Last American in Paris
PARIS -- "Last American in Paris" could be the title of a summer blockbuster movie. The star? Robby Ginepri, the sole American survivor in both the men's and women's singles events at the 2008 French Open. Ginepri would have been an unlikely candidate for this particular casting after entering this year's French Open with a career 0-5 mark at Roland Garros.
Ginepri attributes his vast improvement on clay courts to a host of factors, but none more important than the guidance of coaches Josť Higueras and Diego Moyano.
"Playing on clay is totally different than playing on a hard court," Ginepri said. "The movement, how you need to construct a point, the patience required, Jose and Diego have really helped show me how to best use my game in order to be successful on clay. I grew up on hard courts, so my mindset was always to try and win points, but on clay you can't always go for winners. It is the combination of offense and defense that is most rewarded on clay and that is something that has taken me a long time to figure out."
Ginepri had been floundering for about a year before hiring Higueras last summer and it was a renewed dedication to the game that started with Higueras's demanding training regimen in Palm Springs in November and December that established the foundation for Ginepri's current form.
"I only took one week off in November and December," Ginepri said. "I went to Palm Springs and worked so hard on my conditioning and spent so much time on the court that I now feel strong and fit enough to play the way I need to. I don't need to end points quickly or go for low percentage shots because I'm getting tired. I'm getting in better position with my footwork and, because of that, I am making less errors."
Ginepri's favorite part of the year is the U.S. hard-court season, and he hopes to duplicate his '05 summer that culminated in a semifinal berth at the U.S. Open. Another unforeseen benefit of Ginepri's success in Paris is a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in Beijing this summer.
"I hadn't even thought of playing the Olympics because I was ranked so far behind some of the other players but I couldn't be happier to represent my country," he said. "I consider it the ultimate honor. I have to make some adjustments to my summer schedule now but I am happy to do it. I went to the Olympics as a spectator when it was in my home city of Atlanta in 1996 and ever since I have dreamed of being apart of it."
Another interesting dynamic in Ginepri's coaching situation is that Higueras also works with Roger Federer, Ginepri's possible quarterfinal opponent.
"Josť called me and told me that Roger had contacted him about working with him. I obviously understand that opportunities like that don't come along very often and I didn't want to hold him back from working with Roger. But I also knew how much he was helping me, so we came to a compromise that seems to be working well for both of us. I train with Josť in Palm Springs, Diego Moyano travels with me and is in constant contact with Higueras when we are on the road, and when we are all at the same tournament, like here in Paris, Jose helps me whenever he isn't with Roger."
In addition to his tennis career, Ginepri is also an entrepreneur and philanthropist. He owns a thriving tennis club in Atlanta called Olde Town Athletic Club and the "Ginepri Fund", which benefits the Atlanta youth tennis community.
The last American in Paris is a tremendous talent: a rare player that can pressure his opponent with his serve and return of serve. Those skills, combined with his athleticism, make him someone who belongs in the top echelon of the game.
Former ATP pro Justin Gimelstob will write periodically for SI.com from Roland Garros during the French Open.