The French Bakery and Another Djokovic Miracle

0
714
Photos by Bill Simons. Collage by Frances Aubrey

Bill Simons

Paris

ANOTHER MIRACLE – DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN FOR DJOKOVIC: The question was obvious. After his 4:29 marathon that ended at 3:08 AM, how would Novak Djokovic bounce back against the No. 23, Argentine Francisco Cerundolo? 

Then again, no one treats his body with more care than the Serb. He’s super human, right? And just about 38 hours after he finished his win over Italian Lorenzo Musetti, Nole sprinted to a one-sided first-set 6-1 victory – what a miracle worker.

But even miracle workers have their limits. And early in the second set, Nole began to grimace, rubbed his right knee and asked for a medical time out. He laid on his back as the trainer stretched his right leg.

Now the defending champ started to move gingerly. His movement to his right was labored, his sliding was compromised. Often he bent over. He tried to shorten the points. He didn’t chase down dropshots. His tank seemed empty.

He pleaded with the supervisor to sweep the court to even the surface every two or three changeovers. “What harm could it do? It would help the players.” But he was rebuffed.

Commentator Marcus Buckland was worried: “I’m starting to get very concerned for the world No. 1.” Simon Cambers added, “There were moments when it looked like Novak couldn’t even walk.” 

Djokovic dropped the next two sets and was down 4-2 in the fourth. There was a hush in Court Philippe-Chatrier. Would Nole fail to get to the quarters of a Slam for the first time since 2020? 

Then Cerundolo blinked. He double faulted and dumped a forehand into the net, enabling Novak to score a critical break and get back on serve. Were the Serb’s painkillers finally kicking in? Did Novak have one more great escape within him? For the first time since 2004 would none of the Big 3 make it to the quarterfinals of the French Open? With a loss, Novak would lose his No. 1 ranking to Jannik Sinner.

But now his painkillers began to kick in. He moved with newfound ease. He hit harder and dug deep. His forehand punished. His dropshots were cruel. What athlete in professional sports is more resilient? Who locks in more at crunch time? 

Novak broke Cerundolo’s serve to even the fourth set 4-4. Then, after the Serb was unable to convert three set points, Francisco, who has a losing record in majors and has never gotten beyond the fourth round of a Slam, netted a forehand. Nole grabbed the fourth set 7-5. 

Doubters claimed, “You don’t get over a bad knee just like that.” Others countered, “C’mon – we just saw this rodeo the other night.” 

Djokovic’s champion’s will has no limits.  He went up 2-0, 30-0 in the fifth set. Then, inexplicably, the ever turbulent GOAT started barking. Today he’d blamed the groundskeepers, the supervisor and the net cord that seemed mad at him. Now he shouted at his box.

His wife Jelena finally stood up and let him have it. And Cerundolo let him have it, too, as he broke back to even the fifth. Then, when Nole was up 4-3, he stroked a fierce, brave winner to the back line to break.

On the 38th birthday of his greatest rival, Rafa Nadal, it was Nole who was reborn. When a Cerundolo backhand landed just wide, the tennis gods seemed to have smiled again upon the mountain man from Serbia. Novak’s 6-1, 5-7, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 win was a 4:39 not-so-pretty master class from the 37-year-old who performs deeds we mortals merely dream of. 

In just over a day and a half, Nole twice prevailed in 9:08 of exhausting tennis. Plus the man who has, time and again, smashed the record book added three more records: the latest match to ever finish at Roland Garros, the most Grand Slam quarter final appearances in history (59) and the most Slam matches ever won, 370, which is one more than Roger Federer.

“These numbers are just goofy,” said Jon Werthiem. “But there are some things he does that are just unquantifiable. That persistence that so often prevails.” 

Even more to the point, Paul Annacone noted, “We should enjoy him while we still have him.”

QUOTES OF THE DAY: 

“Look at the sun, it’s so, so beautiful.” – an Indian traveler near the top of Court Philippe-Chatrier. 

“Your heart is so big. I don’t know how it fits in your body.” – Court announcer Mats Wilander to the Italian quarterfinalist Jasmine Paolini.

THE BAKERY IS OPEN: At first, business at tennis’ most famous bakery was slow. In her first three matches, chief baker Iga Swiatek didn’t cook up any bagels and had only one breadstick. She beat Leolia Jeanjean 6-1 in the opening round. But the Pole made up for her slow start by demolishing Russian Anastasia Potapova 6-0, 6-0 in 40 minutes. It was the quickest win of Swiatek’s career – and the second shortest completed French Open match, after Steffi Graf’s 32-minute triumph over Natasha Zvereva in the 1988 final. Swiatek is on an 18-match win streak at Roland Garros. Tennis book publisher Randy Walker did some groundbreaking research on all this. He reported, “I just googled, “How long does it take to bake a bagel?” and it said 30 to 45 minutes ‘or until puffy,’ so this was about right.”

THE MAN WITH A MUG, A MEDAL AND NO FLAWS: In France, instead of buying a key chain with a miniature Eiffel tower on it, you might want to pick up a John McEnroe coffee mug for $13.99. It reads, “My greatest quality is that I have no flaws.” 

