Posted: Mon June 11, 2012 9:52AM; Updated: Mon June 11, 2012 12:21PM
Jon Wertheim
Jon Wertheim>INSIDE TENNIS

50 thoughts on rainy French Open

Story Highlights

Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova made history with their French Open wins

Credit Novak Djokovic and Sara Errani for their runs to the Roland Garros finals

Tip the cap to Brian Baker, WTA still has headcases, more thoughts from Paris

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Rafael Nadal
Rain wreaked havoc, but Rafael Nadal managed to defeat Novak Djokovic to win a record 7th French Open title.
Corinne Dubreuil/ABACA
French Open 2012
Day 16
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Day 9
Previous Coverage

PARIS -- Cleaning out the notebook after a soggy 2012 French Open.

• Rafael Nadal will go down as the King of Clay. With seven titles, Nadal now surpasses Bjorn Borg. In eight tries, he has lost one match at Roland Garros. His record on clay since 2005? A whopping 222-9. For all that, Novak Djokovic sure gave him something to think about. Credit Nadal for coming back Monday and taking care of business. But you suspect that, in the deep recesses of his psyche, that third set is lodged in here, fairly firmly.

• Maria Sharapova wins the women's title and the Career Slam. She also becomes the top-ranked female and surpasses $20 million in prize money. (Otherwise, it was a blah week.) She may endorse luxury brands and promote a sort of a breezy glamour. But, truly, she is a tennis Calvinist, whose embracing of hard work is the key to her success. You have to admire any athlete whose motivation doesn't waver with her net worth. Let's she if she can break the streak of a WTA Slam champion making a premature exit at the following Slam.

• Djokovic didn't get his Career Slam or his Nole Slam. He does not hold all four majors simultaneously. He never played his best in Paris. And yet, in a weird way, he can't be disappointed about his French Open campaign. He came back from a 0-2 set deficit in one round. In the next, he staved off four match points -- albeit against a French player. In his next match, he subdued Roger Federer, revenge for 2011. In the final, he sure made Nadal work for the title. Overall, not a bad two weeks.

• A hearty brava to Sara Errani, who won six rounds with clever and creative tennis, custom-made for the clay. Despite her modest physique, she isn't resigned to playing defensive baseline tennis. But you wonder how she can take the next step with such a modest supply of power.

• Anyone writing the career obituary of Roger Federer is delusional. Luckily, he seems not to hear and care for the doomsayers and he's now intimating that he might try to make it until the Brazil Olympics in 2016. Again, he reached the semifinals. Again, his body belies his chronological years. Again, he is the best player in tennis not named Nadal or Djokovic. But I think we can say this: if he wins another Slam, it's least likely to come in Paris. He never looked completely comfortable on the red clay. And in his semifinal loss to Djokovic, you got the feeling he wasn't sure he totally wanted to commit himself to a fight on the surface. The good news: Wimbledon, the Olympics and the U.S. Open are all on the horizon.

• David Ferrer, sadly, will leave on a down note, getting positively tuned by Rafael Nadal in the semis. He should leave with his head, a 30-year-old who has become an elite player simply by outworking everyone else.

• Martina Navratilova noted that Petra Kvitova needs to "clean up her game." I think that's right on. Without ever playing her best tennis, Kvitova reached the semis, much as she did in Australia. Often, she's good enough to get by at less than full gear. But then she met Sharapova and retreated, making sloppy errors, losing her serves at crucial junctures and competing modestly. Kvitova is a very good player. She could and should be a great player.

• The good news for Sam Stosur: After her first round defeat at the Australian Open, she won five matches and reached the semis in Paris. The bad news: her nerves betrayed her again. No way should she have lost that semifinal match to Errani.

• Max Mirnyi and Daniel Nestor take the men's doubles title beating the Bryan brothers in the final.

• Errani went home with one title -- and roughly $1 million in prize money, almost 40 percent of her career total. She and Roberta Vinci won the doubles title, beating Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova in a three-set final.

