Novak Tries to Kick the Blues

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Bill Simons and Vinay Venkatesh

Paris

A SOGGY DAY QUOTEBOOK: “I’m so done with this weather!” – A voice in the French Open press room. This year’s tournament has been incredibly wet.

“I do say! I actually see shadows out there! So the sun is coming out!” – Radio Roland Garros

THE JOY OF READING NOVAK’S TEA LEAVES: Novak Djokovic easily won today. But that didn’t prevent the media from its favorite French Open pastime: reading the Djokovician tea leaves. Eleanor Preston said, “There is a shadow of doubt hanging over him…We wonder if there is a lack of motivation. It could have nothing to do with tennis. We are only speculating. Only he knows what’s going on in his head.”

Novak himself confided, “I’ve said recently that I did struggle with motivation on a constant basis…to always have that motivation I’ve had for more than 20-whatever years of pro tennis. I know the moment is going to arrive sooner or later where I’m just going to have off weeks, where I’m struggling to push myself…In terms of my commitment to the practice weeks and practice sessions, that hasn’t gone down…I show up every day on the practice courts and gym and whatever I need to do fitness-wise, mental preparation, whatever it takes.

“I’m focused pretty much solely on Grand Slams and Olympics this year, and playing for my country. That’s something that really drives me the most…It is becoming a little bit more challenging for me to push myself every single tournament.”

BE CAREFUL WHO YOU BAGEL: Is it dangerous, as some say, to win the first set of a match 6-0? Northern Californian Katie Volynets might have an opinion. She played an incredible first set against the considerable No. 5, Marketa Voundrousova, the reigning Wimbledon champ, but then faltered, and lost 0-6, 6-1, 6-4.

WHO RAN OVER SABALENKA’S CAT? Aryna Sabalenka easily won her second-round match, but after she muffed an easy shot, she pouted. Radio Roland Garros noted, “This is pure disgust. It’s like somebody ran over her cat. It’s as if she’s a teen and someone has told her to go and tidy up her room.”

YOU KNOW YOU’RE AT ROLAND GARROS WHEN: As an obscure Frenchwoman, Chloe Paquet, No. 136, is about to topple a seed on a far-away outer court, thousands of fans pack the upper walkways of Stade Philippe Chatrier to root for their young wannabe, Chloe. 

THE NEW NAOMI: WITTY AND WISE: Sometimes with great ease, at other times with plenty of angst, Naomi Osaka continues to evolve. Her right-in-front-of-our-eyes growth always intrigues. Once a wide-eyed innocent who had a Holly Golightly sensibility, she evolved into a social justice warrior and then an advocate for mental wellness. She was candid about her depression and insecurities. In 2021 she bristled and boycotted French Open press conferences. Since then, she’s become a caring mom who seems content within herself, and easily shares her wisdom. Last night she was open and charming. Despite suffering a crushing loss to Iga Swiatek, she said the battle was memorable, and probably the most fun match she’s played. 

Naomi joked, “The results keep on resulting,” and added that she felt she could become a top 5 player again, but admitted that she hoped she didn’t face Swiatek in the first round of the Olympics. 

When asked about her French Open mindset, Naomi confided, “I have my little book, right? In it today, I just wrote: ‘I’m proud of you.’ And, saying that to myself, it gives me a lot of power, because sometimes I curse myself out in my head and it’s quite a negative feeling…It’s really tough coming back from pregnancy and just trying to be kind to yourself and kind to your body. I’m proud of the journey. I’m hoping it will get more and more positive.”

CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Dare we note that, way back when, there were French partisans who removed the heads of folks they disagreed with. Of course, those days are long gone. But French tennis fans can get pretty rowdy. Just ask Andy Roddick or Taylor Fritz. Yesterday fans heckled Belgium’s David Goffin and one fan spat a wad of gum at the mild mannered fellow. 

Plus, the center court crowd was rowdy against Iga Swiatek, and repeatedly called out during play. After her epic win against Naomi Osaka, Iga boldly addressed the crowd, saying that in tennis there’s a lot at stake, the players who work their whole lives for these moments are giving their best, and people should be respectful. 

Tournament director Amelie Mauresmo said the French Open will address this and try to have the most experienced umpires call potentially sensitive matches and move to intervene more actively if things get out of hand. Plus, alcohol will be banned in the stands.

Novak Djokovic conceded that the French fans are extremely passionate, and that he’s had some hard times, too. He added, “I support a player standing up against people who are disrespecting and heckling him. It’s not always possible to tolerate…At times you just have to face somebody that is heckling you…I have been having some love affairs with the fans here, and also some tough matches…I really want to see fans cheering and chanting songs…I think that’s beautiful to experience.”

A BIG DAY IN COURT: While Americans are waiting for a big verdict out of New York City, many in the tennis world are curious what will come out of the Berlin hearing Friday on Alexander Zverev’s domestic abuse court hearing. When asked today whether he would be following the case, Sascha replied, “I have said everything before the tournament.”

AMERICA WATCH: No. 14 Tommy Paul beat Italy’s Fabio Fognini, dropping just three games, while No. 25 Frances Tiafoe fell to Canadian Denis Shapovalov in four sets. No. 12 Taylor Fritz faces Serbian Dusan Lajovic, and No. 27 Seb Korda is set for a third-round showdown against No. 3 Carlos Alcaraz on Friday. Amanda Anisimova lost to Russian Liudmila Samsonova, winning just three games. Danielle Collins fell 6-4 in the third to Serbian Olga Danilovic. No. 14 Madison Keys beat former Pepperdine star Mayar Sherif, from Egypt. No. 22 Emma Navarro plays Italian qualifier Sara Errani, and Bernarda Pera, Peyton Stearns and Hailey Baptiste all play later second-round matches.  

BELLISSIMO SETTE: OMG – there are a record seven Italians left in the draw.

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