French Open Sunday


NO PRESSURE, ROBBY, BUT … : If Robby Ginepri somehow downs Novak Djokovic, the Georgian would become the first American man to reach the French quarters since ’03.

INITIAL CRITICISM: Ginepri says it’s no coincidence that he is doing well since he has the same “RG” initials as Roland Garros. But critics were quick counter that it has been a long six years since an “Argie” (i.e. an Argentine) has won RG (Gaston Gaudio in ‘04) and there are no more “Argies” left in this year’s  draw. BTW: A “RN” or a “RF” has won the men’s championships each year since ’04. “RL” — that would be Rod Laver — won it in ’62 and ’69. But Robby, no “RG” has ever won the men’s or women’s title.

YOU WOULDN’T WANT TO MEET HER IN A DARK ‘ALLEZ’: There’s the Big Apple, the Big Sombrero, The Big Cat, the Big Unit and the Big Train, among others. But our Nickname of the Day is the Big Allez, for little Justine Henin.

FADING STARS: With the exits of Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Roland Garros  lost plenty of star power today. But Raj/Rafa (that would be Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal), Serena and Justine are all still in.

COMPARATIVE RACKET SMASHING: Stan Wawrinka, after blowing a shot against Fed, did a workmanlike job in destroying his racket. But it didn’t measure up to Vera Zvonereva’s snit-fit in Charleston.

MASHA MAKES MERRY: Despite a valiant effort Sharapova (not that surprisingly) went down to the Queen of clay, Justine Henin. But that didn’t stop her from being rather humorous in her post-match press conference. Our three fave examples:

1) Q.  In the entire third set you played incredible tennis. You are very aggressive, very long.  I don’t recall you playing that incredible game here.  You definitely can win the French Open if you play like that, don’t you think?

MARIA SHARAPOVA:  Can you come to every press conference of mine?

2) Q.  Even if the fans were supporting Justine today, the French fans … [felt] you give them exactly what they wanted today.

MARIA SHARAPOVA:  I gave them a win for Justine?  Is that what you’re saying?

3) Q. I know you players can’t do a great deal about the scheduling, but were you rather surprised that a match between you and Justine, which was the best match of the day, would have been scheduled yesterday behind two men’s matches which could have gone five sets, therefore there was a great chance you would probably not start until 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening?

MARIA SHARAPOVA:  I’m going to be politically correct on this answer … Wouldn’t you want that little drama for your English papers?

FRENCH FRIED: With the withdrawal of Tsonga, there are no more French in the French Open singles. All of which brings to mind the iconic John McEnroe quip that France would be a great country, if there were no French there.

AUSSIE DREAMING ON SUCH A SUMMER’S DAY: There is a remote chance that Sam Stosur and Jamila Groth might meet in the semis. That, according to one saucy American wag, would be an “Aussie wet dream.”

DECORUM GONE WILD: We don’t imagine that the NFL’s Ray Lewis says “sorry” when he crushes Tampa Bay’s Cadillac Williams coming through the two gap. But tennis is rather more proper. Players are continually apologizing for let chord winners, errant ball tosses and even drop shots. Today, Elena Dementieva even apologized for a let chord rally which set up her opponent, Chanelle Scheepers, who blaste a brutal winner.

SAY IT ISN’T SO: Henin, who ‘only’ has four French Open crowns, is seeded No. 22.

CAUTION — FASHION POLICE BRUTALITY ALERT: We are waiting for fahionistas to issue an edict banning players from showing oh-so old-fashioned lace when, on cold days, they wear oh-so-contempory track suits. Hey Nadia Petrova, we love you to bits, but there is just something too incongruous about the contrast the sleek warm-up and the way frilly lace.

JUST WONDERING: Are the Williams sisters far more intimidating as a doubles   team then they are as individual singles players? … How many games, if any,  would the Williams sisters get off in a match against the Bryan Bros.? … Does Sharapova have  the most intense game face in the women’s game this side of Victoria Azarenka?

CROWD CONTROL: Japanese subways are packed. Indian spiritual festivals, like the Kumba Mela, have suffered fatalities just from overcrowding and human stampedes and Times Square on New Year’s Eve ain’t a stroll in the Park. Anyway, the main promenade at the French Open isn’t quite that crowded, but it can get mighty cozy.

ADVANTAGE WILANDER: The tennis highlight show on the Eurosport network, which is hosted by Mats Wilander, is called ‘Game, Set and Mats.’

COMPARATIVE BATTLERS 101: The conventional wisdom is that Serena is the toughest battler in the game, followed pretty closely by Henin and Sharapova. So after Serena came back to beat Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova we looked ahead to the Henin-Sharapova match and tried to get Serena to reflect on the great competitors in the WTA.

Q.  Again today we saw what a fighter you are.  Many say you’re the best fighter in the game.  Real good match coming up between Justine and Maria.  Maria has that real fierce Russian thing going, and Justine is real scrappy, and never says die.  If you had to go out on a limb, who do you think is the toughest mentally, the biggest fighter?

SERENA WILLIAMS:  Well, I don’t know if there is a bigger fighter.  I think Maria is — What makes her so good, she never gives up.  That’s one thing I love about her, is that even if she’s down … 6‑0 and something.  She was still fighting.  I actually learned from that.  I love that in her game.  And Justine, obviously, is incredible, because she got to the finals of Australia and a final before that, and she just came back.  She’s won a tournament, you know, so that definitely takes a lot of talent and unbelievable fight.

Q.  Jimmy Connors always used to say that when all is said and done, he would put Pancho González out there.  So if you had to choose between the two to put them out there, who would you go? Who would you choose if you were a captain of a team to go out on court to play a really tough match?

SERENA WILLIAMS:  Yours truly.

FAREWELL, JEANNE AUSTIN: One of the great matriarchs in the game has passed. Jeanne Austin, 84, was the mother of Hall of Famer Tracy and Riviera Country Club pro Pam, son John who heads a 25-court tennis complex in Surprise Arizona and Doug who was a fine college player. Many stories abound about Southern California’s tennis mother of all mothers who reigned during the tennis boom.  She played tennis the night before she gave birth to Tracy who started to play just two years later. For years, Jeanne worked the tennis shop at the Kramer Club in Rolling Hills Estates CA in the tennis friendly hills south of L.A. and would famously tell tales of how kid Tracy would come off a tough match on court and then joyously go off to play with other kids in the club sandbox. Supposedly she would sew Tracy’s legendary pinafore dresses and field many an inquiry from assorted manufacturers – Pony, Spalding etc.  Tracy famously brought down the mighty Martina Navratilova to win the U.S. Open at age 16 and she joined brother John to win the Wimbledon Mixed championships in ’80 just in time for Borg and Mac to come on Centre Court to play their “Battle of 18-16” – maybe the greatest match of all time.  But there are few “maybes” about Jeanne Austin.  Married to her husband George for 64 years and the mother-in-law of the spunky fitness guru-ess Denise Austin, she was one of the great tennis mothers of all time.