Coco’s Paris Coaching Problem

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Photo by Getty Images

Bill Simons

Paris

TALK OF THE TOWN: The tennis world is still debating the moves of the ATP and the WTA to strip Wimbledon of ranking points. Wimbledon will almost certainly not change its position, but there is pressure on the players.

THE CLOUD OF WAR: As a result of the ATP not giving points for Wimbledon, Russian Daniil Medvedev will be No. 1 after the event.

THE LOUDEST SOUND IN THE PRESS ROOM: British writers cheer loudly when Liverpool scores a goal.

COCO COACHING? Coco Gauff became incensed when, in her opening round 7-5, 6-0 win over Rebecca Marino, the chair umpire told her that her dad was “showing signals.” In a rare upset, she told the umpire that she has no signals with her dad. She asked, “What signals is he showing?” She later said that even when coaching is allowed she tells her dad not to coach her and even after the match she tells him to be quiet. She admitted her dad is reactive, but said the controversy fueled her on court.

She confided, “In the middle of points I was thinking, “I can’t believe it happened.” But in the end she said she wasn’t angry at the umpire: “She was just doing her job.”

THE FALL OF AN AFRICAN QUEEN: In January, just as tennis was reeling from the Djokovic COVID controversy, Ash Barty stepped up and became the first Aussie to win the Australian Open in 54 years. Her popular win inspired millions Down Under and resonated around the globe.

Tennis observers were hoping that Tunisian Ons Jabeur might dust up some magic like this at Roland Garros. Jabeur, 27, was born in the small Tunisian village of Ksar Hellal. As a kid she would have to go to hotels to find courts. But she persevered, won the French Open juniors, and reached the quarters of three majors. Considered the best female Arab athlete in history, she told us why she’s a pro: “I’ve been playing tennis since I was a child to inspire Arab women to believe that nothing is impossible. I feel like an ambassador for my country – but also for youth and women.”

This spring she went on a 10-match winning streak. She won in Madrid and then reached the Italian Open final. Now at a career high No. 6, her victories drew admiration throughout the Muslim world. If she made a deep run here at Roland Garros, the most popular African-reared player since Yannick Noah would have inspired millions.

Many felt Jabeur had as good a shot as any. She’s collected more clay court wins this season than any other WTA player, by far. Her speed and nasty drop shots had struck fear into many. Here in Paris her draw was good. She’d won eight straight first-round matches at majors and her first-round foe was not that intimating.

But on this gray Bois du Bologne morning, Ons was not pleased with her 11 AM start time, and the atmosphere on Court Phillipe Chatrier was odd. Maybe Parisian tennis fans were still at Sunday mass or finishing their brunch – few were on center court. But there were plenty of Tunisians flying their red flags and fervently cheering their star.

Surely she’d win. Her foe was “the other Pole,” 33-year-old Magda Linette, ranked only No. 56, with just two wins in 18 matches against top ten opponents. But Ons was off. After winning the first set, she failed to convert any of her four second-set break points. Linette went on to win six of the last seven points of the match to score a shock upset 3-6, 7-6(4), 7-5.

Jabeur said she should have called on her experience. She continued, saying, “It’s really hard to accept that someone who doesn’t have a better ranking than you have [beats you]…But that is what sport is like.” Then she offered a viewpoint that may have surprised her legions of fans: “Maybe it was a good thing to lose today.”

AMERICA WATCH: John Isner, Coco Gauff, Sloane Stephens and Ann Li all prevailed over lower ranked foes. But Jenson Brooksby lost to clay court specialist Pablo Cuevas, and Grigor Dimitrov baked three breadsticks as he beat Californian Marcos Giron 6-1, 6-1, 6-1.

IT’S A TRADITION: How many times have big, high-ranking American power blasters gone to Paris and faced little-known French hopefuls on the back courts of Roland Garros, where passionate French fans back their players with rhythmic clapping, howls of delight and calls of “Allez! Allez!” Today 37-year-old John Isner faced a raucous home crowd backing No. 86 Quentin Halys of Bondy, France. Isner won a close battle 7-6, 4-6. 7-6, 7-6.

After winning those three sets by 7-6 scorelines, he was asked if he gets nervous in tiebreaks. He replied, “Trust me, I’m nervous, but it really helps me to have a big serve.” He then asked the crowd, “If my next opponent isn’t from France, I’d appreciate your cheering for me.”

JUST WONDERING: Today Carlos Alcaraz played his first match on Court Phillipe Chatrier. How many more will he play there?

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