Sons Shine in Paris

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Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena beat Denis Shapovalov in an epic marathon. Photo by Getty Images

Bill Simons

PURE JOY IN PARIS: The family of the late Vitas Gerulaitis came from Eastern Europe to North America. And so did Denis Shapovalov’s clan. And, like Vitas, Denis has flowing blond locks and runs the court with an appealing liquidity. His lefty hook serve is almost as wicked as the fabled serve of Gerulaitis’s buddy, John McEnroe. Denis’s backhand may be as beautiful as Tsitsipas’s.

With Federer relaxing in his Swiss villa and Gael Monfils healing his wounds after his first-round loss, Shapovalov was one of the more appealing ATP players sprinting around Paris’s gorgeous clay.

But no more. Despite twice serving for a place in the third round, the No. 9 seed, who reached the semis of the Italian Open and the quarters of the US Open, fell in an epic match against Roberto Carballes Baena. Shapovalov’s effort was hindered by a problematic, crunch-time call by the controversial ump Carlos Ramos. We should add that the Canadian suffered well over 100 unforced errors. 

Shapovalov lost a marathon five-set match to another Spaniard, Pablo Carreno Busta, at the US Open. As Carballes Baena prevailed 8-6 in the fifth today, Ted Robinson enthused, “This is the pure joy of seeing someone, who has worked so long, achieving firsts. A 27-year-old wins his first-ever five set match and reaches his first-ever round of 32 at a major.”

WARDROBE MALFUNCTION: Grigor Dimitrov couldn’t get his warm-up pants off for the toss of the coin against Gregoire Barrere. Oh well, he won the match.

A VERY DIFFERENT KIND OF TENNIS BOOM: A fighter plane broke the sound barrier and triggered a sonic boom that shook Roland Garros.

It was quite a distraction, but it certainly won’t have the impact of possibly the most important distraction in French Open and possibly tennis history. In the 1984 final, when facing Ivan Lendl, whom he’d beaten five times in a row, John McEnroe was up two sets. The New Yorker was in total cruise control and en route to the title when he got upset by some invasive noise from an NBC cameraman. He had a snit, lost his concentration and squandered his one golden opportunity to win Roland Garros. In contrast, Lendl – whom harsh critics claimed was a choker after losing three Slam finals – went on to win three French titles and eight Slams overall.  

SUPERB AND SHAKY SPORTSMANSHIP: Yesterday, Kiki Bertens was cramping terribly all over her body. But her foe, Sara Errani, had no sympathy. The feisty Italian accused her Dutch opponent of acting, and refused to shake her hand after she lost. She even dismissed Bertens, who was writhing in pain, being taken off the court in a wheelchair. 

Roland Garros has a long history of good and not-so-good sportsmanship. When facing Jose-Luis Clerc, Mats Wilander refused to accept a match point, on what he thought was a wrong call. He won anyway…Ilie Nastase was fined $1,000 for untying an ump’s shoelaces…After losing to Steffi Graf 0-6, 6-2, 6-2, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario sniped, “She was very, very lucky. She had some late calls and [hit] some lines on some important points. I was in control of the match and I played really well, but I was not lucky like she was.”… Sergiy Stakhovsky was cited for unsportsmanlike conduct for taking a photo of the spot in the clay where a shot landed near a line. 

Perhaps the most infamous incident of questionable French Open sportsmanship came late in the tight and tense 2003 semis. Just as Serena went to serve, Justine Henin held her hand up to ask for a pause of play. Serena missed her serve, which should have been called a let. However, the ump didn’t see Justine’s hand go up and when he asked Henin to explain, she went silent. Serena lost the next four points and the match. Henin went on to win the title. Only years later did the seven-time Slam champion give a tepid non-apology apology for not admitting she had put up her hand.

SONS SHINE: Ted Robinson was thrilled. After five days of gray, he announced, “In Paris there is literally light. The sun has made a cameo appearance.” 

And now the sons of former pros are, for the most part, also shining as the French Open reaches the third round. Taylor Fritz’s mother Kathy May reached three Slam quarterfinals, and his father was a former pro and collegiate coach. Sebastian Korda’s father won the Australian Open. Stefanos Tsitsipas’s mother won four ITF titles and beat Sascha Zverev’s mother in a final. Casper Rudd is the son of former No. 39 Christian Rudd, who until now was the top player in Norwegian history. Casper recalled, “Every weekend in Norway, it’s usual to go to your cabin or summer house…but every weekend me and my father went out to the courts and played at least six, seven hours…I believed in him, and it’s paying off…He was the guy who put Norway on the tennis map a little bit,” said Casper.

JUST WONDERING: Former No. 1 and US Open finalist Karolina Pliskova (who does so well on the circuit but falters at Slams) lost today, and so did Sloane Stephens, who won the 2017 US Open but has had her troubles since. While we wonder which of these two great players has had a more perplexing career, there is no question which one gave us the more jaunty commentary on Paris. After a great Roland Garros day, Sloane recalled, “The first time I came to Paris, I just fell in love with the Eiffel Tower and being able to walk on the Champs Élysées going shopping, going to Häagen-Dazs every day. I love it more and more every year because I keep finding new stores.” But then, after a rough day on court, she shrugged and said, “Paris is just Paris.”

GO FIGURE: In Paris it’s unique to see someone not wearing a mask…Sofia Kenin’s father was fined $3,000 for coaching…Fabio Fognini and Andreas Seppi lost early. Still, there is the greatest number of Italian men into the third round of any major in the Open era: Marco Cecchinato, Jannik Sinner, Lorenzo Sonego, Stefano Travaglia and Matteo Berrettini.

AND YOU DIDN’T THINK WE WERE COUNTING: With Nadal’s 95th match win at the French Open Wednesday over Mackie McDonald, Rafa has now won 10,002 points.

DJOKOVIC: FLAWLESS AND ALMOST BORED? Ted Robinson noted, “Nothing in life is flawless, but his first-round win [over Mikael Ymer] looked pretty close.” Jim Courier commented, “At times he kind of looked bored out there.” The Serb, who is on a 35-1 winning streak, today notched his 70th victory at Roland Garros, a mark that ties him in second place with Federer behind Nadal. Nole is the second man along with Federer to win at least 70 matches at every Slam. 

UNDERARMED COMMENTARY: When asked about the propriety of underarmed serves, Rafa replied, “If he’s winning, is a good tactic. If he’s losing, is a bad tactic. That’s all.”

CANADIAN MYSTERY: Canada has only 37 million people but is surging in tennis. In addition to vetern Milos Raonic, there is 2019 US Open champ Bianca Andreescu, world No. 9 Denis Shapovalov, bound-for-glory star Felix Auger-Aliassime and Vasek Pospisol. With all this firepower, it’s a little surprising that the two remaining Canadians in Paris are the rebounding Genie Bouchard and the leftie 18-year old Leylah Fernandez, who’s No. 168.

BUBBLE TROUBLE: Many have noted that the bubble in Paris is far less strict than in New York. Canadian Vasek Pospisil said the official French Open hotel had little of the fun of the New York setup. “The US Open made a much bigger effort to make the bubble more comfortable. Every player I spoke to shared that opinion. It’s not easy to be stuck in the bubble…You can’t even get fresh air…Some players are going to be here for two, three weeks, right?…The US Open did a lot better job. There was a game room, an outdoor area with a food truck, an area where you could sit and a lounge. Paris is a tough city because everything is closed. It’s just a little bit more difficult mentally.

NOT FOR BASELINERS ONLY: Denis Shapovalov lost today, but is he showing that clay court tennis does not strictly have to be a baseline game?

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