• The mixed doubles event has taken on additional heft, given that it will be featured in the Olympics. Here, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza took the title.

• You know who fared well this tournament? Tuneup events. Sarah Errani won three of them and then reached the finals. The April and May play of Sharapova and Nadal was predictive as well.

• Esther Vergeer won the women's wheelchair event (see: sun, east). But what do you guys make of this: All four semifinalists were from the same country. I smell documentary. Stephane Houdet won the men's.

• In making the fourth round, Varvara Lepchenko also made the U.S. Olympic team. Or at least she should. There was persistent chatter last week about her eligibility. This seems silly at best, jingoistic at worst. A Christian who felt persecuted in a Muslim country, she found refuge in the U.S. Her family came with nothing. Now they have something. Classic American Dream, bootstrap stuff.

• This we know: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's career will never be the same, having come a point from beating Novak Djokovic and then failing to close the deal. It's up to him to determine what that means. I suspect he's still processing this. He didn't particularly choke. But you can't come within a point of beating tennis' Ubermensch at your home Slam, come up short, and not have that affect you.

• Since the satire drew mixed reviews, we'll play it straight. There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about fourth-rounder Sloane Stephens, not least her positive outlook and disposition. Just give her some time, space and realistic expectations.

• Roger Federer is invariably charitable with young players. But he really extended himself praising David Goffin, his fourth round foe. To our eyes, Goffin recalls a player from an earlier era, modestly sized but a feline mover and smooth striker. Federer sure seems to see something in this kid, which, in itself makes him worth following.

• One last tip of the chapeau to Brian Baker. It's a great story and Baker struck the perfect balance between acknowledging his unlikely journey and not gushing with just-happy-to-be-here awe. We still say he's worthy of a Wimbledon wild card. (Whatever the case, his ranking ought to get him into plenty of main draws this summer.) And speaking of the All England Club being charitable to American dreamers, I defy you to read this and not smile.

• I'm not prepared to write the career epitaph for the Williams sisters. They've never operated by conventional tennis metrics. But seeing Serena lose a match that early and under those circumstances was thoroughly jarring. Wimbledon suddenly becomes an enormous event for her. One former champion posits, "If Serena doesn't win Wimbledon, I don't think she'll ever win another Slam."

• It's easy to like Juan Martin del Potro and that Howitzer of a forehand he possesses. But you have wonder -- well, you don't have to, but we do -- if he's cut out to win seven best-of-five matches over two weeks. To del Potro's credit, he was very stoic in defeat, failing to blame anything on his knee. Yet he pulled out of Queens Club ... with a knee injury.

• This will not go down as one of Victoria's Azarenka finest events. Looking to solidify her top ranking and back up her triumph in Australia, she went out in the middle weekend to Dominika Cibulkova. Her sarcastic line afterwards -- "I'm going to kill myself" -- mimicked her groundstrokes and missed the mark. She was also one of four female players (there were 11 men at last check) fined by the ITF for breach of the code of conduct.

• From the qualies to the quarterfinals, Yaroslava Shvedova should have gotten more credit for her run. She's an athletic and aggressive player and I suspect we'll see her in the second week of Slams again.

• Keep an eye on Petra Martic, a Croatian with all the tools, a fun, attacking style, a creative approach... and an attitude.

• Mikhail Youzhny may have dropped 22 straight points to David Ferrer. But he's making inroads in the "How I expresses my frustration" department. This was from several years ago. This was from last week.

• There's a lot to like about Kaia Kanepi who has gotten herself in fine shape both mentally and physically. We also like her candor. Asked about her game plan when she beat Caroline Wozniacki, she didn't pull punches: What was the tactic leading up to the match? "To play longer points, not to take risk on first two shots and try to spin to her forehand." Well, then.

• There's a fine line between encouraging an athlete to retire (low blow) and assessing how much longer an aging, diminishing competitor will continue to compete (fair game). If any of a dozen players retired after the London Olympics/U.S. Open, it would come as no surprise. Go through the draws and note how many former top ten players are clearly in a deep state of decline.

