FRENCH OPEN: The Rain Falls, The Mind Wanders and the Sport Goes On

Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images


Bill Simons

A WORLD WITHOUT STARS AND STRIPES? Now that No. 6 seed Simona Halep has lost to Sam Stosur, most of the zebra herd (i.e. the collection of players wearing Adidas gear) has been thinned. And not only are there are fewer stripes here, there are a lot fewer stars too. The No. 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7 women’s seeds are all gone.

AGUT AND A GOAT: There is not much of a connection between Roberto Bautista Agut and Roger Federer. The no. 14 from Spain is Agut. The superstar from Switerland is a goat – “the greatest of all time.”

THE RAIN FALLS, THE MIND WANDERS AND TENNIS GOES ON: As rain falls on Roland Garros, questions loom. When will play resume? Will the tournament stay on schedule and finish by Sunday? How much does the extraordinary weather have to do with climate change? Can Cinderella Shelby Rogers go on and find her prince – i.e. more victories? Just how far will the four Americans still in the draw – Serena and Venus Williams, Madison Keys and Shelby Rogers – go?

Then there are other issues. The two little-known European players suspected of fixing a mixed doubles match at the Australian Open were cleared, and the initiative of ITF Executive Director Dave Haggerty to at last radically change the Davis Cup is getting stalled.

Obviously, real-time events in tennis often affect the sport. A good example was when Serena suffered an obviously wretched call at the US Open, the path was opened for electronic line calling to become part of the game. Enter Hawk-Eye.

Now, observers hope that the agonizing delays here in Paris will somehow accelerate the plans to expand the cramped facility and to put a roof on Phillip Chatrier Stadium. It’s a long overdue move. The French Open is the only major without a roof and officials are hoping it will be built by 2020, but there obstacles relating to neighbors, the nearby botanical gardens and assorted permits. A second-rate quality is impacting the place. Maybe it’s all because of  the stratospheric standard set by Indian Wells owner Larry Ellison, but you have to keep up.

‘PARIS SOUNDS LIKE A REALLY GOOD PLACE TO BUY ME PRESENTS’: Andy Murray, despite playing two five-set matches in his opening rounds, has a more than decent chance to win the title. But hopes of both him and his brother capturing titles here were halted when his brother Jamie lost both his fourth-round match (with partner Bruno Soares) and his opportunity to regain his No. 1 ranking in doubles. But two other brothers, Bob and Mike Bryan, saved a match point in their fourth-round match and are still hoping to win their third French Open title.

So, not surprisingly, the sister stories in Paris intrigue more than brotherly tales. Amazingly, 34-year-old Serena and her 35-year old sister are playing to get into the quarterfinals. They are simply the greatest sister duo in sports history. That they emerged in tennis with such skill and conviction and have had such impact is one of the greatest sports stories in history.

Cinderella Shelby Rogers is close to her sister Sabra, a psychologist, who is a key supporter and has gotten Shelby into journaling as a method to retain her focus and, may we say, her sanity.

Madison Keys has long reported that her younger sisters basically could care less that their older sister is a big deal in tennis. They certainly keep it real for Madison. Sharing a bathroom with a sibling will do that. Anyway, Keys offered a delightful conversation with her sister which exquisitely revealed the ‘tude younger sisters can have towards their older sisters. Madison reported that her youngest sister called her last week: “I answered the phone and she was just like, ‘Where are you?’ ‘I’m in Paris,’ [I said]. ‘Are you in the French Open?’ ‘Yeah, I am.’ ‘Oh the teacher asked me about it and I wasn’t sure.’ ‘Yeah, I’m here.’

“‘Paris sounds like a really good place to buy me presents.’ ‘You know, it’s really expensive stuff so I feel like you probably wouldn’t like it.’ ‘No, no, I probably would.’ I was like, ‘We’ll talk about it.’

“Then she said, ‘Okay. Here’s mom.'”

ON THE BALL: Chris Bowers wondered why, in extremely damp and heavy conditions, the French Open ball boys don’t throw the balls to each other rather than rolling them on the moist clay where the balls get heavier and heavier.

MOP CITY: After losing 6-2, 6-1 to Tsvetana Pironkova, Sloane Stephens seemed to set the tone for the tournament, saying the Bulgarian basically “gave me the mop.” With puddles now all around the French Open, authorities could use scores of mops.

JUST WONDERING: Is Novak Djokovic both the most professional ATP player in the game and the most spontaneous? He covers all aspects of the game with focus and attention, and then he sings and dances or poses with ball boys – or he does what he did today, when he walked out on a virtually empty stadium court with an umbrella. It was charming and personable…How embarrassing is it when, like Roberto Bautista Agut, you go for an in-between-the-legs shot and you hit your leg and miss the ball?

FRENCH FINES: The French Open fined Nick Kyrgios $6,200 for an audible obscenity during his third-round match loss to Richard Gasquet. Andy Murray was fined $4,650 and Jack Sock was accessed $3,900 for audible obscenities. Benoit Paire was set back $4,650 for unsportsmanlike behavior and Vika Azarenka was fined $3,100 for racket abuse.

LIFE BEGINS AT 40 – BOB AND MIKE EDITION? After winning Wimbledon in 2013 the Bryan Brothers said they would retire after the Rio Olympics. Now the twins, who are 39 and just won the Italian Open, told the Stanford Daily that they are thinking of playing on.

QUOTEBOOK: “Djokovic and Murray are two players who, when they have the slightest of niggles, we know about it.” – Chris Bowers