By Bill Simons
Now that we are a little more than halfway through the French Open, here are our top ten stories so far:
1. AMERICAN WOMEN ROCK: For the first time since the ’04 US Open, four American women—Serena Williams, Sloane Stephens, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and Jamie Hampton—reached the fourth round of a Slam. With many others—Madison Keys, Varvara Lepchenko, Mallory Burdette, and young Taylor Townsend—making noise, things are certainly trending upward for the red, white, and (no longer so) blue.
2. STEADY AS YOU GO: All of the top seeds are still in contention. Never before have a quartet of ATP players been so totally dominant.
3. THE OLD MEN AND THE SEEDS: It took 35-year old Tommy Haas 13 match points to beat John Isner en route to becoming the oldest man to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal since Andre Agassi in ’05. The long-injured No. 34 Tommy Robredo, whose ranking was recently in the 400s, beat Nicolas Almagro to become the first player since 1927 to win three consecutive matches in a row from two sets down.
4. EVEN THE MIGHTY STRUGGLE: Struggling mightily against the white-hot Frenchman Gilles Simon, Roger Federer, 31, barely avoided his earliest exit in a Grand Slam since ’04, reaching the quarterfinals of a Slam for a remarkable 36th-straight time and gaining his 900th ATP win. The king of clay, the supposedly dominant Rafael Nadal, lost the opening set in back-to-back early-round matches.
5. THE MOTHERS OF YUGOSLAVIA: Yugoslavian Catholicism gave us Mother Theresa. Yugoslavian tennis gave us Mother Jelena. Novak Djokovic called Jelena Gencic, who died at age 76 this week, his “tennis mother.” The groundbreaking coach guided Monica Seles, Goran Ivanisevic, and Djokovic, who she discovered in a mountain village when he was six.
6. BIG MAN, LONG MATCHES: What is it with 6’9″ John Isner? Is it just that he can’t avoid five-set matches? The towering American has now played 17 of them, including two at this year’s French. He beat Ryan Harrison in the first, then survived 12 match points before succumbing to Tommy Haas. Isner played a whopping 121 games in those two matches. He’s only won five of his 17 five-set marathons.
7. SLOANE’S SASS IS BACK: We loved the Australian Open semifinalist Sloane Stephens in part because she had such sizzle. But after a contentious time in the media spotlight and some dreary results on court, Stephens became indrawn and sullen. “Paris is Paris,” she sighed early on here, as if she couldn’t be bothered to even give a shout out to a town she loves. Not surprisingly, as she fought her way to the fourth round, the outspoken, free-form Sloane reemerged. One example: “It’s just I’m really enjoying myself off the court. I mean, more shopping, like every day I’m buying stuff. People don’t understand, at 20 years old I can do whatever I want.”
8. VENUS’ ECLIPSE?: Venus Williams lost in the first round and then withdrew from the doubles. Questions abound: should she have even played in Paris? How long can she go on? Struggling with health issues, she already has withdrawn from three tourneys this year. Her serve was so problematic that one reporter asked, “Was that a serve or a lob?” But remember: you never, ever, want to write off a Williams.
9. MISSING IN ACTION: The only two male players not nickamed Fed, Rafa, or Nole to win a Slam since 2005—Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro—withdraw before the tournament began, due to injuries.
10. CLIMATE CHANGE, WHAT CLIMATE CHANGE? Hasn’t Paris in the springtime always been just like this—cold, gray, and well…downright anti-Parisian?