Maybe this is why the other day at the Élysée Palace, French president Emmanuel Macron presented McEnroe with his nation’s Legion of Honor. Other Americans who’ve won the award, which began in 1804, range from Disney and Dylan to Thomas Edison, Eleanor Roosevelt and President Eisenhower. 

MEDVEDEV’S DINNER: Inside Tennis asked Daniil Medvedev if he could invite three tennis people to dinner, who they would be. The Russian said that he’d want the dinner to feature an honest conversation. He said he’d invite Novak, John McEnroe, and the provocative former Russian tennis player Yevgeny Kafelnikov. (And here’s an odd factoid: both McEnroe and Kafelnikov were coached by Larry Stefanki.)

PAOLINI’S PRIDE: Players of Polish heritage have had a big impact on the WTA. There’s not only Iga Swiatek, who’s currently No. 1, and former No. 2 Angna Radwanska, but Caroline Wozniaki and Angie Kerber also have Polish connections. And so does Italian quarterfinalist Jasmine Paolini, whose mother is Polish, and her grandfather is from Ghana. Jasmine reflected, saying, “It’s important – I’m proud to have different bloods in my body. Of course I’m feeling Italian, I’m born in Italy [in Tuscany].” She added that her heritage is “an important part of my life….I think I’m fast because of Ghana…When I was younger, every summer I went to Poland. I can speak Polish. That’s something more to have in you as a person. It’s a plus. I’m really proud of it.”

The rising (and rather surprising) 28-year-old, who has won more points in four months this year than she did all of last year, will next face Elena Rybakina, who as a girl migrated from Russia to Kazakhstan. 

FAREWELL FRITZ: Taylor Fritz, the last American in the men’s singles draw, fell in four sets to the considerable Casper Ruud. So now quarterfinalist Coco Gauff is the only American remaining in singles.

BE HERE NOW: At Indian Wells a swarm of bees upset many a fan. Here at the French Open, the only animal story we’d up with were all those hard-on-your-eyes yellow and black outfits that so many players are wearing. Then yesterday, a poor pigeon couldn’t find a way to escape Court Suzanne Lenglen with its roof closed. The frustrated flyer eventually fell to the court, and the bird-loving chair umpire came to its rescue.

THE QUEEN OF CLAY: Rafa is the King of Clay. Decades ago, Chris Evert was the Queen of Clay. This is the 50th anniversary of her first title. Overall, Evert won 7 titles here and had a 73-6 Roland Garros record.

THE NEW KING OF CLAY? After No. 11 Alex de Minaur, who’s known for his fast-court prowess, upset No. 5 Daniil Medvedev in four sets, the Aussie gushed, “I love the clay. I love it here. I can’t get enough because I’m a clay court specialist.” 

JUST WONDERING: Is the doubles tandem of American Coco Gauff, who’s yet to win a Grand Slam doubles title, and Czech Katererina Siniakova, who’s won seven Slam titles, the most interesting doubles duo at Roland Garros? Other fascinating duos include the Tsitsipas brothers, plus former ACC rivals, Virginia’s Emma Navarro and NC State’s Diana Shnaider. The duo upset Elise Mertens and Hsieh Su-wei, who won Indian Wells and were the No. 1 French Open seeds.

NO NIRVANA FOR NAVARRO: The still very young Emma Navarro is having a fine season and is rising rapidly in the rankings. The 23-year-old upset No. 14 Madison Keys in the third round. She’d beaten Aryna Sabalenka in Indian Wells, but the No. 22 was crushed by the Belarusian here 6-2, 6-3. Coco Gauff is now the only American remaining in the women’s draw.

GO FIGURE: For the first time since 2013, all top five women’s seeds are through to the quarterfinals.

THE POWER OF DISCIPLINE: When we asked Felix Auger-Aliassime what he’s learned the most from tennis, he replied, “The routine that you put in place for yourself. The discipline is stronger than the will. That’s one thing I learned. You can want things all you want, even badly, and I have wanted things badly in past years in my life.  But that [mindset] creates a bit too much tension, stress, and too many expectations. When you put good routines in place and you stay disciplined and you’re clear with your intentions, then usually you’re more relaxed with the outcome because you’re less focused on the result and more focused on that routine that you’re trying to put in place. Same thing in the matches.”

MISS RYBAKINA OPENING UP: Everyone knows that Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina is the most impassive Grand Slam champion in memory. She’s a fabulous player – but she often doesn’t show much emotion or have much to say. So we tried to open things up by asking her what she liked the most about traveling the world and competing as a pro. 

She repied, “I think the amazing part of playing on the big stages is seeing how many people are actually watching and supporting you – when kids come to see you play and they get inspired. This is the biggest thing and this is so nice.” 

We followed up asking her if she could play on just one tennis stage, what that would be. She replied, “Probably Wimbledon. It’s the biggest achievement [I’ve had]. Any Grand Slam is amazing when the stadium is packed, but of course Wimbledon is something special. I dreamt of it as a kid.”

Also reporting: Vinay Venkatesh and Steve Pratt

SHARE

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here