Wow, are Maria Sharapova and Rafael Nadal mentally strong or what? I know, I know, we’ve heard the commentators describe them this way ad nauseum this tournament. Well, what more can you say, really? They’re two very different players, obviously, but in the end I saw very similar reactions as the two hoisted their French Open trophies: “Don’t even think about taking this away from me!”
Both players were defending all tournament – Maria showcased some surprisingly adept defensive skills not only in her hard fought final versus Simona Halep, but in fending off a series of three set challenges from the fourth round on (oh Sam, I was rooting for you!) Nadal’s defensive skills are legendary for forcing his opponents to aim for ever slimmer slivers of the white line. Those wild cross court backhands from Nole today were a typical example of the preemptive power of Rafa’s defensive mystique. But of course it wasn’t just the court that Rafa was defending this French Open, but his ranking, his remarkable hold on the French Open title, and, in a subtle way, his reign as the undisputed King of Clay. Novak Djokovic was considered a slight favorite going in, and with Rafa’s struggles during the clay season and his surprising loss in the Australian Open final, there was a sense that the Nadal Era might be fading into the history books. Today Rafa made sure there’d be fresh ink, not only adding a ninth Roland Garros title to his list of achievements, but a Sampras-tying fourteenth Major as well.
It seemed more fitting, anyway, that Rafa’s 14th was accomplished and acknowledged in Paris, with Bjorn Borg giving felicitations. (Pete at the Australian was a little forced, maybe?)
Okay, so, while I can hardly think of anything original to say about Rafa and his awesomeness, here’s what I’m still thinking about now that the terre battue has settled.
1. The women’s final wins! I enjoyed getting to know Simona Halep during this tournament, and found reason to love her during Saturday’s final. Not only did she show real poise during her first Major final, she also showed a real belief that she could win it. Her smooth shot making and grit (against the tour’s most famously gritty of champions) made for a competitive and entertaining championship match that scored more “wows!” per game than any other match I watched over the past two weeks. The best part is, the women’s game has a new contender for the big titles!
2. “Watching Maria Sharapova makes you realize just how great Serena Williams is.” I’m paraphrasing John McEnroe here, and while I’m usually annoyed by his recycled commentary, this comment did make me think. Why on earth is Maria’s record against Serena so dismal? And while I mostly agree with John McEnroe about Serena’s innate superiority, I’m starting to think that there’s something profoundly mental about their match up. Or maybe beating Serena at Wimbledon cursed Maria forever in this regard? Seriously, someone needs to look into this. (I guess winning the coupe is the best revenge – I wonder if Maria is chortling to herself over Serena’s leopard print leotard exploits – WTF?)
3. Roger fans, admit it, you are secretly hoping that all this Rafa vs. Nole build up on the red clay has left both players mentally and physically depleted enough to give Roger a glimpse at the Wimbledon final! Or is this just me? Of course, these days, Roger needs to keep his eyes on everyone from Stakhovsky to Wawrinka. Also for Fedphiles: fivethirtyeightsports’s prediction on Rafa and Roger’s final Major count. (16.48 vs. 17.75, guess we’ll have to wait and see.)
4. Speaking of Wimbledon, grass court season has begun! We’d already need to prepare ourselves for an onslaught of Andy Murray coverage, seeing that he’s the defending champ and local hero and all, but today’s announcement that Murray really truly did hire Amelie Maursemo as his coach (at least through Wimbledon) is going to bring a new frenzy and focus to the analysis and questioning. First, let me say that while I’m not exactly sure what Amelie will bring to the table for Murray, specifically, I do adore her and adore Andy for trying her out. Amelie has said that while she finds the whole female coaching male intrigue “not interesting”, she does “. . .love challenges. I don’t know; I guess I like to put myself on the line at some point and see what I can do.”
Well, there’s no doubt she’s putting herself on the line – or maybe at the edge of the “glass cliff.” I just really hope that she’s given a fair shake and isn’t pushed off of it by the media. Considering that Murray is both defending champ and coming back from a back injury, it’s not like we can expect too much of him or any coach at this point. Yet I worry that if he doesn’t defend his title (too much to ask after seventy some years?) that the story is going to be Amelie’s failure and the whole thing will be called a stunt. The good thing is that Murray seems fairly thick skinned on the matter saying things like: “I don’t really care whether some of the other male players like it or not.” The New York Times offers this nice examination of the situation, along with reminders of past and present female coaches in the men’s game.
5. It’s funny how Robin Soderling has become forever linked to Rafa’s legacy at Roland Garros, with the footage from their 2009 fourth rounder – always including Robin’s famous “what’s the big deal” arm wave at the end – part of any summing up of Nadal’s almost perfect French Open record. Fans of the sour Le Sod will be happy to hear that he’s still hoping to return to tour despite an incredibly long struggle with mono. He cites the oft-suffering yet resilient oldster, Tommy Haas, as inspiration.
6. Not only did I enjoy watching Taylor Townsend’s run at Roland Garros this year, I was also pleasantly surprised at how the media seemed to take her side in the old USTA battle. It was nice not to hear coded criticisms of her “fitness” and instead hear how she was proving her doubters wrong. Jon Wertheim’s analysis was especially astute. I hope to see more of her bright personality and offensively minded game on the grass at Wimbledon.
7. Additional props go to: Garbiñe Muguruza not only for her decisive victory over Serena Williams in the second round but for backing it up with a quarterfinal run and a three set loss to Maria Sharapova. Women’s doubles champs Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai (over Errani/Vinci), men’s doubles champs/Frenchies Julien Benneteau and Edouard Roger-Vasselin (over Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez) and mixed doubles champs Jean-Julien Rojer and Anna-Lena Groenefeld (over Zimonjic/Goerges). And I was happy for the long struggling Donald Young who made it to the third round, before losing a five setter to Garcia-Lopez.
What are you thinking about as we make the switch from red to green? Besides, Maria’s victory ensemble, I mean.