The Fall of the Last American Man in Paris

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60606690PARIS — Robby Ginepri made a big deal of his belief that his “RG” initials were an omen, that they replicated those of Roland Garros, so just maybe he was destined to win the tournament.

Okay, we noted, men with the initials “RN” or “RF” have won the tournament since ’05 and the year before that the tournament was won by an “Argie,” Argentine Gaston Gaudio. But the bottom line was that no player with the initials “RG” has ever won Roland Garros.

But what interests us more is that Ginepri’s full name is actually Robert Louis Ginepri.

So, we presumed the Kennesaw Georgia native was named after the iconic author Robert Louis Stevenson, who (as every English major in the academy knows) is the author of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And if we want to talk about players with up and down (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) careers, Robert Louis Ginepri is certainly in the conversation.

As a kid, he was a hot item. He was No. 1 in the 16s and an Easter Bowl champ and a finalist at the U.S. Open juniors. Clearly, Andy Roddick’s prime junior rival was a player of pedigree. But for the first couple of years of his career, the Atlanta Falcon fan had a bit of trouble taking off, winning just four matches in six Grand Slams.

Then things clicked and in ’04 when he reached the fourth round at the Aussie Open and Wimbledon. Better yet, he achieved his 15 minutes of fame with his break out moment at the ’05 U.S. Open. Since his soaring moment of fame, things have been a challenge. For two years he suffered a neck injury which he had fixed with a surgical procedure earlier this year.

Still, coming into Roland Garros he had won just one match this season. His ranking wasn’t triple digits. But barely, he was No. 98  and he was the last player into the French Open.

But incredibly, in a Parisian landscape without Roddick, John Isner, Sam Querrey or the Bryan Bros., the six-foot Ginepri stood tall.

The last American in the singles draw not only won his first two matches, but then upset former RG king, Juan Carlos Ferrero. Amazingly, this was the first time an American had won a five set match against a Spaniard at the French Open since Pete Sampras downed Sergi Bruguera on dry fast courts in ’96.

In the fourth round against the third best player in the world, Novak Djokovic, Ginepri played a tough first set before and almost broke the Serb’s serve. But, Djokovic managed to break in the ninth game to take the opener 6-4. Ginepri then stepped up, found the open court, changed directions on strokes, repeatedly wrong-footed the former Aussie Open champ and, before you could scream Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, had stolen the second set.

But, once again, Ginepri’s glory was short-lived. Frustrated in his first service game of the third set, Djokovic’s savvy brought Robby down to the turf. If only Howard Cossell were here, we would hear the plaintiff call: “Down goes Ginepri, Down Goes Ginepri.” Uneasy as he laid sprawled on the sticky red stuff, the usually placid workman decided to call on his inner Jack Palance.

No, he didn’t offer a string of macho one-handed push-ups like the actor did at the Academy Awards after he won the Oscar for the Best Supporting Actor. But Ginepri did reel off three rather flawless push-ups. His grandkids and tennis historians will certainly relish the moment. And, Djokovic – the greatest showman we have in the game now – thought the gesture was just dandy. Sometimes, you need to lighten up and have a little respite, he suggested.

But, maybe Robby should have squelched his instinct for this rare flash of showmanship.

On the next point he missed a backhand badly and a once tight match would never be the same, as the far better player pulled away.

Of such moments are matches made.

Ginepri explained: “I felt a little stupid slipping and falling on my face, so [I] tried to get the crowd back … Maybe that took a little bit of my focus away …

I’ll probably never do pushups again on court … It’s one of those things that might work for you, but today it didn’t.

If I win the next point and hold that game, then it looks great.  But I think I won three games after that, so it’s a no‑no.”

Still Ginepri told IT he was ecstatic with his Parisian turn-around.

“To be able to play here and win some matches and beat Juan Carlos in five, definitely was thrilled about that victory.  Then to have Novak one set apiece and having some chances to do something else.”

Still, in the end Robert Louis Ginepri had to admit that his career has been “a roller coaster.”

So was Dr. Jekyll and so was Mr. Hyde’s.

AND NOW FOR A COUPLE OF QUIRKY QUESTIONS FROM THE GINEPRI PRESS CONFERENCE

1.    Q.  What was the lowest you were ever on the computer

ROBBY GINEPRI:  When I first started I didn’t even have a ranking.

Q.  When was that?

ROBBY GINEPRI:  I think 2007, beginning of 2007.

Q. Why?

ROBBY GINEPRI: Good question.

Q.  There was a rumor that said you’d be pumping gas if you weren’t playing tennis.

ROBBY GINEPRI:  Where at?  Chevron or Shell?


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