It only takes a second, but it's palpable.
Oh well. I still get to play tennis for a living. That makes up for almost anything.
Outspoken ATP tennis pro Justin Gimelstob is a frequent contributor to SI.com. He's in Paris competing in this year's French Open.