• With all this jockeying for Olympics roster spots -- Monday is the cut-off day -- spare a thought for Feliciano Lopez. Not only is he a top 20 payer but he reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 2011, the rare Spaniard who is better on grass than clay. Unfortunately because of his country's stacked lineup, he will miss the cut.

• On the middle Saturday, Wozniacki was upset about a "disgrace" (her word) of a line call and asked the chair: "Have you gone to school? I want to ask: have you gone to school?" Within an hour, Julie Goerges -- a true heisskopf, hothead -- was upset about play not being halted for darkness and asserted, "This is not kindergarten, it's a Grand Slam!"

• In a workforce filled with head cases, Svetlana Kuznetsova might be our top seed. In the second round, she absolutely mauled third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, appearing every bit the former champion she is. In her next match against Sara Errani -- a similar player to Radwanska, just not quite as good -- Kuznetsova needed nine games before she got on the board, losing 6-0, 7-5.

Li Na French Open
Defending French Open champion Li Na took a disappointly early exit from Paris.
Getty Images

• Speaking of erratic, Li Na, the defending champ, wins the first set of her fourth-round match against Yaroslava Shvedova. Then she wins two games, dropping the last two sets 6-2, 6-0. Asked about the pressure afterward she put an interrogator in her place. "I just lost one match, so don't try to push me down," Li said.

• Best name to emerge from this tournament? It's close. Either the superhero Blaz Kavcic or the vaguely onomatopoetic Juergen Zopp.

• There was a time when I dismissed accusations of sexism with regards to grunting. There is a difference between Rafael Nadal making noise as he exerts himself chasing a ball into the courtside flowerboxes and Victoria Azarenka's banshee wailing as she hit a midcourt forehand -- the kind she hit in silence moments earlier in warm-up. Yet Marcel Granollers has me rethinking all that.

Speaking of grunting, Ferran Keller of Cambridge, Mass. wrote: "I put my 5-year-old daughter to bed one night and decided to catch up on the tennis action of the day. I turned on the TV and caught the replay of an Azarenka match. From the bedroom, "Daddy, are you playing Angry Birds again?" Meanwhile, across the country, Sajeev of San Francisco wrote: "My 2 1/2 year old son is completely unaware of the shrieking controversy gripping women's tennis. He found me watching some early morning coverage of the FO online and asked, "Why are the they yelling at each other? Are they mad?!"

• I spent some time with the good folks from Al-Jazeera during the event. They claim a real uptick in interest in tennis in the Middle East as well as an expansion in their coverage. Again, assessing tennis popularity can be like squeezing a balloon. It's up in area A; it's down in area B.

• From the full disclosure department: I worked for Tennis Channel during the event. Not implying a causal relationship, but they set ratings records across the board.

• Nice to see Tommy Haas -- who could rival Brian Baker injury for injury -- back in business. The German qualified and then reached the middle weekend before running out of gas against Richard Gasquet. Haas afterwards: "Moments like this, going through qualifying and winning a couple of matches in the main draw of a Grand Slam, makes it worthwhile... You know, I'll try to enjoy and continue playing and continue trying getting better as long as I play." (Speaking of Haas, look for his pal Dirk Nowitzki to show up at Wimbledon.)

• After losing to Stosur, Cibulkova likened the experience to competing against a guy. Sorry to douse a controversy, but I believe she meant it innocently and as a compliment: big forehand, big kick serve wide, heavy strokes. Still, it's probably best if the WTA media handlers told players to steer clear of this imagery. Just too loaded.

• Say about John Isner: it might be a strange mix of sensibilities (the Euro-preppy with the backwards Carolina Panthers cap?) but you have to think Lacoste is getting its money's worth from the endorsement deal. Every time the guy plays, there's the possibility of six hours of air time.

• The median annual income in Tunisia is around $4,000. Tunisia's Malek Jaziri earned roughly nine times that just by reaching the second round. Jaziri was the player bumped when Marko Djokovic -- yes, related to one Novak -- got a dubious wild card at the Dubai event, so his success in Paris seems all the more karmic justice.

