GREEK BOY, SWISS MAN – A Paris Marathon We Will Remember

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Photo: Quest France

Bill Simons

PARIS

Greece is the home of marathons. But today a Greek boy lost a marathon. The 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas fell in a 5:09 epic to a battle-tested 34-year-old, nicknamed “the Stanimal” – Stan Wawrinka.

Often the kid was frustrated. He barked at his box, “You don’t inspire me.” But Tsitsipas inspired millions today. His grit, his fight, his lean athleticism and yes, his flowing beauty made one thing clear: this fellow ain’t soft. He’s no mere free thinker who continually asks, “What’s it all about?”

But Tsitsipas will long be asking himself, “Why could I only convert 5 of 27 break opportunities? Why, in the fifth set, did I falter eight times on break points?”

Yes, this was a battle of two Europeans who have two of the most lethal one-handed backhands in the game. But it was also a battle of a still wide-eyed boy versus a seasoned man. Stan Wawrinka has won three Slams. Stefanos had won none. The Swiss has played 44 five-setters. Stefanos has played 2. In 2015 Stan won the French Open. In 2017 Tsitsipas played the qualifying.

Stefanos’ mentor, Patrick Mouratoglou, told Inside Tennis, “In a match like this, it comes down to execution on the big points and today there was just one stat that mattered – break points. But Stefanos is young. He’s learning. He has no experience. Stan has so much and he came up big. But Stefanos is a great guy. He’s wonderful. He has real drive and is really focused.”

But in the interview room, Stefanos was hardly focused. Red-faced and drained, the Greek all but stumbled in. He barely could function. Almost mumbling, he said that losing in five sets is the worst thing in tennis. And he confided, “I feel exhausted, I’ve never experienced something like this in my life. I felt very disappointed at the end…[It’s been a] long time since I cried after a match, [it was] so emotionally…[It] wasn’t easy to handle. I will try to learn from it as much as I can. I was so close, so close. I gave him room to do whatever he liked, all those break points. So many break points. So many…My mind is so empty right now. I cannot even think.”

But tennis will long be thinking of a brave Swiss man who has shown so much courage on and off court. In 2017 Wawrinka endured a devastating knee injury. And a month ago he boldly spoke truth to power when he wrote the most important tennis letter in decades, a stunning statement of conscience that criticized the ATP for enabling Justin Gimelstob. “Silence is complicity,” he noted. But there was little silence today on Court Suzanne Lenglen. Wawrinka said he’d never experienced a French Open atmosphere like it.

Stan’s next foe will be familiar. He’s played his countryman Roger Federer 25 times. The GOAT holds a commanding 22-3 record over him. Stan knows that stat well. He joked, “I’m not the only one on the tour not winning too much against him.” But this Stanimal ate Roger up en route to winning the 2015 French title.

So while a Greek boy who’s growing in front of our eyes will be going home, the wily Swiss veteran will be front and center on Tuesday in a quarterfinal that could dazzle.

THE BUZZ

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A STRUT AND A STRUFF? The puffy Italian Fabio Fognini has the best strut in tennis, while German Jan-Lennard Struff is the best Struff in the game.

THE BEST PUN OF THE YEAR EMERGED IN “ANNA BLINKOVA EYE:” Madison Keys seemed to be sprinting to a third set win over the Russian qualifier Anna Blinkova. She was up 4-0, but then suddenly dropped four games in a row. All this prompted one press room observer to quip, “Anything can change in Anna Blinkova eye.”

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE AMERICAN POLITICIAN JESSE JACKSON AND THE SWISS TENNIS PLAYER ROGER FEDERER? When campaigning for the Presidency Jackson’s battle cry was “keep hope alive.” While playing in Paris, Federer’s fashion message was “keep taupe alive.” Courtney Nguyen didn’t buy in, saying Roger’s light brown outfit was “very dad.” She added, “It’s very much like a shirt my dad would wear. It’s dad taupe. I prefer my Roger in bright colors.”

WHAT’S MORE LIKELY? Simona Halep becoming the first WTA player to defend her title since Serena in 2016, Djokovic winning his second French title and fourth major in a row, or Rafa capturing his 12th French Open?  

SIGN OF THE TIMES: Jo Konta, the first British female quarterfinalist since Jo Durie in 1993, was asked, “With Serena going out yesterday, is there a growing mood that everyone is beatable?”

RALLY OF THE TOURNEY? A 23-stroke rally deep into the second set of the Wawrinka–Tsitsipas match featured fabulous defense from the Greek, who retrieved three Wawrinka overheads. Ultimately Stan won the point on an oddly anti-climatic and delicate backhand drop shot that clipped the net.

GO FIGURE: Anna Tatishvili was fined a whopping $51,520 for supposedly unprofessional behavior in her first round match…Rafa loves heat, Djokovic not so much…Reddit reported that in the final of a 1994 ITF tourney in Athens, Julia Apostoli, Tsitsipas’ mother, beat Irina Zvereva, the mother of Alexander Zverev…Felix Auger-Aliassime is up to No. 21 in the rankings, but has not yet won a Grand Slam match…The French Open is the toughest of the Grand Slams to win back to back. Since 1945 there have been only 11 title defenses on the women’s side…Naomi Osaka told us she was into the brainy construct called the Venn Diagram.

The French Open is the only Slam that is played over three Sundays and now that we’re more than halfway through this great tourney, here are some takeaways.

  • The top half of the women’s draw is wide open. To reach the semis, Simona Halep won’t have to play a single top 25 player.
  • American men won only one singles match. Taylor Fritz beat the disinterested Aussie, Bernie Tomic, and then lost to Roberto Bautista Agut. With the Bryan brothers’ loss, Rajeev Ram is the only American left in the men’s singles or doubles.
  • American women who are left are Sonya Kenin, Amanda Anisimova, Sloane Stephens, and Madison Keys.
  • The big three are marching on. Djokovic hasn’t lost a set, but Rafa has. Then again, his opponent David Goffin is formidable. Federer faced a set point against Casper Ruud.

HEADLINE OF THE WEEK: Caruso silenced, Djokovic wins.

 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Bill,
    I’m in Hawaii and can’t see much so thanks for the articles. I will try to find a TV for Tuesday’s Swiss battle.

    Is Stan’s letter anywhere I can find. I’d love to read it.

    Hope all is well. One day we will make the French😊🎾.

    Thanks again for all your great stories.

    Your friend,
    CB

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