“Did you say 233?” KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/GettyImages via Daylife
Well, we’re not out of the early rounds yet. Rafael Nadal still has to play his first match tomorrow, as do Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Andy Murray. This is what I love about Major tournaments: there are no byes and big draws, so we get plenty of time to settle in and enjoy tennis for tennis’s sake (as opposed to obsessing right away about Federer vs. Berdych in the quarters.)
Roger Federer got through his first round in straights vs. German Tobias Kamke, a hard hitting, fearless type of player who gave Fed more than a good workout. It wasn’t a great match from Roger, who was broken multiple times and failed to take advantage of two match points on Kamke’s serve, up 5-1 in the third. But any negative vibes were quickly washed away with waves of congratulation: this was Roger’s 233rd match win at a Major, equaling a record set by Jimmy Connors.
Federer, who told Brad Gilbert afterwards that he wasn’t aware of the record until after the fact, took the news as an opportunity to reminisce in the press room:
“When you look at the tournaments like this and you step back, you realize you have been playing for quite a long time,” Federer said (via RolandGarros.com).
“I remember playing against Rafter – I was playing differently at that time. Now I walk on the court and a lot has changed. I have more confidence, and people come to see me playing. When I started, I loved playing against those famous players I used to see on TV. Now I’m playing against younger players, a new generation. It’s also very nice. It’s great I didn’t suffer that many injuries over these years. And I always had fun playing tennis.“
Did that lapse into the past tense give anyone else a sinking feeling? I know it was an accident, given Roger’s desire to play in the Rio Games, but it was also a preview to the fact that someday, hopefully sometime after the 2020 Olympics, Roger will be using the past tense to describe his career. Sigh.
One last Roger note – his draw has opened up, given that Nalbandian and Roddick have both lost and his seeded round of sixteen opponent, Feliciano Lopez, retired from his match today. Federer won’t face a seeded player until at least the quarterfinals.
Novak Djokovic also played on Monday, beating Potito Starace 7-6, 6-3, 6-1. He’s very much aware of his own history-making potential at this tournament: joining the likes of Rod Laver and Don Budge as one of the few men to hold all four Major titles at once. He echoed the great Billie Jean King in his remarks to the press:
“Pressure is always present, and the way I look at it, it’s a privilege and it’s a challenge,” Djokovic said (via rolandgarros.com). “So you need to try to understand and learn how to deal with it, and if you feel pressure, that means that you’re doing something that is right. So I’m happy – I’m happy to be where I am at this moment.“
On the ladies’ side, world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka seemed to struggle with the pressure, or at least her groundstrokes, during her 6-7 (6), 6-4, 6-2 victory vs. the 105th ranked Alberta Brianti. She managed to find a way to win the match, despite hitting 60 unforced errors and being 4-0 down in the second.
“The important thing in that really miserable moment, I stayed strong and I just went for my shots,” Azarenka said afterwards.
The American women are focused on success at Roland Garros. Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images via Daylife
Today was Memorial Day in America, and we were actually able to celebrate American achievement in Paris – and no, I’m not talking World War II history, here. The American women have scored 10 victories for 10 players this tournament – every woman who has played a first round match has won, leaving Serena Williams and Jamie Hampton to make it a perfect dozen tomorrow (no pressure, Jamie). Winners include Venus Williams, Melanie Oudin, Irina Falconi, Alexa Glatch, Lauren Davis, Vania King, Christina McHale, Sloane Stephens and the veteran Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who ousted her friend and No. 12 seed, Sabine Lisicki on Monday.
“It’s exciting,” Sloan Stephens said of their collective first-round success (via wtatennis.com). “To everyone that got a win, that’s really exciting. Everyone always says we’re not good on clay. This’ll prove ’em wrong.“
It’s not quite as cheery for the American men. Andy Roddick lost on Sunday to Nicolas Mahut in a sad match, and Ryan Harrison lost to Gilles Simon on Monday in a frustrating one. John Isner and Jesse Levine are both on to round two, and Tuesday brings a trio of tough matches for the remaining Americans: Young vs. Dimitrov, Blake vs. Youznhy, and Querrey vs. Tipsarevic.
We won’t be seeing the top American man play in Paris, and now we know why. Mardy Fish has undergone an electrophysiology procedure to correct faulty “wiring” in his heart after suffering from extreme heart palpitations. He explained the experience to USA Today: “I was completely panicking. I thought I was going to die.” Fish says the procedure was successful and he plans to return to the tour in time for Wimbledon.
Brian Baker’s backhand is a goodie. Photo: THOMAS COEX/AFP/GettyImages via Daylife
My favorite Memorial Day match involved an American player I’ve never watched before: Brian Baker, the twenty-seven-year-old who is in the midst of raising his injury addled career from the ashes – we’re talking returning to the tour after seven years and five surgeries. He beat Xavier Malisse in straight sets today, looking like the steadier and more seasoned player, though this was the first French Open match of his adult career. (He lost to Stanislas Wawrinka in the 2003 boys’ final, and may face him in his third round match this week if he gets past Gilles Simon in the second.) Watching Baker play, I wondered if his gig as an Assistant Tennis Coach at Nashville’s Belmont University has helped him stay so smart and poised in his return to pro competition. It’s an experience few ATP tennis players can take to their matches.
There’s been a lot written about Baker, lately, and he deserves every word. My favorite quip so far is Steve Tignor’s: Brian Baker, “the oldest phenom in U.S. tennis history.”
Friends, Countrywomen. . .In her post-match interview on Tennis Channel, Mattek-Sands mentioned that being friends with Lisicki didn’t change the way she played her in a match – she was just another opponent. I thought of Mattek’s comment while watching the funny “Best Friends Forever” series that the Roland Garros folks are running on their website. The first episode starred Stanislas Wawrinka (who needed five sets to get past Flavio Cipolla in his first round) and started with the question “Who is your BFF on the ATP Tour?”
Stan’s answer, after having the term explained to him: “There is no such thing as a BFF on the ATP tour. It’s hard to have real friends in tennis. We remain opponents.”
Which then made me think of Fish’s explanation for keeping his health condition vague, even with his compatriots on tour: “You can only be vulnerable to so many people.”
So don’t let Roger’s enthusiasm fool you. Tennis may be a game, but it’s not all fun.