Wednesday Notebook: Even Pavarotti got the Yips

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TWENTY SOMETHING: Federer‘s astounding record of reaching 20 straight Grand Slam semis is far ahead of any other guy. Incredibly, Chris Evert reached 34 straight semis. Roger was elated, saying, “It’s the ‘in-a-row’ that seems incredible to me. Twenty semifinals is incredible, but twenty semifinals in a row? It’s even more incredible, even to me. Sometimes I lose sight of it because of all the tournaments I play all along the year. You lose sights of these records, but that’s probably the one I’m most proud of.”

NO KIDDING: After getting his clock cleaned by Fed, Gael Monfils said Roger’s “game is a pain in the ass.”

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: So how aware is Federer of Nadal’s absence? S.L. Price dug deep into the transcript of his comments in French the other day, where Fed spoke of his immediate circle, and reported, “None of them came to me and said, ‘Voila, you have to do it [now]; if not, you will never win.'”

GRAND SLAM ADIEU: With the departure of the Aussie Open champs Rafa and Serena, another year will pass without a player winning the calendar-year Grand Slam.

WHAT’S SAID IN ROME STAYS IN ROME: Earlier in the clay-court season in Rome, Serena said she was “the true No. 1,” despite the inconvenient reality that Dinara Safina held the top spot. But after her loss to Kuznetsova, she admitted, with a distinctly sly smile, that the Russian has “definitely authenticated [herself] as the world No. 1. She’s there. She has won four tournaments.”

HOLD AND SURGE: Like Sampras before him, Fed has a tendency to tough out the first set and then, confidence in place, puts the pedal to the metal and surges to routine the match. Ho-hum, does any athlete not name Tiger make it seem easier?

BUT DON’T FORGET ABOUT MASHA: Most consider Serena the toughest fighter in the game, but Sharapova isn’t too shabby herself. Justine Henin, when focused, was an intense battler. Still, over the years the (longevity matters) medal goes to SW, except today, when she was flat in the third and almost seemed indifferent about crossing the finish line.

JUST WONDERING: How many majors would Svetlana (“does she just try too hard?”) Kuznetsova have won if she consistently had the big-time clutch ‘tude she displayed against Serena.

IT’S BEEN DONE ALREADY: Some said that, after his wondrous comeback from two sets down against Tommy Haas, Federer should name his kid Roland. But it’s sort of been done before. Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario’s dog was named Roland Garros.

A TALE OF TWO (VERY DIFFERENT) VICTORIES: Even though the Serbian sirens – Ivanovic and Jankovic – along with Elena Dementieva, flamed at RG, six of the eight French Open quarterfinalists were Eastern Euros, including Miami champ Victoria Azarenka, the surprising Romanian newcomer Sorana Cirstea and three Russians we know well: No. 1 Dinara Safina, Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova. In contrast, aside from Venus and Serena, no American woman made it beyond the second round at RG. So, as a new (post-Serena, Venus and Lindsay) generation of American girls struggles to excel, different theories abound as to why the Russian Revolution has succeeded. Kuznetsova, fresh off her feel-good win over Serena, said, “I believe that the girls work hard to have a different mentality – completely different. Even I have been thinking about this quite a bit, because everybody is thinking and asking questions, why the Russians are so strong. I believe it’s not only coming when we grow up it was so difficult.
It’s also coming through the war, because our grandparents…were fighting in the war and things were extremely hard. They had to go with nothing, without maybe bullets, only with knife, and still to go to war. They teach their kids to be always strong. Always we have difficult moments in Russia when we grow up, and we always learn to be strong…This is one of the keys.” When Inside Tennis then noted that “in the U.S., there’s not a very strong sense of war, but is that still a part of life in Russia?” Sveta replied, “Definitely it’s big. It’s big. I played final on 9th of May with Dinara in Rome this year, and even in Rome I felt this [is] big. They celebrate [Victory Day] in Rome. It’s huge in Russia. Everybody is drinking and having fun and celebrating the victory. I’m very proud for my country that they made it…Everybody reminds about this victory. Everybody is proud for that. Russia is very big patriotic country for me. We still believe a lot in God. Yeah, the war made [a] big change in everybody – even till this point. We will never forget about it.”

GONZO FOREHANDS: Andy Murray said Francisco Gonzalez had the best forehand in the game, in part because he can crank it from anywhere. But, then again, Blake’s rocket forehand is quite the weapon; Nadal’s high-bouncer can be more than imposing; and Fed himself brings a lot of heat when he flattens his forehand out.

I DON’T BELIEVE WHAT I JUST HEARD: RG’s Court Centrale throng whistling in protest to The Mighty Fed after Roger was protesting a call. But, over all, there’s much love for their Swiss neighbor, even when he’s facing a French fave.

EVEN PAVAROTTI GOT THE YIPS: Nerves have been a continual theme throughout the French Open. Nadal, rather surprisingly, confided that he was nervous throughout his fateful loss to Soderling. Even the seemingly serene and calm Federer said, “We’re all nervous at this stage of the competition. I felt it. Yesterday I felt it, and I felt it again today in the warmup…I was tired, I was nervous, and I didn’t feel really good.” Roger said he had trouble sleeping, didn’t eat well and felt dizzy. But, then again, “Once out on court, I get my act together with the experience.”

BEST ARMS EAST OF MICHELLE O.: Gael Monfils.

BUT NOT TODAY: Monfils sported a yellow jersey – the Tour de France – emblem of preeminence.

TIMES CHANGE: On Roland Garros radio, IT’s Matt Cronin said that in the 21st century you can no longer telegraph your shots, you must “tweet them.”

LIKE A GOALIE COVERING THE POST: When you’re at the net and have your foe scrambling wide, you have to first guard against the down-the-line winner.

EASIER SAID THEN DONE: Getting Serena moving on clay.

GO FIGURE: Sam Stosur, the first Aussie woman to reach the RG semis since ’88, has yet to win a tour title.

I AM SAM: Is Samantha Stosur the foremost Sam in the game since Sam Giammalva?

SEPARATED AT BIRTH: Young Romanian Sorana Cirstea and Jennifer Capriati.

MOVING PRETTY WELL FOR A GUY WITH A BUM LEG: Gael Monfils.

HEFTIEST MIXED DUO: Max Miryni/Nadia Petrova.

FUNNIEST DUO: The most comedic players in the game played together and won their first-round match in the men’s 45s doubles. Mansour Bahrami unleashed a series of hilarious, laugh-till-you drop shticks, while Frenchman Henri LeConte is an inspired clown and mime.

LEAN AND MEAN: Even though Ivo Karlovic, John Isner, Sam Querey, Juan Martin Del Potro and others are much taller, at first glance, stringy Gael Monfils, 6-foot-4, appears to be the tallest guy in the tennis universe. Similarly, there are players on the WTA Tour, like 5-foot-11 Daniela Hantuchova, who look taller than Sharapova (or even Venus).

ON THE WATERFRONT: Juan Martin Del Potro said he didn’t have a clue about the origin of his name (which means ‘of the port’.)

IT ONLY LOOKED LIKE JOE THEISMAN: Sveta Kuznetsova took a wretched fall in her match with Serena and emerged coated with red clay on her backside, her forehead and her hair. But, she bravely soldiered on, despite severely turning her ankle.