THE ANDY RODDICK/JACKIE KENNEDY CONNECTION: The most curious five degrees of separation French Open concoction which came to our minds, went something like this. Andy Roddick‘s coach Larry Stefanki, was coached by the legendary Tom Stow who coached many a Northern Californian, most notably Don Budge who, right after winning the ’38 French championships was invited by the celebrated cellist Pablo Casals to a private concert in the musician’s Paris apartment. In turn, at the height of the “Camelot” days, Casals was invited by President John Kennedy and First Lady Jackie to play at a glittering White House gathering.
THE MOST ATHLETIC PLAYER IN TENNIS HISTORY?: After the ever-spectacular Gael Montfils pulled off an astounding third set dive ‘n scramble winner, his appreciative foe Jurgen Meltzer offered the Frenchman a low-five, the crowd launched a spirited ‘wave’ that circumvented Suzanne Lenglen Stadium and insiders wondered whether Montfils – with his lightning speed, mighty leaps and sensational slides – is one of the more athletic players in tennis history. (Then again Borg, Federer and Nadal, to name a few, are no slackers.)
WHAT MAKES ANDY WIN: After Andy Roddick beat Frenchman Marc Gicquel to reach the fourth round at Roland Garros, he pointed to a baker’s dozen of reasons why he prevailed: 1) Confidence 2) Fitness 3) Patience 4) Pride 5) Variety 6) Movement 7) Sliding into his forehand 8 ) Having already played some clay court matches 9)Taking care of his serve 10) Putting his return of serve in play 11) Sunny weather 12) ‘Jumpy’ balls 13) Dietary changes. Roddick’s coach Larry Stefanki added that the calming effect of his recent marriage to Brooklyn Decker was also a factor. But Andy said his “big plunge was deciding to get engaged” and was actually was dismissive of the impact of his marriage, noting that he resumed training the day after his wedding and the actual “ceremony took all of 15 minutes. It hasn’t really changed our day-to-day existence [that still] goes along the same way as when we were engaged. Nothing has changed in the last two years … I have been training the whole time. It’s not like I took six weeks off. I might have taken a day off. Most people I talk to say that things don’t change a whole lot until you have kids, and that’s far, far away for both of us.”
MISSING MUHAMMAD BADLY?: The stunning resemblence of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Muhammad Ali still amazes. The young French idol – who’s never met the legendary boxer who famously prevailed in the “Rumble in the Jungle” in the Congo, the homeland of Tsonga’s Dad – says he would love to have Ali sit courtside and see him play.
BEING A PRO IS NEVER HAVING TO CRAM FOR A FINAL?: It would be astounding if Andy Roddick ever won the French Open. But if he did don’t expect him to give his acceptance speech in French like the crowd-pleasing Jim Courier did in ’91 and ’92. Roddick, who has been coming to France for 10 years, had a French coach and is sponsored by the French companies Babolat and LaCoste, confided that, like many Americans, his French is suspect. “Just getting through menus and reading it is fine,” he said. “Understanding fair bits is fine. Speaking it is very below average. I can get around and [understand] road signs and I think I could survive if I needed to. But beyond pleasantries, it’s suspect, at best.” As for the possibility of studying French in the future, Andy confessed, “one of the things that being a professional tennis player has afforded me, is never having to go to school again in my life. So I relish that opportunity. ”
DOKIC THE DELICIOUS DRAMA QUEEN: Few other players who have never reached a Grand Slam semi have had more melodrama in their careers then Jelena Dokic, who stormed onto the scene by beating the No. 1 Martina Hingis at the ’99 Wimbledon. Then amidst controversy, she fled her native Serbia with her abusive Dad and dysfunctional family to the supposedly distant and safe haven of Australia. Still controversy shadowed her as her Dad accused officials of rigging the Aussie Open draw against her and her days seemed like they were right out of a “Days of Our Life” script. Still, through controversy, estrangement, wretched injuries and the never easy complexities of young love, Jelena soldiered on, became an Aussie citizen and this January staged a stunning feel-good march to the Aussie Open quarters, a poignant tale of triumph which easily was the most compelling back story of the tournament. After a winter and spring (oh, except for the fact that she told a mag that her bear of a dad Damir abused her, he then got enraged and threatened to bomb the Australian ambassador to Croatia, was arrested and now faces eight years) Jelena seemed to be back in (“Just Win Baby”) saddle again, as she was pummeling the considerable Russian star Elena Dementieva in the second round. Up 6-2 and on serve in the second set, as dusk approached, Dokic was stroking a simple rally forehand when her back suddenly went out and she had to quit the match and the tournament. Drama’s darling, Dokic again gave us abundant tears and a curious story line.
THE POPULARITY PULSE: A poll in the French daily Aujord’hui Sport reported that 66% of local fans prefer Nadal, while 33% voted for Federer … Maria Sharapova said she sensed she was more popular now than when she was No. 1.
SHADOWED BY A CLOUD OF RUSSIAN ANGST: Elena Dementieva.
THE NEUTRALIZING POWER OF CLAY: None of the top four men’s seeds are among the top five fastest servers. The top five are Verdasco, Roddick, Soderling, Karlovic and Berdych.
EAT YOUR HEART OUT GUSTAVO KUERTEN: Who would of THUNK it? Roddick, who rarely has been acclaimed for his touch and finesse, has almost turned himself into a drop shotting demon.
IT CAN EVEN HAPPEN TO ‘GOD’: Federer completely whiffed on a backhand against Paul-Henri Mathieu.
TENNIS’ DIRTY LITTLE SECRET: After Venus crashed out of Roland Garr’s in the third round, marketing whiz John Korff said her exit would “have no impact on her branding or endorsements … Wimbledon and the US Open are brand makers … the French only gets your clothing dirty … [Venus’] clothing line is so obscure that winning or losing will have little impact.”
HENIN IN THE HOUSE: When it was announced that Justine Henin would do a press conference at Roland Garr’s, reporters joked that French officials might just give the former No. 1 a special exemption and slot her right into the draw into the round of sixteen. (Were the press room fantasy to come true, we speculate that even a rusty Henin would do just fine, thank you very much.)
Anyway, the Belgian again told the press how she loves play in Paris.
“This love story between the French Open and me keeps going on,” she noted. “This tournament has been my tournament for so many years.” Since Justine retired on May 14,’08, the No. 1 spot which Henin called home for so long turned into a revolving door. Five different players have camped there. First there was Maria Sharapova, then Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Serena Williams and Dinara Safina. Justine noted that the “tour needs a leader” and that Safina needed to take the “next step” or that Maria might “take the lead pretty soon.” Henin insisted she is not coming back and has “a dream to have children” – but not right now.