Alize Cornet’s Poignant Farewell

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Bill Simons and Vinay Venkatesh

Paris

YOU KNOW YOU’RE AT ROLAND GARROS: In France’s biggest tennis arena, a loud, brassy band backing a Spanish legend, Rafa Nadal, plays a fabled Swiss anthem, the William Tell Overture, that was the inspiring theme song for the long ago American cowboy, the Lone Ranger. 

NOVAK DJOKOVIC’S PANDORA BOX: Something’s going on in the Djokovic world, and what it is ain’t exactly clear. It’s not just that he hasn’t won a tourney since November or that he’s fired his coach, his managers and his fitness man. But what is it? 

Novak actually told the press that he’s dealing with a Pandora’s box of issues. Now every tennis sleuth worth his spyglass is dying to know just what’s in the box.

DJOKOVIC HIRES A BORIS AGAIN: Novak revealed that he’ll be working with Boris as his new coach at Roland Garros. It’s not Boris Becker, but Boris Bosnjakovic, a 50-year-old coach at the now defunct Novak Tennis Center in Belgrade.

AIN’T THAT THE TRUTH? After noticing that Andy Murray was once again barking at his box, commentator Marcus Buckland said, “If you’re a part of the Murray support team, you just have to sit there and suck it up. It’s part of the job description.”

CORNET SHOCK – SHE PRAISES JOURNALISTS: France’s Alize Cornet lost today to China’s Qinwen Zheng and then retired. In her career, Cornet won the French Open junior title and got to No. 11 in the world. But what was her greatest accomplishment, playing a record 69 consecutive Grand Slams, beating Serena three times in a row in 2014 or writing three books – an autobiography and two novels?

Alize said the highlight of her career was reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals when she was 32. Then again, from the media’s point of view, her greatest accomplishment was heaping praise on journalists. In her post-match press conference, she told stunned writers, “I’d like to say dear journalists…I think that this collaboration [between us] was very fruitful, very pleasant. I always had the impression that we worked hand in hand to help me deliver my messages…in the best possible way. I often felt kindness. It was a wonderful adventure.”

When asked what advice she’d give her younger self, she replied, “Just say, ‘Stay as you are and be yourself. Don’t fight to be perfect, because you will never be perfect, and you will waste a lot of energy doing so. Be genuine, loyal and truthful, and people will accept you as you are, or not.’” 

The popular veteran confided, “I dreamt of Rafa all night long. He suggested we play a three-setter in Strasbourg, and then I would be with his family, we would win, we would celebrate. So I woke up this morning, and I thought, ‘Oh, well.’”

She then mused, “Now I can say it’s over. I did my best…[Now] the lifestyle will change completely. That frightens me, because…I need to find purpose again…and understand what I’m going to become…[and] work out a new state of mind…I will miss this discipline, because it becomes addictive. I don’t want to grow away from it that far.”

Cornet said she wanted to be remembered “as a genuine player with a fighting spirit who shared all her emotions with everyone…a passionate player, who likes to fight and who could die for it.” 

NADALIAN IMAGES: We remember photos of young Nadal in pirate pants, his bulging muscles, closeups of his gnarly hands, Rafa embracing his ace rival Roger Federer, his biting the trophy year after year, or caressing it with a dreamy reflection, his falling to his knees in triumph or – yesterday – waving farewell.

FOREVER YOUNG: We recall that six years ago Rafa said, “I always wanted to be young. Even when I was eight years old, I was not very happy, my birthday, to be nine…I haven’t found the way to stop that watch.”

So maybe it is not all that shocking that Nadal, who turns 38 next week, got his age wrong while trying to tell the French Open crowd what the tournament meant to him. “I never could have imagined when I was a kid that I would be here almost 28 – 38 – years old,” he chuckled, realizing his mistake, and then said, “I would love 28!”

