This was hardly Babe Ruth swatting home runs in Durham, North Carolina, or Michael Jordan going to the rim at “the Cage” – Greenwich’s Village’s West 4th Street public hoops court. Rather, this was Andy Roddick, the mighty mojo man and former No. 1 with the fastest serve on the planet, out on Court 2 no less, playing Czech Ivo Minar, in the French Open’s second round.
Okay, here there were no hamburger smells, like the backcourts at the U.S. Open, and this was not the dreaded old upset Court 2 at Wimbledon – the graveyard. But make no mistake about it, Court 2 – Roland Garros’ fourth most important venue – is strictly Triple A: part outback with just a hint of Siberia. Cramped and contained, this tiny (“hypochondriacs need not apply”) court has more nooks and crannies than a morning English muffin. The oddly conformed walls, quirky overhangs and balconies remind aficionados of Ivan Lendl being taken down by a now forgotten Brazilian, fresh-faced Martina Hingis winning the junior title and many a Slovenian doubles duo reaching for fame. Hanging from rafters – French fans wrapped in their wondrous shawls, Belgians in blazers and Americans with their little cameras and twangy (“there’s no place like home”) accents – pack the place. Here a ferocious battle of sounds unfolds. Outside the boulevard buzz of Avenue de la Porte d’Auteuil imposes: the distinctive two-tone staccato of Parisian police sirens, the crescendo roars of motorcycles and the bruising base bravado of trucks desperately in need of a tune-ups. Meanwhile, back on the court, we heard sounds of slithering 200 pound athletes sliding on clay, the occasional obscenity and, of course, THWOCK – the distinctive blast of Roddick’s mortar serves.
Displaying his new found athleticism, unleashing surprisingly successful forays to net and even delivering a few delicate drop-shots, Roddick, fluid and easy -groundies ablaze, was on the cusp of a straight set win, when his Czech foe pulled a forehand wide in the third set tiebreak to give the American a convincing 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (2) win.
Barking a celebratory yell and waving to all, Roddick smiled as the cozy crowd cheered “On-dee, On-dee.” At least for ’09, Court 2 had its Andy Warhol/15 Minutes (well 1:51) of Fame moment. And Roddick, the last American male tennis player still standing in the Parisian Spring, did what he hadn’t done since ‘O1. He reached the third round of a nemesis tournament. Still he was cautionary. “I mean, I’m not going to sit here and jump up on a soap box like I’m really good on this stuff now because I won two matches. I think that’s what you need to guard against.” Now Roddick will next meet the erratic shotmaker, Frenchman Marc Gicquel, presumably on a court far from the truck fumes, where fans will not need hang from ancient rafters.