• You have to love that agent Morgan Menahem was in Paris with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. And not in the U.S. With his other big client: Tony Parker.

• Who knew? Rick Santorum's brother, Dan, is the CEO of the Professional Tennis Registry.

• I did a piece on this for Tennis Channel, but the food scene is not to be believed. We're thinking this is the rare sporting event at which the food court -- not the ritzy suite-holders dining club, mind you, but the food court open to anyone on the grounds -- serves pate, strawberry soup and pork shoulder with demiglaze.

• What do Cliff Drysdale, Bud Collins, Robin Soderling, Andrea Petkovic, Mardy Fish, Gael Monfils and Kiss-Cam have in common? Sadly, each was absent in Paris. What do Roy Firestone, Bradley Cooper, Omar Miller, Jay-Z and Alex Ovechkin have in common? Each was present in Paris.

• When Andy Murray was robustly booed when he took the court against France's Richard Gasquet, I still say his internal monologue went something like this (same accent, too).

• Djokovic beats Tsonga in a gripping five-setter, staving off four match points and continuing his Novak Slam possibility in dramatic fashion. The very first question he gets asked in the press room: "It has been confirmed that you are going to do an exhibition match in Brazil in November. Are you excited about it? Have you ever come to Brazil? Would you like if the opponent could be Guga?"

• Because... part of being a tennis fan means playing amateur McKinsey & Co. consultant and coming up with improvements. French Open heads must do something about the vast ocean of empty seats in the prime sections. It looks awful on TV to have the world's No.1 player in action and see that the lower seats are one-third full. The sad irony: The grounds are packed beyond belief. Building on a suggestion from Twitter's @snidely, I propose the following. Before the tournament, the lower seats holders are asked whether they want to participate in this program. (Most will, because those declining will be named and shamed.) For a small donation to a charity, common fans can upgrade their seats and sit in swanky lower seats. The catch: when the true seatholders arrive, the squatters must leave. In some cases, the squatters will be disappointed when they have to surrender their seats after a few games. In other cases, it will be a bonanza. In either case, the lower seats are occupied by. And a designated charity picks up a few shekels.

• I got a bit passionate -- obsessed some might say -- about the three-letter name coding they put on television at a most international event. The unrivaled champion is Gasquet-Baghdatis (Gas-Bag, of course) but I liked the Querrey-Tipsarevic (Que-Tip) combo as well. And Susannah of Alberta got into the fun: "How about Isner-Tsonga?"

• No one expected Andy Roddick to do much in Paris. Even at the height of his powers, asking him to get to the second round was pushing the outer limit of expectation. But his four-set loss to Nicolas Mahut on the first Sunday was dismal by any measure. On the plus side, this was an all-time great exchange:

Q. "You had so many reasons for expecting more or less that things could be not as great as you would have expected, so maybe you shouldn't be so bothered by it. I understand it's not easy to accept defeat. It's difficult all the time. But this time you have a lot of reasons for more or less expecting that, or not? Because we see that you were very, very angry with yourself, the situation, you just came out of the court. But is it such a big surprise for you to be in this situation of a loser right now? And the second question is first time Andy Roddick comes in press room No. 2. I'm very surprised. I think you're a big champion and they should respect you more.

ANDY RODDICK: "Wow. Bet you guys wish you could write down what I was thinking during that, right? (Laughter.) This is the point where the older, better version of myself takes a second. You know, you deal with your emotions and I'll deal with mine. I've done it long enough to know what feels good and what doesn't. That out there did not feel good. So as much as I appreciate your best Tony Robbins impersonation, I'm going to handle this how I want to."

• Random Olympic note: We hear the All-England members want use of the Aorangi practice courts during the Games. Thus competitors will have to practice elsewhere -- or use the play courts -- to practice. But remember: past champions are members of the club.

• May we all have this view from our bedroom.

• Ever wanted to help fund a tennis movie? Here's your chance.

Have a great week everyone!

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