RAFA (AND OTHERS) ON RAFA :

“Rafa is Hamlet. He has more questions than answers.” – Sports Illustrated

“Rafa needs the pain, he needs the conflict, he needs the antagonistic nature of competition.” – The Tennis Channel

“My job is to find myself.” – Rafa

“My body has been a jungle for two years. You don’t know what to expect. I wake up one day and I found a snake biting me. Another day a tiger. I have been in a big fight with the things I went through. But the dynamic is positive the last few weeks.” – Rafa in his press conference Monday

“Doubts are a part of this life. Doubts are good. I doubt about myself. Persons who don’t have doubts are arrogant or not intelligent.” – Rafa

“Have you ever seen anyone who has the same sense of recognition of the rhythms of a clay court match as Rafa?” – Mary Carillo

 “You can’t be frustrated…because the neighbor has a bigger house or TV or a better garden. That’s not the way that I see life.” – Rafa

“It’s hard to say ‘I don’t believe in God. I would love to know if God exists. But it’s very difficult for me to believe…If God exists, he’s intelligent enough to do the important things, the right things.” – Rafa 

“Rafa is a gentleman – his humility is touching. His expression can be dreamy. But it is his will that defines him. Standing in triumph, his back coated with his beloved clay, his hands lifted to the Parisian heavens, before us is one of our greatest sporting warriors of all time.” – Inside Tennis

“Because of tennis, I’ve lived experiences that I could never have imagined. I’ve had successes I could have never dreamed of. I’m so grateful.” – Rafa in his Monday press conference

SKIP THE HOOPLA: The French Open had a farewell homage planned for yesterday to honor Rafa’s career. But he asked them not to do so.

SUBLIME ONE-HANDED BACKHANDS: On the opening day of the French Open, Stan Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet put on a full display of two of the most beautiful and effective one-handed backhands tennis has ever seen. After one of the Swiss’ backhands, Radio Roland Garros commented, “That was one of the incisive, inspiring shots we’ve seen.” Gigi Salmon reflected on Gasquet, saying, “With his backhand it’s like he’s swishing a wand. What he can do with that backhand is absolutely sublime.”

SEEDS TOPPLE: Italian Open finalist Nicolas Jarry, the No. 16 seed, and No. 6, Maria Sakkari, have crashed out.

SAY IT ISN’T SO: On Monday two players, Alexander Zverev and Brazilian Thiago Seyboth Wild, who have both dealt with serious domestic abuse issues, appeared back-to-back on Court Phillipe-Chatrier. 

THE BATTLE OF THE ELDERS: Andy Murray’s 37. He’s won three Slams and two Olympic gold. He’s ranked No. 75, has had two hip surgeries and claims one of the better two-handed backhands in the game. After Novak, Roger and Rafa, he is the best player of our era. 

Stan Wawrinka, like Murray, has won three Slams and he’s done that in some measure because he has one of the best one-handed backhands ever. At 39, he’s even older than Murray. Never mind that he’s forever been in the Swiss shadow of Federer – he has Olympic gold, he was once No. 3 in the world, and he’s now No. 98, and he’s endured two devastating knee surgeries. Since 2006, 13 of the possible 72 Slams have been won by players outside of the Big 3. Six of them have been won by Stan or Andy.

In the opening round Sunday night, Wawrinka won convincingly, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2. The Swiss veteran, who triumphed at the French Open in 2015 and reached the 2017 finals, would heap praise on Murray, saying the Brit is one of the hardest workers in the game. Andy admitted that his body just isn’t the same as before, but added that he’s still  “enjoying, giving it a go.” He has insisted that this year will be his last on the circuit. A Wimbledon farewell would be a storybook ending. But is the door still open just a bit? We’ll see.

LOOKS CAN BE DECEIVING: Radio Roland Garros said, “When you see Andy Murray come on the court you think he is the most unfit sportsman in the world. Then he springs into action.”

AMERICA WATCH: Winning women’s matches Monday were Coco Gauff, Bernarda Pera, Danielle Collins, and Haley Baptiste. On the men’s side, No. 14 Tommy Paul won in three sets, No. 15 Ben Shelton prevailed in four sets and No. 25 Frances Tiafoe won in five sets. Rain has delayed much of Tuesday’s play.

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