Surface Wars (and Other Roland Garros Revelations)

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4502226P SERVICE SHADOWWorld No. 1 Roger Federer ruffled some feathers when, prior to Roland Garros, he appeared to question the completeness of a clay-courter’s skill set.  Said the Swiss: “On clay you don’t need a volley or a serve. You just need legs, an incredible forehand and backhand, and to run after every ball. I’m not trying to take anything from Rafa.  He’s been successful on other surfaces as well. But on clay you can get away, you can be competitive even with a very incomplete game.”

King of Clay Rafael Nadal begged to differ.

“Every guy’s free to have his own opinion,” said the Spanish No. 2, who came to Paris riding an unblemished 15-0 streak on dirt.  “[It’s] important to think [about] how to win the match. Probably on very fast surfaces, that’s not [going to] happen, because you can have one serve and one forehand. That’s the only way for the moment — one serve or one volley…[On clay], you can play with more tactics. You can change your style. You can play attacking.  You can play defending.  You can go to the volley.  You can play with the baseline. So you have many options…I think every surface has difficult things. Sure, have a good forehand, good backhand, good legs and good movement.  That’s not an easy thing.”

“If the court is very fast, you don’t need to have [an] unbelievable physical performance, no? You’re not going to have very long points,” continued Nadal.  “On the rest of the surfaces, you have to be fit. You have to be fast and you have to be an athlete to be in the top position.”

For the No. 3-ranked Novak Djokovic, each surface has its own unique demands.

“Every player is different, has a different approach to the matches, a different style of the game,” said the Serb.  “It’s very individual. Each preference has some difference. I do agree that in a way you have to adjust to each surface. The clay, as the slowest surface, requires a lot of rallies, physical strength and endurance. You have to be ready to play long matches, especially if you have a Spanish or South American guy across the net who’s able to play for hours and hours and produce a lot of spin and get they’re getting all the balls back. Sometimes in those situations [the] serve is not the crucial element in the game, but it is important.”

Venus Williams, who’s excelled on the lawns of Wimbledon (five titles) but hasn’t won a non-grass-court Slam since 2001, says she has a healthy respect for what it takes to win on clay.  “It’s not easy to win on any surface.  No match is a given. Obviously, [clay] is challenging because you have to be patient. A lot of it is definitely mental, especially for most of the successful players.  Most of us are just very aggressive, so to change your mindset enough to be patient on this surface is tough.  The grass is getting slower and slower every year, so the challenge isn’t the same as it was when I first started, let alone, in the ’90s and ’80s.  Hard court — I grew up on that stuff, so most people are pretty good on the hard courts these days.  The clay is probably the toughest.”

Suddenly, it was Federer who sounded as if he were defending the grass-court game.

“On grass it’s good to have a big serve,” he said.  “And then the way you back it up, you’ve definitely got to be able to return a bit and be dangerous off that. Being good off second serves is a good thing on grass, because this is sometimes where it’s gonna be played out.  Anticipation comes with grass-court tennis. You have to read and react very quickly to shots that you don’t normally see.  Hard court — if you want to shorten points, you can do that quite easily, whereas on clay, it’s very hard to shorten points. You get caught up in many long rallies, and then if you do shorten the points, you’re taking all the chances and the opponent’s only happy just to keep the ball in play.”

NOTES:

NO EXPLANATION NEEDED: Asked if he thinks he can win the French Open again this year, defending champ Roger Federer deadpanned, “Yes, I do. You want me to explain, or are you happy? You want me to explain? I won last year, so I think I can do it again.”

DISILLUSIONED?: Fans of Venus Williams‘ revealing “illusion” dress designs may be disappointed to learn that, amidst all the hullabaloo, the American No. 2 might just shelve the look after Roland Garros.  Said Williams, “Maybe after this tournament, illusion may be retired, because it’s not really the point of it all…I may be wearing all the same boring underclothes as the other people.  As great as the design is, I really want the focus to be on the tennis.  So, obviously, wearing lace on the court will still be an amazing innovation, but I’ll have to find a way to try to make it a little less noteworthy.”

SAY IT AIN’T SO: Murphy Jensen is in hot water after he reportedly failed to pay taxes in Georgia and California for several years before filing for bankruptcy last year.  (Jensen is said to have owed more than $1 million in state and federal taxes when he filed for bankruptcy on Dec. 30 in L.A.)

CURIOUS QUESTIONS: A reporter asked Justine Henin, “How much laundry do you generate and do you submit?” to which the Belgian replied, “That’s a crazy question.”  When the reporter asked Novak Djokovic the same question, the Serb said, “That’s the first time I got this question. Interesting.”…Serena Williams was asked, “I don’t know whether you can ‘nail’ this question or not, but what’s the key to a really good manicure? What do you have to focus on?”

DOGGY DAYCARE: Asked if she felt she had any responsibility to represent her country in Fed Cup (she hasn’t played since ’07), Serena quipped, “Well, my only responsibility is my two dogs. So I have to make sure they’re okay and that I can afford to take care of them. That’s the only real responsibility I have.”

SOUL SEARCHING: Rafel Nadal echoed rival Federer’s comments regarding the possibility of Roland Garros moving from its longtime locale on the western edge of Paris (“What about the soul of Roland Garros? This is what we might miss after. So let’s think twice before we act.”).  Said the Spaniard, “If we move elsewhere, maybe the site is going to be bigger, [but] we’re going to lose part of our soul.”

ALL HAIL THE KING: Reflecting on his junior days, Andy Roddick confided, “When I was 12, 13, I was King Push…Then I grew, and all of a sudden I could serve.”

TWEET OF THE DAY

“I hear Sex In The City 2 is really good…and by really good I mean claw your eyes out with a hot firepoker good.” — Andy Roddick

QUOTEBOOK

“The more rain delays there are, the more the press starts looking for things that are not there.” — Roger Federer

“Clay courts is not the best surface for my allergy.” — Novak Djokovic (which reminds us of the time that tennis-player-turned-golfer Ivan Lendl skipped Wimbledon, saying he was allergic to grass)

“I’m going to have to go out there and execute what I want to do, and do it bloody well.” — Lleyton Hewitt on his upcoming third-round match against four-time RG champ Nadal

“I’m in favor of a roof.” — Nadal on the rain delays at Roland Garros

“Had people told me I would be in the top five at the beginning of my career, I wouldn’t have believed it.” — Frenchman Sebastien Grosjean, who will retire at the end of the year after 14 years on the tour

“You know how they say: ‘Sport doesn’t build character. It shows it.'” — Ana Ivanovic on fellow Serb Jelena Jankovic, who mocked her trademark fist pump in Madrid

“It’s kind of like when you miss an assignment in school and they give you a chance to get extra credit. I’ve been trying real hard to get extra credit.” — Roddick (who advanced to the third round via a 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 win over Blaz Kavcic) on missing the Roland Garros warm-ups in Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid